Nelson Sails Through Senate Nomination Hearing, Backs NASA Human Landing System Award

Bill Nelson

Former senator Bill Nelson appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee this week turned into a mutual admiration society with legislators and the nominee for NASA administrator exchanging compliments and largely agreeing on the future direction of the space agency.

Barring some unexpected development, the Senate Commerce Committee should easily approve Nelson’s nomination and forward it to the full Senate, where it is likely to pass by a wide margin.

The only fireworks that were expected prior to the hearing involved NASA’s controversial decision last week to award a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to build the Human Landing System to take astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

Some legislators have questions the decision to award a single contract instead of making multiple awards to maintain competition and give NASA redundancy. Losing bidders included Dynetics and Blue Origin’s National Team, which included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

Nelson voiced support for the award and the goal of landing two astronauts at the lunar south pole by the end of 2024.

“I think you may be pleased that we’re gonna see that timetable try to be adhered to, but recognize that with some sobering reality that space is hard,” Nelson said.

The SpaceX contract covers an uncrewed and crewed lunar landings by the company’s Starship vehicle. NASA plans to open another competition for taking crews and cargo to the lunar surface as the agency builds a base on the moon.

Boeing’s 1st Core Stage for NASA’s Space Launch System is Ready for Journey to Launch Site

SLS Core stage for Artemis I mission removed from the test stand at Stennis. (Credit: NASA)
  • Stennis refurbishment complete following flawless test fire
  • NASA to accept delivery of rocket stage to prepare for transport to Kennedy Space Center for integration and launch

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Mississippi, April 21, 2021 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA]  begins delivery of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket cryogenic core stage to NASA today in preparation for launch of the Artemis I mission, the first moon mission in nearly 50 years.

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Logs Second Successful Flight

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter hovers over Jezero Crater during its second experimental flight test on April 22, 2021. The imagery was captured by the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z imager. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

The small rotorcraft’s horizons were expanded on its second flight.

WRIGHT BROTHERS FIELD, Mars (NASA PR) — NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully completed its second Mars flight on April 22 – the 18th sol, or Martian day, of its experimental flight test window. Lasting 51.9 seconds, the flight added several new challenges to the first, which took place on April 19, including a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement.

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DLR to Land Radiation Instrument on Moon with Astrobotic Peregrine Mission One

A rendering of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is shown, with NASA’s three water-detecting payloads (MSolo, NSS, and NIRVSS) highlighted in blue. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH, Pa., April 22, 2021 (Astrobotic PR) — The German Aerospace Center (DLR) joins a mission with Astrobotic to land a special German-built instrument on the Moon onboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander in 2021.  DLR will send this radiation detector to measure key radiation data on the flight to the Moon and on the lunar surface ahead of the upcoming NASA Artemis missions that will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon.

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SpaceX to Launch Crew-2 to Space Station on Friday Morning

Crew-2 members Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Akihiko Hoshide and Shane Kimbrough. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX and NASA are targeting Friday, April 23 for Falcon 9’s launch of Dragon’s second six-month operational crew mission (Crew-2) to the International Space Station (ISS) from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The instantaneous launch window opens at 5:49 a.m. EDT, 9:49 UTC, with a backup opportunity available on Monday, April 26 at 4:38 a.m. EDT, 8:38 UTC.

The Crew-2 mission webcast will go live about 4 hours before liftoff. Tune in here to watch live.

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We’re Getting Ready for Ingenuity’s Second Flight

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this shot as it hovered over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Written by MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

With the first flight of Ingenuity a success, we’re looking toward our second taking place on April 22, which is the 18th of the 30 sols (Martian days) of our flight test window.

For this second flight test at “Wright Brothers Field,” we are targeting a takeoff time for 5:30 a.m. EDT (2:30 a.m. PDT), or 12:30 p.m. Local Mean Solar Time. But we’re looking to go a little bigger this time. On the first flight, Ingenuity hovered 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface. This time around, we plan to trying climbing to 16 feet (5 meters) in this flight test. Then, after the helicopter hovers briefly, it will go into a slight tilt and move sideways for 7 feet (2 meters). Then Ingenuity will come to a stop, hover in place, and make turns to point its color camera in different directions before heading back to the center of the airfield to land. Of course, all of this is done autonomously, based on commands we sent to Perseverance to relay to Ingenuity the night before.

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How Scientists Are Using the International Space Station to Study Earth’s Climate

Taken by NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, this picture shows Earth’s limb, or horizon, from the International Space Station as it orbits above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — On Earth, we often look toward the sky longing to know what resides in the rest of the universe. Meanwhile, 250 miles above our planet, the  International Space Station is looking back.

Above us, multiple Earth-observing instruments are mounted on the exterior of several of the station’s modules, including a limb full of cameras, boxes, and tools that hangs off the edge of the station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). Earth-observing CubeSats regularly deploy from the station’s airlock. Astronauts take photos of the planet from the orbiting lab’s windows. This outpost even conducts Earth science experiments. All of this work provides insight into the climate of our home and how we might prepare for coming changes.

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet

Technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.

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Big Goals, Small Package: Enabling Compact Deliveries from Space

Near Space Corporation launch team completing pre-flight rigging and checks at the Madras Municipal Airport in Madras, Oregon. (Credits: Near Space Corporation)

LEXINGTON, Ken. (NASA PR) — Researchers from the University of Kentucky in Lexington have developed a delivery system designed to carry research samples and other small payloads from astronauts on the International Space Station back to Earth. Such delivery systems could aid NASA’s efforts to gather data and test instruments in support of the agency’s goal of returning to the Moon.

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Crew-2 Launch Rescheduled for Friday

Crew-2 members Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Akihiko Hoshide and Shane Kimbrough. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 5:49 a.m. EDT Friday, April 23, for the launch of the agency’s Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station due to unfavorable weather conditions along the flight path on Thursday.

Although conditions around the launch site were expected to be favorable for liftoff, mission teams also must consider conditions along the flight path and recovery area in the unlikely event of a launch escape.

For a launch April 23, the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions at the launch pad for liftoff of the Crew-2 mission based on Falcon 9 Crew Dragon launch weather criteria. Conditions also are expected to improve along the flight path and recovery area for the mission. The primary weather concerns for the launch area will be liftoff winds.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission coverage is as follows (all times Eastern):

Friday, April 23

1:30 a.m. – NASA Television launch coverage begins. NASA Television will have continuous coverage, including docking, hatch opening, and welcome ceremony.

7:30 a.m. (approximately) – Postlaunch news conference with the following participants:

  • Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA administrator
  • Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
  • Hiroshi Sasaki, vice president and director general, JAXA’s Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate
  • Frank de Winne, manager, International Space Station Program, ESA
  • SpaceX representative

Following a launch Friday, the Crew Dragon carrying NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet is scheduled to dock to the space station at about 5:10 a.m. Saturday, April 24.

With arrival of Crew-2 Saturday, NASA and SpaceX will continue to target the undocking and return to Earth of Crew-1 for Wednesday, April 28, after an approximate four-day shift change. Crew-1 NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, will undock Crew Dragon Resilience at 5 a.m. and splashdown off the coast of Florida 7.5 hours later at about 12:35 p.m., after 164 days in space. Their return date and time are dependent on having a healthy spacecraft and favorable weather in the selected splashdown zone.

Follow along with launch activities and get more information about the mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/crew-2.

Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following @Commercial_Crew, @space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the Commercial Crew Facebook, ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

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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NASA and Boeing Targeting August/September for Starliner’s Uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 Launch

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

BOEING OFT-2 MISSION UPDATE

NASA and Boeing are targeting August/September for the launch of Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station and will evaluate options if an earlier launch opportunity becomes available. The current schedule is supported by a space station docking opportunity and the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Eastern Range.

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SolAero Technologies’ Solar Panel Powers NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter can be seen on Mars as viewed by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021, the 44th Martian day, or sol of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (SolAero PR) — SolAero Technologies Corp. (SolAero), a leading provider of high efficiency solar cells, solar panels, and composite structural products for satellite and aerospace applications, congratulates the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) on the successful maiden flight of the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity. SolAero is proud to have supplied the solar panel that has enabled the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

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Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (DOJ PR) – A Senior Executive Service (SES) employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) pleaded guilty today to submitting fraudulent applications for over $350,000 in COVID-19 economic relief loans and benefits.

“Despite holding a senior executive position at NASA, the defendant applied for over $350,000 in fraudulent loans and benefits,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “In doing so, he essentially treated COVID-19 relief programs as a personal piggy bank, using funds intended to provide pandemic relief for small businesses and the unemployed to pay down his credit card debt, pay off loans for a residential pool and minivan, and pay a dog-breeder, among other personal expenses. EDVA will continue to hold accountable individuals who exploit a national economic crisis in order to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of those in genuine need due to the pandemic.”

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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.”