Exploration: June 2015 Archives

Keith's note: NASA quietly admitted today at the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) Meeting that one of the formally baseline, prime science requirements of the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is to retrive a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit where a human crew will do science with it. Despite the mission's name no "asteroid" will actually be "retrieved". As such NASA really should refine the mission to be the "Boulder Retrieval Mission". To be honest the whole notion of grabbing anything in space was never a driver for this mission - despite the name.

NASA seems to be having some issues with the whole boulder thing too. Today a speaker outlining hardware design work for ARM at JPL noted that there was a lot of hard thinking and work put into how to build a "synthetic boulder" to be used to test things. Its not a real boulder, its a mockup of a boulder. Its really odd that this would be so hard - especially in southern California where JPLers could easily visit Disney Land which has been making synthetic boulders since the 1950s. A little more freeway driving and they could also visit Hollywood which also has some fair expertise in the creation of synthetic boulders such as the one used in "Star Trek" in 1967.

Another topic of discussion was whether the SBAG get togethers should be a "conference" or a "meeting". This of course sent SMD's Jim Green into a long discussion of how hard it is for NASA to do conferences these days since it is hard for NASA to do conferences. It also led to a discussion amongst the participants as to what a "conference" is and what a "meeting" is. Gee, after half a century NASA still has not figured out what a "conference" or a "meeting" is and used meeting/conference time to discuss the topic. I am not certain anything was resolved on this topic.

Back to ARM. At its last meeting the NASA Advisory Council came within a millimeters of recommending that NASA abandon the whole ARM concept and use the solar electric asteroid grabbing vehicle to go to Phobos (and back) instead. This way it would actually serve as a real step on NASA's #JourneyToMars - by actually going to Mars - instead of a dead end sideshow. It is all but certain that the NAC will take this action at their meeting at JPL on 30-31 July. Of course, Congress is already formally against ARM and with the exception of a few companies who want to mine asteroids, no one really supports it at the present time. And NASA can't even admit that the $1.25 billion cost (without launcher) would balloon to $3 billion or so when it uses the two SLS flights it wants to use. And oh yes: the OSIRIS-REx mission will already do nearly all of the sciencey stuff ARM is doing (as an afterthought) - at a fraction of the cost of ARM.

So much for the first big step on the road to Mars. It just keeps shrinking.

- NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead
- Asteroid Retrieval Is Not The Prime Intent of NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission
- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

Keith's note: In April 2015 the Planetary Society held an invitation-only "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop wherein they unveiled their idea for a mission to Mars. At a quick press conference after the event (no media were allowed to attend the workshop) the Planetary Society promised more detail would be made public - later. Since then nothing but crickets. Well, it now looks like the Planetary Society Mars plan is now online - but only for a few weeks - then you will have to pay to read it. An article on the grand plan by Scott Hubbard will only be online here until 29 July 2015. I do not see any mention of this report's availability on the Planetary Society website. I am not sure how far a mission concept like this is going to get if no one can read the details. Given that most of these new space policy ideas have been semi-secret lately it would seem that the authors are not really interested in any meaningful public engagement.

- Stealthy Humans Orbiting Mars Workshop Update, earlier post
- Making Space Policy In Secret (Again), earlier post
- Good News Everyone: Another Closed Door Humans to Mars Thing, earlier post

Invitation to Membership on the Formulation Assessment and Support Team for the Asteroid Redirect Mission

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intends to release a letter of invitation for membership on the Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). ARM is part of NASA's plan to advance the new technologies and spaceflight capabilities needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s, as well as other future human and robotic missions. ARM includes the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) and the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM), along with leveraging the global asteroid-observation community's efforts to detect, track and characterize candidate asteroids. For additional information on how to apply for FAST membership ..."

NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead, earlier post

Empty Promises On NASA's Road to Mars, SpaceRef

"These days you can't seem to go anywhere in the Internet without seeing #JourneyToMars slapped on Tweets about, well, everything that NASA does - regardless of how it is actually related to sending humans to Mars. Its in press release titles, on posters, YouTube videos. NASA is all about the "Journey To Mars" these days and its marketing campaign reflects a concerted effort to make you truly believe that this is happening - except ... it is not."

NASA FISO Telecon: An Overview of NASA's Evolvable Mars Campaign

"Our next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon colloquium will be June 10, when Doug Craig (NASA HQ HEOMD) will speak on "An Overview of NASA's Evolvable Mars Campaign." As always, the colloquium will be at 3pm ET. And please note that there is a new dial-in number for the colloquium as NASA has migrated to a new service: TEL: 844 467 4685 PC: 442398."

Keith's note: If you go to NASA's Journey to Mars page there is no mention of this NASA-sponsored, openly-accessible telecon regarding a NASA study of how the agency might go to Mars. There is no mention of this telecon on NASA's calendar either - nor is there mention on NASA's Human Exploration and Operations home page, or NASA Goddard's home page (where telecon organizer Harley Thronson works). NASA is all about the #JourneyToMars thing 24/7/365 according to Charlie Bolden and it is mentioned in virtually every press release the agency issues these days. NASA is telling everyone that it is headed to Mars yet it can't even figure out how to tell the public about openly accessible events like this? You know, how NASA might actually do this whole exciting Mars thing?

- How NASA Quietly Releases Alternate Mars Mission Concepts (Update), earlier post
- Yet Another Stealth NASA Briefing On Mars Mission Concepts, earlier post

LightSail Unfurls Its Sail

"The Planetary Society's LightSail test mission successfully completed its primary objective of deploying a solar sail in low-Earth orbit, mission managers said today. During a ground station pass over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that began at 1:26 p.m. EDT (17:26 UTC), the final pieces of an image showcasing LightSail's deployed solar sails were received on Earth. The image confirms the sails have unfurled, which was the final milestone of a shakedown mission designed to pave the way for a full-fledged solar sail flight in 2016."

Satellite Developed by Stellar Exploration Inc Completes First Deployment Test, Stellar Exploration

"Under a contract with the Society, Stellar developed and manufactured Lightsail. Two completed and tested satellites were delivered in early 2013 (Ecliptic Enterprises provided the final software update, and integration & testing support for the 2014 launch opportunity). This project was conceived as a major step along the solar sail roadmap Lightsail builds on the NASA experience with NanoSail-D2, doubling the sail dimension (thus quadrupling its surface area) and adding active attitude control, two cameras and other diagnostics. In turn, the Lightsail design evolved into the next solar sail missions, sponsored by NASA Flashlight and NEOScout."

Deployment! LightSail Boom Motor Whirrs to Life, Planetary Society

"LightSail's tiny solar sail deployment motor sprung to life Sunday afternoon, marking an important milestone for The Planetary Society's nail-biting test mission. Sail deployment began at 3:47 p.m. EDT (19:47 UTC) off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, as the spacecraft traveled northwest to southeast. Telemetry received on the ground showed motor counts climbing to the halfway point before LightSail traveled out of range. Power levels were consistent with ground-based deployment tests, and the spacecraft's cameras were on. "All indications are that the solar sail deployment was proceeding nominally," wrote mission manager David Spencer in an email update. LightSail is currently out of range until 2:26 a.m. EDT Monday. Ground control teams at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech will begin transferring the spacecraft's images from its cameras to flight system. "

LightSail Reboots Itself - Now Ready to Sail, earlier post

LightSail Team Prepares for Possible Tuesday Sail Deployment, Planetary Society

"LightSail is almost ready for its moment in the sun. This afternoon, mission managers gave the go-ahead for a manual solar sail deployment as early as Tuesday, June 2 at 11:44 a.m. EDT (15:44 UTC), providing the spacecraft completes an arduous set of Monday preparations. Since waking up Saturday after eight days of silence, the spacecraft has been busy sending telemetry back to Earth, snapping test images and preparing itself for sail deployment."



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