Today’s Tidbits: January 21, 2020

Today’s Tidbits: January 21, 2020

Here are’s tidbits for January 21, 2020:  Andrucyk to take Goddard post permanently, NRO smallsat to launch from New Zealand, vote to name the Mars 2020 rover by January 27.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Andrucyk to Take Goddard Post Permanently

Dennis Andrucyk. Credit: NASA

NASA announced today that Dennis Andrucyk will permanently take the job as Director of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.  He has been Acting Director since the first of the year.

NASA does not appear to have issued a press release, but Jeff Foust (@Jeff_Foust) of Space News tweeted that it was announced at today’s Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon. A NASA official later confirmed it to

Andrucyk was Deputy Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters before taking the Acting Director job on January 1. It is a homecoming.  A 31-year NASA veteran, Andrucyk spent many years at Goddard in a number of capacities primarily in the engineering organization.  He was Director of Engineering there from 2010-2015.  He also has served as acting Chief Technologist and Deputy Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at Headquarters.

Before joining NASA in 1988, he worked at DOD as both a contractor and a civil servant, as well as at the National Security Agency, the Naval Research Laboratory, Westinghouse Electric, General Electric, and Northrop Grumman.

He succeeds Chris Scolese, who was Goddard Director from March 2012 – July 2019.  George Morrow served as Acting Director from August-December 2019 before retiring on December 31.

NRO Smallsat To Launch From New Zealand

Speaking of Chris Scolese, he left NASA to become Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), one of the 17 agencies that comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community.  NRO develops, acquires, launches and operates the nation’s spy satellites.

Like many others in the space business, NRO is looking at the pros and cons of using disaggregated systems of multiple small satellites (smallsats) instead of individual large spacecraft that, in the national security environment, could be sitting ducks waiting to be targeted by adversaries.

NRO is looking for innovation not only in satellites, but the rockets to put them in orbit.  As early as January 30 Eastern Standard Time (EST), an NRO smallsat will be launched from outside the United States, another novelty.  NRO competitively selected Rocket Lab, a U.S. company that launches from New Zealand, through the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract.  Rocket Lab is building a launch site at Wallops Island, VA,  but its complex on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula is its primary site.  Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket can place a maximum of 225 kilograms of payload into a 500 kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

In a series of tweets, NRO pointed out that New Zealand is a member of the  “Five Eyes” alliance: Australia, Canada, Unites States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

The spacecraft, officially NROL-151, carries the intriguing name “Birds of a Feather” and the NRO logo is … unique.

Logos for the NRO “Birds of a Feather” spacecraft to be launched by Rocket Lab.  Rocket Lab logo on bottom, NRO logo on top (a deer with a variety of unusual objects hanging from its antlers).  Credit: Rocket Lab website.

The 14-day launch window opens on January 31 between 13:00-17:00  New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT).   NZDT is 18 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST), so that would be January 30, 7:00-11:00 pm EST.

Cast Your Vote to Name the Mars 2020 Rover

After soliciting ideas from schoolkids around the country, NASA has picked nine potential names for its next Mars rover and wants the public to vote on which will be the winner.   From the more than 28,000 entries, these are the nine:

  • Ingenuity
  • Endurance
  • Vision
  • Tenacity
  • Perseverance
  • Fortitude
  • Courage
  • Promise
  • Clarity

Cast your vote here by 9:00 pm Pacific Time (midnight Eastern) on Monday, January 27.  Apparently NASA is not committing to using whatever name gets the most votes, though.  It says the “results of the poll will be a consideration in the final naming selection.”

NASA used similar naming contests for previous Mars landers and rovers, including the Curiosity rover that landed in 2012.  Mars 2020 has the same design as Curiosity, but different scientific instruments.  One of its tasks is to collect and store (“cache”) samples of Martian soil and rocks for eventual return to Earth by other spacecraft.  It also will carry a tiny 1.8 kilogram Mars Helicopter.  Launch is scheduled for July 2020.

Illustration of Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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