CSExtra – Tuesday, December 11, 2012
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Tuesday’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from around the world. The Boeing Co., SpaceX and Sierra Nevada receive $10 million in awards from NASA to certify the safety of their competing commercial space transportation services. The large asteroid Toutatis makes a close pass on Tuesday. A Florida cold front could influence plans to launch the U. S. Air Force X-37 B reusable space plane on a third mission. Essays examine Golden Spike’s recently announced lunar ambitions and a second Curiosity class Mars mission. Have the Obama administration’s commercial space policies set the stage for Golden Spike’s rise. Might an electrical issue with Curiosity’s percussive rock drill bring a sudden end to a closely watched mission. Some believe a second Curiosity mission, announced for a 2020 launch, should give way to missions to Europa or Titan. NASA’s aging Opportunity rover stands among Martian clay, with no means of searching for evidence of organics. Russia and Kazakhstan discuss the future of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
1. From Space.com: On Monday, NASA awarded about $10 million each to the Boeing Co., Space Exploration Technologies and Sierra Nevada to fund flight safety certification efforts. The latest awards join larger Space Act Agreements between the three companies to fund the development of competing commercial space transportation services capable of carrying astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.
2. From The Coalition for Space Exploration: On Tuesday, the large asteroid Toutatis makes a close approach to the Earth. The event can be monitored on the Internet.
3. From Florida Today. Stormy weather could force a delay in plans by the U. S. Air Force to launch a third X-37 B mission. The unpiloted orbital space plane is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., atop at Atlas 5 at 1:03 p.m., EST.
4. Two essays from The Space Review examine the momentum behind Golden Spike’s ambitious plans to initiate a commercial human lunar exploration capability and the role a second Curiosity class rover mission could play in a Mars sample return initiative.
A. In “Turning science fiction into science fact: Golden Spike makes plans for human lunar missions,” TSR editor Jeff Foust exams an announcement last week from Golden Spike, a Colorado Springs company, whose founders plan to offer commercial missions to the moon by 2020. The financial case turns on the use of existing rockets and when possible existing space hardware. Early customers are likely to include foreign space powers. “What makes Golden Spike’s plans difficult to dismiss, despite how outlandish they may seem to some, is the caliber of people involved with the company,” writes Foust, who provides the pedigrees.
B. In “The Resurrection of Mars Sample Return,” an unnamed essayist lays out the prospects that NASA’s just announced Mars exploration initiative includes a second launch of a Curiosity rover in 2020 as part of a Mars soil sample return strategy. Top scientists favor the effort to exam soil gathered from the Red Planet with the best instrumentation on Earth. A year ago, NASA backed out of a European Space Agency initiative, Euro-Mars, to lay the ground work for a sample return because of cost restrictions. Now, it appears Curiosity II will bring the goal back, writes “Pat Nealon,” a pseudonym for “an individual familiar with the development of NASA’s Mars exploration program.”
5. From USA Today: Golden Spike’s plans to pioneer passenger flights to the moon promises to put the commercial spaceflight model to the test. President Obama has created a favorable space environment for the test, writes University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds.
6. From Space.com: NASA’s Mars Curiosity mission has been wildly successful over the first months of a planned two year primary mission. However, an electrical issue with the rover’s percussive rock drill could bring it all to a sudden halt.
A. From Scientific American: At last week’s American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, NASA unveiled plans for the launch of a second Curiosity class mission to Mars in 2020. Is Mars getting missions at the expense of two other solar system destinations that may harbor life, Europa and Titan, asks one contributor.
7. From The New York Times: NASA’s rugged Opportunity rover, has been exploring Mars since early 2004. Opportunity is currently among clay deposits spotted by satellites passing overhead. However, Opportunity is not equipped to look for the organic molecules that may be present and once part of an environment more hospitable to life.
8. From Spacepolicyonline.com: NASA’s very successful twin GRAIL lunar orbital probes have exhausted their mission fuel and are slated to plunge into the moon on Dec. 17.
9. From Ria Novosti, of Russia: Negotiations with Kazakhstan resume over Russia’s use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and a series of infrastructure upgrades.
A. From Space.com: Control of Baikonur could revert to Kazakhstan.
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