Today’s Tidbits: June 14, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: June 14, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for June 14, 2018: Senate appropriators approve NASA/NOAA bill; JAXA’s Hayabusa2 closing in on Ryugu; China’s Queqiao reaches destination.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Senate Appropriators Approve NASA/NOAA Bill

The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill today by a vote of 30-1. It funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.  It was approved at subcommittee level on Tuesday.

The bill allocates $21.3 billion for NASA, somewhat less than the House Appropriations Committee provided ($21.6 billion).  By comparison, President Trump requested $19.9 billion and NASA’s current (FY2018) funding level is $20.7 billion.  The committee rejected Trump Administration proposals to terminate four Earth science programs (PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3 and DSCOVR’s earth facing instruments), the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), and programs funded by NASA’s Office of Education.

The total for NOAA’s weather satellites is not public yet, but the committee approved $50 million more for polar-orbiting weather satellites than requested, and the same amount as requested for geostationary weather satellites.

The next step for both the House- and Senate-versions of the bill will be floor action in each respective chamber.  No dates have been announced for when that will happen on either side of the Hill.

JAXA’s Hayabusa2 Closes in on Asteroid Ryugu

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) asteroid sample return mission is closing in on its target, the asteroid Ryugu.  Launched in December 2014, it will go into orbit around Ryugu once it arrives and remain there for 18 months studying it to determine the best location from which to obtain a sample.  The sample should arrived back on Earth in 2020.

After its long journey, the spacecraft is now just 920 kilometers away.

China’s Queqiao Communications Relay Satellite Reaches Destination

China’s lunar communications relay satellite, Queqiao, has arrived at its destination — the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point. []  Launched on May 21, it is now orbiting the Moon at a distance of about 65,000 kilometers in a halo orbit around the L2 point.  There are five Lagrange points in any orbiting two-body system where the gravitational forces of the two bodies cancel each other out.  They were identified in 1772 by the French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange.  Several NASA and ESA satellites are positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 and L2 Lagrange points.

China plans to launch the Chang’e-4 lunar lander to the far side of the Moon later this year.  The far side is always facing away from Earth so a spacecraft on the surface cannot communicate directly back to Earth.  Quequio will relay signals between the lander and Earth.  Chang’e-4 was built as the backup for China’s first lunar lander, Chang’e-3, which landed on the near side of the Moon in 2013 and deployed the small rover, Yutu.  Although Yutu suffered mechanical problems and did not fulfill all its tasks, the Chinese considered the overall  mission sufficiently successful to send Chang’e-4 on a somewhat riskier mission to the far side.  No spacecraft has made a soft landing on the far side before.

In addition to studying the lunar surface, Queqiao is carrying an astronomy experiment — Netherlands-China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) instrument.   Two microsatellites were launched along with Queqiao — Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2.  They were intended to enter lunar orbit and work together as an interferometer to obtain astronomical observations. Longjiang-1 failed to reach lunar orbit, however, according to Andrew Jones of

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