What’s Next: The Future of NASA’s Laser Communications

Illustration of ILLUMA-T communicating science and exploration data from the International Space Station to LCRD. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan)

By Kendall Murphy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA uses lasers to send information to and from Earth, employing invisible beams to traverse the skies, sending terabytes of data – pictures and videos – to increase our knowledge of the universe. This capability is known as laser, or optical, communications, even though these eye-safe, infrared beams can’t be seen by human eyes.

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Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide

Vega-C lifts off on its maiden flight on July 13, 2022. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the first seven months of the year, five new satellite launch vehicles from Europe, China, Russia and South Korea flew successfully for the first time. As impressive as that is, it was a mere opening act to a busy period that could see at least 20 additional launchers debut around the world.

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NASA Passes Go, Moves Toward Late August Artemis I Launch

Artemis I rocket rolls out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has decided that the Space Launch System (SLS) wet dress rehearsal earlier this week that ended prematurely was sufficient for the agency to move forward with having the giant rocket launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the moon later this summer.

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Artemis I Dress Rehearsal Ends at T-29s Mark

Artemis I rocket rolls out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Mission Update

The Artemis I wet dress rehearsal ended today at 7:37 p.m. EDT at T-29 seconds in the countdown. Today’s test marked the first time the team fully loaded all the Space Launch System rocket’s propellant tanks and proceeded into the terminal launch countdown, when many critical activities occur in rapid succession.

During propellant loading operations earlier in the day, launch controllers encountered a hydrogen leak in the quick disconnect that attaches an umbilical from the tail service mast on the mobile launcher to the rocket’s core stage. The team attempted to fix the leak by warming the quick disconnect and then chilling it back down to realign a seal, but their efforts did not fix the issue.

Launch controllers then developed a plan to mask data associated with the leak that would trigger a hold by the ground launch sequencer, or launch computer, in a real launch day scenario, to allow them to get as far into the countdown as possible. The time required to develop the plan required extended hold time during the countdown activities, but they were able to resume with the final 10 minutes of the countdown, called terminal count. During the terminal count, the teams performed several critical operations  that must be accomplished for launch including switching control from the ground launch sequencer to the automated launch sequencer controlled by the rocket’s flight software, and important step that the team wanted to accomplish.

NASA will hold a media teleconference about the test Tuesday, June 21 at 11 a.m., which will stream on the agency’s website. A live feed of the rocket at launch pad continues to be available.

Artemis I WDR Update: Countdown Progresses Overnight, Teams Remain On Track for Monday Tanking Operations

Artemis I rocket rolls out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Program Update

The launch team is making its way through countdown operations and wet dress rehearsal activities remain on track. The mission management team will meet this afternoon to review the status of operations.

Overnight, engineers powered up the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System’s core stage. Teams also configured several systems on the ground, rocket, and spacecraft and performed activities to prepare umbilicals that connect the rocket and spacecraft to the mobile launcher and are used to provide power, communications, coolant, and propellant.

NASA is streaming live video of the rocket and spacecraft at Launch Pad 39B and will provide live commentary on the agency’s website beginning with tanking operations on June 20.

Teams on Track for Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal Test

Artemis I rocket rolls out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA is on track to begin the approximately two-day wet dress rehearsal for the agency’s Artemis I mission. The test will begin at approximately 5 p.m. EDT June 18 with “call to stations,” when the launch team arrives at their consoles inside the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rehearsal will run the Artemis I launch team through operations to load propellant into the rocket’s tanks, conduct a full launch countdown, demonstrate the ability to recycle the countdown clock, and also drain the tanks to give them an opportunity to practice the timelines and procedures they will use for launch.

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From the Earth to the Moon and on to Mars – ESA and NASA take decisions and plan for the future

Noordwijk, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — The next steps in exploring and using space for the benefit of European citizens were this week on the agenda at ESA’s Council meeting in ESA/ESTEC, the Netherlands on 14 and 15 June. The possibility of the first-ever European astronaut to set foot on the Moon, a telecommunication satellite for lunar exploration and a mission to return precious rock samples from Mars were all discussed.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined the meeting with ESA Member States in a decisive gesture to advocate for Europe’s strong role in multiple projects which reinforce the enduring partnership between the two leading space agencies.

“From understanding our changing planet to exploring Mars, I hugely value the cooperation we have with NASA” says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.  “By contributing key European hardware and services to exciting programmes such as Artemis and Mars Sample Return, we are building Europe’s autonomy while also being a reliable partner.”

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Second SLS Mobile Launcher Costs Rise to Almost $1 Billion as Schedule Slips More Than 2 Years

Comparison between ML-1 and ML-2 concepts. (Source: NASA OIG presentation of Agency information)
  • 2.5 times more expensive than original contract
  • Completion delayed at least 2.5 years
  • Additional cost overruns and delays likely

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Bechtel’s $383 million project to build a second mobile launcher (ML-2) for NASA’s Artemis moon program has ballooned to at least $960.1 million while completion has slipped more than two years from March 2023 to October 2025, according to a new Office of Inspector General (IG) report. And more delays are highly likely.

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Thales Alenia Space Providing Key Technologies to Sustain Life Inside Orion Capsule

European Service Module No. 4. (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)
  • Orion’s European Service Module 4 successfully completed integration activities in Thales Alenia Space’s Turin plant
  • Thales Alenia Space is responsible for the primary and the secondary structure, and thermo-mechanical systems of ESA’s European Service Modules (ESM)

TURIN, Italy, 31th May 2022 (Thales Alenia Space PR) — Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has successfully completed the activities related to the final integration of the critical systems of Orion’s European Service Module 4. The module is now on its way to Airbus Defence and Space’s clean rooms in Bremen, Germany. There, it will complete the integration and carry out final tests, supported by Thales Alenia Space engineers on-site.

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NASA to Pick Next Generation Spacesuits for Moonwalking, Spacewalking

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

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will announce at 2 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. CDT) Wednesday, June 1, the company, or companies, selected to move forward in developing the next generation of spacesuits for Artemis missions at the Moon and the International Space Station during an event at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The announcement will air live on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Event participants will include:

  • Vanessa Wyche, director, NASA Johnson
  • Lindsay Aitchison, program executive for Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program, NASA Headquarters
  • Lara Kearney, manager, Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program, NASA Johnson
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station Program, NASA Johnson

New spacesuits that allow humans to explore the lunar surface and unlock new spacewalk capabilities outside the International Space Station are a critical part of advancing human exploration in space and demonstrating continued American leadership. Under Artemis, new exploration spacesuits, together with human surface mobility systems, the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion Spacecraft, ground systems, Gateway, and human landing systems, will enable NASA to return humans to and establish a long-term presence at the Moon and to eventually explore Mars.

For more information about Artemis, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/artemis

Artemis I Moon Rocket to Return to Launch Pad 39B in Early June

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft are slated to return to launch pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early June for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.    

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Engineers Continue to Work on Space Launch System

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue to work on the main tasks needed to prepare the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to return to launch pad 39B for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.

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Redwire Reports First Quarter Net Loss of $17.3 Million

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Redwire reported a first quarter net loss of $17.3 million on revenues of $32.9 million. The adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) loss was $4.7 million for the quarter.

“Delays in contract awards, macroeconomic challenges, including inflation and supply chain delays in contractor start dates had a negative impact on performance,” the company said in a statement.

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NASA to Roll Artemis I Rocket Back into Vehicle Assembly Building

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will hold a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 18, to discuss the status of the next wet dress rehearsal test of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft at Launch Complex 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of the uncrewed Artemis I lunar mission.

Due to upgrades required at an off-site supplier of gaseous nitrogen used for the test, NASA will take advantage of the opportunity to roll SLS and Orion back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to replace a faulty upper stage check valve and a small leak on the tail service mast umbilical. During that time, the agency also will review schedules and options to demonstrate propellant loading operations ahead of launch.

The teleconference will stream live on the agency’s website.

Teleconference participants include:

  • Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director, NASA Exploration Ground Systems program, Kennedy
  • Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters

Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone to send astronauts to Mars.

For updates, follow along on NASA’s Artemis blog at:

https://blogs.nasa.gov/artemis

NASA Inspector General’s Report Criticizes Agency’s Cost and Schedule Practices

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Congress is unable to make informed funding decisions about NASA’s multi-mission programs because the space agency is not providing it with federally mandated cost and schedule information, according to a new report from the NASA Office of Inspector General.

“Specifically, for the programs supporting Artemis, the Agency’s return-to-the-Moon and ultimately to Mars effort, NASA is circumventing required cost and schedule controls by categorizing certain production costs as operations costs when, in our opinion, they should be categorized as development costs,” the report said.

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