Surprise! NASA Artemis Lunar Program Schedule Likely to Slip Again, 2024 Landing Unlikely

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The latest in a series of updates from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) says that despite making significant progress on the $86 billion Artemis program, the space agency’s schedule for returning astronauts to the moon in four years is likely to slip. [Full report]

“Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely,” the update said.

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More Boos for NASA’s Human Lunar Landing System Award to SpaceX

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

Losing bidders Blue Origin National Team and Dynetics have major presence in Huntsville, Ala.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) released the following statement after NASA’s announcement about the Human Lander System or HLS.

“America’s space program is extremely important to me and returning Americans to the surface of the moon is a top priority. However, NASA’s award decision today raises a lot of questions. NASA and the U.S. Air Force recently agreed to very high SpaceX prices, several times the price on the company’s web site, for a launch of Gateway elements, and for national security payloads. The years of delay in the development of the Falcon Heavy, as well as recent tests of the Starship program as reported in the news, also raise technical and scheduling questions. Given the importance of our space program to our national security, I will be asking NASA a number of questions about today’s announcement and about their management of the program.” 

Astrobotic Selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket for Griffin-VIPER Moon Mission

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic announced today its selection of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Griffin lunar lander to the Moon in late 2023. Griffin will be carrying NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). 

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NASA Funds Research into Creating Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch

A high-expansion-ratio auxetic structure can be stowed inside a single Falcon Heavy fairing and deployed to a final length of one kilometer on orbit as part of a large space station. The station can then be spun at 1-2 RPM to generate 1g artificial gravity at its ends while still maintaining a microgravity environment at its center near the spin axis, providing the crew with the flexibility of living in a 1g environment while performing some work in microgravity. (Credits: Zachary Manchester, graphic by Tzipora Thompson)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch
Zachary Manchester
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Synopsis

Long-duration spaceflight poses serious challenges for the human body, including muscle atrophy, bone loss, eyesight degradation, and immunosuppression. Many of these effects are linked to a lack of gravity. Generating artificial gravity inside rotating space habitats has been a dream of science fiction since the earliest pioneers of astronautics.

However, rotating to produce artificial gravity poses a serious challenge; Humans experience discomfort and motion sickness when exposed to rotation rates greater than a few RPM. To produce artificial gravity near 1g at rotation rates of 1-2 RPM, a kilometer-scale structure is needed. To address this challenge, we will leverage recent advances in mechanical metamaterials to design lightweight deployable structures with unprecedented expansion ratios of 150x or more.

Such a structure could be launched inside a single Falcon Heavy rocket fairing and then be deployed autonomously to a final size of a kilometer or more on orbit without requiring complex on-orbit assembly or fabrication. Our study will analyze a mission concept analogous to the Lunar Gateway, in which a kilometer-scale deployable structure forms the backbone of a large rotating space station.

2021 Phase I Selections

About NIAC

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs — radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts — while engaging America’s innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey.

The program seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources and NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day “change the possible” in aerospace. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to NIAC, please see our “Apply to NIAC” link (https://www.nasa.gov/content/apply-to-niac) for information about the status of our current NASA Research Announcement (NRA). For descriptions of current NIAC projects, please refer to our ”NIAC Studies” link (https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/NIAC_funded_studies.html).

To find out more, see nasa.gov/niac or contact us at hq-niac@mail.nasa.gov.

NASA Awards Contract to SpaceX to Launch Initial Elements for Lunar Outpost

An illustration of the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost in orbit around the Moon. (Credits: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway. As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis program.

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China’s Long March 8 Rocket Makes Successful Debut in Step Toward Reusability

Long March 8 launches for the first time on Dec. 22, 2020. (Credit: CNSA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China’s newest booster, Long March 8, successfully placed five satellites into sun-synchronous orbit on Tuesday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in a step toward partial reusability.

The medium-lift booster blasted off at 12:37 p.m. local time from Hainan island carrying the classified XJY-7 remote sensing technology test satellite and four smaller payloads.

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Senate Appropriations Committee Sticks a Fork in NASA’s 2024 Moon Landing Plan

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It looks as if the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2024 is expiring at about the same time as the administration itself. The fatal blow is being struck by Congress, not the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a fiscal year 2021 funding bill that includes $1 billion for NASA to Human Landing System (HLS) that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. The amount is far short of the $3.2 billion that NASA has said is needed for HLS to keep the 2024 landing on schedule.

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Boeing Appoints SpaceX Veteran as Vice President of Software Engineering

CHICAGO, Nov. 6, 2020 (Boeing PR) — The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) today named Jinnah Hosein as the company’s vice president of Software Engineering, effective immediately. In this newly created role, Hosein will report to Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief engineer and senior vice president of Engineering, Test & Technology, and will focus on further strengthening Boeing’s focus on software engineering across the enterprise.

“The continued advances in software makes excellence in software engineering an imperative for our business,” said Hyslop. “Jinnah will be charged with defining and leading Boeing’s strategy for software engineering, which includes providing capabilities, technologies, processes and secure and accurate systems to meet the needs of all our customers across the entire product life cycle.”

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SpaceX Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Air Force Over Starship Funding

Starship lifts off on a point to point flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A federal judge had denied SpaceX’s claim that the U.S. Air Force should have provided development funding for its Starship booster, according to media reports.

USAF awarded $2.2 billion in contracts in October 2918 to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to help the companies develop new rockets to launch national security payloads. SpaceX’s proposal for Starship funding was rejected.

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SpaceX Tells Boca Chica Residents: Sell Now or Else!

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Vice reports that SpaceX gave a Friday deadline for two Boca Chica Village homeowners to sell their homes or Elon Musk’s launch provider would pursue “alternate approaches” to get them to vacate the settlement near the company’s south Texas spaceport.

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Bolden Says SLS “Will Go Away,” Expects Few Other Changes at NASA if Biden Elected

Charles Bolden

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.

“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”

Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.

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OmegA Rocket Bites the Dust

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some years ago, I ran into a friend of mine from Northrop Grumman at a conference. Come to think of it, he might have been with pre-acquisition Orbital ATK.

Whatever the case, the subject of the company’s OmegA booster came up.

“It’ll never fly,” he said flatly.

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Dispute Erupts Over SpaceX’s Boca Chica Test Facility

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

A dispute has erupted between several environmental groups and the federal government over the impact of SpaceX’s test operations at Boca Chica Beach in south Texas.

The issue: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX’s plan to use the coastal site for launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets up to 12 times per year.

However, Elon Musk’s company has instead been using its facilities to develop and flight test its larger Starship and Super Heavy boosters. The resulting impacts have been much greater than anticipated under the original proposal, environmental groups argue.

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NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission Nears Completion

Green Propellant Infusion Mission in orbit. (Credit: NASA)

by Lance Davis
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA just validated a new type of propellant, or fuel, for spacecraft of all sizes. Instead of toxic hydrazine, space missions can use a less toxic, “green” propellant and the compatible technologies designed to go along with it. In a little over a year since launch, NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) successfully proved a never-before-used propellant and propulsion system work as intended, demonstrating both are practical options for future missions.

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