Boeing Starliner Commercial Crew Delay: ~3 Years

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On March 26, Vice President Mike Pence went to Huntsville, Ala., to declare that the Trump Administration would use “any means necessary” to accelerate the return of American astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024 — four years earlier than planned.

Pence was putting Huntsville-based Marshall Space Flight Center and prime contractor Boeing on notice to get the delayed, over budget Space Launch System (SLS) being built to accomplish that goal back on track. If they didn’t, the administration would find other rockets to do the job.

In his effort to accelerate the Artemis lunar program, however, Pence unintentionally contributed to delays in NASA’s behind schedule effort to launch astronauts to a much closer location: low Earth orbit.

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NASA Introduces Artemis Spacesuit

Artemis and Orion spacesuits. (Credit NASA/Joel Kowsky)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, left, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, second from left, watch as Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit, right, wave after being introduced by the administrator, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The xEMU suit improves on the suits previous worn on the Moon during the Apollo era and those currently in use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station and will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. The Orion suit is designed for a custom fit and incorporates safety technology and mobility features that will help protect astronauts on launch day, in emergency situations, high-risk parts of missions near the Moon, and during the high-speed return to Earth.

Extracting Oxygen and Metal from Lunar Regolith

Simulated lunar regolith before and after all the oxygen has been extracted from it. (Credit: Beth Lomax – University of Glasgow)

GLASGOW, Scotland (ESA PR) — On the left side of this before and after image is a pile of simulated lunar soil, or regolith; on the right is the same pile after essentially all the oxygen has been extracted from it, leaving a mixture of metal alloys. Both the oxygen and metal could be used in future by settlers on the Moon.

Samples returned from the lunar surface confirm that lunar regolith is made up of 40-45% percent oxygen by weight, its single most abundant element.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Teams with NASA to Develop Novel Rocket Engine Technology

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Oct. 8, 2019 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – Aerojet Rocketdyne has entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to design and manufacture a lightweight rocket engine thrust chamber assembly using innovative additive manufacturing processes and materials. The goal of the project is to reduce manufacturing costs and make a thrust chamber that is easily scalable to support a variety of missions, including America’s return to the Moon and subsequent missions to explore Mars.

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NASA Developing Next Generation Spacesuit Artemis Moon Program

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

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — At first glance, NASA’s new spacesuit that will be worn on Artemis missions might look like the suits that astronauts use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station today. However, 21st century moonwalkers will be able to accomplish much more complex tasks than their predecessors, thanks to strides in technological advances that started even before the Apollo program.

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Controlling Robots Across Oceans and Space

A prototype rover is commanded to drive in and sample a quarry resembling a lunar site. The image shows a virtual reality impression of the test. The rover is a key element of the ESA-led Heracles mission in cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency CSA and Japan’s JAXA space agency. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

PARIS (ESA PR) — This Autumn is seeing a number of experiments controlling robots from afar, with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano directing a robot in The Netherlands and engineers in Germany controlling a rover in Canada.

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NASA, CERN Timepix Technology Advances Miniaturized Radiation Detection

Space radiation (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — As we prepare to send the first woman and next man to the Moon and on to Mars, NASA, with support from the University of Houston, has been working to develop advanced radiation detectors to better protect astronauts and vital spacecraft systems during solar storms. The detectors are based on technology that was originally developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to detect particle collisions in high-energy physics experiments. Storms emanating from our Sun release invisible, high energy particles, also called ionizing radiation, into space at relativistic speeds that can damage spacecraft electronics and systems, and impact the health of astronauts. 

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NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative Opens Call for Payloads on Artemis 2 Mission

Orion and European Service Module orbiting the Moon. (Credit NASA/ESA/ATG Medialab)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — CubeSats can be part of a historic mission—Artemis 2—when NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will send astronauts on their first flight aboard the Orion spacecraft farther into the solar system than humanity has ever traveled before. Artemis 2, will mark a significant step forward in NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and future missions to worlds beyond, including Mars, and the small satellites traveling along for the mission will help inform the next steps of exploration.

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NASA Seeks Industry Input on Hardware Production for Lunar Spacesuit

Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — When the first woman and next man step foot on the Moon in 2024, they will be wearing the next generation of spacesuits designed to give astronauts enhanced mobility to accomplish their exploration tasks on the lunar surface. NASA is currently designing and developing a new spacesuit system, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or xEMU, for use during Artemis missions at the Moon and adaptable for other destinations near and far.

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The Rocket Age and the Space Age

V-2 and Sputnik

The V-2 rocket and a model of Sputnik 1.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first successful launch of Germany’s A-4 ballistic missile and the orbiting of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, took place 15 years and one day apart. The two achievements are related in more ways than their proximity on the calendar.

On Oct. 3, 1942, an A-4 developed by Wernher von Braun and his German Army team reached an altitude of 85 to 90 km (52.8 to 55.9 miles) after launch from Peenemunde on the Baltic Coast.

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NASA Awards $2 Million Contract to Astrobotic’s CubeRover Program

An artist’s rendition of CubeRover, Astrobotic’s ultra-lightweight modular and scalable commercial rover. (Credit: Astrobotic)

Pittsburgh, Pa. (Astrobotic PR) – CubeRover, an ultralight, rechargeable planetary rover developed by Astrobotic, has been awarded a $2 million NASA Tipping Point contract. The rover, roughly the size of a shoebox and weighing in at under five pounds, can carry its own payloads or team up with other CubeRovers as “scouts” for larger rovers and landers.

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Chang’e-4 Rover, Lander Begin 10th Month of Work on Moon

Tracks on the lunar surface. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — The Chang’e-4 lander and the Yutu No. 2 lunar rover safely passed through the 14-day moonlight night environment, and were successfully “awakened” by the light at 20:26 on September 23 and 20:30 on the 22nd, enter the tenth month of the working period.

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NASA Selects Space Biology Experiments to Study Living Organisms on Russian Bion-M2 Mission

An artist’s depiction of the Van Allen Belts, showing Earth’s magnetic field lines and the trajectories of charged particles trapped by them. The twin ELFIN spacecraft are shown following their inclined polar orbit, traced in yellow. (Credits: UCLA EPSS/NASA SVS)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine grant proposals for space biology research experiments, the results of which will contribute to the understanding of health risks humans will experience in deep space, including exploration at the Moon through the Artemis program and future missions to Mars. Selected investigators will have an opportunity to conduct rodent experiments to be flown on a biosatellite mission, known as Bion-M2, with the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

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LRO Fails to See Vikram on Lunar Surface Obscured by Shadows

The area where India’s Vikram spacecraft had a hard landing was captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Quickmap during a fly-around of the targeted landing site. The image width is about 150 kilometers across the center. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — The Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram, attempted a landing Sept. 7 (Sept. 6 in the United States), on a small patch of lunar highland smooth plains between Simpelius N and Manzinus C craters. Vikram had a hard landing and the precise location of the spacecraft in the lunar highlands has yet to be determined.

A view looking down on the Vikram landing site (image acquired before the landing attempt), image width 87 kilometers (54 miles) .(Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

The lander, Vikram, was scheduled to touch down on Sept. 6 at 4:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time. This event was India’s first attempt at a soft landing on the Moon. The site was located about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the south pole in a relatively ancient terrain (70.8°S latitude, 23.5°E longitude). In order to visualize the site, take a quick fly-around.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) passed over the landing site on Sept. 17 and acquired a set of high resolution images of the area; so far the LROC team has not been able to locate or image the lander.  It was dusk when the landing area was imaged and thus large shadows covered much of the terrain; it is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow.

A wide view of a series of Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter Camera’s narrow angle camera images collected on Sept. 17 showing the area of the targeted Vikram landing site. The pixel scale is 28314 pixels by 1041 lines. The resolution is 34 meters per pixel. The full resolution mosaic can be found at: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/posts/1128. Note this mosaic is quite large (28314 pixels by 57851 lines) with approximately 900 million illuminated pixels (1.25 meter pixels, 1000 meter grid, polar stereographic projection). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

The lighting will be favorable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander.