Today’s Tidbits: November 13, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: November 13, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for November 13, 2019:  Senate committee clears NASA authorization bill, Hayabusa2 on its way home, SpaceX completes IFA static fire test.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Senate Committee Clears NASA Authorization Bill

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), chairing markup session of Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, November 13, 2019

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the 2019 NASA Authorization Act today on a voice vote.  The bill, S. 2800, sets policy and recommends funding levels, but does not actually provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money.

Twenty amendments were adopted, including a Wicker “substitute” amendment, which means it replaces the text of the bill as it was introduced.  Roger Wicker (R-MS) chairs the committee.  None were discussed during the markup and a quick read reveals no major changes to the overall thrust of the bill.  A major feature is authorizing operation of the International Space Station to 2030 instead of 2024.  That is a statement of policy, however, not a guarantee of funding.  Wicker also praised the bill for supporting the goal of sending the first woman to the Moon by 2024 and going on to Mars.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the primary sponsor of the bill, said he hopes to be able to get the House “engaged” so the bill can be passed and sent to the President’s desk.  With attention focused on impeachment hearings and appropriations bills, it is not clear when that will happen.  At a hearing on the Moon/Mars program today, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, mentioned that Congress will be passing a NASA authorization bill “this Congress.” She did not say this year. The 116th Congress runs until noon on January 3, 2021.

Hayabusa2 On Its Way Home

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return spacecraft is on its way back to Earth.  Launched in 2014, Hayabusa2 arrived at the asteroid Ryugu on June 28, 2018.  Since then it has been orbiting the asteroid, touching down on it twice to collect samples, and deploying several tiny landers/rovers to explore its surface.  Before collecting the second sample, it created an impact crater to expose subsurface material.

The asteroid was full of surprises and scientists are eager to examine the samples.  They will not know how much material was collected until they can open the canister.  It will take just over a year for the spacecraft to get back to Earth where it will eject the sample return canister so it can land in Australia just as the first Hayabusa did in 2010. That mission returned the first samples of an asteroid, although only a limited number of particles were obtained because of a problem with the collection device.  JAXA is optimistic that the system used on this mission performed as expected.

SpaceX Completes IFA Static Fire Test

SpaceX completed the static fire test of its Super Draco abort engines today in preparation for the In-Flight Abort (IFA) test of Crew Dragon. The IFA test is needed before launching astronauts on Crew Dragon for the first time.  The IFA test itself is expected in December though the date has not been announced.

SpaceX is developing Crew Dragon as part of NASA’s commercial crew program to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.  To be certified for operational use, SpaceX must conduct an uncrewed test flight to ISS, called Demo-1, and a crewed test flight, Demo-2.  Demo-1 took place in March.

It must also test abort systems that will safely return astronauts to Earth if anything goes awry during launch.  A Pad Abort Test was completed four years ago.  SpaceX was getting ready for the IFA this April, just after the successful Demo-1 flight.

That time, however, the static fire test went quite wrong.  On April 20, the spacecraft exploded on its test stand, destroying the vehicle.  The company traced the problem to a failed check valve.  It has redesigned the entire system, replacing check valves with burst valves.  So far, the test today appears to have been a success.

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