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  1. NASA creates Artemis Accords in effort to extend its values to the Moon "We don’t want to only carry astronauts to the Moon, we want to carry our values." Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is leading implementation of the Artemis Accords. NASA 149 with 59 posters participating, including story author NASA said Friday it has begun negotiating a series of bilateral agreements with space agencies in other countries that want to join the Artemis Program. Essentially, partner nations would need to agree to 10 basic norms as part of their space activities, such as operating transparently and releasing scientific data. "We don’t want to only carry astronauts to the Moon, we want to carry our values forward," said Mike Gold, a NASA associate administrator who has led development of the Artemis Accords. "We want to use the excitement around Artemis to incentivize partners to adopt these principles that we believe will lead to a more peaceful, transparent, safe and secure future in space—not only for NASA and the international partners we’re working with, but the entire world." He and NASA's deputy administrator, Jim Morhard, spoke with Ars in advance of Friday morning's announcement. Both were careful to say that these accords are based on the Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basis of international space law, as well as the United Nations' Registration Convention. "This is based on our values and our own behaviors, but it’s also grounded in the Outer Space Treaty," Morhard said. "Hopefully you’ve seen it in our own actions in how we comport ourselves at NASA. We intend to continue acting the same way we have. Our hope is that we’ll have new international partners, and current ones that will adopt those same values if they haven’t already." NASA is continuing to refine the details of its Artemis Program, which entails the launch of humans to the Moon as early as 2024 and future lunar missions that could include international astronauts. NASA would also spearhead development of a small space station in lunar orbit, called the Gateway, which will include modules contributed by other countries. Gold said that NASA, working with the US State Department, hopes to negotiate and reach a final agreement with one or more international partners by the end of this year. “We’re trying to create some teeth for the obligations to the Outer Space Treaty," he said. The Artemis Accords, which are outlined in the gallery below, generally reflect what NASA and its international partners have already agreed to in the framework that governs the International Space Station. However, they do introduce some new principles, such as the use of space resources, that are unique to exploration on other worlds. This particular accord states, "The ability to extract and utilize resources on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids will be critical to support safe and sustainable space exploration and development." First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 9+ images. After elements of these accords were leaked in early May, some perceived them as an effort by the United States to regulate the exploration of the Moon. The leader of Russia's space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, reacted angrily on Twitter, comparing the effort to bypass the United Nations or NATO to American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, Gold and Morhard said that the agreements would be negotiated with international partners instead of being unilaterally instituted. Although NASA has not yet formally reached out to Russia about the Artemis Accords, Morhard said, "We certainly hope that Russia will be part of this. It’s not like we don’t want them." In some ways, the agreements appear to be an effort to differentiate a Western model of exploration from that of China—which is not transparent about much of its exploration plans and has a mixed record of sharing data from its research activities. There is also rising concern about debris from Chinese rocket launches, including the reentry Monday of large pieces from a Long March 5B booster that came down in Africa but could just as easily have landed in the United States. Although China will be invited to join the Artemis Accords, NASA officials said it or any other country would have to respect the safety of people on Earth. “The empty core stage of the Long March 5B, weighing nearly 20 tons, was in an uncontrolled free fall along a path that carried it over Los Angeles and other densely populated areas," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told Ars on Friday morning. "I can think of no better example of why we need the Artemis Accords. It’s vital for the U.S. to lead and establish norms of behavior against such irresponsible activities. Space exploration should inspire hope and wonder, not fear and danger.” Source: NASA creates Artemis Accords in effort to extend its values to the Moon (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  2. With all the large asteroids hitting the news lately, it would have been easy for a small one to sneak under the radar. In fact, one very nearly did. On April 27, astronomers discovered a new asteroid, a little pixie of a space rock between 4 and 8 metres (13 to 26 feet) across. It was already close to Earth at this point, and the probability of a collision was calculated at around 10 percent. At its size, it would have burnt up on atmospheric entry, so it posed no threat to humans anyway. But the asteroid's trajectory would bring it very close to the geostationary ring, the volume of space around Earth in which bodies can maintain geostationary orbit. That space is packed with satellites. On April 28, this asteroid - later named 2020 HS7 - skimmed past Earth at a distance around nine times closer than the average distance of the Moon. At a distance of 42,735 kilometres (26,554 miles) from the centre of Earth - the Earth-Moon distance is 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles) from centre to centre on average - 2020 HS7 pulled off one of the closest asteroid flybys we've ever seen. And it skimmed the nearest satellite by just 1,200 kilometres (746 miles). That may sound a bit scary, but neither we nor our satellites were in any particular danger. "Small asteroids like 2020 HS7 safely pass by Earth a few times per month," said astronomer Lindley Johnson of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office just prior to the flyby. "It poses no threat to our planet." In fact, 2020 HS7 was a good thing. It allowed scientists to test their detection, observation, follow-up and prediction capabilities on a small near-Earth asteroid. And they showed they were able to predict and track the path of 2020 HS7 with incredible accuracy, even with just a day's notice. You may have been hearing about near-Earth asteroids a lot recently. In just the last few months, we've had larger asteroids such as 2020 BX12 and 1998 OR2 (which had its close flyby just a day after 2020 HS7) swing past. Astronomers have also just watched comet 2I/Borisov, the interstellar visitor, crumble into pieces. But although it may seem like there are more rocks than ever in our vicinity, in reality, we're just getting really, really good at spotting and tracking them. This is great news for us, because it means we are becoming better equipped to deal with an asteroid that will pose a threat to Earth. Detection, observation and prediction are the first steps. What comes after that is still being ironed out, but we're getting there. In 2022, space agencies around the world will be working together to ram a spacecraft into an asteroid (one that's not headed for Earth) to see if we are able to deflect its course. If it works, we will have another brilliant tool in our kit for keeping giant rocks from raining fiery death on our planet. Source
  3. SpaceX has won a big NASA contract to fly cargo to the Moon “This is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably." Enlarge / Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy's second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. SpaceX 10 with 9 posters participating Last summer, NASA put out a call for companies who would be willing to deliver cargo to a proposed station in orbit around the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway. On Friday, NASA announced that the first award under this "Gateway Logistics" contract would go to SpaceX. The company has proposed using its Falcon Heavy rocket to deliver a modified version of its Dragon spacecraft, called Dragon XL, to the Lunar Gateway. After delivering cargo, experiments and other supplies, the spacecraft would be required to remain docked at the Gateway for a year before "autonomous" disposal. “This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a news release. “The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture, and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.” NASA has set aside a total of $7 billion over a period of 12 to 15 years for logistics supply and is expected to eventually select at least one more company for commercial delivery services. Each selected company is guaranteed a total of two missions. In effect, this contract is likely worth a few billion dollars to SpaceX, although the bulk of the funding probably will not come before the first missions fly in the mid-2020s. For NASA, SpaceX represents the safest choice under this contract. Both its Falcon Heavy and Dragon cargo spacecraft have flown multiple missions. Moreover, SpaceX has worked with NASA on developing a cargo capability to space since 2006, with the beginning of the space agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. New questions The contract is notable because it appears to reaffirm NASA's commitment to the Lunar Gateway at a time when there are questions about its future. After hiring on in late 2019, the agency's new head of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, has been reassessing the path by which NASA's Artemis Program will return astronauts to the Moon. His single mandate is to do so by 2024, so he has been looking for the most direct path to the lunar surface. Loverro has said that would not include the Gateway, which was previously seen as a staging point for crews and a lander that would go down to the surface of the Moon. NASA has said it still plans to build the Gateway, which is supported by international partners and seen as a potential way to bring more commercial companies—such as SpaceX and several others—into the Artemis Program. By awarding this contract now, NASA is signaling that it is still interesting in building the Gateway in the mid-2020s. Before questions about the Gateway's future arose, the agency has previously awarded contracts for two elements of the Gateway, a power and propulsion element and a small habitat module. The reality is that the space agency's Artemis Program is still very much in flux. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were questions about whether Congress would support this Trump Administration's request for billions of dollars of more NASA funding in the fiscal year 2021 budget. However, with this award, NASA and its administrator seem to want to make clear that they are committed both to commercial space and a sustainable return to the Moon. Source: SpaceX has won a big NASA contract to fly cargo to the Moon (Ars Technica)
  4. Back to the moon to stay — NASA shares details of lunar surface missions—and they’re pretty cool But there is a catch if you want to bring back Moon rocks. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical that NASA will actually enact the Artemis Moon program to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024—Congress may not fund it, NASA's large, costly rocket remains far behind schedule, and history has been unkind to deep-space exploration programs since Apollo. However, should lunar landing missions occur during the next decade, they have the potential to go far beyond what NASA accomplished with the Apollo program half a century ago. NASA scientists John Connolly and Niki Werkheiser spoke Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, and they provided more details about the agency's plan for human missions in the 2020s. Nearly a week The first mission to the Moon's surface, consisting of two crew members, will remain on the surface for 6.5 days—this is double the longest period of time any of the Apollo missions spent on the surface. The two astronauts will conduct up to four spacewalks on the surface of the Moon, performing a variety of scientific observations, including sampling water ice. "We will have a very robust science program from the very beginning," Connolly said. One big difference between this first mission and Apollo is that NASA intends to pre-position equipment on the surface, including an unpressurized rover for astronauts to use during their spacewalks. The agency intends for this rover to have the capability to be controlled remotely—it will be like Tesla's "Smart Summon" feature, only on the Moon. Connolly discussed Artemis landing locations near the South Pole of the Moon, noting that several "permanently shadowed regions" could be reached by short forays of 5km to 15km, well within the range of the aforementioned rover. Scientists believe that, over billions of years, ice has become trapped in these darkened areas where crater walls prevent sunlight from shining. NASA has also been studying the illumination of the South Pole along the ridges of these craters, where there is near-continual sunlight during the lunar summer. For example, Connolly said the period from October 2024 through February 2025 along the rim of Shackleton Crater (at 89.8 degrees south) will have near-constant illumination. This is important for solar power generation. Another Artemis mission is scheduled to follow in 2025, followed by delivery of a pressurized rover as early as 2026. This would enable much longer forays from the landing site. Before the end of the decade, NASA says it could evolve the crew size to four people, for 14-day missions, and begin to establish facilities for mining water ice and producing oxygen. Sample return? The goal, Connolly said, would be to go to the Moon to stay, while also building up capabilities for eventual human missions to Mars. "We are going to do some testing for Mars on the Moon, but we are also looking at a long-term lunar surface presence," he said. Scientists at Wednesday's lunar meeting were also interested in rock samples from the Moon. In a discussion of the human landers NASA plans to use in 2024 and beyond, Greg Chavers, an engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center, said the agency has plans for this. Companies bidding to build the lander for NASA will be required to provide a minimum sample return capability of 35kg, with the goal of 100kg. Companies will be evaluated, in part, on their sample return capacity, he said. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. One of the limitations on returning samples is the Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts back from lunar orbit to Earth. Chavers said the Orion spacecraft does not have any designated space for a box of sample rocks taken from the lunar surface. "We just don't know what the capability will be," Chavers said of bringing rocks back to Earth inside Orion. This would seem to be an important detail to nail down. Listing image by NASA Source: NASA shares details of lunar surface missions—and they’re pretty cool (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image galleries, please visit the above link)
  5. Veteran astronauts endorse NASA’s program for a return to the Moon "The International Space Station offers a good blueprint for this project." Enlarge / In May, the test version of Orion attached to the Launch Abort System for the Ascent Abort-2 flight test arrives at Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA On Monday during a conference held in Houston, several veteran astronauts endorsed NASA's plan to return to the Moon. However, they also characterized the goal of landing humans there by 2024 as aspirational rather than realistic. "It's quite aggressive," said four-time astronaut Michael López-Alegría of the Artemis Program's five-year timeline. López-Alegría, who is president of the Association of Space Explorers, made his comments during the organization's annual meeting. He added that it was not a bad thing to have an aggressive plan. Rather, it was good for NASA and its international partners to have a clear goal to work toward. "I think that in any complex program like that, somebody needs to draw a line in the sand," he said. "It may be aspirational, but without something like that, it's really difficult to get people pulling in the same direction." Other members of an astronaut panel, who came from Europe, Russia, and Japan, offered to serve as a resource for helping to get NASA back to the Moon, and possibly beyond, in the coming decades. A German astronaut who flew to the Russian Mir space station in 1997, Reinhold Ewald, said the 400 members of the organization, who hail from 38 different countries, can offer helpful perspective. "I'm pretty sure that the collective experience of this organization can also contribute to a safe return of people going to the Moon, and further, in the future," he said. Go International One consistent theme from the panelists was the need for any venture into deep space to be international in nature. The go-it-alone domestic model may have worked during the Cold War, but in the 21st century, humanity should go beyond low Earth together, both to share costs as well as providing a means of unifying a fractured world. "The International Space Station offers a good blueprint for this project," Ewald said. There are concerns that NASA's Artemis plan largely excludes international participation during its early phases. For the initial mission to the surface of the Moon in 2024, all of the rockets, elements of the Lunar Gateway, and landers would be made by US-based contractors. The sole international element of the program will be the "service module" of the Orion spacecraft, which will be used to power the capsule in flight. The only current astronaut on the panel, Japan's Sôichi Noguchi, acknowledged this limitation. However, he cited as an example the early cooperation between NASA and the Russians with their Mir space station in the 1990s, which quickly blossomed into the International Space Station, a partnership of 15 countries. Noguchi also noted that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently visited Japan while seeking to build a coalition of nations to support a long-term Artemis program. As for astronauts presently in NASA's corps as well as partner agency's such as Japan's JAXA, Noguchi said there was much interest in the Artemis program. "We are excited," he said. "We are very excited to know that NASA is moving toward the Moon by 2024. In short, active astronauts and international partners—they are all excited." Source: Veteran astronauts endorse NASA’s program for a return to the Moon (Ars Technica)
  6. As NASA tries to land on the Moon, it has plenty of rockets to choose from One of them is even something the agency is calling a "commercial" SLS. Enlarge / If you want to buy a commercial SLS launch, you also need to rent the mobile launcher from NASA. NASA Last week, NASA held an "industry day" for companies hoping to win lunar lander contracts from the government as part of its Artemis program. During the teleconference, industry officials could ask questions about NASA's plans for how best to get astronauts from an orbit around the Moon, down to the surface, and safely back. After Vice President Mike Pence established the goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024, NASA officials have been working overtime throughout the last six months to put together mission plans and architectures to meet this deadline. The effort culminated in the release last week of a solicitation that asks industry for designs of a human landing system. There is a lot to digest in this document, which contains three-dozen attachments and several amendments. And industry officials must respond quickly, with a Nov. 1 deadline to return proposals. After reviewing the submissions, NASA will award two or more contracts that will allow firms to move into the final design and development of Artemis Program lunar landers. The agency would like to have two different designs move forward toward completion, believing that competition will result in faster, better hardware. But this may not be possible due to uncertain funding from Congress. The lander program asks a lot of the US aerospace industry in terms of technology development and production in a short period of time. Yet one of the biggest and most immediate questions each potential bidder will have to answer involves launch. How will they get their lander hardware to lunar orbit? This is not an easy question to answer, because the choice of a launch vehicle requires balancing political, technical, and cost risks. There are also as many as five potential choices—Falcon Heavy, Vulcan-Centaur, New Glenn, Space Launch System (SLS), and Starship Super Heavy. The task at hand The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, has mandated that NASA use the agency's SLS rocket to launch the crewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit. But for the lunar lander—elements of which will be pre-positioned in lunar orbit prior to the crew's arrival—NASA has given contractors the flexibility to choose their own launch vehicle. "We are employing a commercial design and development, end-to-end solution for this demonstration, and launch vehicles fall in line with that," said Lisa Watson-Morgan during the industry day meeting. She is managing the Human Landing System program for NASA. "The commercial providers shall procure a commercial launch vehicle," she added, noting that this vehicle, and its costs, would be part of each contractor's proposal to NASA. The three-stage lunar lander has modules that could fit on commercial launch vehicles. NASA Although it has professed an openness to alternative designs for a lander, NASA is primarily looking at a three-stage lander that involves a "transfer vehicle" to take the lander from a high lunar orbit to a lower one and then a "descent module" to carry the lander down to the surface. Along the way, the crew rides in an "ascent module," where they live during the lunar surface stay and in which they launch from the Moon's surface back to the waiting transfer vehicle. NASA has estimated the mass values for each of these lander components, as shown in the image above. The overall range of the modules is between 9 and 15 metric tons, although obviously each contractor may propose vehicles of whatever mass they feel gets the job done. The important thing to glean from this is that, at a minimum, a heavy-lift rocket probably needs to be able to throw 10 tons into lunar orbit. A payload capacity of 15 tons or more could accommodate most lander components. Another key element of this is timing. During industry day, Watson-Morgan said NASA is nominally moving toward demonstrations of lunar landing vehicles in the August 2024 time frame. This means they would have to be delivered to the vicinity of the Moon before then. Human Landing System booster considerations. NASA The rockets themselves must either be certified by NASA's Launch Services Program, have three successful launches in the same configuration, or be a commercial version of the SLS rocket. (We'll have more to say about a commercial version of the SLS rocket later.) To be viable for launching lander elements, Watson-Morgan said, a proposed rocket must have met one of these criteria three months before the "Flight Readiness Review" of a mission. Effectively, this means a commercial rocket must have flown three missions before the spring of 2024 at the very latest. With this basic understanding of technical and timing requirements for a rocket to launch part of NASA's lunar lander system to the Moon, let's move on to the contenders. Falcon Heavy There is just one rocket available today for NASA's lunar needs—SpaceX's Falcon Heavy booster. Not only is the rocket certified by NASA's Launch Services Program, it has also flown three successful missions. Although it has not demonstrated a mission to lunar orbit, the rocket has a capacity of at least 15 tons to lunar orbit, per NASA's launch vehicle calculator. The Falcon Heavy has other advantages as well. Unless it is flown in fully expendable mode—which it would need to be for a full 15 tons—its side-mounted boosters and potentially its center core could be reused. SpaceX also has the capacity to scale up production if more rockets are needed. And it will be difficult—if not impossible—for competitors to match Falcon Heavy pricing that begins at $90 million per launch. For all of this, however, it is not clear how much other contractors will use the Falcon Heavy. Many of the expected bidders for lunar lander elements have their own rocket companies. Lockheed Martin, for example, owns 50% of United Launch Alliance and would therefore be unlikely to partner with SpaceX. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. SpaceX has also built a successful model based on vertical integration. By not relying on traditional aerospace contractors, the company has been able to slash costs as well as move quickly. At the same time, contractors involved in bidding for elements of the lunar lander may be less willing to contract with SpaceX as a result. What does seem clear is that if the 2024 schedule remains paramount, then the only sure-thing rocket that will be ready to fly by late 2023 or early 2024 is the Falcon Heavy. Vulcan-Centaur It's a good bet that the Vulcan-Centaur rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) will play a role in the lunar program. This rocket remains on track to make a debut in 2021, according to the company, and if co-owners Lockheed and Boeing win contracts for pieces of the lunar lander, they probably will have the Vulcan as their booster of choice. In a configuration with six side-mounted boosters, and a Centaur upper stage with two engines instead of one, the company plans an initial capacity of 13 metric tons to lunar orbit, a spokesperson told Ars. Additionally, there will be a "growth path" to support higher future requirements, ULA's Jessica Rye said. The company plans to have this more powerful configuration of Vulcan certified for Artemis missions by 2024. There are some key advantages to using the Vulcan rocket. Politically, it is considered "safe." A lunar program using a traditional aerospace contractor such as ULA is less likely to raise the ire of someone like Shelby or others, who have made no secret of their dislike for SpaceX or their mistrust of its founder, Elon Musk. ULA also has a tradition of building safe, reliable rockets. But there are some potential pitfalls as well. Although ULA is relying largely on flight-proven technology for its Vulcan rocket, including the booster's second stage and much of its avionics, the rocket's first stage will use an entirely new engine built by Blue Origin. Additionally, ULA has not published prices for the Vulcan rocket, but it seems likely that the "heavy" version of the rocket with six boosters will be quite expensive, perhaps twice as much as an expendable Falcon Heavy. New Glenn Blue Origin, which has its own concept for the descent module portion of the lunar lander, is also building its own heavy-lift rocket. Although there has been some slippage in the schedule, this powerful booster is currently targeted for a 2021 debut. Further delays are certainly possible, as Blue Origin is attempting to scale from a New Shepard booster with about 110,000 pounds of thrust to a rocket with nearly 4 million pounds of thrust. That is a big leap. In terms of capacity, the rocket's payload user's guide advertises 13.6 tons to geostationary transfer orbit. The company declined to provide an exact number for capacity to lunar orbit—understandable because without a finished rocket, such numbers are only estimates—but a capacity of 10 to 11 tons seems reasonable for New Glenn. Unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin has acted more like a traditional aerospace company by forging partnerships with companies such as United Launch Alliance. It is therefore more likely that other aerospace companies would be willing to partner with Blue Origin for a ride to lunar orbit. However, it is not clear that New Glenn will have enough lift capacity to get larger lander modules to the Moon. In terms of cost, Blue Origin has not published a price for New Glenn, which is designed with a fully reusable first stage. However, we would expect it to slot in somewhere higher than Falcon Heavy but lower than the heavy version of the Vulcan rocket. Commercial SLS rocket One option offered to contractors by NASA is a "commercial" version of the Space Launch System rocket. A fully functional SLS rocket would be more than capable for lander modules, with an estimated lift capacity of 26 tons to lunar orbit. But this option comes with some very large caveats. The first caveat is scheduling. The prime contractor for the SLS rocket's core stage, Boeing, is struggling to complete production of the first core stage by the end of this year, and it will undergo a lengthy test procedure at Stennis Space Center in 2020. If those tests proceed reasonably well, the rocket will be moved to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a launch sometime in 2021. This is probably the best-case schedule for the SLS rocket, which was originally supposed to launch two years ago. NASA has booked the first three SLS launches for the Artemis program—the first mission, an uncrewed test flight; Artemis II as a crewed mission around the Moon; and Artemis III as the flight that will carry the astronauts that will land on the Moon. Based upon past performance, it is not at all clear that Boeing is up to the task of building more than three SLS core stage rockets between now and early 2024. All the same, NASA says lunar lander contractors may seek an SLS rocket if they can convince the agency it won't delay their own procurement of the booster. "Any proposal that includes launching the human landing system on a commercial SLS rocket would need to demonstrate this approach does not interfere with current agency plans for SLS development, production, and operations required for the early Artemis test flights," NASA spokesperson Gina Anderson told Ars. Lunar lander contractors are also on their own in terms of negotiation with SLS contractors. If a company wants to buy a commercial SLS rocket, it needs to go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other large aerospace contractors involved in building the rocket to negotiate their own price. Then they need to pay someone to integrate the rocket and negotiate with NASA for use of its facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida for a launch. If all this seems like a bit of a stretch, that's because it probably is. However, it does seem possible that Boeing might pursue such an approach, with the ultimate aim of launching a fully integrated lander on a more advanced version of the SLS rocket. In any case, if NASA is truly serious about a 2024 landing on the Moon, a "commercial" SLS rocket seems like a risky and expensive choice for a lunar lander contractor. Starship There is one final option that theoretically could be available by 2024: the Starship vehicle under development by SpaceX. It is not clear whether NASA would even consider a Starship bid for its Artemis Program at this stage, and it's not clear whether SpaceX will bid the vehicle. (SpaceX engineers working on the Starship program were notably on the "industry day" teleconference, however). If fully realized, Starship would offer NASA a revolutionary capability to not only get multiple tons of cargo to the lunar surface, but to also eventually ferry astronauts there and back. SpaceX still has a lot of development work to do to get from the prototype revealed at the end of September to an orbital version of Starship, let alone one that could land on the Moon. And the company must also complete development of its Super Heavy launch vehicle. Privately, however, NASA officials are keenly aware of Starship's potential capability. If Starship is successful, it would obviate all of the other rockets above, as well as the complex two- and three-stage lunar landers NASA is seeking to develop. Starship would offer one-stop shopping for development of a lunar colony. The politics of all this are messy. Certainly, mission managers at NASA would love to have such a capability. For political reasons, the agency is unlikely to be able to support the Starship program directly with more than a few small contracts. However, if Musk can find a way to get the funding needed to bring a fully functional Starship online in the next five years—a big if, to be sure—it seems likely that the above discussion will be moot as there would be one Starship to rule them all. Source: As NASA tries to land on the Moon, it has plenty of rockets to choose from (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  7. India's Chandrayaan-2 Spacecraft Scouts the Moon in New Lunar Photos A view of the north polar region of the moon as seen by Chandrayaan-2 on Aug. 23, 2019. (Image credit: ISRO) India's Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is settling into orbit around the moon and has an incredible view as it waits to try to make history. The spacecraft arrived in lunar orbit on Aug. 19 (Aug. 20 local time at the Indian Space Research Organisation's mission control) and is currently conducting a series of maneuvers to tweak that orbit in preparation for a landing attempt in less than two weeks. As it does so, the spacecraft is capturing stunning images of the moon's pitted surface, including a set taken on Aug. 23 by the vehicle's Terrain Mapping Camera 2. Those images include one showing the lunar north pole, including Plaskett, Rozhdestvenskiy, Hermite, Sommerfeld and Kirkwood craters. A second image shows a region of the far side's northern hemisphere, including the Jackson, Mach, Mitra and Korolev craters. Chandrayaan-2 is settling into an orbit sweeping between the poles of the moon. In about a week, the orbiter will separate from the rest of the mission and continue on this path for the next year or so. The probe is modeled on India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which carried the instrument that confirmed the presence of water ice in craters near the moon's poles. A view of the far side of the moon captured by the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on Aug. 23, 2019. (Image credit: ISRO) The lander portion of the spacecraft, with a rover tucked on board, will head toward the surface near the moon's south pole, attempting India's first soft lunar landing. If the maneuver is successful, the country will become just the fourth to have accomplished such a feat, after the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China. Landing is scheduled for Sept. 6 (Sept. 7 at mission control). Source: India's Chandrayaan-2 Spacecraft Scouts the Moon in New Lunar Photos
  8. Hordes of Earth's toughest creatures may now be living on Moon Credit: CC0 Public Domain There might be life on the Moon after all: thousands of virtually indestructible creatures that can withstand extreme radiation, sizzling heat, the coldest temperatures of the universe, and decades without food. These terrifying-sounding beings aren't aliens but instead microscopic Earthlings known as tardigrades, who likely made it out alive following a crash landing on the lunar surface by Israel's Beresheet probe in April, the US-based organization responsible for their trip said Tuesday. Based on an analysis of the spacecraft's trajectory and the composition of the device the micro-animals were stored in, "we believe the chances of survival for the tardigrades... are extremely high," Nova Spivack, co-founder and chairman of the Arch Mission Foundation, told AFP. The non-profit is dedicated to spreading backups of human knowledge and Earth's biology throughout the Solar System, a quest it likens to the creation of an "Encyclopedia Galactica" first evoked by sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov. "Tardigrades are ideal to include because they are microscopic, multicellular, and one of the most durable forms of life on planet Earth," said Spivack. He added that the diminutive creatures, which are under a millimeter (0.04 inches) in size, had been dehydrated to place them in suspended animation, then "encased in an epoxy of Artificial Amber, and should be revivable in the future." The tardigrades were stored inside a "Lunar Library," a nanotechnology device that resembles a DVD and contains a 30-million-page archive of human history viewable under microscopes, as well as human DNA. Spivack is confident this too survived impact—but it doesn't represent the first genetic code or life forms to be deposited on the barren celestial body. That distinction belongs to the DNA and microbes contained in the almost 100 bags of feces and urine left behind by American astronauts during the Apollo lunar landings from 1969-1972. No rescue mission Also known as water bears or moss piglets, tardigrades can live in water or on land, and are capable of surviving temperatures as high as 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) and as low as minus 272 degrees Celsius (-458 Fahrenheit), albeit for a few minutes. The grub-like, eight-legged animals can come back from being dried out to a lifeless husk for decades, withstand near-zero pressure in outer space and the crushing depths of the Mariana Trench. If they did not burn up in an explosion, they could in theory survive the tiny pressure on the lunar surface, and the extremes of temperature, William Miller, a tardigrades expert at Baker University, told AFP. "But to become active, to grow, eat, and reproduce they would need water, air and food," so it would not be possible for them to multiply and form a colony, he added. NASA astrobiologist Cassie Conley said that their exact survival time would depend on the condition of the impact site and the temperatures to which they are exposed. "If they don't get too hot, it's possible they could survive for quite a long time (many years)," she told AFP. "I'd be more concerned that the animals would be affected by toxic chemicals from the epoxy or glue" used to store them, as opposed to conditions in space, she added. Even if the creatures lived on for several years, there is no crewed mission to the Moon planned until NASA's Artemis program in 2024 at the south pole—far from Beresheet's crash site on the Sea of Serenity, so they probably won't make it home. "It is unlikely that they will be rescued in time, so my guess is that, even if they survived, they are doomed," Rafael Alves Batista, a physicist at Sao Paulo university who co-authored a 2017 paper on tardigrades' extreme resilience, told AFP. Source: Hordes of Earth's toughest creatures may now be living on Moon
  9. Study shows that the Moon is older than previously believed This sample is an ilmenite basalt collected during Apollo 12. It has glass on it, deposited by the splash of material when another basalt was struck by an impactor. Samples like 12054 allow us to reconstruct the history of the Moon with the stories they tell. Credit: Maxwell Thiemens, 2019 A new study spearheaded by Earth scientists at the University of Cologne's Institute of Geology and Mineralogy has constrained the age of the Moon to approximately 50 million years after the formation of the solar system. After the formation of the solar system, 4.56 billion years ago, the Moon formed approximately 4.51 billion years ago. The new study has thus determined that the Moon is significantly older than previously believed—earlier research had estimated the Moon to have formed approximately 150 million years after solar system's formation. To achieve these results, the scientists analysed the chemical composition of a diverse range of samples collected during the Apollo missions. The study "Early Moon formation inferred from hafnium-tungsten systematics' was published in Nature Geoscience. On 21 July 1969, mankind took its first steps on another celestial body. In their few hours on the lunar surface, the crew of Apollo 11 collected and brought back to Earth 21.55 kg of samples. Almost exactly 50 years later, these samples are still teaching us about key events of the early solar system and the history of the Earth-Moon system. Determining the age of the Moon is also important to understand how and at which time the Earth formed, and how it evolved at the very beginning of the solar system. This study focuses on the chemical signatures of different types of lunar samples collected by the different Apollo missions. "By comparing the relative amounts of different elements in rocks that formed at different times, it is possible to learn how each sample is related to the lunar interior and the solidification of the magma ocean," says Dr. Raúl Fonseca from the University of Cologne, who studies processes that occurred in the Moon's interior in laboratory experiments together with his colleague Dr. Felipe Leitzke. The Moon likely formed in the aftermath of a giant collision between a Mars-sized planetary body and the early Earth. Over time, the Moon accreted from the cloud of material blasted into Earth's orbit. The newborn Moon was covered in a magma ocean, which formed different types of rocks as it cooled. "These rocks recorded information about the formation of the Moon, and can still be found today on the lunar surface," says Dr. Maxwell Thiemens, former University of Cologne researcher and lead author of the study. Dr. Peter Sprung, co-author of the study, adds: "Such observations are not possible on Earth anymore, as our planet has been geologically active over time. The Moon thus provides a unique opportunity to study planetary evolution." The Cologne scientists used the relationship between the rare elements hafnium, uranium and tungsten as a probe to understand the amount of melting that occurred to generate the mare basalts, i.e., the black regions on the lunar surface. Owing to an unprecedented measurement precision, the study could identify distinct trends amongst the different suites of rocks, which now allows for a better understanding of the behaviour of these key rare elements. Studying hafnium and tungsten on the Moon are particularly important because they constitute a natural radioactive clock of the isotope hafnium-182 decaying into tungsten-182. This radioactive decay only lasted for the first 70 million years of the solar system. By combining the hafnium and tungsten information measured in the Apollo samples with information from laboratory experiments, the study finds that the Moon already started solidifying as early as 50 million years after solar system formed. "This age information means that any giant impact had to occur before that time, which answers a fiercely debated question amongst the scientific community regarding when the Moon formed," adds Professor Dr. Carsten Münker from the UoC's Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, senior author of the study. Maxwell Thiemens concludes: "Mankind's first steps on another world exactly 50 years ago yielded samples which let us understand the timing and evolution of the Moon. As the Moon's formation was the final major planetary event after Earth's formation, the age of the Moon provides a minimum age for Earth as well." Source: Study shows that the Moon is older than previously believed
  10. India has launched an ambitious mission to the Moon "Today is a historical day for space and science and technology in India." Enlarge / India's GSLV Mark III rocket is seen on the launch pad with its lunar payload. ISRO On Monday, an Indian rocket launched a spacecraft bound for the Moon from Sriharikota, a barrier island off the Bay of Bengal coast. This Chandrayaan-2 mission is the second spacecraft India has sent to the Moon, and it represents a significant effort to explore the lunar surface and its potential as a source for water ice. The GSLV Mark III rocket lifted off Monday after an eight-day delay due to a technical issue, and the launch proceeded normally. "Today is a historical day for space and science and technology in India," K. Sivan, chair of the Indian Space Research Organization, said after the launch. "I'm extremely happy to announce that GSLV Mark III successfully injected Chandrayaan-2 into the defined orbit." Although this is India's most powerful rocket, the GSLV vehicle only has a little more than one-third the lift capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, so the 3.85-ton payload must follow a circuitous path through space in order to gain enough energy to reach, and then settle into lunar orbit. It is due to reach orbit around the Moon in September. After that point, on Sept. 7, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover will separate from the orbiter and descend to the surface of the Moon, targeting a region near 70 degrees south on the lunar surface. In doing so, India will attempt to become just the fourth country—after the United States, Russia, and China—to successfully softly land a spacecraft on the Moon's surface. In addition to a small rover, the Indian lander will carry 14 scientific payloads. The primary goal is to assess the lunar environment and attempt to map potential deposits of water ice on the Moon. The mission is scheduled to last about 14 Earth days, the length of a lunar day when sunlight is available. The orbiter will remain in operation for a year. Previously, India flew the Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon in 2008. This consisted of a lunar orbiter and an impactor that helped confirm the existence of water ice on the Moon. That discovery helped kick off something of a global race back to the Moon, in which India, China, and the United States have all developed and begun to fly missions to assess the amount and availability of this water for a variety of purposes, including the production of rocket fuel by breaking the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Source: India has launched an ambitious mission to the Moon (Ars Technica)
  11. Half a century after Apollo, why haven’t we been back to the Moon? After we beat the Soviets in 1969, there wasn't much left to prove. Enlarge / Since Apollo, NASA's human spaceflight plans for deep space have been all hat and no cattle. Unlike this photo of two cattle in Johnson Space Center's Rocket Park. NASA The 50th anniversary of NASA’s historic landing on the Moon—this Saturday, July 20th—provokes a decidedly bittersweet feeling. Certainly, this marks an appropriate time to pause and celebrate a singular moment in our shared history, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins really did push back the frontier for all of humanity And yet, for all that this technological and geopolitical tour de force achieved, there has been a decided lack of follow through by the US spaceflight enterprise since Apollo 11. On such an anniversary, this raises uncomfortable questions. Why have we not gone back? Was the Apollo Program really America’s high water mark in space? And will we actually return in the next half century? Why we went Beginning with Sputnik in 1957 and continuing through the flights of Yuri Gagarin and other cosmonauts, the Soviet Union ticked off an impressive succession of “firsts” in space during the middle of the Cold War. As the United States waged a hearts-and-minds campaign against the Soviets around the world, technological superiority represented a key battlefront. Newsworthy space achievements offered critical wins for the Russians. As Charles Fishman's entertaining new book One Giant Leap notes, Gallup polling in 1960 showed that large majorities of people in countries such as Great Britain, France, West Germany, and India believed the Soviet Union would lead the world in science during the 1960s. Shortly after becoming president in 1961, John F. Kennedy sought ideas to demonstrate American, rather than Soviet, technological superiority. His first notion did not concern space exploration, rather he wanted to find a means of desalinating sea water to provide a fresh source of drinking water for the developing world. This was deemed not splashy enough. Eventually, Kennedy was persuaded that America would have to go tit-for-tat with the Soviets in space. Because the Russian space program had flown so far ahead of NASA, Kennedy had to choose a goal far enough into the future that the United States would have a chance to catch up—and this became the genesis of the audacious Moon landing program. Before his assassination, Kennedy had already begun to rethink the America-first nature of the space program. After the Cuba missile crisis, he envisioned space as a potential uniter of the two superpowers, and in 1963 he proposed a joint mission to the Moon between NASA and the Soviet Union. However, just six days after his death that November, new president Lyndon B. Johnson announced in a nationwide television address that he would rename NASA’s Florida launch site in Kennedy’s honor. The program soon became entrenched as a way to honor the slain leader. Thus, the Apollo Program was born out of a desire to strengthen the geopolitical standing of the United States during the Cold War, and it was sustained in the memory of its author’s untimely death. Why we failed to return Whenever the White House directs NASA on a program to send humans back to the Moon, or Mars, or elsewhere, one of the first things the agency does is scramble together advisory panels to provide messaging advice. How, best, can the need for such exploration be explained to the public? How can NASA justify costs in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars? There is little economic justification. By going to Mars, NASA will not generate new wealth for the United States. And while humans in space can explore with more dexterity than robots, that hardly justifies a hundred-fold cost increase or the ultra-high safety risks of sending people instead of machines to explore distant worlds. This leaves NASA with fuzzy explanations, often along the lines of it is human nature to explore and expand our horizons. The American public has been unmoved by such appeals. A recent poll found that only about one in four Americans believes sending humans to the Moon or Mars is "very" or "extremely" important, and this poll is consistent with other surveys of public opinion since the end of the Apollo program. Large majorities of Americans say the space program should mostly focus on protecting Earth from asteroid strikes, studying this planet, and the robotic exploration of other worlds. The hard reality is that, since the Cold War, the human exploration of deep space has not been part of the strategic national interest. NASA had already sent humans to the Moon, and the United States was universally viewed as the global science superpower. How would landing more men and women on the Moon change that? Unfortunately, difficult though it was to reach, the Moon was low-hanging fruit. There isn’t anywhere else for humans to reasonably go in deep space that could make a similar statement. The engineering challenge of mounting a human mission to Mars—complete with pre-supplying the planet, surviving the radiation environment, providing surface power, launching from the Martian surface, and safely returning to Earth—represents an order of magnitude greater challenge. As NASA astronaut Don Pettit says, if the toilet breaks on the International Space Station, NASA can send a replacement up. If a toilet breaks on the way to Mars, the crew dies. Mars or the Moon? It’s a debate that has bedeviled NASA for decades. Aurich Lawson / Getty Images In contemplating a deep space exploration program, NASA has been stuck between Scylla and Charybdis. A choice to return to the Moon would be met by a “been there, done that” attitude from most Americans, whereas a decision to embark upon a multi-decade, enormously expensive program to send humans to Mars would be met with a “just send the robots” response. So for the last 30 years, presidential administrations have bounced between the Moon and Mars for NASA’s human exploration program. Crippling lack of unity From a practical standpoint, the post-Apollo aerospace community has been hampered by a great fracturing of desires. During the 1960s, pretty much everyone, from the president through the contractors and the agency’s work force, lined up behind landing on the Moon. Today, there is no unity of purpose among human spaceflight stakeholders. The White House, generally, has wanted some big human achievement in space. Dating back to George H.W. Bush in 1989, every president except Bill Clinton has established either a lunar return or a Mars landing as the overarching goal of NASA’s human spaceflight program. But although NASA is an executive agency, the president cannot set its budget. The White House must get congressional consent. Accordingly, Congress has often been a major impediment. It generally has parochial priorities, as individual members want to stack funding and jobs into the NASA field centers and contractor hubs in local districts and states. For example, the chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, has near absolute control over the agency’s budget. As a result, most of the major aerospace companies have expanded or opened offices or factories in Alabama. The field centers themselves often seek to consolidate their power and funding into local fiefdoms. Even during Apollo, there was a rivalry between Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and the Johnson Space Center in Texas. But these tensions were exacerbated during the blame game that followed the loss of space shuttle Challenger in 1986. NASA centers want to make progress, certainly, but they don’t want to cede power to other centers in order to do so. The large, legacy aerospace contractors are also jealous of their funding and influence. When the space shuttle program ended in 2011, the major players went along with this decision because they smoothly transferred into new programs. Boeing, responsible for the shuttle orbiter, took over the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket. Orbital ATK, which built the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, would do the same for the SLS rocket. Aerojet Rocketdyne would continue making shuttle engines for the SLS. Lockheed Martin, which built the external fuel tank, had the Orion spacecraft. And so on. Today, there is yet another community with increasing influence. Advocates for new space, most publicly Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, seek to leverage private funding and modern technology to lower the cost of reaching space. They are battling with the legacy aerospace contractors for influence and funding, with mixed success. Each of these different entities—the White House, Congress (which is itself often divided between Republican and Democratic interests), NASA’s top-heavy bureaucracy, legacy aerospace companies, and new space interests—are all pushing and pulling civil spaceflight in various directions. The end result is that no one can ever really agree where to go, how to go, and how to pay for it. Will we ever go back? The last three US presidents have been more or less committed to sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit, and NASA has engaged in building the "capabilities" for a deep-space exploration program (principally the Orion spacecraft and two large rockets, the Ares V and then the Space Launch System rocket). As glacial as the progress has been on these vehicles—humans are unlikely to use them to fly into deep space before the early or mid-2020s—the costs have been equally staggering. NASA has spent $50 billion over the last 15 years on deep space vehicle development alone. During a notable space policy speech in Huntsville, Alabama, in March, Vice President Mike Pence summarized the problem this way: “After years of cost overruns and slipped deadlines, we’re actually being told that the earliest we can get back to the moon is 2028,” Pence said. “Now, that would be 18 years after the SLS program was started and 11 years after the president of the United States directed NASA to return American astronauts to the Moon. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s just not good enough. We’re better than that.” Pence has since pushed NASA to return to the Moon by 2024. The Trump administration settled on a Moon-first exploration plan, and for good reasons. There is an emerging recognition that water ice exists at the lunar poles in large quantities, and harvesting this could eventually provide a valuable source of fuel for deep-space propulsion. A return to the Moon also supports nascent commercial companies that want to harvest these resources. This has become the Artemis program, which has promise but also faces political peril. There are a couple of reasons to believe that the current effort may have some legs. One is the revolution in private efforts to develop low-cost rockets led by SpaceX. By reducing the cost of access to space, commercial companies are opening the door to a future of in-space refueling, staging in low-Earth orbit, and different approaches to the everything-on-one-rocket approach of Apollo. The second factor is that, for the first time in decades, NASA and the United States have a major rival in outer space in China. The Asian country views space much the way Kennedy did in the 1960s, as a means of demonstrating its technological capability to the world and placing itself on equal footing with the United States. What better way to do that than send Chinese taikonauts to the lunar surface? This is the path China is on, if not in 2030, then probably in the early 2030s. China already is seeking to peel off NASA’s longtime partners in Europe to join its efforts to build a space station and tag along for eventual missions to the lunar surface. Therefore, if the White House and Congress don’t get serious about identifying an exploration program most people can agree on—one that uses modern technology and that they agree to fund fully—then America’s half century of greatness in space will prove to be transient rather than permanent. On the 50th anniversary of America's, if not humanity's, crowning scientific achievement, that outcome feels like it would be a real disservice to Neil, Buzz, and Mike. Source: Half a century after Apollo, why haven’t we been back to the Moon? (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  12. Buzz Aldrin is looking forward, not back—and he has a plan to bring NASA along "There has to be a better way of doing things. And I think I’ve found it.” Enlarge / Buzz Aldrin wants NASA to go somewhere. Hubert Vestil/Getty Images Just after Memorial Day this year, I began talking regularly with the pilot of the first spacecraft to land on the Moon. We had spoken before, but this was different—it seemed urgent. Every week or two, Buzz Aldrin would call to discuss his frustration with the state of NASA and his concerns about the looming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing without a lack of discernible progress to get back. Even at 89, Aldrin remains remarkably engaged in the aerospace community, often showing up to meetings and conferences unannounced. Aldrin asks questions. He talks to the principals. In the last two years, the aerospace legend has been to the White House for major space announcements by President Trump, served as an adviser to the National Space Council, and supported the White House goal of returning to the Moon by 2024. But what NASA has been doing to get back there, for the better part of two decades, just hasn’t been working. President Bush directed NASA back to the Moon more than 15 years ago, and in one form or another, NASA has been spending billions of dollars each year to build a big, heavy spacecraft and a bigger, much heavier rocket as the foundation for such a return. Along the way, NASA has enriched a half-dozen large aerospace contractors and kept Congress happy. But the space agency still can’t even launch its own astronauts into low-Earth orbit, let alone deep space or the Moon. “I’ve been going over this in my mind,” Aldrin told Ars “We’ve been fumbling around for a long, long time. There has to be a better way of doing things. And I think I’ve found it.” He realizes that, with a big Apollo anniversary on July 20, this may be one of his last chances to change things. You only hit a Golden Anniversary once, and then it’s gone. And soon, pretty quickly, so are you. So Buzz Aldrin would like to grab the spotlight at this moment, and in the process he hopes to finally get NASA moving forward. He wants NASA to stop trying to repeat the Apollo program of yesteryear and embrace the future of spaceflight. So as we talked in late May and June, I simply took notes. Aldrin was not speaking to me, after all, he was trying to speak to the world. Only a few left Only a dozen humans have ever stepped out of a spacecraft and onto the surface of another world, and two-thirds of them are gone now. Aldrin's partner on Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, died in 2012. Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Jim Irwin, John Young, and Gene Cernan have all gone away, too. Most died incredulous—how, they wondered, had the powerful legacy they left behind dissipated like a rocket’s contrail, scattered in the wind? Of those still left to us, Aldrin is the oldest. Dave Scott, Charlie Duke, and Harrison Schmitt are all in their mid-80s. There is no guarantee any of them will be alive for the 60th anniversary of Apollo 11. To its credit, the Trump administration has injected NASA with a sense of urgency by setting the 2024 landing goal. In response to this, NASA has proposed the Artemis program, a campaign of 37 launches that culminates with the beginnings of a lunar base in a decade. While there are serious questions about the political saliency of this plan, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is more concerned about the technical problems. NASA has spent $50 billion building the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket, and related exploration vehicles over the past 15 years. Orion is a capable deep space capsule, but it is also massive, weighing 26 tons along with its service module and large heat shield. For every Artemis mission, NASA proposes to launch this mass all the way to the Moon and back. At least Orion is reusable; by contrast the large, expendable SLS rocket will cost more than $1.5 billion per flight and require a standing army of contractors just to keep supply lines open for, at most, a single mission per year. For all of the time and money invested in SLS and Orion, these vehicles lack the energy to fly a mission into low lunar orbit and back. Indeed, the engine powering Orion’s service module has less than one-third of the thrust of the Apollo propulsion system that flew Aldrin to the Moon in 1969. This is a major reason NASA intends to build a Lunar Gateway—a small space station—in a distant orbit around the Moon. From there, the Gateway will come no closer than 1,000km to the lunar surface and spend most of its seven-day orbit much farther away. “One thing that surprises me is the lack of performance,” Aldrin said, discussing these vehicles NASA has spent so long developing. “It forces NASA into this weird orbit. And how long is SLS going to last until Blue Origin or SpaceX replaces it? Not long. How long is that heavy Orion spacecraft, with an under-powered European service module, going to hang around in the inventory? Not long.” Halfway to anywhere The famed science fiction author Robert Heinlein is credited with saying, "If you can get your ship into orbit, you're halfway to anywhere." The basic gist of this is that, for any space mission, getting off the surface of the Earth and into free fall around the planet consumes half of your energy cost. For this reason, a lot of aerospace engineers have long argued that deep space missions should be staged out of low-Earth orbit. And as Aldrin has thought about the current state of NASA and private industry, he has come around to this way of thinking, too. He therefore envisions building the “Gateway” not near the Moon but rather in low-Earth orbit. From this gathering point, missions could be assembled to go to the Moon or elsewhere. Aldrin calls this a “TransWay Orbit Rendezvous,” or T.O.R., because it represents a point of transferring from one orbit around Earth to another. “This T.O.R. plan may be the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Aldrin said. A near-Earth Gateway would not entirely rewrite NASA’s existing plans. Such a Gateway would include a “power and propulsion” element, which Maxar is already building for the space agency, as well as a habitat module that is also in the works. To this, Aldrin would add three laboratories. One would be a commercial habitat, built perhaps by Bigelow Aerospace or Axiom Space, for space tourism and private research. Another lab would be used for NASA, or other government-sponsored research, and a third one would be a facility to develop and test artificial gravity. International partners could also add modules, if desired. Positioning the Gateway in low-Earth orbit solves a number of problems for NASA and the White House. The Trump administration has sought to either privatize the International Space Station or move to a “commercial” facility in low-Earth orbit by the mid-2020s. A low-Earth orbit “Gateway” both offers this commercial opportunity and potentially provides a lower-cost replacement for the station, allowing NASA to recoup some of the roughly $4 billion it spends annually on the space station. Such a low-Earth orbit staging point for deep space missions, or a node, would also allow NASA’s entire Moon program to be flown with existing, or soon to exist, commercial rockets, including the Falcon Heavy, New Glenn, Vulcan, Ariane 6, or other boosters. Why launch the expensive, expendable SLS rocket when much lower-cost, reusable options exist? Under Aldrin’s plan, NASA would then develop a reusable “tug” to travel between Earth orbit and lunar orbit. Such a cislunar tug could be sized for any mission, ferrying 25 tons or more of cargo—astronauts, landers, fuel, or supplies—per roundtrip. It could be refueled in low-Earth orbit (again, with fuel brought up on reusable rockets) for future journeys. The vehicle could also incorporate an aeroshell to use Earth’s atmosphere as a “brake” when coming back to the planet, thus saving more fuel. Orion would initially have a role in this architecture, as it is NASA’s only vehicle currently rated for deep-space travel. But to get into low-Earth orbit, astronauts would launch instead on NASA’s commercial crew vehicles, Dragon and Starliner, which have about half the mass of Orion, cost less, and are likely to be reusable. The crew would also come home inside the smaller vehicles. “This plan does not require a big, heavy, inefficient, costly, expendable launch vehicle,” Aldrin said. “Commercial launch vehicles and those under development, that are reusable, can handle pretty much everything.” Is this possible? George Sowers, now a professor of engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, used to be the chief scientist for the rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA). When he worked for ULA, Sowers led the development of a plan for fully reusable in-space stages, fueled by propellant mined and refined in space. It was called Cislunar 1000, because it laid the foundation for 1,000 people working in space. “Buzz’s plan looks eerily similar to the first few steps in the Cislunar 1000 framework for the commercial development of cislunar space,” Sowers said. “Bottom line, Buzz’s ideas are coherent and technically feasible. In fact, I think the whole community, even some elements within NASA, is starting to get aligned.” There are some new technologies needed. The principal hurdle is the storage of, and transfer of, chilled liquid rocket fuel. Hydrogen is especially tricky to work with in space, but ULA and NASA have both done some of the basic research needed to prove the technology’s feasibility. One expert working in chilled propellant storage and transfer said that a NASA-funded program with a $250 million budget could produce operational capabilities in less than five years. ULA has gone so far as to begin design work on an Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES, that uses hydrogen fuel and could serve as the backbone of such a reusable tug. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company is also doing work in this area. An overview of United Launch Alliance's Cislunar-1000 plan. NASA and its contractors have studied these kinds of plans before, and the organization seriously considered the approach about 15 years ago. At the time, Dallas Bienhoff, founder of the Cislunar Space Development Company, worked at Boeing and developed concepts like lunar habitats, propellant depots, space tugs, and more. Those plans died when then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin launched the “Constellation” program in 2005, which was characterized as “Apollo on steroids.” This lunar landing plan, centered around a big rocket and Orion, pushed NASA away from an architecture built around cheaper commercial launch vehicles, in-space fuel transfer, and tugs moving between the Earth and Moon. Constellation was canceled just four years later after it fell behind schedule and exceeded its budget, but the basic concept of the Orion spacecraft and a big, expendable rocket lives on today. While NASA has focused on this Apollo-like approach, advocates of the cislunar tug plan kept tinkering. “Since leaving Boeing, I’ve been promoting a total reusable architecture in cislunar space,” Bienhoff said. Some of the details vary from Aldrin’s concept, but the basic elements are the same: nodes in low-Earth orbit and lunar orbit, tugs moving in between, mining propellant from the Moon and relying on smaller launch vehicles. Not without a fight None of the ideas espoused by Aldrin are therefore entirely new, but he instantly becomes the highest profile person in the aerospace community to publicly support them. But within proper aerospace circles, the suggestion of staging deep space missions in low-Earth orbit has become taboo because so many jobs are guaranteed by NASA’s long-term investments in the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. These development programs boast about having suppliers from all 50 states, which ensures widespread support in Congress. And so while there has been some rabble-rousing around the edges, in mainstream aerospace today everyone more or less accepts NASA’s “big rocket” paradigm that seeks to recreate a Moon program with an Apollo-like approach. By speaking out, however, Aldrin reminds us that it is never too late to learn new things or adapt to a changing universe in which commercial space offers NASA new opportunities. As Aldrin knows as well as anyone alive today, Apollo succeeded during the 1960s space race at a time when budget didn’t really matter. Now, however, this big rocket model appears to be failing us, especially with the proliferation of cheap US rockets to choose from. We’ve been flailing around for too long, if you ask Aldrin. There is a need for change, and certainly it is difficult to change programs that have become entrenched in Washington, DC. But an astronaut famed for once punching out a Moon landing conspiracy theorist is not going down without a fight. Source: Buzz Aldrin is looking forward, not back—and he has a plan to bring NASA along (Ars Technica) (To view the article's comprehensive image galleries, please visit the above link)
  13. Americans aren’t interested in the Moon and Mars—and that’s understandable After 15 years and $50 billion, we haven't really gotten that far. Enlarge / Mars or the Moon? It’s a debate that has bedeviled NASA for decades. Aurich Lawson / Getty Images Nearly two years ago, Vice President Mike Pence made the administration's space policy official, saying NASA would re-focus its program around "establishing a renewed American presence on the Moon, a vital strategic goal." In December 2017, President Trump signed a space-policy document codifying this human-exploration plan. Under this space-policy directive, a sustainable presence on the Moon would then become a stepping stone to destinations further out in space, such as Mars. The president recently made clear his preference for getting to Mars quickly, tweeting a few weeks ago: "For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon—we did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars." A new poll suggests this talk about sending humans back to the Moon or on to Mars is out of step with the views of most Americans. The survey of 1,137 US. adults by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research suggests only about one-in-four Americans believe sending humans to the Moon or Mars is "very" or "extremely" important. AP-NORC poll results for is the following "extremely" or "very" important. AN-NORC By contrast, 59 percent of respondents found scientific research on Earth, the Solar System, and the universe to be very or extremely important for NASA. An even greater number, 68 percent, attached such importance to monitoring asteroids, comets, or other objects from space that could strike the planet. These findings are consistent with a Pew Research Center survey from about a year ago, which found large majorities of the public much more interested in protecting the Earth's climate and protecting the planet from asteroids than the human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Lots of money, few results So what is going on here? It has long—and correctly, we believe—been said the American support for space exploration is a mile wide and an inch deep. So Americans like the idea of a space program, and they appreciate robotic probes landing on Mars. But they don't want to dig too deeply into their pockets to pay for it. (The public isn't very well-informed about this, however, as most Americans seem to think NASA claims about one-quarter of the US budget. It is, in fact, less than one-half of one percent). On some fundamental level, perhaps, Americans also realize that they haven't exactly been getting high returns on their investments in human exploration—especially when it comes to deep space. During the last 15 years, for example, NASA has been engaged in building the "capabilities" for a deep-space exploration program (principally the Orion spacecraft and two large rockets, the Ares V and then the Space Launch System). This has cost nearly $50 billion. And for what? None of these vehicles is yet ready for human spaceflight, and realistically, humans are unlikely to use them to fly into deep space before the early or mid-2020s. The implications of these findings for the next president are intriguing. The Trump administration will likely continue the same, slow slog it appears to be on (promises of a 2024 lunar landing notwithstanding) that involves continuing to spend in excess of $3 billion annually on Orion and the SLS rocket. But a Democratic president might see the largesse in the NASA budget for deep-space exploration vehicles, observe the public's preference for protecting Earth, and rearrange the budget accordingly. Source: Americans aren’t interested in the Moon and Mars—and that’s understandable (Ars Technica)
  14. NASA picks three companies to attempt Moon landings in 2020 and 2021 At least two of the three missions will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. NASA has begun to make good on its promise to use commercial companies to help with its lunar exploration efforts. On Friday, the space agency announced that it has contracted with three companies—Orbit Beyond, Astrobotic, and Intuitive Machines—to deliver scientific payloads to the Moon in the years 2020 and 2021. The announcement is significant for several reasons, not least because no private company has ever landed successfully on the Moon and because the United States has not made a soft landing on the Moon in 46 years. This program, formally named Commercial Lunar Payload Services, represents the vanguard of a decade-long plan for NASA to return to the Moon and potentially establish an outpost for crew on the surface. With this first tentative step, NASA will attempt to better characterize the lunar surface for human activity, and it will begin to study the potential for using resources there. "The most important goal we have right now is really science, but we do so as part of the agency’s strategy to go to the Moon," said Thomas Zurbuchen, who heads up the space agency's science programs. "We want to do it with partners. We want to not only go there, but to grow an industry. That’s the only way we can stay." Three awards NASA awarded $97 million to a New Jersey-based company, Orbit Beyond, to send its Z-01 lander to a lava plain about 30 degrees north of the lunar equator in September 2020. The spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, presumably as one of several customers on the booster. Orbit Beyond will fly as many as four different experiments for NASA. The company also hopes to better characterize the plumes generated by a spacecraft as it lands on the dusty surface of the Moon and identify any effect this would have on nearby structures. "People want to understand how close can you put a habitat to a landing site," said Jon Morse, chief science officer for Orbit Beyond. "When we do this descent, and we get this imagery, scientists can study the trajectory of those plumes." NASA's other two awards went to companies who, at present, plan to launch in July 2021. Astrobotic, of Pittsburgh, received $79.5 million to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon. It will launch on either a Falcon 9 or Atlas V rocket. Intuitive Machines, of Houston, received $77 million to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon. It will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. These awards represent the first lunar science payload "task orders" issued by NASA, for which nine previously selected companies are eligible to bid. The space agency said eight of the nine companies named in November chose to bid for these missions. As additional science, technology demonstration, and human exploration requirements for payloads develop, NASA said it will issue additional task orders. Shots on goal One of the most intriguing aspects of these contract awards is whether the private companies will succeed in making soft landings on the Moon. As the private, Israeli-built Beresheet lander demonstrated earlier this year when the spacecraft crashed into the Moon, it is really hard to get everything right the first time. Officials with each of the three companies said Friday during a teleconference with reporters that they were seeking to balance redundancy in their systems with cost and mass constraints. NASA previously has characterized these missions as "shots on goal," implying that while some of them will succeed, others will fail, and that the agency was ready to accept this given the low-cost, experimental nature of the program. However, on Friday, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Steve Clark said, "My confidence is high that these three companies will succeed." We should begin to find out how well placed that confidence is during the next 12 to 15 months. Listing image by Intuitive Machines Source: NASA picks three companies to attempt Moon landings in 2020 and 2021 (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  15. How Russia (yes, Russia) plans to land cosmonauts on the Moon by 2030 "Very difficult times are ahead for our space program." Last Thursday, the leader of Russia's state space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, gave a wide-ranging talk at Moscow University. The speech sought to describe activities happening now at Roscosmos and what may happen in the future, including a potential lunar landing. Rogozin addressed his comments largely to students at the university, and he sought to paint a picture of a vibrant national space enterprise. This is presumably to boost the desirability of a career in space, as young people have been pursuing aerospace careers in smaller numbers. Reports of low salaries, low morale, and a lack of funding to even remove trash from Roscosmos facilities has not helped this trend. The Russian plan Via Robinson Mitchell, Ars obtained a copy of the slide deck Rogozin used for his speech and a translation of its contents (key slides are shown above). Of particular interest is the speech's focus on an independent lunar landing featuring cosmonauts by 2030. Taken at face value—which probably is not wise, given the big question of how Russia would fund such an enterprise—a Russian attempt to land humans on the Moon a decade from now would set up an extraordinary race among that country, NASA's Artemis Program, and China's lunar ambitions. Under the plan outlined by Rogozin, the country will initially develop a new "Super Heavy" booster with a capacity of 103 metric tons to low Earth orbit and 27 metric tons to Lunar polar orbit. This is roughly equivalent to an upgraded version of NASA's Space Launch System, known as Block 1B. The plan includes the development of the "Federation" spacecraft by 2022, with its first flight to the International Space Station by 2023. Deep-space flights of this spacecraft would follow in the mid-2020s, along with a return of lunar soil to Earth using the Luna-Grunt probe in 2027. Finally, in 2029, crew flights to lunar orbit would begin, along with flight testing of a lunar lander and an inflatable lunar base module. The crew landing would take place in 2030, although Rogozin said he would like to move those dates earlier if possible. In terms of strategy, Rogozin said he did not believe there is much potential for industrial utilization of the Moon, a theme that has been a key component of US and commercial plans to send humans back to the Moon. Rather, one strategic reason Rogozin cited was the role of a lunar station in defense against comets and asteroids. (It is not clear how that would work). Doubting Rogozin The speech comes amid questions about the future of Rogozin. Rumors have been swirling about whether he will soon be removed from the job. A respected Russian aerospace analyst, Vadim Lukashevich, shared some thoughts about the speech on his Facebook account. Enlarge / Dmitry Rogozin, director of the Roscosmos State Corporation, gives an open lecture titled "Transformation of Roscosmos" at Moscow State University on May 23. Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images "Yesterday's speech by Dmitry Rogozin at Moscow State University, judging from several inside sources, overflowed the cup of patience," Lukashevich wrote. "Now everyone is talking about his impending resignation, including his subordinates (these last predominately in curses). Very difficult times are ahead for our space program." These difficulties may include a troubling trend in Russian rocket failures, an uncertain future with its long-standing NASA partnership, funding issues, and more. For this reason, it is difficult to envision Russia launching an ambitious program to land on the Moon, but as ever, the country's progress (or lack of) will be worth tracking. Listing image by Roscosmos Source: How Russia (yes, Russia) plans to land cosmonauts on the Moon by 2030 (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  16. "This time when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay." Maxar has been selected to build and fly the first element of NASA’s lunar Gateway. Maxar Technologies NASA has chosen its first commercial partner for a proposed space station, known as the Lunar Gateway, to be built near the Moon. On Thursday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Maxar Technologies would build the first component of the Gateway—the power and propulsion element. Like the name suggests, it will provide electricity to the Gateway and help move it around. "This time when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay," Bridenstine said in making the announcement. He has characterized the Gateway, which will be positioned in a high, elliptical orbit balanced between the Earth and Moon's gravity, as a reusable "Command Module." Under NASA's current plans to land humans on the Moon by 2024, this is where astronauts will launch to from Earth before climbing aboard pre-positioned landers to take them down to the lunar surface. Despite the fanfare Thursday—Bridenstine provided an hour-long overview of NASA's ambitious Moon plans at the Florida Institute of Technology for a relatively simple contract award—the announcement represents a continuation of a Lunar Gateway plan that was initiated under the Obama administration. The Obama space plan involved using the Gateway as a stepping stone toward Mars, but now the Trump administration is pivoting toward the lunar surface. There has been a somewhat heated debate in the aerospace community about whether such a Gateway, which adds to the delta-v energy needed to reach the lunar surface, helps or hinders NASA's efforts to build a sustainable deep-space exploration program. Thursday's announcement left no doubts about the project's embrace by the White House, meaning the Gateway concept has successfully survived a transition from one president to another. Gateway could grow The contract announced Thursday is worth a maximum of $375 million. Intriguingly, Maxar said Blue Origin and Draper will join the team in designing, building, and operating the spacecraft. Such a partnership raises the possibility that the power and propulsion element, which will weigh about 5 tons fully fueled, could be launched on Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket. During a teleconference with media, Maxar's Mike Gold said the company would choose a commercial rocket for the power and propulsion element launch in the next 12 to 18 months. Most likely, New Glenn is the favored launch vehicle, however, Maxar is protecting itself in case that rocket is not ready to fly in 2022 when NASA wants this hardware in space. (At present, Blue Origin is working toward a 2021 launch date of the powerful rocket, but large rocket projects often slip to the right). The Gateway is a unique piece of hardware for NASA in that it will form the cornerstone of its first deep-space outpost. The station will use solar electric propulsion to maintain its orbit and have the ability to maneuver into other orbits around the Moon. Before humans visit the Gateway in 2024, the space agency plans to add a small "habitat" module. Over the course of the 2020s, NASA may expand the Gateway with other modules, including those provided by international partners. Officials said the electricity from the power and propulsion element's solar panels would be more than enough to accommodate Gateway expansion. Source: NASA officially orders its first segment of a lunar space station (Ars Technica)
  17. "It requires everything that America has to offer to reach the end state." Enlarge / The Trump administration's lunar plan finally has a price. Sort of. NASA NASA revealed Monday that it needs an additional $1.6 billion in funding for fiscal year 2020 to stay on track for a human return to the Moon by 2024. The space agency's budget amendment comes in addition to the $21 billion the Trump administration asked Congress for in March. In a teleconference with reporters on Monday evening, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the budget amendment was a "down payment" on what will be needed in future years to fund the program. "In the coming years, we will need additional funds," he said. "This is a good amount that gets us out of the gate." He and the other NASA officials on the call would not say how much that would be. Two people familiar with NASA's internal deliberations say the agency has estimated that it needs as much as $6 billion to $8 billion a year for a lunar return by 2024. (Bridenstine has said the amounts will not be this high). These funds would be needed to design and build a lunar lander, accelerate the Space Launch System rocket so that it can perform three launches by then, design new spacesuits, build elements of the Lunar Gateway, and for related programs. The revised plan from NASA calls for launching components of the small, space-station-like Lunar Gateway on commercial rockets by 2024. Those components include both a power and propulsion module and a small habitat module. Then, private rockets would stage elements of the lander at the Gateway. Finally, in 2024, a Space Launch System rocket would fly a crewed Orion to the lunar outpost, and (likely) two astronauts would descend from there to the surface and back. "It requires everything that America has to offer to reach the end state," Bridenstine said of this plan that uses both the government's large SLS rocket and commercial boosters. However, some aerospace officials questioned this approach, which so far has failed to win broad support in Congress. "I’m worried that, without proper Congressional buy-in, this budget amendment is, at best, a massive waste of time and, at worst, pushing risky political timelines that could set NASA back for years," said Phil Larson, who worked on space policy for the Obama White House. "What is needed instead is more innovative ways of doing business with the $20-plus billion in taxpayer dollars given to NASA each year. We knew this in 2009. And now it has been proven out in this administration and Congress." Artemis Bridenstine noted that, 50 years ago, the human program to land on the Moon was named after Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto. Because the return to the Moon will include women, Bridenstine said the new program would be named Artemis, after Apollo's twin sister. "Our goal here is to build a program that gets us to the Moon as soon as possible that all of America can be proud of," he said. (NASA currently has a robotic mission named Artemis. Also, in mythology, Artemis killed Orion. We still like the name.). Primarily, the budget amendment seeks to accelerate work on the lander, which will be needed to carry humans down to the surface of the Moon from the small Gateway to be built in lunar orbit. It provides $1 billion for initial development of a two- or three-stage lander that would include a "descent" module (to carry the crew down to the surface) and an "ascent" module on top of that (to blast the crew back toward lunar orbit). The agency's chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, said the additional funding now would allow the agency to begin awarding design and development contracts for the lander elements by September or October of this year. Critically, Gerstenmaier also said the lunar lander would be "integrated" by commercial industry, rather than by one or more NASA center. This should save both time and money. The White House did not agree to ask for "new" money for the accelerated lunar landing program. Instead, the additional $1.6 billion will be derived from "offsets" in other areas of the federal budget. Bridenstine said during the call that he had not been briefed on what those budgetary offsets would be. However, three sources told Ars that, as of Monday, the White House plans to pay the additional $1.6 billion for the lunar program by cutting the Pell Grant Reserve Fund, which helps low-income students pay for college. A tough sell That seems likely to be a difficult sell in Congress, especially among Democrats. As Ars has previously reported, the House Appropriations subcommittee that sets NASA's budget is chaired by New York's José Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico and has condemned the Trump administration for what he characterized as the president's efforts to "undermine" the island's recovery after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Asked if he had spoken with Serrano about the budget amendment yet, Bridenstine said he had a "call in" to the Congressman's office. Several sources have indicated that Congress will have concerns both because of this amendment's potential to affect other domestic spending programs and because the 2024 date represents a political date—it would be the last year of Trump's second term were he to win re-election in 2020. Serrano said as much at a public hearing earlier this spring: "The perception by many is that what is being done, accelerated, is so that you can come in and excite the country a few months before something that's going to happen in November 2020." Another concern is that there is no guarantee Congress will pass a new budget for fiscal year 2020 that would incorporate this amendment. Axios reported Monday that the Trump administration is likely to support a "continuing resolution" for fiscal year 2020 that keeps funding levels and priorities at their 2019 levels. Source: NASA reveals funding needed for Moon program, says it will be named Artemis (Ars Technica)
  18. "We're going to complete the mission." On Saturday, just two days after the Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the Moon, the president of SpaceIL said the organization would move forward. Beginning this week, Morris Kahn said, a new task force would learn from the organization's failures and begin developing a new plan for a Beresheet 2 spacecraft. "We're going to build a new spacecraft, we're going to put it on the Moon, and we're going to complete the mission," said Kahn, a billionaire who personally donated $40 million to the private Israeli effort. So far, SpaceIL has provided few additional details about the project, such as when it might launch. The original project, started to win the Google Lunar XPrize, began eight years ago. In a Reddit AMA on Sunday, one of the team's engineers, Ben Nathaniel, added this comment about the new proposal: "Beresheet 2 was only just announced. It will be a major project that will take major planning, coordination and last but not least, financing. At this time there are so many factors at play that we can't yet make a prediction when exactly it will be launched. We do hope to still be the first private company to land on the Moon." Also this weekend, SpaceIL released some preliminary information on what may have gone wrong with the landing attempt—which was conducted autonomously. The first technical issue occurred about 14km above the Moon's surface, which triggered a chain of events that led to the spacecraft's main engine to fail temporarily. (This may have involved one of Beresheet's IMUs, or inertial measurement units, but so far, SpaceIL has not specified a cause). At this altitude, the spacecraft was already committed to landing on the Moon. Eventually, the main engine's function returned, but at that point the spacecraft was just 150 meters above the ground, moving 500km/h toward the surface. Needless to say, this was a terminal velocity. SpaceIL engineers intend to conduct "comprehensive tests" this week to better understand the sequence of events that triggered a temporary failure of the main engine. In the meantime, the project has won plaudits for its openness and willingness to fail in public view. NASA has had a similar policy since the beginning of its exploration efforts. "I want to thank @TeamSpaceIL for doing this landing with millions watching around the world, despite knowing the risks," NASA's science chief Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted after the landing attempt. "We do the same because we believe in the value of worldwide exploration and inspiration. We encourage all international and commercial explorers to do the same!" This seemed a none-too-subtle nudge toward China, which recently landed on the far side of the Moon but only announced that fact several hours after mission success. Source: Israeli group says it will make a second attempt to land on the Moon (Ars Technica) Poster's note: The original article contains an image slideshhow. To view it, please visit the link above.
  19. No private company has ever achieved what SpaceIL is trying to do. Enlarge / Beresheet captured this image of the Moon from an altitude of 500km. SpaceIL It has been 48 days since the Beresheet spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket and began a spiraling series of orbits to raise itself toward the Moon. Last week, the 180kg vehicle fired its engines to enter into lunar orbit, and now the time has come for it to attempt a soft landing on the Moon. No private company has ever achieved what SpaceIL, a private group organized in Israel to win the now defunct Google Lunar XPrize, is attempting. At 3:05pm EDT Thursday (19:05 UTC), the Beresheet vehicle will begin the landing process that will set it down at Mare Serenitatis (the "Sea of Serenity"), about 30 degrees north of the lunar equator. The actual landing should come about 20 minutes later. It will be quite a moment both for the country of Israel—until now, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon—as well as for a nascent commercial space effort that seeks to develop a base of economic activity on the Moon. The webcast below should go live about 40 minutes before the landing attempt begins. For SpaceIL, the big goal with Beresheet is simply to survive the descent and make a soft landing on the Moon. To safely touch down, Beresheet's on-board engines must arrest the vehicle's lateral speed from about 6,000km/hour (with respect to the Moon) to zero. This will be done autonomously, and the spacecraft will use sensors to determine its location and altitude in relation to the Moon’s surface. Beresheet lunar landing attempt. On the surface, the Beresheet vehicle will have about three days to document its surroundings before its solar panels are expected to reach a temperature of 200°C and overheat. This was one of the design compromises inherent to developing a smaller lander on a tight budget. Thursday's landing attempt comes as NASA has asked several US companies—some of which were also competing in the Lunar XPrize—to develop the capacity for small landers to deliver science experiments to the Moon. The agency would like these commercial missions to begin flying to the Moon as soon as this year, although it is unclear whether or not that goal is actually possible. NASA also recently accelerated its plans to return humans to the Moon, hoping to do so as early as 2024. Source: A private spacecraft from Israel will attempt a Moon landing Thursday (Ars Technica)
  20. "Starting a war between Alabama and SpaceX will be the end of the Moon program." Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visits Kennedy Space Center in 2018. NASA Speaking in front of a high-fidelity model of the Apollo program's Lunar Module spacecraft, Vice President Mike Pence charged NASA with accelerating its Moon plans last week. Instead of 2028, Pence wanted boots on the ground four years earlier, before the end of 2024. This marked the rarest of all moments in spaceflight—a schedule moving left instead of to the right. Understandably, the aerospace community greeted the announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism. Many rocket builders, spaceship designers, flight controllers, and space buffs have seen this movie before. Both in 1989 and 2004, Republican administrations have announced ambitious Moon-then-Mars deep space plans only to see them die for lack of funding and White House backing. And yet, this new proposal holds some promise. Pence, as well as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, have adopted a clear goal for the agency and promised enduring political support. Moreover, they have said the “end” matters more than the “means.” This suggests that whatever rockets and spacecraft NASA uses to reach the Moon, the plan should be based on the best-available, most cost-effective technology. In short, they want to foster a healthy, open competition in the US aerospace industry to help NASA and America reach its goals. At a town hall meeting Monday for space agency employees, Bridenstine characterized the Moon 2024 initiative as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for NASA.” This may be a tad hyperbolic, but it does represent a rare chance for the sprawling bureaucratic federal agency—whose human exploration programs have been adrift for decades—to embrace a brighter future. Therefore, this marks an important, if uncertain, moment in US spaceflight. To understand how we got here and where we're going, Ars has talked with a dozen well-placed sources in the aerospace industry, from new space companies and large aerospace contractors to senior NASA leaders and political insiders. Most of them are not named due to their sensitive positions; many of them see challenges ahead. <snip> Poster's note: This is a long, comprehensive multi-page article with image slideshows. Please visit the link below to view the full article. Source: Here’s why NASA’s audacious return to the Moon just might work (Ars Technica)
  21. The last time a person visited the moon was in December 1972, during NASA's Apollo 17 mission. Over the decades, NASA planned to send people back to the moon but has yet to succeed. Astronauts often say the biggest reasons why humans haven't returned to the lunar surface are budgetary and political hurdles — not scientific or technical challenges. Private companies like Blue Origin or SpaceX may be the first entities to return people to the moon. Landing 14 people on the moon remains one of NASA's greatest achievements, if not the greatest. Astronauts collected rocks, took photos, performed experiments, planted some flags, and then came home. But those week-long stays during the Apollo program didn't establish a lasting human presence on the moon. More than 45 years after the most recent crewed moon landing — Apollo 17 in December 1972 — there are plenty of reasons to return people to Earth's giant, dusty satellite and stay there. Researchers and entrepreneurs think a crewed base on the moon could evolve into a fuel depot for deep-space missions, lead to the creation of unprecedented space telescopes, make it easier to live on Mars, and solve longstanding scientific mysteries about Earth and the moon's creation. A lunar base could even become a thriving off-world economy, perhaps one built around lunar space tourism. "A permanent human research station on the moon is the next logical step. It's only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong, and not kill everybody," former astronaut Chris Hadfield recently told Business Insider. "And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out." But many astronauts and other experts suggest the biggest impediments to crewed moon missions over the last four-plus decades have been banal if not depressing. It's really expensive to get to the moon — but not that expensive A tried-and-true hurdle for any spaceflight program, especially for missions that involve people, is the steep cost. A law signed in March 2017 by President Donald Trump gives NASA an annual budget of about $19.5 billion, and it may rise to $19.9 billion in 2019. Either amount sounds like a windfall — until you consider that the total gets split among all of the agency's divisions and ambitious projects: the James Webb Space Telescope, the giant rocket project called Space Launch System, and far-flung missions to the sun, Jupiter, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, the Kuiper Belt, and the edge of the solar system. (By contrast, the US military gets a budget of about $600 billion per year. One project within that budget — the modernization and now expansion of America's nuclear arsenal— may even cost as much as $1.7 trillion over 30 years.) Plus, NASA's budget is somewhat small relative to its past. "NASA's portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965. For the past 40 years it has remained below 1%, and for the last 15 years it has been driving toward 0.4% of the federal budget," Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said during a 2015 congressional testimony. Trump's budget calls for a return to the moon, and then later an orbital visit to Mars. But given the ballooning costs and snowballing delays related to NASA's SLS rocket program, there may not be enough funding to make it to either destination, even if the International Space Station gets defunded early. A 2005 report by NASA estimated that returning to the moon would cost about $104 billion (which is $133 billion today, with inflation) over about 13 years. The Apollo program cost about $120 billion in today's dollars. "Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult for which to obtain political support," Cunningham said during his testimony, according to Scientific American. "Unless the country, which is Congress here, decided to put more money in it, this is just talk that we're doing here." Referring to Mars missions and a return to the moon, Cunningham added, "NASA's budget is way too low to do all the things that we've talked about doing here." The problem with presidents The Trump administration's immediate goal is to get astronauts to "the vicinity of the moon" sometime in 2023. That would be toward the end of what could be Trump's second term if he is reelected. And therein lies another major problem: partisan political whiplash. "Why would you believe what any president said about a prediction of something that was going to happen two administrations in the future?" Hadfield said. "That's just talk." From the perspective of astronauts, it's about the mission. The process of designing, engineering, and testing a spacecraft that could get people get to another world easily outlasts a two-term president. But there's a predictable pattern of incoming presidents and lawmakers scrapping the previous leader's space-exploration priorities. "I would like the next president to support a budget that allows us to accomplish the mission that we are asked to perform, whatever that mission may be," astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space, wrote during a January 2016 Reddit Ask Me Anything session (before Trump took office). But presidents and Congress don't seem to care about staying the course. In 2004, for example, the Bush administration tasked NASA with coming up with a way to replace the space shuttle, which was due to retire, and also return to the moon. The agency came up with the Constellation program to land astronauts on the moon, using a rocket called Ares and a spaceship called Orion. NASA spent $9 billion over five years designing, building, and testing hardware for that human spaceflight program. Yet after President Barack Obama took office — and the Government Accountability Office released a report about NASA's inability to estimate Constellation's cost— Obama pushed to scrap the program and signed off on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket instead. Trump hasn't scrapped SLS. But he did change Obama's goal of launching astronauts to an asteroid to moon and Mars missions. Such frequent changes to NASA's expensive priorities has led to cancellation after cancellation, a loss of about $20 billion, and years of wasted time and momentum. "I'm disappointed that they're so slow and trying to do something else," Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell told Business Insider in 2017. "I'm not excited about anything in the near future. I'll just see things as they come." Buzz Aldrin said in a 2015 testimony to Congress that he believes the will to return to the moon must come from Capitol Hill. "American leadership is inspiring the world by consistently doing what no other nation is capable of doing. We demonstrated that for a brief time 45 years ago. I do not believe we have done it since," Aldrin wrote in a prepared statement. "I believe it begins with a bi-partisan Congressional and Administration commitment to sustained leadership." The real driving force behind that government commitment to return to the moon is the will of the American people, who vote for politicians and help shape their policy priorities. But public interest in lunar exploration has always been lukewarm. Even at the height of the Apollo program — after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface — only 53% of Americans thought the program was worth the cost. Most of the rest of the time, US approval of Apollo hovered significantly below 50%. Today, 55% of Americans think NASA should make returning to the moon a priority, though only a quarter of those believers think it should be a top priority, according to a Pew Research Center poll released in June. But 44% of people surveyed by the poll think sending astronauts back to the moon shouldn't be done at all. Support for crewed Mars exploration is stronger, with 63% believing it should be a NASA priority, and 91% of people think scanning the skies for killer asteroids is important. The challenges beyond politics The political tug-of-war over NASA's mission and budget isn't the only reason people haven't returned to the moon. The moon is also a 4.5-billion-year-old death trap for humans, and must not be trifled with or underestimated. Its surface is littered with craters and boulders that threaten safe landings. Leading up to the first moon landing in 1969, the US government spent what would be billions in today's dollars to develop, launch, and deliver satellites to the moon to could map its surface and help mission planners scout for possible Apollo landing sites. But a bigger worry is what eons of meteorite impacts has created: regolith, also called moon dust. Madhu Thangavelu, an aeronautical engineer at the University of Southern California, wrote in 2014 that the moon is covered in "a fine, talc-like top layer of lunar dust, several inches deep in some regions, which is electro-statically charged through interaction with the solar wind and is very abrasive and clingy, fouling up spacesuits, vehicles and systems very quickly." Peggy Whitson, an astronaut who lived in space for a total of 665 days, recently told Business Insider that the Apollo missions "had a lot of problems with dust." "If we're going to spend long durations and build permanent habitats, we have to figure out how to handle that," Whitson said. There's also a problem with sunlight. For 14.75 days at a time, the lunar surface is a boiling hellscape that is exposed directly to the sun's harsh rays — the moon has no protective atmosphere. The next 14.75 days are in total darkness, making the moon's surface one of the coldest places in the universe. A small nuclear reactor being developed by NASA, called Kilopower, could supply astronauts with electricity during weeks-long lunar nights — and would be useful on other worlds, including Mars. "There is not a more environmentally unforgiving or harsher place to live than the moon," Thangavelu wrote. "And yet, since it is so close to the Earth, there is not a better place to learn how to live, away from planet Earth." NASA has designed dust- and sun-resistant spacesuits and rovers, though it's uncertain if that equipment is anywhere near ready to launch, as some of it was part of the now-canceled Constellation program. A generation of billionaire 'space nuts' may get there A suite of moon-capable rockets is on the horizon. "There's this generation of billionaires who are space nuts, which is great," astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman told journalists during a roundtable earlier this year. "The innovation that's been going on over the last 10 years in spaceflight never would've happened if it was just NASA and Boeing and Lockheed. Because there was no motivation to reduce the cost or change the way we do it." Hoffman is referring to the work by Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, as well as that of Jeff Bezos, who runs a secretive aerospace company called Blue Origin. "There's no question — if we're going to go farther, especially if we're going to go farther than the moon — we need new transportation," Hoffman added. "Right now we're still in the horse-and-buggy days of spaceflight." Many astronauts' desire to return to the moon fits into Bezos' long-term vision. Bezos has floated a plan around Washington to start building the first moon base using Blue Origin's upcoming New Glenn rocket system. In April, he said, "we will move all heavy industry off of Earth, and Earth will be zoned residential and light industry." Musk has also spoken at length about how SpaceX's in-development "Big Falcon Rocket" could pave the way for affordable, regular lunar visits. SpaceX might even visit the moon before NASA or Blue Origin. The company's new Falcon Heavy rocket is capable of launching a small Crew Dragon space capsule past the moon and back to Earth— and Musk has said two private citizens have already paid a large deposit to go on the voyage. "My dream would be that, some day, the moon would become part of the economic sphere of the Earth — just like geostationary orbit and low-Earth orbit," Hoffman said. "Space out as far as geostationary orbit is part of our everyday economy. Some day I think the moon will be, and that's something to work for." Astronauts don't doubt we'll get back to the moon, and on to Mars. It's just a matter of when. "I guess eventually, things will come to pass where they will go back to the moon and eventually go to Mars, probably not in my lifetime," Lovell said. "Hopefully they'll be successful." < Here >
  22. The next "blood moon" is set to take place July 27, if you happen to be on the right part of the globe to catch it. The century is relatively young yet, but the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st centenary is set to go down on July 27. In fact, it's probably the longest such event between now and 2123, according to NASA's catalog of such things. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon are in a line, casting the reddish-orange shadow of our planet onto the surface of the moon. This is why a total lunar eclipse is often referred to as a "blood moon." The scientific explanation for the creepy, red-tinted satellite is admittedly a little less exciting than the more hysterical explanation from ancient times: that some kind of huge, unseen dragon in the sky is going to attempt to devour the moon but ultimately fail. Whatever your favored explanation, it's happening this month and it will last for a whopping 1 hour and 43 minutes but there is a catch: it will only be visible in parts of South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The map below from NASA provides an idea of where to plan your travel for the best blood moon viewing. The map below from NASA provides an idea of where to plan your travel for the best blood moon viewing. < Map at the original page > To figure out exactly when to watch for the total lunar eclipse where you are, you can plug your location into NASA's Lunar Eclipse Explorer for all the details. If you can't catch this blood moon, don't worry. The next one comes in January and will be visible from Europe and the Americas. < Here >
  23. Bridenstine did not mention the Space Launch System rocket or the Orion spacecraft. n his first public speech as NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine had a short and clear message for the aerospace community: "We are going to the Moon." Bridenstine's address to a lunar conference at NASA Headquarters was a mere five minutes long, but during that time he demonstrated a refreshing grasp of space-policy history. While acknowledging the space agency's lamentable efforts to return to the Moon after the Apollo program, Bridenstine also promised that this time would be different. n 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, a long-range commitment toward the human exploration of deep space, beginning with a return to the Moon. "Major parts of that policy went forward, but establishing permanence on the Moon was abandoned," Bridenstine said Tuesday. Then, in 2004, President George W. Bush announced a bold plan to send humans back to the Moon, where they would learn how to operate in deep space and then go on to Mars. This became the Constellation program. Again, major parts of that policy went forward, Bridenstine said. But NASA abandoned the drive back to the Moon. Different this time? Before the US Senate confirmed pilot and former congressman Bridenstine, the Trump administration announced a plan to send humans back to the Moon. "To many, this may sound similar to our previous attempts to get to the Moon," Bridenstine said Tuesday. "However, times have changed. This will not be Lucy and the football again." How have times changed? During his brief address, Bridenstine listed several technologies that he believes have lowered the cost of a lunar return. These include the miniaturization of electronics that will allow for smaller robotic vehicles, the decreasing costs of launch, private investment in spaceflight, commercial interest in lunar resources, and new ways of government contracting. (Bridenstine did not mention the Space Launch System rocket or the Orion spacecraft). NASA has kicked off its efforts to return to the Moon by asking the commercial space industry to help the agency land scientific payloads on the surface of the Moon. By using commercial services, NASA hopes to lower the cost of studying the Moon and getting astronauts back to the lunar surface by the mid-2020s. Among the big questions Bridenstine will have to address, if he really is serious about sending humans back to the Moon, is whether to continue with the "Gateway" concept in lunar orbit. This waystation has been criticized by some as "make work" for the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, rather than a needed stepping stone to the Moon. The new administration will also have to consider the extent to which Orion and the SLS rocket are involved in NASA's exploration efforts, as they cost so much to fly. < Here >
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