2021 in Review: Highlights from NASA in Silicon Valley

Ingenuity Mars helicopter flies on the Red Planet. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Join us as we look back at the highlights of 2021 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

1) NASA’s water-hunting Moon rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, made great strides this year. The VIPER team successfully completed practice runs of the full-scale assembly of the Artemis program’s lunar rover in VIPER’s new clean room. Two rounds of egress testing let rover drivers practice exiting the lander and rolling onto the rocky surface of the Moon. NASA also announced the landing site selected for the robotic rover, which will be delivered to the Nobile region of the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023 as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. NASA also chose eight new VIPER science team members and their proposals to expand and complement VIPER’s already existing science team and planned investigations. This year’s progress contributed to VIPER’s completion of its Critical Design Review, turning the mission’s focus toward construction of the rover beginning in late 2022.

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India Delays Gaganyaan Crew Flight as Mission Specific Training Begins

Indian Coast Guard recovering ISRO’s Crew module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) at 114 nautical miles South West of Indira point. [Credit: Indian Coast Guard (GODL-India)]

India is delaying its planned launch of its Gaganyaan crew vehicle due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. India Today reports:

India’s maiden space mission, Gaganyaan, will be launched in 2023, Science & Technology Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said on Thursday. In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the minister said that India’s maiden human space mission will soar to the skies in 2023, making the country the fourth nation in the world to launch a human spaceflight mission after the US, Russia and China.

Meanwhile, the test vehicle flight for the validation of Crew Escape System performance and the first uncrewed mission of Gaganyaan are scheduled at the beginning of the second half of 2022.

“This will be followed by the second uncrewed mission at the end of 2022 carrying “Vyommitra” a spacefaring human-robot developed by ISRO and finally the first crewed Gaganyaan mission in 2023,” he said.

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Emission Reductions From Pandemic Had Unexpected Effects on Atmosphere

Worldwide restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic caused huge reductions in travel and other economic activities, resulting in lower emissions. Seen here, almost-empty highways in Colombia during the pandemic. (Credits: International Monetary Fund)

Earth’s atmosphere reacted in surprising ways to the lowering of emissions during the pandemic, showing how closely climate warming and air pollution are linked.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting limitations on travel and other economic sectors by countries around the globe drastically decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within just a few weeks. That sudden change gave scientists an unprecedented view of results that would take regulations years to achieve.

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COVID-19 Related Propellant Supply Issues Delay Landsat 9 Launch, Impact SpaceX Missions

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA says that a surge in COVID-19 cases has caused supply issues that have delayed the planned launch of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base by one week to no earlier than Sept. 23.

“Current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen [LOX] have impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and its supplier Airgas,” the space agency said in a blog post. “Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequences. DLA and Airgas now have implemented efforts to increase the supply of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.”

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Masten Mission to Lunar South Shifted 11 Months to Late 2023

Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022. (Credits: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif., June 23, 2021 (Masten Space Systems PR) – Masten Space Systems is proud to be one of NASA’s providers for lunar delivery services to the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Masten Mission 1 includes delivery of science and technology instruments near the Haworth Crater at the lunar south pole, a site expected to offer insight into the presence of important volatiles on the Moon. In addition to commercial payloads, Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver and operate eight NASA-sponsored payloads to assess the composition of the lunar surface, evaluate radiation, and detect volatiles, such as water, methane, and carbon dioxide, under the agency’s Artemis program.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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COVID-19 Impact on Smallsat Market Mitigated by Funding Availability, Government Support

PARIS, WASHINGTON DC, MONTREAL, YOKOHAMA (Euroconsult PR) — The latest update of “Prospects for the Small Satellite Market” was released this week by Euroconsult, forecasting further growth in the global supply and demand of government, commercial and academic satellites weighing up to 500 kg.

The market intelligence report, now in its 7th edition, builds upon Euroconsult’s previous iteration that accurately predicted more than 1,000 satellites would be launched during 2020, a record year despite COVID-19. The new release further reinforces the sentiment that the 2020s will be the decade of small satellites, anticipating the launch of close to 14,000 smallsats before 2030.

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COVID-19 Delays to Cost NASA $3 Billion

High-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will cost NASA an estimated $3 billion due to program delays, according to a report from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The report focused on the pandemic’s impact on 30 major programs and project with life-cycle costs of at least $250 million.

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Trudeau Names New Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

Justin Trudeau

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has replaced the minister who oversees the nation’s space program as part of a shakeup of his cabinet that also involved the first Canadian to travel to space.

Trudeau named minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne to replace Navdeep Bains as minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. The position involves overseeing the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) among other duties.

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GAO: NASA Needs to Improve Artemis Management as New Schedule Delays Likely

Gateway with Orion over the Moon (Credit: ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA needs to strengthen its management oversight of the lunar landing program to minimize delays and cost overruns as the space agency moves beyond the Artemis I flight test scheduled for November 2021, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO’s program review also found that schedule for the maiden flight of the Space Launch System and second Orion spacecraft does not account for delays resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Russia Achieves Clean Launch Record for Second Year in Row

Soyuz-2 rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb satellites. (Credit: Arianespace)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — The outgoing year 2020 has become a difficult test for the entire world marked by the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Many world economic players have encountered objective difficulties in the implementation of previously outlined plans.

Unfortunately, Roscosmos also had to correct a number of plans, including those related to launch activities. Nevertheless, Roscosmos management put the quality of production and the safety of personnel working at the Russian rocket and space industry enterprises and cosmodromes at the forefront.

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Canada’s Top Space Highlights of 2020

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

LONGUEUIL, Que. (CSA PR) — It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was an exceptional year. As the year draws to a close, here’s a look at some of the most compelling, inspirational and incredible moments for Canada in space. Happy New Year!

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Dmitry Rogozin Wishes Everyone a Happy New Year, Looks Toward Busy 2021

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — Dmitry Rogozin, Roscosmos Director General, wishes a Happy New Year!

“We see off this year and welcome 2021 with high hopes. We hope that the Vostochny Cosmodrome will start operating at full capacity,” Rogozin said.

In 2021, Roscosmos expects to ensure the new Nauka orbital module launch to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and send the Luna-25 automatic interplanetary station from the Vostochny Cosmodrome to Earth’s natural satellite.

According to the head of Roscosmos, 2020 was a difficult year for the Russian rocket and space industry due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the world and Russia in particular.

“Nevertheless, Russia’s rocket and space industry worked uninterrupted. We ensured all our planned launches, including crewed launches from Baikonur,” Rogozin noted.

Next year, apart from Luna-25, Roscosmos plans to carry out about six launches of the British OneWeb communications satellites from Vostochny. In 2020, only one rocket launch took place from this cosmodrome – on December 18, 36 spacecraft of the OneWeb satellite company went into orbit.

In total, in 2020, Roscosmos conducted 17 launches of space rockets from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny and Guiana spaceports.

NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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