NASA Extends Exploration for 8 Planetary Science Missions

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following a thorough evaluation, NASA has extended the planetary science missions of eight of its spacecraft due to their scientific productivity and potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.

The missions – Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx, and New Horizons – have been selected for continuation, assuming their spacecraft remain healthy. Most of the missions will be extended for three years; however, OSIRIS-REx will be continued for nine years in order to reach a new destination, and InSight will be continued until the end of 2022, unless the spacecraft’s electrical power allows for longer operations.


NASA Awards Venture Class Launch Contracts to Astra, Relativity Space & Firefly

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contracts to launch small satellites (SmallSats) to space, including CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites. The three companies selected to provide these commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:

  • Astra Space Inc. of Alameda, California: $3.9 million
  • Relativity Space Inc. of Long Beach, California: $3.0 million
  • Firefly Black LLC of Cedar Park, Texas: $9.8 million

NASA Wants Your Ideas on What to Launch on SciTech Satellite

Boeing GEO Spinner Bus (Credit: NASA)

Do you like space?

Do you want to fly something up there?

Well, then NASA wants to hear from you.

It seems NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has received a spare satellite from another unnamed federal agency that it plans to launch in the 2021 time frame. And it wants ideas on what to fly aboard it.

NASA’s request for information (RFI) is rather broad: it says the NASA Science/Technology Platform Satellite (NSTP-Sat) could be launched  “to low earth orbit, geostationary equatorial orbit, medium Earth orbit, Earth–Moon L1, or lunar orbit.”

The spacecraft could be launched “on a NASA-procured launch service or on the Space Launch System Exploration Mission-2 launch vehicle as a co-manifested payload (CPL),” the RFI states.

View the RFI here. Deadline for submissions is March 17.


More on Alan Stern’s Departure; Ed Weiler Promises to Balance Cost, Quality

There has been a lot of media coverage of S. Alan Stern’s departure as head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Stern lasted less than a year on the job before abruptly resigning on Wednesday in the wake of the agency’s decision to rescind deep cuts in the popular Mars Exploration Rover program.

Because neither Stern nor NASA Administrator Mike Griffin revealed the precise reasons behind the departure, people were left speculating about a decision that has left the science community stunned.

“His departure is a shock to people,” Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., told Scientific American. “It means potentially a black day for science at NASA.”


Stern Out, Weiler in at NASA Science Directorate; Mather Will Reportedly Leave

NASA’s Science group has seen an abrupt turnover in its top leadership. S. Alan Stern, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, announced his resignation on Wednesday. John Mather, the directorate’s chief scientist, is also reported to be heading back to his full-time position on the James Webb Space Telescope program.

“Alan has rendered invaluable service to NASA as the Principal Investigator for the Pluto/New Horizons mission, as a member of the NASA Advisory Council, and as the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate,” Administrator Mike Griffin said in a statement. “While I deeply regret his decision to leave NASA, I understand his reasons for doing so, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”