2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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NASA Rings in Busy New Year in Florida to Prepare for Artemis Missions

The Orion crew module for Artemis I is lifted by crane on July 16, 2019, in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew module was moved to the final assembly and test cell and work was completed to secure it atop the service module. (Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

by Linda Herridge
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will have a busy year preparing facilities, ground support equipment and space hardware for the launch of Artemis I, the first uncrewed launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft. In 2020, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) activities will ramp up as launch hardware arrives and teams put systems in place for Artemis I and II missions.

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Video: Back to the Moon with ESA

Video Caption: The first flight of the Artemis programme, which will see humans return to the Moon, is scheduled to begin soon.

The lunar spacecraft consists of NASA’s Orion crew module and the European Service Module, or ESM. Developed by ESA and building on technology from its Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the ESM will provide propulsion, life support, environmental control and electrical power to Orion.

The Artemis 1 spacecraft modules are undergoing thermal vacuum and electromagnetic interference tests in the world’s largest space simulation vacuum chamber at the Glenn Research Centre’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, USA.

Learn more about Orion: http://bit.ly/ESAOrion

NASA Looks Forward to Busy 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA will be taking long strides toward returning astronauts to the Moon, continuing the exploration of Mars and developing new technology to make supersonic aircraft fly more quietly.

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GAO: NASA Lunar Plans Lack Cost Estimate, Risk Integration Challenges

Artist’s conception of astronaut in an advanced spacesuit working on the moon. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In March, Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump Administration would use “any means necessary” to accomplish the goal of landing American astronauts on the moon by 2024.

Those means apparently did not include having NASA produce a cost estimate for the first landing mission known as Artemis III. And that has the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concerned.

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Video: How We Are Going to the Moon

Video Caption: While Apollo placed the first steps on the Moon, Artemis opens the door for humanity to sustainably work and live on another world for the first time. Using the lunar surface as a proving ground for living on Mars, this next chapter in exploration will forever establish our presence in the stars. ✨

We are returning to the Moon – to stay – and this is how we are going!

Actress Kelly Marie Tran of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” lent her voice to this project.

NASA, Public Marks Assembly of SLS Stage with Artemis Day

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gives remarks on the agency’s Artemis program, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, in front of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NEW ORLEANS (NASA PR) — On Monday, Dec. 9, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine showed off the Space Launch System liquid-fueled rocket stage that will send the first Artemis mission to space. The core stage, built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, is the largest NASA has produced since the Apollo Program.

NASA and the Michoud team will shortly send the first fully assembled, 212-foot-tall core stage to the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi aboard the Pegasus barge for final tests.

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Germany Invests 3.3 Billion Euros in European Space Exploration, Becomes ESA’s Largest Contributor

  • Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
  • Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
  • At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
  • The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
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NASA Teams Conduct Crucial SLS Booster Stacking Exercise

Teams practice Space Launch System booster stacking. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and Space Launch System (SLS) practice SLS booster stacking with pathfinders inside Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building.

The goal of the training, which took place Nov. 18 through Nov. 20, was to practice booster segment mate. Using overhead cranes and booster handling activities, the teams focused on procedures for mating a center segment onto a cylinder that simulated another segment. The exercise was performed around the clock, operating three shifts per day.

SLS will launch the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 through the Artemis program. For more information, click here.

Italy Boosts Contribution to ESA Budget

SEVILLE, Spain (ASI PR) — In Seville, Spain, the institutional representatives and heads of the countries that make up the European Space Agency (ESA) have set the course towards new spatial horizons in the coming years. The share of the Italian contribution rises, while Samantha Cristoforetti will return to orbit.

An increase of almost one billion euros [$1.1 billion] compared to the previous Ministerial is what the Italian delegation to the ESA Ministerial Council 2019 has destined as a contribution of our country to the budget of the ESA for the next three to four years. 

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Orion Arrives at Plum Brook for Environmental Testing

The Super Guppy is opened at dawn to reveal Orion spacecraft inside. (Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell)

SANDUSKY, Ohio (NASA PR) — The Artemis I Orion spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, on Tuesday, Nov. 26 for in-space environmental testing in preparation for Artemis I.

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Orion Spacecraft Arrives in Ohio Aboard the Super Guppy

The Super Guppy is opened at dawn to reveal Orion spacecraft inside. (Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell)


MANSFIELD, Ohio (NASA PR) — Almost 1,500 people turned out Sunday, November 24 to watch NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft arrive at Mansfield Lahm Airport with the Orion spacecraft for Artemis I aboard.  After viewing exhibits, the crowd gathered at the flight line to await the aircraft.

At about 4:35 p.m. EST, the Guppy, which had traveled from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, appeared in the eastern sky on approach.

Super Guppy with Orion spacecraft aboard comes in for a landing. (Credits: NASA/Marvin Smith)

Once the Guppy touched down, there was a loud cheer from the crowd as it taxied to a stop for the night just as the sun began to set. 

The nose of the Guppy was opened at sunrise on Monday, November 25  revealing the packaged Orion spacecraft inside. It has been removed from the aircraft and is loaded onto a large flatbed trailer so it can be transported to NASA’s Plum Brook Station for testing.

Crowds gather to greet Super Guppy with Orion spacecraft aboard. (Credits: NASA/Marvin Smith)

Completed in two phases inside the world’s largest vacuum chamber, testing will begin with a thermal test, which will last approximately 60 days, while Orion’s systems are powered-on under vacuum conditions that simulate the space environment.

During this phase, the spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from -250 to 300-degrees Fahrenheit, to replicate flying in-and-out of sunlight and shadow in space. The second phase is an electromagnetic interference and compatibility test, lasting about 14 days. This testing will ensure the spacecraft’s electronics work properly when operated at the same time.

Super Guppy with Orion spacecraft inside parked on the tarmac in Ohio. (Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell)

After successful completion, the spacecraft will return to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where it will begin integration with the powerful Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis I launch.

View more images of Orion’s arrival in Ohio.

NASA Shares Mid-Sized Robotic Lunar Lander Concept with Industry

Illustration shows the mid-sized lander on the lunar surface. (Credits: NASA)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — As NASA presses forward with the agency’s mission to the Moon, Mars and beyond, the development of top-tier technology is critical to success. With emphasis on lunar exploration and scientific investigation, the desire to deliver a wide variety of payloads to the Moon has increased.

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NASA IG: Decide Future of the International Space Station Soon

The International Space Station as it appears in 2018. Zarya is visible at the center of the complex, identifiable by its partially retracted solar arrays. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The sooner NASA can decide the future of the International Space Station (ISS), the easier it will be for the space agency to pursue its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by 2020, according to a new report from its Office of Inspector General (OIG).

“Whether NASA decides to extend, increase commercialization of, or retire the ISS, the timing of each of these decisions has a cascading effect on the funding available to support space flight operations in low Earth orbit, ambitions for establishing a permanent presence on the Moon, and ultimately sending humans to Mars,” the report stated.

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