Today’s Tidbits: December 3, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: December 3, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for December 3, 2019:  Inhofe urges party leaders to break impasse on FY2020 NDAA, SpaceX pauses Starship work in Florida, India’s Vikram crash site on Moon located. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Inhofe Urges Party Leaders to Break Impasse on FY2020 NDAA

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) chairing an April 2019 SASC hearing.

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) urged Republican and Democratic party leaders to resolve issues holding up final action on the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  In opening remarks at a hearing on military housing today, he said the delay is due to issues outside of SASC’s control.

Issues like military housing are why it is so crucial we continue to pass an NDAA every year. The NDAA supports the bipartisan national security of this country and should not be held hostage by issues outside this committee’s purview.

Unfortunately, because of issues that are not in Senate Armed Services Committee’s jurisdiction, this year’s NDAA is not yet resolved, which means only Leadership can clear this logjam.

I hope that we can move past these issues so we can remain focused on the promises we made to those who serve our country and get an NDAA signed into law.  That should be our priority. — Sen. Jim Inhofe

The Senate and House passed their respective versions of the NDAA in June and July. Of special interest to the space community is language that would create a Space Corps (House version) or Space Force (Senate version).  Inhofe and his House Armed Services Committee (HASC) counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), have been trading barbs over the last several weeks, but Inhofe’s comment today was the first public indication that the hold-up is over issues outside of their control.

SpaceX Pauses Starship Work in Florida

SpaceX is working on development of its Starship spacecraft to take astronauts to Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars in two locations:  Boca Chica, TX, near Brownsville, and Cocoa, FL, near Cape Canaveral.  Boca Chica has gotten the lion’s share of attention because the two Starhopper tests took place there and Elon Musk’s update on the program’s status was in front of a Starship model at Boca Chica in September.

More recently, a “Mark 1” (Mk1) prototype literally blew its top during a tanking test there last month. Musk seemed non-plussed at the failure and said the company would simply move on to Mk2, being built in Cocoa, and Mk3 at Boca Chica.

Thus, it made some news on Twitter and in a YouTube video over the past several days when residents near Cocoa noticed a lot of the Starship hardware being disassembled and loaded onto a ship bound for Brownsville.

The hardware relocation was accompanied by rumors that temporary workers at the Cocoa facility were being laid off.

In response to media inquiries, SpaceX explained that work on Starship at Cocoa has been “paused” in order to focus on Mk3 at Boca Chica.  It added that no one was laid off, but some temporary employees left the company rather than move to Boca Chica to continue working on Starship or be reassigned to other work in Florida.

India’s Vikram Lander Crash Site on Moon Located

The crash site of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) Vikram lunar lander has been located in images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

This image shows the Vikram Lander impact point and associated debris field. Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots locate disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith. “S” indicates debris identified by Shanmuga Subramanian. This portion of the Narrow Angle Camera mosaic was made from images M1328074531L/R and M1328081572L/R acquired Nov. 11. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.

Vikram was launched on July 22, 2019 as part of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon.  It is named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program.  The Chandrayaan-2 mission consisted of three elements: an orbiter; the Vikram lander; and a tiny rover aboard the lander, named Pragyan (Wisdom).   The orbiter is working well, but ISRO lost contact with Vikram just before landing and it became clear that it had crashed.

At first, the head of ISRO, K Sivan, said that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had acquired a thermal image of the lander’s impact site, but that was never confirmed.

NASA’s LRO has been in orbit around the Moon since 2009 and sends back very high resolution images of the surface.  Many have been searching for the crash site in LROC images and finally succeeded.

The LROC team credited an Indian mechanical engineer and amateur astronomer Shanmuga Subramanian for the find.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team released the first mosaic (acquired Sept. 17) of the site on Sept. 26 and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram. Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on Oct. 14 and 15, and Nov. 11. The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site (70.8810°S,  22.7840°E, 834 m elevation) and associated debris field. The November mosaic had the best pixel scale (0.7 meter) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).

The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and was a single bright pixel identification in that first mosaic (1.3 meter pixels, 84° incidence angle). The November mosaic shows best the impact crater, ray and extensive debris field. The three largest pieces of debris are each about 2×2 pixels and cast a one pixel shadow.

The crash is a reminder of how difficult it can be to land on the Moon.  SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit, suffered a similar fate for its Beresheet lander in April.  NASA is embarked upon the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program where it will contract with companies to deliver NASA payloads to the lunar surface.  The companies must provide the robotic spacecraft and launch vehicle.  NASA provides only the science or technology payloads and money.  NASA officials understand the risks, saying CLPS is like taking “shots on goal” and a 50 percent success rate is acceptable.

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