NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers

Artist’s conception of lunar lander (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 11 companies to conduct studies and produce prototypes of human landers for its Artemis lunar exploration program. This effort will help put American astronauts — the first woman and next man — on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028.

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Bezos Kicks Off Club for the Future with Old Fashioned Postal Plan

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In addition to re-unveiling Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander last week, Jeff Bezos launched a venture called the Club for the Future to get students, parents and educators excited about his bold vision for colonizing space and preserving the Earth for future generations.

The club’s first venture aimed at kids who grew up with e-mail, instant messaging, laptops and tablets involves some old fashioned communication:

Draw or write your vision of millions of people living and working in space on the blank side of a self-addressed, stamped postcard, and send it to us. We’ll pack the first 10,000 postcards received before July 20, 2019 inside the Crew Capsule on an upcoming New Shepard flight. Your idea will launch into space! Once New Shepard returns to Earth, we’ll send your postcard back to you, officially stamped “flown to space.” To participate, follow our step-by-step guide below.

It’s a cool idea, getting something that has flown in space. However, I’m guessing a fair number of kids might never have actually mailed a postcard or bought a stamp. Fortunately, Bezos has laid out details on the terms and conditions page.

And what in addition to publicity will Blue Origin get out of it? Free art to use in its promotional campaigns.

I understand and agree that the text, photographs, drawings, and/or creations contained in or affixed to the Space Mail or other CFTF events or activities may be used in the production of promotional materials, on their respective websites, and for other purposes that CFTF or Blue Origin deems appropriate and that such materials may be distributed to the public and displayed publicly one or more times and in different formats, including but not limited to, print, online and video-based marketing, advertising, and fundraising, and in publications and promotional videos as related to CFTF or Blue Origin and its affiliates.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of art is produced by this competition.

Bezos Re-unveils Blue Moon, BE-7 Engine

Blue Moon lander with payloads. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a presentation in Washington, DC, today, Jeff Bezos laid out a bold vision humans living in giant cylindrical floating space colonies first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill four decades ago.

On a more immediate, practical front, the Amazon.com founder produced updated concept art for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander he says would be perfect for landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024 as the Trump Administration has proposed.

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Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography

Ernest Shackleton

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly a century after his death, Ernest Shackleton is back in the news after Blue Origin tweeted a photo of the Antarctic explorer’s ship, Endurance, with the date 5.9.19.

The tweet has fed speculation that Jeff Bezos’ company might announce a mission next week to a crater at the south pole of the moon that is named after Shackleton. (For more about that, see Why Everyone Interested in Shackleton Crater.)

You might also be asking: Who was Shackleton? What did he accomplish at the South Pole? Why is a crater on the moon named after him? And what does all this have to do with Bezos?

All excellent questions. Let’s find more about one of history’s greatest explorers.

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Why Everyone is Interested in Shackleton Crater

Updated May 1, 2019 at 9:18 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin tweeted out this picture of Endurance, the ship that polar explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed aboard during an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914.

The tweet has prompted a lot of speculation about what Bezos’ rocket company will announce next week, and how it connects to a British explorer who has been dead for nearly a century. (For more about Shackleton, see Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography)

My best guess is it will relate to Blue Orgin’s previously announced plans to make cargo deliveries to a crewed lunar base at a crater named for Shackleton at the moon’s south pole.

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NASA and Blue Origin Help Classrooms and Researchers Reach Space

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

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

EDWARDS, Calif.  — “We are now on the verge of giving students and teachers the ability to build and fly affordable experiments in space. When teachers are this excited about putting experiments in space, their students can’t help but get excited about space, too.”

Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, does not take the opportunity to fly an experiment to space for granted. The nonprofit organization has worked with educators and engineers to design and test standard equipment for classroom-developed experiments, including 3D-printed frames, customizable processors, power adaptors and more. The equipment first flew on high-altitude balloons and more recently on a stratospheric glider. Now, thanks to support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the equipment will fly higher than ever before: to space on the next launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

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NASA, Blue Origin Agreement Signals Rocketing Growth of Commercial Space

Test Stand 4670 (Credit: NASA)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Officials from NASA and the private space company Blue Origin have signed an agreement that grants the company use of a historic test stand as the agency focuses on returning to the Moon and on to Mars, and America’s commercial space industry continues to grow.

Under a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines. The BE-4 engine was selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle – both being developed to serve the expanding civil, commercial and national security space markets.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

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NASA Selects Two New Space Tech Research Institutes for Smart Habitats

Habitation concept interior. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As exploration missions venture beyond low-Earth orbit and to the Moon — and eventually Mars — NASA must consider automated technologies to keep habitats operational even when they are not occupied by astronauts. To help achieve this, NASA has selected two new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) to advance space habitat designs using resilient and autonomous systems.

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Blue Origin Plans Major Expansion of Facilities in Florida

Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)

Florida Today reports on plans by Blue Origin to expand its facilities in Florida:

Labeled as “South Campus” in water management district documents obtained by FLORIDA TODAY, the 90-acre expansion will connect to the factory at Exploration Park, which is a publicly accessible region just west of KSC’s main gate. The two-lane Space Commerce Way winds through the area, connecting other players like satellite company OneWeb, economic development agency Space Florida and the main entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The south campus will nearly double the size of land Blue Origin already leases from NASA, enabling the Jeff Bezos-led company to establish “programs complimentary to those constructed on the adjacent North Campus,” according to the documents. Blue will build 270- and 313-foot variants of New Glenn rockets in the massive blue-and-white factory on the north campus, which will launch no sooner than 2021.

Blue Origin’s media team did not respond to an inquiry about the land, which the company leased directly from NASA for 50 years. The total payments over that period will equal $20.3 million according to the final lease signed in December, which was also obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.

Building out a complex and finding a need for additional capacity isn’t uncommon in the spaceflight industry.

OK Go Launches Art in Space Contest for Blue Origin’s New Shepard

From the website:

OK Go thinks creativity is all about the joy of experimentation. Making a music video in microgravity was one big experiment. We tried all sorts of creative ideas and put them to the test within the limitations of physics and gravity.

Now we want you to try, but in actual space! The Art in Space contest invites your creative art and science minds to dream up your own cool experiments to send into suborbital space onboard the New Shepard spacecraft.

All you need is a great idea — if you win, our experts will help build it.

Blue Origin, Masten Vehicles Drive the Highway to Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off in July 2018 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space. (Credit: Blue Origin)

A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.

“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.

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Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.

At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.

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