How coronavirus lockdown is affecting astronomy and spaceflight
The corona virus shutdown has made even shopping for groceries difficult, but how has it affected the study of the Universe?
European Space Agency
Royal Astronomical Society
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine: “We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority. Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with CDC guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we can’t safely do that we’re going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission critical activities.”
NASA statement: "To protect the health and safety of the NASA workforce...leadership recently completed the first assessment of work underway across all missions, projects, and programs. The goal was to identify tasks that can be done remotely by employees at home, mission-essential work that must be performed on-site, and on-site work that will be paused.
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission remains a high priority...and launch and other mission preparations will continue. Much of the work is being done by employees and contractors who work remotely across the agency. Assessments by agency leadership are underway for anyone required to work in areas under restriction, such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory .
The James Webb Space Telescope team in California is suspending integration and testing operations. Also in California, work continues by Lockheed Martin on X-59 NASA's first large-scale, piloted X-plane in more than 30 years, while NASA oversight and inspections will be conducted almost exclusively virtually.
Work on the agency’s Artemis program continues with limited production of hardware and software for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Since the Human Landing System program leverages capabilities across the agency, it already functions as a virtual team to conduct engineering analysis and other work, and it has seen minimal impact from the requirement for mandatory telework.
Most development work on the Gateway program continues and can be done remotely, however, any on-site activity beyond securing hardware is temporarily suspended until further notice.
NASA’s Ames Research Center is keeping the agency’s supercomputing resources online, as well as NASA IT Security Operations Center and in-flight spacecraft operations.
All work associated with supporting International Space Station operations continues. Astronaut training continues, as do preparations for the launch April 9 of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts."
European Southern Observatory
Statement from ESO: "In light of recent COVID-19 developments, ESO has decided to implement further measures to fight the pandemic.
In Chile, where ESO’s observatories and its Santiago offices are located, the organisation is suspending all public visits to ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories until further notice. Public activities at the Vitacura-Santiago office are also cancelled during the month of March, including the planned Open House Day.
Following the cancellation of public visits and activities, and the limitations in duty travel, ESO's observatory sites are transitioning into a restricted operation mode, reducing the number of staff on site while maintaining basic science operations.
We are now also moving towards remote working for as many staff as possible in Garching, Germany and Santiago, Chile."
Mullard Space Science Laboratory / Solar Orbiter
Australian Astronomer at Large
Isaac Newton Telescope
The effort normally devoted to supporting the operation of the telescopes has switched to projects that can be continued via tele-working.
In particular, within the ING Astronomy Group we are focused on the final stages of WEAVE, a world-class multi-object spectrograph that will be able to take spectra of 1000 objects at a time. WEAVE is due to be installed on the WHT later this year.
Our contributions include designing and testing the WEAVE observations scheduler, elaborating the on-sky commissioning plan, generating operation protocols, reviewing and completing documentation, etc.
Astronomical research continues almost unchanged - the digital archives contain a large trove of observational data that await analysis and publication."
University College London Observatory
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.