Last updated August 4, 2017 at 4:55 pm
Get the lowdown on things that go up with Go/No Go, our fortnightly wrap up of spaceflight news.
No NASA Money for Mars
For years NASA has been selling us on going to Mars. It’s been developing new spacecraft – Orion – new launch vehicles – the SLS – and developing new methodologies for astronauts to deal with space for long periods, and telling us all these developments are working towards going to Mars in the 2030s.
Now, unfortunately, reality seems to have caught up to the situation, and NASA have admitted they don’t have the funding available to reach the red planet.
At a recent meeting, NASA’s Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier responded to a question about a Mars mission by saying “I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars.”
With the expense going into developing the SLS and Orion capsule, which are vitally important to any space missions, NASA just doesn’t have the budget available to it to develop ways of entering Mars’ atmosphere and landing on its surface. Gerstenmaier instead suggested the moon might be a more viable destination.
The direction of NASA missions is dependent on the whims of the government in power at the time, and the availability of funding to carry out those desires an entirely different question. So while NASA may have taken the date off the table at the moment, a change to the funding situation and collaborations with private enterprise may still see NASA astronauts colonising a different planet one day in our lifetimes.
US governments love promising to send humans to Mars and then cutting the funding as soon as the cheering dies down https://t.co/GUilcHGJ6M
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) July 14, 2017
JAXA reveals images from Int-Ball
The Japanese space agency JAXA has shown images taken by its Int-Ball drone on board the ISS for the first time.
The ridiculously cute floating ball can move autonomously or be controlled from JAXA’s ground control at Tsukuba, and relays images immediately back to Earth. This allows the ground support team to monitor jobs being carried out by the astronauts and provide feedback in real time. It also allows them to check for problems and generally cruise around like a friendly volleyball.
Russian group launches space mirror
A Soyuz rocket has launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome carrying a curious payload.
The primary payload was a Kanopus-V-IK satellite launched for Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, and the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, Roshydromet. The satellite will provide wide-angle images of the Earth and will be used to detect forest fires.
Along for the ride were 72 small satellites including ones from Japan, Germany, Canada and the US. But the most intriguing payload is the Mayak cubesat built by Tvoii Sektor Kosmosa, a crowd-funded group of engineers associated with Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering.
The Mayak satellite deployed a thin pyramid-shaped structure, each side measuring 4 square metres. The structure on Mayak, which means lighthouse, reflects the sun’s rays back to Earth and has become the second brightest object in the night sky after the Moon. The group behind the satellite have stated three objectives for the satellite – to demonstrate that it’s possible for a group of friends and like-minded people to launch a real satellite, to perform real-life tests of an aerodynamic braking system that can be used to de-orbit without a need for a booster, and to collect new data about atmospheric density at high altitudes. It will also be used as a reference point to measure the brightness of other obejcts in the sky.
Mayak will continue to orbit Earth for around a month before it re-enters the atmosphere. Until then, you can track its location online and via a dedicated app (only available in Russian).
Scrap dealer finds ex NASA computers
In what must rate as one of the best space-related barn finds recently, a scrap dealer has discovered a pair of computers used by NASA in the 1960’s. The computers were discovered in the basement of a deceased former engineer’s house and appear to have been moved sometime in the 1970’s.
The computers were originally located at the IBM Allegheny Center in Pittsburgh. When IBM were updating their systems in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the engineer asked whether he could have them, to which IBM agreed.
As well as the computers, the scrap dealer also found 325 magnetic data tapes. Given the potential significance of the find, the dealer contacted NASA and returned the tapes to NASA Goddard for analysis, however they were found them to be in poor condition and affected by mould. Some of the tapes were found to contain scientific data from the Pioneer and Helios missions, however many of the tapes were in such poor condition and poorly labelled that it is not known if there was any data encoded.
NASA have stated they don’t want the computers returned.
Neil Armstrong’s lunar bag goes for an astronomical amount
Recently we told you about the auction of a lunar sample bag used during Apollo 11 by Neil Armstrong. Accidentally released into the public by NASA and the subject of a subsequent protracted legal battle, the current owner had put the bag and its priceless contents of lunar dust up for auction with famed auction house Sotheby’s.
The results are in, and the bag sold for US$1.8 million (AUS$2.2 million). The identity of the new owner hasn’t been revealed.
Int-Ball images courtesy of JAXA/NASA
Images of computers courtesy of NASA