Inside Space - March 11th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 11th, 2020)

SLS problems continue / Demo 2 slated for May / New ISS urine processor / Curiosity climbs slope

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1. The development of the Space Launch System (SLS) continues being plagued by delays and cost overruns, according to a watchdog report. The rocket's debut should have taken place in 2017 but is now slated for late 2021. According to a report by NASA's Inspector General, the companies involved in the project have experienced setbacks, resulting in $2 billion of cost increases and at least two years of delays. By the end of fiscal year 2020, NASA will have spent more than $17 billion on the SLS program and will likely spend $1.4 billion more before the rocket's maiden flight. Back in 2014, NASA earmarked $10.8 billion for the project. The main factor contributing to the delays is the "poor performance" of Boeing, which is building the core stage. But the report said that Northrop Grumman and Aerojet – which are building the rocket's solid-propellant boosters and the main engines, respectively – have also experienced technical issues. – THE VERGE

2. SpaceX is on track to send astronauts to space aboard the Crew Dragon in May, the company's president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said on Tuesday. For the mission, known as Demo 2, the capsule will transport astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS). A NASA official had previously talked about May as a "tentative" launch date while indicating that the mission would likely take place between late April and June. But now Shotwell has confirmed that NASA and SpaceX are on track to launch the mission in May. She said that officials have not yet decided whether Hurley and Behnken will stay on the ISS for a few days or several weeks. – CNBC

3. The International Space Station (ISS) has taken delivery of a new device to turn urine into drinking water. The "urine processor assembly" that arrived at the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule earlier this week will replace a similar device that was installed back in 2008. After identifying some weakness in the hardware, NASA decided to build a new processor. "We took those lessons learned and upgraded our urine distillation assembly to create a more reliable system equipped to travel to the moon, Mars and beyond," the agency said in a statement. The device will supply the ISS crew with the "cleanest water possible," the agency said. – CNET

4. By analyzing a fossilized mollusk shell, scientists have been able to determine that some 70 million years ago, an Earth day lasted for 23.5 hours. Back then, there were 372 days to a year, instead of 365, researchers say in a new study. To reach that conclusion, they analyzed a shell that contains growth rings – just like the annual growth rings in trees, only that these mollusks produced growth rings on a daily basis. The researchers were able to match the rings to the Earth's seasons and also determined that the mollusk lived for nine years. That's how they were able to conclude that for every four seasons, the mollusk produced 372 growth rings. Although the length of a year has been steady through time, it has long been known that days are becoming longer due to the moon's gravitational pull. – SCIENCE ALERT

5. Astronomers have found a star that pulsates only on one side. Stars, including the sun, are known to pulsate, causing oscillations in the amount of energy they release, but they do so throughout their surface. However, HD74423, which is located within the Milky Way, 1,500 light-years from Earth, pulsates mostly on just one hemisphere. HD74423 is a binary star that also includes a red dwarf, with the two stars orbiting one another. In a new study, scientists say that the gravitational pull of the red dwarf is distorting the pulsations of its companion while giving it a teardrop shape. – CNN

6. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is facing a budget squeeze, according to local media reports. The Times of India says that ISRO has been allocated a budget of 13,479 crore ($1.8 billion) for 2020-21, which is about 55 percent of what the Space Department had requested. Although the Space Department had requested 4,257 crore ($570 million) for ISRO's Gaganyaan project, it will only receive 1,200 crore ($162.4 million). Under the Gaganyaan project, India wants to send astronauts into space by 2022. If it succeeds, it will become the fourth country to send astronauts into space after Russia, the U.S. and China. The Space Department said that it will request additional funds. – TIMES OF INDIA

7. NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has successfully climbed a steep hill known as the "Greenheugh pediment." With an inclination of 30˚ or more, the slope is so pronounced that the Curiosity team wasn't sure whether the rover would be able to make it all the way up. Engineers had long wanted to drive the rover up the hill to study the geology of the site but only found a viable route a few weeks ago. "The geology planning group honored the achievement of making it here by getting our cameras and laser on every little bit of rock we could manage," the Curiosity team said in a statement. Perched atop the cliff, the rover now has an unencumbered view of the Gale crater and will search for clouds and dust devils, the statement added. – DIGITAL TRENDS

8. The U.S., Europe and South Korea are launching a set of satellite instruments to monitor air quality around the world. Last month, South Korea launched the Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer to monitor air quality over the Northern Hemisphere. NASA plans to deploy a similar instrument called The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) in 2022. The European Space Agency, meanwhile, is working on the Sentinel 4 mission to study air quality over Europe. Together, these instruments will provide researchers with data to monitor air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. The measurements could allow scientists to determine where these pollutants originated. "We’ll be able to get more accurate air quality, air pollution forecasts because we’ll know about the sources and how these sources change over time," said Barry Lefer, a program manager at NASA’s Earth Science Division. – THE VERGE

9. NASA will test a device to slow down spacecraft before landing in 2022. The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) will travel as a secondary payload on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket – the main payload of the mission will be a NOAA weather satellite called JPSS-2. Through this technology demonstration, NASA will test if LOFTID can survive the high temperatures that it will encounter upon entering our planet's atmosphere. LOFTID is a stepping stone that would eventually allow NASA to develop a Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator to slow the descent of future spacecraft as they approach the Martian surface. – SPACE NEWS

10. Image of the Day: This image showing the launch of an Electron rocket was posted on Twitter by photographer Trevor Mahlmann. "4 perfect examples (and some of my favorite photos) that I wouldn’t have captured had I not pursued photography full-time," he wrote

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. 


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