In its latest assessment of high-risk government programs, the GAO removed NOAA’s GOES geostationary orbit weather satellite program, which successfully launched the first of a new generation of spacecraft in November.
The report, though, added the Defense Department’s polar-orbiting weather satellite program because of a lack of a comprehensive plan to develop those satellites.
NOAA’s JPSS polar-orbiting satellite program, whose first satellite is set to launch later this year, remains on the list. [SpacePolicyOnline]
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has detected organic compounds on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. Scientists found a patch of organic materials near one crater, with a smaller amount a few hundred kilometers away. The materials are likely “tar-like” materials like kerite and asphaltite. Scientists believe the materials were created on Ceres and were not deposited there by impacting comets or asteroids. The organic materials, along with the presence of water and an internal heat source, suggest that the asteroid belt’s largest object has all the basic requirements to support life. [Space.com]
NASA is developing a contingency plan for getting crews to and from the International Space Station after 2018 should commercial crew companies encounter more delays. In a response to a GAO report published Thursday, NASA said it is developing such a plan and will complete it by mid-March. One option included in the report would be for NASA to carry out another “one-year” ISS mission starting in late 2018, avoiding the need for a Soyuz seat on a mid-2019 flight. NASA has also previously been in discussions with Boeing about acquiring Soyuz seats through the company for 2019 missions. The plan is needed, the GAO report concluded, because of NASA’s conclusion that both Boeing and SpaceX will likely encounter additional delays that will push back the certification of their vehicles into 2019. [SpaceNews]
Forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft. Clouds and rain are the threat to the launch, scheduled for 10:01 a.m.Eastern, although the weather may hold off until later in the day. Mission managers will review plans for the launch, the first Falcon 9 flight from historic Launch Complex 39A, Friday morning. The FAA has yet to issue a commercial launch license for the mission. [Florida Today]
NASA is still talking about climate change, four weeks into the Trump administration. Despite concerns that the new administration would muzzle the agency’s Earth science outreach, NASA continues to provide information through social media on climate change issues, even when those statements contradict views previously expressed by Trump himself. A NASA spokesman said it’s “business at usual” for its Earth science programs. That’s in contrast to the EPA, which has been in a “media blackout” since Trump’s inauguration four weeks ago. [Washington Post]
If lawmakers get their way, the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System could be named after the late astronaut Gene Cernan. A “sense of Congress” resolution introduced in the House this week asks NASA to name the first SLS launch, Exploration Mission 1, the “Cernan-1” after the astronaut. Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 and the last Apollo astronaut to walk on the moon, passed away last month. [SpaceNews]
The shipment of Rocket Lab’s first Electron rocket to the launch site is only the beginning of a test program. The rocket will undergo tests at the company’s New Zealand launch site before launching at an unspecified date. The company plans to perform three test launches of the Electron, including two that will carry satellite payloads, before beginning commercial missions. Rocket Lab plans to perform seven Electron launches overall this year, ultimately ramping up to a flight rate of one launch a week. [SpaceNews]
NASA has selected two proposals for the development of university-led space technology research programs. The two Space Technology Research Institutes will each receive $15 million over five years to advance technologies that can support NASA’s exploration programs. One, the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES), will study how biological processes can be harnessed to manufacture materials needed for long-duration missions. The Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) will work on a high-strength aerospace structural material based on carbon nanotubes. [NASA]
A competition has offered a new solution to the age-old problem: how do you go to the bathroom in space? The “Space Poop Challenge”, sponsored by NASA and HeroX, offered prizes for how to deal with that pressing question in the case of cislunar missions where astronauts are forced to stay in pressure suits for up to six days at a time if their spacecraft is depressurized. The winning concept, by an Air Force doctor, adds a tiny airlock to the pressure suit through which catheters and inflatable bedpans can be passed to provide relief for astronauts. [CNN]