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UPDATE: See truly amazing video from a NASA DC-8 of the reentry on YouTube. You can see the mother spacecraft burning up as a fireball while the return capsule continues on its descent.
Scientists are wondering what samples are in the capsule. The Hayabusa mission survived a number of technical challenges during its 7 year mission, one of which reportedly was that the mechanism that was intended to grab a sample from the surface of the asteroid after the spacecraft landed malfunctioned. The BBC reports that Japanese scientists remain optimistic that, at a minimum, enough dust would have been generated by the spacecraft's landing that some of it would have made its way into the chamber of the return capsule.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) asteroid sample return spacecraft, Hayabusa, presumably has landed in Australia as planned. The BBC reports that the reentry spacecraft hit the top of the atmosphere at 13:50 GMT (9:50 am EDT), but it would take recovery teams several hours to pinpoint the landing site and determine if it landed intact. No information about the actual landing has yet appeared on JAXA's website. A video of the reentry is on UStream. The fireball begins to emerge at 2:58 into the video. Beautiful!
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional activities are subject to change; check the appropriate website for up-to-date information. All times are EDT.
During the Week
The House may take up the FY2010 supplemental appropriations bill: the Senate-passed version (H.R. 4899) or its own (not yet reported from committee). The Senate-passed version includes language stating that funds appropriated in FY2010 or before can be used to continue the Constellation program and NASA should not terminate Constellation contracts "for convenience."
Tuesday, June 15
Wednesday, June 16
Thursday, June 17
The bipartisan leadership of the House Science and Technology (HS&T) committee and its Space and Aeronautics subcommittee sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday, the text of which is available here. It asks for budget details by June 16, 2010 so the committee can proceed with writing an authorization bill for the agency, and stresses that the funding projections for NASA's human spaceflight program do not meet what the Augustine Committee said was necessary to fund any of the options it identified.
Signed by committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), full committee ranking member Ralph Hall (R-TX), subcommittee chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and subcommittee ranking member Pete Olson (R-TX), the letter asks NASA to provide budget details about the new plan for human spaceflight taking into account the new initatives announced by President Obama on April 15 (a crew escape vehicle for the International Space Station and a $40 million jobs fund for Florida space workers). Gen. Bolden told the committee at a May 26 hearing that the agency would be submitting a revised FY2011 budget request "in the near future," but would not specify when.
The South Korean Navy may have recovered some of the debris from the country's failed rocket launch yesterday, reports the Yonhap News Service. The debris was recovered just south of Jeju Island, Yonhap reported. Latest speculation from Seoul is that the rocket exploded just before the first stage engine was about to reach maximum thrust. The first stage was built by Russia. The two countries are working together to determine the cause of the failure.
On Wednesday, the House passed the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act, H.R. 5026 (H. Rept. 111-493), whose purpose is to protect the U.S. bulk-power system and electric infrastructure. Cybersecurity and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats and vulnerabilities are addressed in the bill. The EMP vulnerabilities include severe space weather events, or "geomagnetic storms" as they are called in the bill.
Space weather refers to the effects on Earth and its environs of the Sun's "coronal mass ejections" - more commonly known as solar flares. It has long been known that solar flares disrupt high frequency radio communications, but they can also disrupt the Earth's magnetic field causing voltages in electric transmission lines that can damage the large transformers that are critical components of the electric grid. A 1989 power outage that affected a large swath of northeastern Canada was caused by such an event.
The text of the letter NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden sent to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and other Members of Congress yesterday is available here. The letter informs Congress that NASA is facing a shortfall in Constellation funding for FY2010 and is reprioritizing FY2010 activities. NASA also is reminding contractors again that they are responsible for managing all costs associated with the contracts, including potential termination costs.
The letter states that after taking into account potential termination costs and other constraints on Constellation's FY2010 budget, the program is facing a $991 million shortfall for FY2010 and therefore NASA cannot continue all of its planned FY2010 activities. Otherwise the agency would violate the Anti-Deficiency Act (which essentially says that government agencies cannot spend money that they do not have). The letter states that the contractor workforce will be reduced by "30-60 percent, or 2,500-5,000, for the balance of the year."
South Korea's Science Minister told reporters that the KSLV-1 rocket launched today apparently exploded after liftoff. "An inboard camera detected a bright flash of light at 137 seconds into the flight, which coincides exactly with the loss of communication with the two stage rocket," Yonhap News Service quoted the Minister, Ahn Byong-man, as saying. The camera was on the second stage. The first stage of the rocket was built by Russia, the second stage by South Korea.
South Korea will try again to launch its KSLV-1 (Naro-1) launch vehicle on Thursday according to the Yonhap News Service. The launch was scheduled for today, but had to be postponed when the launch pad fire extinguisher system accidentally activated three hours before the planned launch. The weather for Thursday is a little iffy, however.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, issued a press release today taking NASA to task for the actions outlined in Administrator Bolden's June 9 letter to Members of Congress. That letter describes NASA's plans to scale back Constellation program activities because of funding shortfalls in FY2010. It also informs Congress that the agency reminded Constellation contractors of their obligations to absorb termination costs if the program is cancelled as President Obama proposes, with potential layoffs of 2,500-5,000 workers before the end of the fiscal year.
"The leadership of the world's preeminent space agency has strained its credibility to the breaking point and something has to change," she said. Among her complaints is the timing of NASA's action. She points out that a bill (the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill, H.R. 4899) recently passed the Senate that "clearly affirms Congressional direction that work [on Constellation] should continue." The language in the Senate version of H.R. 4899 states that funds made available for Constellation in FY2010 and prior years "shall be available to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts" and NASA may not terminate those contracts "for convenience." The FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117) already prohibits NASA from spending funds to cancel Constellation or initiate a new program until directed to do so by Congress in a subsequent appropriations act.
Events of Interest