Outgoing Obama administration highlights space achievements in series of exit memos


The outgoing Obama administration has highlighted its space achievements in a series of exit memos.

One memo, from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, called out the extension of the ISS, Mars exploration plans and development of commercial space capabilities among other key achievements in space during the administration.

A similar exit memo from the Secretary of Defense mentioned spending $22 billion “to defend and improve the resiliency of our assets in space and put potential adversary space systems at risk.”

The exit memo from the Secretary of Commerce mentioned development of next-generation weather satellites. NASA, which is not a cabinet-level agency, did not submit an exit memo. [SpacePolicyOnline.com]

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Two NASA astronauts are venturing outside the International Space Station this morning to replace a set of batteries. Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson started their spacewalk at 7:23 a.m. Eastern, which is scheduled to last six and a half hours. The two will continue work started several days ago by the station’s robotic arm to replace batteries on the starboard side of the station’s truss. The two will install new batteries brought to the station on a Japanese cargo spacecraft last month, setting aside the old batteries for either storage outside the station or disposal on that cargo spacecraft. Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will perform a similar spacewalk in a week to replace another set of batteries. [CBS]

China launched a communications technology demonstration satellite Thursday. A Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 10:18 a.m. Eastern and placed the TJS-2 satellite into orbit. The Chinese government has released few details about the satellite’s mission, but an earlier TJS satellite, launched in 2015, tested Ka-band communications technology and deployed a large antenna. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

As NASA completes the investigation into a JWST testing anomaly, it’s asking scientists to start preparing proposals for observations. JWST officials used a “town hall” meeting at an astronomy conference Thursday to announce the release of two calls for proposals for initial observations using JWST. One is for “early release” observations specifically designed to demonstrate the telescope’s capabilities to astronomers, while the other is reserved for those astronomers who have guaranteed time on the telescope from their work on the observatory’s development. Those observations would take place starting in April 2019, about six months after its scheduled launch. Program managers said they are wrapping up the investigation into the vibration anomaly encountered during a test last month, and expect to resume vibration testing later this month. [SpaceNews]

Satellite connectivity company Golden Eagle Entertainment has purchased all the capacity on an unnamed satellite to meet growing demand. Company CEO Dave Davis said this week the company acquired all the capacity on an unnamed satellite in an inclined orbit serving North America. The satellite’s inclined orbit allowed the company to acquire the capacity at a significant discount. Golden Eagle provides in-flight connectivity services, with Southwest Airlines as a major customer, and Davis said the satellite’s inclined orbit is not an issue for aircraft applications. [SpaceNews]

Preparations are underway for the first Atlas 5 launch of 2017. Workers have started stacking the Atlas 5 rocket that will launch the SBIRS GEO-3 missile warning satellite Jan. 19 from Cape Canaveral. Efforts by United Launch Alliance to streamline launch preparations mean that the vehicle is scheduled to roll out to the pad just 13 days after stacking started, down from as long as 43 days several years ago. [Spaceflight Now]

Nissan is using NASA technology developed for Mars rovers for the company’s work on autonomous vehicles. Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility system allows a self-driving car to contact a “call center” when it encounters a situation it’s not programmed to handle; a human would then provide directions for the vehicle to follow until its autonomous systems can take over again. The system is based on NASA’s Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration, used to allow controllers to chart paths for Mars rovers. [The Verge]

Astronomers believe that some pulsars are active only part of the time. Observations from the Arecibo radio observatory found one pulsar that sends out regular radio pulses just 30 percent of the time, while another pulsar is active only 0.8 percent of the time. Astronomers don’t know what would cause the pulsars to transmit only intermittently, but speculate an irregular magnetic field may cause the stars to spin up and down, thus appearing to turn on and off. The discoveries mean there may be many more pulsars than originally thought if some of them are transmitting radio pulses, and thus can be discovered, only a fraction of the time. [Space.com]