Today’s Deep Space Extra for Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December 9th, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. Canada’s Devon Island has long been among the closest analogs to Mars on Earth. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spots an Apollo 16 mission landmark. Experts repair a key French seismometer suite assigned to the NASA led Mars Insight lander mission. Google Lunar X-Prize verifies contestant Moon Express’ launch agreement. Japan’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter achieves a workable science orbit. Astronomers detect the faintest, most distant galaxy yet with Hubble, Spitzer space telescopes. A Cleveland newspaper urges lawmakers not to trim the budget for NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Russian experts point to a Soyuz third stage flaw as the reason for the loss of military satellite. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule reached the International Space Station early Wednesday. The U.S. Air Force prepares for the small scale development of a new U.S. rocket engine to replace imports of Russian rocketry. Commercial space pioneer Jeff Greason predicts a future market growth.

Human Deep Space Exploration

Mars on Earth: Canadian arctic serves as Red Planet training ground (12/8): In northern Canada, Devon Island and the Haughton Mars Project serve as a terrestrial analog of the Martian environment for scientists and engineers planning human missions to Mars. Cold, dry and unvegetated, Devon Island is one of the closest matches to Mars on Earth.

Rocket smash! Apollo 16 booster crater found (12/8): Imagery from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has located the crash site of the Saturn V third stage assigned to NASA’s successful Apollo 16 mission that placed astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke on the lunar surface in 1972. The impact produced a signature measured by seismometers installed on the moon’s surface by previous Apollo missions. Astronaut Ken Mattingly orbited the moon in the Apollo 16 command module while his colleagues walked on the surface.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

French sensor for NASA Mars lander should be fixed in time for launch 
Space News (12/8): Concerns over a leak in a key French led seismometer suite destined for a March launch aboard the NASA led InSight Mars lander should end with a successful repair, representatives of the French space agency CNES said Tuesday. InSight is to settle to the Martian terrain in late September to study the red planet’s inner geological processes.

X Prize verifies Moon Express launch contract
Space News (12/8): Florida based Moon Express has agreed to a launch contract with Rocket Lab as part of its bid to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. They are one of two teams in the competition with a verified launch contracts. The competition counts 16 teams attempting to land a privately-developed spacecraft on the moon that can travel at least 500 meters across the surface and transmit high resolution data to Earth

Japan succeeds in putting probe into Venus’ orbit
Nikkei Asian Review (12/9): Japan’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft has successfully maneuvered into an operational science orbit around Venus, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reported. Launched in May 2010, the spacecraft experienced a propulsion system failure as it attempted to maneuver into orbit the following December. The mission got a second opportunity to maneuver into orbit on Monday. Studies of the planet’s dynamic atmosphere are to begin in April.

Meet Tayna, the faintest ancient galaxy ever found (12/8): Astronomers use the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to image Tanya, the faintest and earliest galaxy yet found. Tanya is 13.8 billion light years away. There are probably more star systems like Tanya but too faint to detect.

Ohio politicians need to have NASA Glenn’s back: editorial
Cleveland Plain Dealer (12/8): NASA’s Glenn Research Center should be spared a potential $60 million funding cut in the debate over a 2016 spending bill, the Cleveland newspaper argues in an editorial. The current 2016 U.S. budget Continuing Resolution expires on Dec. 11. The U.S. House and Senate and White House are in negotiations over a long running budget agreement for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Low Earth Orbit

Source says Russia lost military satellite over design faults
Tass, or Russia (12/9): A lack of redundancy in the Volga third stage latching mechanism, a design issue, led to the loss of a Russian military satellite launched last weekend aboard a usually reliable Soyuz rocket, according to the report.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Christmas delivery: 1st shipment in months at Space Station
Associated Press via ABC News (12/9): Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule rendezvoused with the six person International Space Station early Wednesday, delivering nearly 7,400 pounds of supplies. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren captured the resupply vessel with the Space Station’s Canadian robot arm at 6:19 a.m., EST. The mission marks a recovery for Orbital, which lost its third resupply mission on Oct. 29, 2014 in an explosion moments after liftoff. Competitor SpaceX lost a delivery mission as well in late June and is still recovering.

U.S. Air Force eyes contracts for Russian engine follow-on in months
Reuters (12/8): The U.S. Air Force intends soon to initiate the small scale contractor development of a rocket engine to replace imports of Russia’s RD-180. The RD-180 currently powers the first stage of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5, the launch vehicle for most U.S. national security launches. U.S. policymakers rallied to ban the imports after Russian intruded in Ukraine.


The future of commercial space travel according to Jeff Greason (12/8): The commercial space launch market for suborbital and orbital missions is continuing to show promise, according to Jeff Greason, a co-founder of XCOR, one of several emerging U.S. commercial space transportation companies. Recently, Greason departed XCOR’s executive ranks to join a new start up, Agile Aero, a company devoted to accelerating spacecraft development.

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