Planetary LEGO Blocks Take Shape in Hawaii

Planetary LEGOs (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — These LEGO blocks are not the familiar plastics bricks you may have pieced together as a kid or given to your children to play with. In fact, these blocks could one day form the foundations of habitats and infrastructure supporting astronauts on places like Mars, the Moon and other worlds.

(more…)

NASA Selects US Companies to Advance Space Resource Collection

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA placed a special emphasis on encouraging the responders to find new applications for existing, terrestrial capabilities that could result in future space exploration capabilities at lower costs.

The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water from Earth. NASA issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement on Dec. 4, 2017. With it, the agency sought three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.

(more…)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Successfully Demonstrates Low-Cost, High Thrust Space Engine

Hot-fire test of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s ISE-100 thruster conducted at the company’s Redmond, Washington test facility. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

REDMOND, Wash. (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully completed hot-fire testing of a new in-space engine, designated ISE-100. Developed for commercial in-space applications, ISE-100 has the potential to be a critical element for future lunar robotic missions.

Producing 100 pounds of thrust, the ISE engine has the capability to provide downward thrust during landing, easing spacecraft down to the lunar surface. ISE-100 is the latest in-space engine developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne, adding to our portfolio of mission-proven thrusters that have propelled spacecraft to every planet in the solar system and interstellar space, and provided landing propulsion for Mars and asteroid missions.

(more…)

Four Moon Walkers Remain From the Apollo Program

Astronaut John Young salutes the flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The passing of Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean on Saturday leaves the United States with four of the 12 men to walk on the moon remaining as NASA’s Apollo program prepares to mark a series of 50th anniversary celebrations.

Bean, who passed away at 86, walked on the moon’s Ocean of Storms with Pete Conrad in November 1969. They were the third and fourth men to walk on the lunar surface after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11.

(more…)

NASA: Commercial Partners Key to Sustainable Moon Presence

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — As NASA shifts human exploration back to the Moon, U.S. commercial partnerships will be a key to expediting missions and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. The agency is orchestrating a robotic lunar campaign with a focus on growing commercial base of partnerships and activity that can support U.S. science, technology, and exploration objectives.

(more…)

NASA’s ISS Transition Report — Executive Summary

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (Credit: NASA)

International Space Station Transition Report
NASA
March 30, 2018

Full Report (PDF)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10) provided for an ISS Transition Report under section 303:

The Administrator, in coordination with the ISS management entity (as defined in section 2 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017), ISS partners, the scientific user community, and the commercial space sector, shall develop a plan to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

(more…)

Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

(more…)

China Launches Chang’e-4 Relay Satellite for Lunar Far Side Mission

Aitken crater (Credit: NASA)

China successfully launched the Chang’e-4 relay satellite to the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point on Sunday. The spacecraft, which is named Queqiao, was lofted into space aboard a Long March 4C booster from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

The satellite will relay data for the Chang’e-4 lunar rover and lander, which is set for launch late this year from Xichang. The rover will explore the South Pole-Aitken Basin as part of the first mission to explore the far side of the moon. The flight will also feature a lunar orbiter.

Sunday’s launch included two microsats that will conduct astronomical observations from deep space.

Payload for 2022 SLS Launch Still Up in the Air

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has set mid-2022 for the second flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), but it’s not yet known what the massive booster will actually launch.

“Determination as to whether this launch will be SLS/Orion crewed mission (EM-2) or the SLS/Europa Clipper mission will be made based on risk and readiness of the Europa Clipper project,” according to a decision memo signed on Friday by William C. Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Parabolic Arc obtained a copy of the memo.

(more…)

With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.

Arch Mission Foundation Partners with Astrobotic to Launch Historic Lunar Library

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Astrobotic PR) — The Arch Mission Foundation and Astrobotic today announced a partnership to land the Lunar Library™ on Astrobotic’s first mission to the Moon in 2020. The Lunar Library will last for up to billions of years on the Moon, continuing the Arch Foundation’s mission to preserve and disseminate humanity’s most important knowledge across time and space.

The foundational components of the Lunar Library will include the Wikipedia, and the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project, a digital library of human languages. Additional content and data for the Lunar Library, will be announced in the coming year.

(more…)

A Pale Blue Dot, As Seen by a CubeSat

The first image captured by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The image, which shows both the CubeSat’s unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B on May 9. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Voyager 1 took a classic portrait of Earth from several billion miles away in 1990. Now a class of tiny, boxy spacecraft, known as CubeSats, have just taken their own version of a “pale blue dot” image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth. One of the CubeSats, called MarCO-B (and affectionately known as “Wall-E” to the MarCO team) used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9. That photo is part of the process used by the engineering team to confirm the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna has properly unfolded.

(more…)

GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

(more…)

Astrobotic Applauds House Appropriations Committee for Full Funding to Lead America Back to the Moon

CubeRover on the moon (Credit: Astrobotic)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic applauds Chairman John Culberson (R-TX), Ranking Member Jose Serrano (D-NY) and the entire House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee for their strong support for NASA and its efforts to return America to the surface of the Moon in the FY 2019 CJS Appropriations bill. The bill, which provides a record $21.5 billion for NASA, was released yesterday evening and will be marked up by the Subcommittee at 5 pm today.

(more…)

House Measure Would Boost NASA Budget to $21.5 Billion

The House Appropriations Committee has released a draft bill that would increase NASA’s budget to $21.5 billion for fiscal year 2019. The total would be an increase of $810 million above the enacted amount for FY 2018 and $1.6 billion more than the Trump Administration requested.

NASA would spend $5.1 billion on deep space exploration, an increase of $294 million. The total includes $504 million for the Lunar Orbital Platform — Gateway.

Science would also be boosted by $459 million to $6.7 billion. The total includes $740 million for a Europa orbiter and lander.

Complete details on the proposed budget are still lacking. Below is what the committee has released thus far.
(more…)