Today’s Deep Space Extra for Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December 8th, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. Top NASA spaceflight officials outline a direction for human exploration into the 2030s, with a new feature: a yearlong stay in lunar orbit by U.S. astronauts. NASA alerts U.S. investors: Low Earth orbit will be theirs. NASA’s planned transition from low Earth orbit to deep space and just signed U.S. commercial space legislation creates new opportunity for the private sector, says Indian policy analyst. U.S., French experts address leak in a key instrument assigned to NASA’s Mars InSight robotic lander ahead of planned March liftoff. NASA’s New Horizons cameras capture images of distant Kuiper Belt object. A gentle sun deserves some thanks. Japan commits to a U.S. proposed extension of International Space Station operations from 2020 to 2024. Russia contends with another launch failure. Research suggest International Space Station astronauts can drink their coffee from a cup, not from a pouch with a straw. Might a prohibition on U.S./Chinese cooperation in space stifle commercial partnerships?

Human Deep Space Exploration

NAC hears about lunar orbit “shakedown cruise,” worries about readiness for new administration (12/7): Two of NASA’s top spaceflight officials outlined long range plans for the U.S. to transition human space flight activities from low Earth orbit to deep space in discussions with the agency’s NASA Advisory Council. NASA will focus on crewed Orion/Space Launch System missions in an Earth-Moon proving ground they told the NAC during a three day session in Houston last week. Those “cis lunar” missions would conclude with a yearlong NASA mission in which astronauts occupy a habitat in orbit around the moon in the 2029 time frame. The 2020s would see the U.S. conclude activities with the International Space Station, while NASA prepares for human missions to Mars in the 2030s. NAC panelists expressed concerns NASA’s planning may not be mature enough for the next presidential administration.

NASA official warns private sector: We’re moving on from low-Earth orbit
Ars Technica (12/7): NASA is preparing to move its human activities beyond low Earth Orbit by re-assigning the realm of the International Space Station to the U.S. private sector, William Gerstenmaier, the agency’s chief of human space flight, told members of the NASA Advisory Council last week. NASA’s sights are set on human activities in an Earth-moon proving grounds in the 2020s and the Martian environs in the 2030s, Gerstenmaier explained.

Spurring commercial human spaceflight to the Moon

The Space Review (12/7): NASA’s plans to relinquish human activities in low Earth orbit to the U.S. private sector, coupled with new commercial space legislation signed last week by President Obama appear to be positive developments for investors, writes essayist Vidya Sagar Reddy, a researcher at New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation. NASA plans to begin launching astronauts into an Earth-moon proving ground in the 2020s, followed by missions to the Martian environs in the 2030s.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Vacuum leak discovered in key science instrument for InSight mission to Mars
America Space (12/7): Experts from the U.S. and French space agencies address a leak in a major instrument assigned to the NASA led Mars InSight lander mission scheduled to launch in March 2016. The SEIS instrument was developed to measure heat rising from the interior of Mars to the surface. The interior heat flow could be a resource for future human Martian explorers. Landing is planned for late September 2016.

Pluto probe snaps record-breaking photos of frigid, faraway object (12/7): As part of a continuing data transmission from NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft, the probe reveals a distant Kuiper Belt object, 1994 JR1, from a distance of 170 million miles. New Horizons carried out an unprecedented flyby of Pluto on July 14 and is on its way to a rendezvous with an even more distant planetary object.

Sun could unleash devastating ‘superflare’ (12/7): A study led by U.K. researchers suggests the sun has been inhibited with its firing off of powerful solar flares that could disrupt satellites in Earth orbit as well as terrestrial power grids. Using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, scientists analyzed a super flare emitted by the binary star KIC9655129, which lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth, that raised concerns.

Low Earth Orbit

Japan to stay in Space Station project through 2024
Japan Times (12/8): Japan will extend its participation in the International Space Station from 2020 to 2024, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Tuesday. U.S. President Obama proposed the extension in early 2014. Japan, joins with Russia and Canada in providing a favorable response. The European Space Agency is the only major partner that has not reached a decision. Japan intends to open the use of its Kibo research module on the Space Station to other nations to exhibit its leadership in emerging Asian space activities.

Russian satellite burns over Atlantic
TASS, of Russia (12/8): Launched Saturday atop a Soyuz booster, Russia’s Kanopus-ST military reconnaissance satellite re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday. Officials said the satellite failed to separate properly from the rocket’s Volga second stage.

Another launch failure for Russia (12/7): Tuesday’s re-entry of Russia’s Kanopus-ST military reconnaissance satellite signaled more problems for Russia’s once highly reliable launch industry. The satellite, one of two launched Saturday on a Soyuz booster, failed to separate property from the Volga upper stage, according to reports.

Coffee now served (in real cups!) on the Space Station
Discovery News (12/7): Thanks to an early resident of the International Space Station, future tenants may be able to sip their coffee from an open cup, rather than a pouch with a straw. Astronaut Don Pettit proposed an open container that could constrain fluids with surface tension in the absence of gravity.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Prospects for U.S.-China space cooperation
The Space Review (12/7): U.S. Congressional restrictions on cooperation between the U.S. and China in space may prevent commercial space interests from pursuing the full range of activities covered in new U.S. commercial space legislation, writes Vid Beldavs, a Latvian researcher.

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