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Inside Space (Aug 20th, 2019)

The Europa Clipper mission is on. A United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket will launch a lunar lander into space in 2021. Chandrayaan-2 has reached lunar orbit. For these and other news on space exploration and the wonders of the universe, here is Inside Space:

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1. Infighting among Republicans could deprive the Artemis mission of the funding it needs to send astronauts to the moon by 2024. Amid a rising debt burden, Congress has been reluctant to provide the Trump administration with billions of dollars for the mission, while Republican lawmakers are fighting over whose state gets the spoils of the lucrative program. Meanwhile, Trump has urged NASA to focus on Mars and forget about the moon, and a group led by former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says that instead of spending taxpayers money, the White House should rely on the private sector to send astronauts to the moon. To make matters worse, last month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced a major shake-up of the human spaceflight directorate. – QUARTZ

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2. NASA has given the green light to Europa Clipper, a mission that will investigate whether Jupiter's moon Europa is habitable. The authorization means that NASA engineers can design, build and test the spacecraft and its science instruments. Under the current schedule, the probe will be launched in 2023 and will orbit Europa for about three years, gathering information about the moon's subsurface ocean. Scientists believe that this ocean may harbor microbial life. NASA also plans to send a lander to Europa in 2025. Congress has mandated NASA to launch the Europa Clipper and the Europa Lander missions on the Space Launch System – a vehicle whose development has been marred by delays. – NEW ATLAS

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3. For its maiden flight, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket will send a lunar lander into orbit. Astrobotic – one of the three companies selected by NASA to send robotic landers to the moon in preparation for a crewed mission scheduled for 2024 – has selected the Vulcan to transport its Peregrine lander in the summer of 2021. The Peregrine mission will carry 28 payloads from eight different countries, including the U.S. and Mexico. The contract is a major victory for ULA, which is developing the Vulcan with the specific aim of orbiting U.S. Air Force satellites. Now ULA has secured the two flights it needs to obtain AF certification. For its second mission, the Vulcan will send Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser space plane into orbit in late 2021. – REUTERS

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4. Thanks to data provided by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have been able to study the surface of a rocky exoplanet located 48.6 light-years away. LHS 3844b, which was discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) mission in 1998, has a radius 1.3 times that of Earth. It orbits an M dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way. According to a new study, LHS 3844b could be covered in a similar cooled volcanic material found in the dark areas of the moon's surface. The planet seems to have two sides, one that permanently faces the host star and one that doesn't. By measuring the temperature difference between the sides, the team determined that the planet lacks an atmosphere. "If an atmosphere were present, hot air on the dayside would naturally expand, generating winds that would transfer heat around the planet," NASA said in a statement. – CNN

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5. Astronomers have discovered a planet 3,000 times more massive than Earth in the Milky Way. It takes β Pictoris c 1,200 days to orbit its host star, Beta Pictoris, which has a mass nearly twice that of the Sun. This planetary system also includes the planet β Pictoris b, a gassy giant first spotted in 2009. Both planets were discovered by a team led by Anne-Marie Lagrange, an astronomer at France's National Centre for Scientific Research. Since the host star is just 23 million years old, this is a relatively young system compared to the Solar System, which is about 4.5 billion years old. "To better understand the early stage of formation and evolution, this is probably the best planetary system we know of," Lagrange said. – AFP

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6. Chandrayaan-2 has entered lunar orbit. "For 30 minutes, our heart was almost stopping," said the head of the Indian Space Research Organization, K Sivan, after the maneuver was completed. The spacecraft, which encompasses an orbiter, a lander and a rover, is on track to land on the moon on September 7, Sivan said. But first ISRO will need to perform several maneuvers to bring it closer to the lunar surface and separate the lander/rover module from the orbiter. – TIMES OF INDIA

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7. SpaceX still hopes to send astronauts into space aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft before the end of the year. The mission was postponed after an explosion that destroyed a Crew Dragon capsule during a test in April. An investigation into the accident is almost completed, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX. After engineers replace faulty valves linked to the blast, an in-flight abort test would now take place in October or November. "Right after that, hopefully this year, we'll have the Demo-2 flight," Koenigsmann said, referring to the crewed test flight. – SPACE NEWS

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8. A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket is scheduled to send a GPS navigation satellite into orbit on Thursday. There is a 70 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at Cape Canaveral, according to forecasters. The satellite will be part of a constellation that provides positioning and timing services for military and civilian users. It is the second last-generation GPS satellite to be sent into orbit to replace some of the aging satellites that form part of the constellation. The first one was delivered to orbit in December by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. – SPACEFLIGHT NOW

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9. LEGO's new promotional video features former NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino unboxing and building a LEGO set in microgravity. The Lego City Mars Research Shuttle set is inspired by NASA's moon and Mars programs. During a mission in 2009, Massimino became the first person to tweet from space. – SPACE

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10. Image of the Day: This image captured by the Suomi NPP satellite shows spiraling cloud patterns known as von Kármán vortices, eddies that form when cloud formations get disturbed by mountains. In this case, the vortices formed when winds flowed over the Canary Islands in the North Atlantic.

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Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 

Editor:  David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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