Today’s Deep Space Extra for Monday, December 7, 2015

December 7th, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. The space community marked the first anniversary of the NASA/Lockheed Martin Exploration Flight Test-1, an unpiloted two orbit test flight of the Orion crew exploration capsule, on Saturday. Russia has narrowed to 10 the candidate names for a new crewed spacecraft that could take cosmonauts to the moon. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft transmits the sharpest images yet of Pluto’s strange terrain. Japan’s Akatsuki mission spacecraft maneuvers into orbit around Venus after a long mission recovery effort. A troubled Russian launch places one of two military payloads in orbit. Independence Plaza, a new tribute to NASA’s shuttle program, opens in Houston in January. Orbital ATK successfully resumed NASA contracted resupply missions to the International Space Station on Sunday, following weather delays. President Obama signed legislation last week reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Virgin Galactic previewed a Boeing 747 selected for LauncherOne small satellite missions. Former XCOR execs will headquarter their Agile Aero in West Texas. A look at major space policy activities planned for the week ahead.

Human Deep Space Exploration

One year after EFT-1: What’s been learned, what’s ahead for NASA’s Orion in 2016 (12/5): Saturday, Dec. 5, marked the first anniversary of Exploration Flight Test-1, a successful uncrewed two orbit test flight of the NASA/Lockheed Martin Orion crew exploration capsule. The dynamic 4 1/2 hour test flight verified Orion systems and led to modifications of others. Orion, when launched atop NASA’s Space Launch System exploration rocket, will start astronauts on new missions of deep space exploration.

NASA’s Orion marks test flight anniversary
Florida Today (12/5): “It’s hard to believe that it’s gone that fast,” said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin’s Orion program manager, as NASA and others marked the first anniversary of EFT-1, a two orbit uncrewed test flight of the Orion exploration capsule on Dec. 5, 2014. Development continues. Orion is to join NASA’s Space Launch System exploration rocket for an inaugural unpiloted test flight in late 2018. The first mission of Orion and the SLS with astronauts aboard is expected by 2023.

Ten names on shortlist for new Russian piloted spaceship
TASS, or Russia (12/4): Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, the Russian aerospace company, cuts to 10 the number of candidate names for a new human spacecraft. A 2016 first launch is planned for a piloted spacecraft that may one day transport cosmonauts to the moon. The names were selected through a contest and popular vote.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

NASA releases new video showing higher-resolution close up of Pluto
National Public Radio (12/5): NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to transmit imagery and data back to Earth, following an unprecedented flyby of Pluto on July 14. The latest high resolution imagery reveals craters, mountains and icy plains in great detail. “The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator.

Japanese probe fires thrusters in second bid to enter Venus orbit
Japan Times (12/7): Japan’s Akatsuki mission spacecraft maneuvered into an elliptical orbit around Venus early Monday that will enable a second opportunity to study the planet’s thick cloud layer in three dimensions as well as the super rotation of the atmosphere. Akatsuki was launched in May 2010 but failed to maneuver into orbit in December 2010. Ground control teams allowed the misguided spacecraft to orbit the sun until they could make a second attempt to achieve orbit.

Low Earth Orbit

Russian satellite fails to separate from upper stage
Sputnik International (12/6): One of two military payloads launched Saturday atop a Russian Soyuz rocket did not separate properly from the launch vehicle’s upper stage, according to the report.

Space Center Houston to Open International Landmark to the world
Your Houston News (12/4): The NASA Johnson Space Center’s visitor and educational center, Space Center Houston, plans to open a new public display in January. Independence Plaza will feature NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, with Independence, a replica of a NASA shuttle orbiter, secured atop.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Fourth time’s the charm for Space Station cargo launch
CBS News (12/6): Commercial U.S. re-supply missions to the six person International Space Station resumed Sunday with the weather delayed lift off of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. An enlarged version of Cygnus carrying nearly 4,700 pounds of supplies, spare parts and research gear is to rendezvous with the Space Station early Wednesday. The 4:44 p.m., EST, liftoff marked a return to flight for Orbital ATK and Cygnus, under a NASA resupply contract, following an Oct. 28, 2014 post launch explosion. SpaceX, also under contract to NASA, lost its most recent cargo mission to the space station after liftoff in late June and is still recovering.

Export-Import Bank back in business, but needs additional board members (12/5): President Obama has signed legislation re-authorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The bank manages loans to foreign customers purchasing U.S. products, including those of the aerospace industry.

Virgin Galactic acquires Boeing 747 for LauncherOne missions
Space News (12/4): On Friday, Virgin Galactic announced modifications to a recently acquired Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, for the air launch its LauncherOne commercial rocket with small satellite payloads. Previous plans relied on the much smaller WhiteKnightTwo as the flying platform for the air launches of LauncherOne.


XCOR founders to stay in Midland with latest project
Midland Reporter-Telegram, of Texas (12/5): Agile Aero, a startup initiated by three former XCOR executives, will headquarter in Midland, Tex., with XCOR. Agile will focus on accelerating aerospace vehicle development.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of December 7-13, 2015 (12/6): In Washington, a federal government shutdown looms on Dec. 11, if the U.S. House, Senate and White House cannot agree on a second budget Continuing Resolution for the 2016 fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, or adopt an omnibus appropriations measure. Successfully launched Sunday, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus resupply capsule is to rendezvous with the International Space Station early Wednesday. Early Friday current Space Station crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Japan’s Kimiya Yui and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko are scheduled to descend to Earth, ending a mission that began in late July.

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