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  1. A 2024 Moon landing may sound crazy, but NASA is giving its best shot Analysis: Space agency chief is making smart decisions about the lunar program. Enlarge / Will this toddler be a pre-teen, teenager, or an adult before humans go back to the Moon? NASA 113 with 63 posters participating Jim Bridenstine really wanted to become NASA's administrator. As a pilot and congressman from Oklahoma, he sought out opportunities to influence space policy and met with experts whenever he had a chance to do so. He was the rare congressman who engaged in space policy not because he had a NASA facility in his state, but because he had genuine interest. After President Trump nominated Bridenstine for the administrator position in September 2017, Bridenstine had a long wait. There were fears the conservative Republican would prove an overtly political chief of NASA, driving the space agency hard to the right. The US Senate finally approved Bridenstine's nomination in April 2018, with a party-line vote. Over the next year Bridenstine showed himself to be a leader for all of NASA. He eschewed partisanship for inclusiveness. He genuinely sought to push NASA forward. But then, at the end of March 2019, Bridenstine was handed an almost insurmountable task. During a speech at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Vice President Pence instructed NASA to land humans on the Moon by the end of 2024. "I call on NASA to adopt new policies and embrace a new mindset," Pence said. "If our current contractors can't meet this objective, then we'll find ones that will." Though Bridenstine welcomed the challenge, there are many reasons this seemed an impossible assignment. Since Apollo, NASA has tried several times to return humans into deep space and failed. Little of the technology NASA needed for such a mission, from spacesuits to a lander, was close to ready. Far from working as one, the contentious mix of aerospace contractors vying for NASA funding had to be brought together. And finally, a recalcitrant Congress had to be convinced this endeavor was worth funding. It was a very narrow needle to thread. And yet—and yet—with the recent award of Human Landing System contracts it seems like Bridenstine and his hand-picked chief of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, are giving the agency its best possible chance to succeed. Here's a look at why. Competing interests Before going further let's take a quick look at the various interests that Bridenstine must answer to, at least to some degree, in his post as administrator. The White House This is his ultimate authority. He answers to President Trump and more specifically Pence, who has overseen the nation's space portfolio. Bridenstine has clear marching orders to set humans down on the Moon by 2024. After that, Pence has expressed a desire to build up a lunar settlement before moving humans onward, toward Mars, in the distant future. NASA bureaucracy Bridenstine fired the long-time chief of human spaceflight he inherited, Bill Gerstenmaier, in July 2019 for moving too slowly on the Artemis Moon program. But NASA is filled with civil servants at all levels who have their own fiefdoms. They cannot always easily be ordered around, as NASA is a civil not a military agency. Many there prefer to go directly to Mars. Congress and large aerospace contractors Congress has funded development of the expensive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for more than a decade, touting these vehicles as the backbone of NASA's deep space exploration program. Leading people in Congress, and its corporate contributors, generally have demanded that any Artemis plans use SLS and Orion. Commercial space SpaceX and its brethren in the new space industry are quick to say they can provide faster solutions for NASA's needs than SLS and Orion, at a lower price. And often, they're not wrong (SpaceX is beating Boeing in commercial crew, for a significant discount). This is a small but growing constituency that Bridenstine seems to appreciate. The bottom line: Bridenstine has a mandate to get to the Moon by 2024, and his key constituencies are at odds about how to do so—and in some cases whether NASA should even do so. These are a lot of cats to herd. NASA’s needs One of the biggest issues facing Bridenstine, who at present has less than five years to get to the Moon, is that rather little of the hardware he needs actually exists. Most all of the rockets, spacecraft, and landers either have not yet been built, tested, or flown with humans. And because there are always development problems in aerospace, he cannot really count on any of this hardware being ready. To reach the Moon, NASA has three basic needs. And at present, there are multiple paths to fulfilling each need. Get astronauts to lunar orbit NASA performed the Apollo landings with an all-up launch on a Saturn V rocket. But neither SLS nor Orion is as powerful as its predecessors. The initial variants of SLS and Orion can get four astronauts into a high lunar orbit (and back home to Earth), which is good enough for the 2024 landing. Although untested with crew, Orion is in good shape. However, the SLS rocket has been perennially delayed and now is unlikely to launch for the first time until 2022. There are "commercial" alternatives. A Falcon Heavy rocket, with modifications, could launch Orion. Orion could also launch on a smaller commercial rocket and dock in low-Earth orbit with a Centaur upper stage to get its boost to lunar orbit. Finally, SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft would require some additional heat shielding, but it also could supplant Orion in a pinch to get crew to and from lunar orbit. Get the Human Landing System to lunar orbit NASA picked three separate designs for a human lander, and all three could launch on commercial rockets to the Moon. Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander could go on the New Glenn or Vulcan rockets. Dynetics' lander is baselined to the Vulcan rocket. However, to fly on commercial rockets, the landers would need to be broken into components and then assembled in lunar orbit. Potentially, these landers could be launched fully assembled on an upgraded SLS rocket (Block 1B), but it is highly unlikely this rocket would be ready by 2024—or even a year or two later. Finally, there is SpaceX's Starship lander. It would be launched to lunar orbit by the company's Super Heavy rocket, where it would rendezvous with astronauts for a lunar landing. Super Heavy is not yet built. Land on the Moon NASA has contracts for design and initial development of three different Human Landing Systems. Very little actual hardware for these exists. Blue Origin has built the BE-7 engine for its lander, and SpaceX has the Raptor engine for its Starship. But industry experts generally agree that developing, testing, and flying even one of these landers by 2024 will require extraordinary effort. Bridenstine’s plan Given all of these challenges, one has to appreciate the plan put together by Bridenstine and Loverro. Their approach plays for time while also addressing some of the problems cited above. In theory, NASA's SLS and Orion offer the best technical solution for the Moon landing. But these programs, especially the SLS, have been plagued by development issues. And their long-term costs are staggering. Commercial companies, potentially, offer a better long-term solution. With the 10-month contracts issued in late April, Bridenstine has basically established a competition. If the government programs come together—for example, if the SLS rocket passes its critical Green Run test firing later this year with flying colors—that will bolster the argument of building Moon landing missions around the expensive government technology. Meanwhile, the commercial companies will also get a chance to show their stuff. Perhaps United Launch Alliance will demonstrate its Vulcan rocket with a test flight next spring. Maybe SpaceX will fly Starship on a suborbital test that showcases its ability to make a vertical landing. Blue Origin could begin flying some of its Blue Moon prototypes. All the while, Bridenstine has something to offer each of his constituencies. For the White House, he is moving forward to the Moon. Within the space agency, he can continue to build support by establishing a credible plan that demonstrates progress. In Congress, he can explain that he is putting SLS and Orion on a path to succeed. For the commercial companies, he can say, look, I'm giving you a chance. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 9+ images. Next year, Bridenstine will be in a good position to move forward (assuming he is still administrator after the 2020 election). If SLS and Orion succeed, he and Loverro can select those programs with confidence. If commercial spaceflight is in ascendancy, he can build support for a more purely private program based upon that evidence. If both are succeeding, NASA can plan around a mix of both. There are other reasons to like Bridenstine's approach, too. He had steadfastly pushed for the lunar lander contracts to be fixed-price awards—even in the face of political pressure to make these lucrative, cost-plus contracts for favored contractors. He has favored companies that put "skin in the game" by investing in their own lander designs. Finally, he has shown a willingness to take a chance on new ideas. The "drop tanks" in Dynetics' design are innovative. Blue Origin seeks to build an ambitious, reusable rocket to make its overall system affordable. And SpaceX, of course, has a plan based around Starship that—if successful—may one day lead humanity to Mars. In short, Bridenstine is trying to push NASA forward into the future while remaining grounded in the realities of his political world. Odds are still against a human landing in 2024, but damn if he's not going for it. Source: A 2024 Moon landing may sound crazy, but NASA is giving its best shot (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  2. NASA puts a price on a 2024 Moon landing—$35 billion "In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, there weren't entrepreneurs who were willing to invest." Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the FY 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne's facility at Stennis Space Center. NASA Nearly 10 months after Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, the space agency has estimated how much its Artemis Program will cost. NASA says it will need an additional $35 billion over the next four years—on top of its existing budget—to develop a Human Landing System to get down to the Moon's surface from lunar orbit while also accelerating other programs to make the 2024 date. NASA's human spaceflight chief, Doug Loverro, shared this number Monday at Johnson Space Center, as the Trump White House released its fiscal year 2021 budget. It calls for a big increase in NASA's budget, 12 percent over last year's budget request, with a top-line number of $25.2 billion. The biggest increase will go toward the Human Landing System, $3.37 billion in fiscal year 2021 alone. NASA says, if funded by Congress, this would mark the first time the United States has directly spent money on a lunar lander since the Apollo program in the 1960s. The human spaceflight budget also funds a small space station in orbit around the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway. This is a sizable budget request and, other NASA programs aside, represents the kind of funding the space agency needs if it is to make progress toward landing humans on the Moon in the mid-2020s. The president's budget also supports a lunar program that does meaningful things on the Moon, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to study the extraction of ice from the lunar poles and establishing a habitat on the surface. The big question is how Congress will respond to this request. During a Monday evening teleconference with reporters, NASA Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWit said he thought the agency has "a very good shot" to get this budget through Congress. However, given the proposed, deep cuts to other parts of the federal discretionary budget, and Democratic concerns that the 2024 date may be political, it seems likely that securing full funding for the Artemis Program will be a difficult slog. "I am deeply concerned and disappointed with the destructive cuts to important civilian R&D and science and technology programs," said the Chairwoman of the House Science Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), of the president's budget request. "Though there are bright spots, overall this proposal damages vital parts of our nation's federal science and technology enterprise that drive our economy, keep our nation competitive, and protect our environment. I am confident that Congress will reject these ill-advised cuts when we consider this budget request in our authorizations and appropriations processes." Commercial One of the consistent themes that emerged from the White House budget request on Monday is support for commercial space. In contrast to a recent authorization bill in the US House of Representatives, the White House budget proposes using lunar landers developed via public-private partnerships, with contractors investing in their own landers. Those landers would also be launched on privately developed rockets, helping to contain costs of the Artemis Program. Loverro said the administration recognizes that the landscape of US aerospace community has changed. "In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, there weren't entrepreneurs who were willing to invest in space," he said. So when NASA developed the Apollo program and the space shuttle, it directed those programs and provided all of the funding. But this has now changed. "We have people now who are willing not just to take government resources and take risks on that money," he said. "They say, 'We'll also put our own money behind it because we think there's a future profit to be made.' And I think that’s a good relationship to have. And it's attracted both the old and the new players into the market." The White House also reiterated its call for using a commercial launcher—possibly a Delta IV Heavy rocket but more likely a Falcon Heavy—to boost its Europa Clipper mission to the Jovian moon in the mid-2020s. In the past, Congress has said this must go on NASA's Space Launch System rocket, but the White House budget says the agency would save "over $1.5 billion" by using a commercial launch vehicle. Brian Dewhurst, a budget officer for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations program, said the savings was derived from subtracting the cost of a Delta IV Heavy rocket from the annual program cost of producing one Space Launch System rocket a year, which is $2 billion. Source: NASA puts a price on a 2024 Moon landing—$35 billion (Ars Technica)
  3. A House budget committee has likely killed the 2024 Moon landing "I believe that it is better to use the original NASA schedule of 2028." Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, right, is seen with Representative José Serrano, D-N.Y., in March, 2019. NASA NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with legislators who write the House's version of the space agency's budget. The hearing came after six months of frenetic lobbying by Bridenstine to win support from Congress for his Artemis Program plan to accelerate a human return to the Moon from the year 2028 to 2024. It appears as though those efforts were unsuccessful. "I remain extremely concerned by the proposed advancement by four years of this mission," said Jose Serrano, a Democrat from New York who chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. "The eyes of the world are upon us. We cannot afford to fail. Therefore, I believe that it is better to use the original NASA schedule of 2028 in order to have a successful, safe, and cost-effective mission for the benefit of the American people and the world." Serrano cited several reasons for this decision, but ultimately he said he felt like the 2024 date was chosen for political reasons rather than technical ones. "To a lot of Members, the motivation appears to be just a political one—giving President Trump a moon landing in a possible second term, should he be reelected," Serrano said. Bridenstine, who was appointed by Trump to run the space agency, has nevertheless received plaudits from both Republican and Democratic legislators for a bipartisan approach. He replied to Serrano's concern by noting that spreading out programs over a long period of time creates political risk. So when he became administrator, he asked the agency's planners how fast they could possibly get humans safely back to the Moon, and the answer he got was 2024. "That’s not a guarantee," he said of the date. "But it’s in the realm of what is possible. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen." Questions about cost Serrano and other committee members also raised questions about cost. NASA has asked for an additional $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020 but has not specified the total cost of the Artemis Program between now and 2024. "Unless we know what this is going to cost at the end, it would be irresponsible for us to take the first step," Serrano said. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, compared providing a down payment on Artemis now to buying a car. A salesman might talk up how much a car will cost during the first year, but Cartwright said before purchasing a vehicle, a buyer needs to know the entire cost. Bridenstine replied that NASA was working with the White House and the National Space Council to find a total price for Artemis and would release its findings in February 2020 as part of next year's budget cycle. "That’s not acceptable," Cartwright said. "You need to know the total cost." Finally, Serrano said he did not appreciate the White House's proposed funding for the $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2020. The Trump administration has said the funds could be taken from a surplus in the Pell Grant program, which supports college education for students from low-income families. Serrano was concerned that the administration wanted to fund a faster Moon program on the backs of programs such as this, as well as food stamps and educational programs. The House and Senate, which provided an extra $1 billion for an accelerated Artemis Program, must both finalize their budgets for the fiscal year 2020 and agree upon a final number. It is not clear how this budget process will play out amid the ongoing impeachment process of President Trump. It seems likely that the Senate will want to increase funding for the Space Launch System rocket as well as the Exploration Upper Stage, even though NASA has said it does not need this more powerful upper stage for a 2024 landing. New associate administrator In better news for Bridenstine, NASA announced Wednesday that it has found a replacement for William Gerstenmaier, whom Bridenstine fired three months ago for delays in human spaceflight programs. Doug Loverro, who worked for three decades in the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office developing, managing, and establishing national policy for the full range of national security space activities, will become NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “He is known for his strong, bipartisan work, and his experience with large programs will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis," Bridenstine said of Loverro in a news release from the space agency. Loverro is well-respected in aerospace circles, but there are some concerns about his background in national defense agencies—NASA is a civil space agency. There will likely be an adjustment period for Loverro to work effectively with NASA personnel, who are civil servants not necessarily accustomed to jumping at orders like those that occur in a military organization. Source: A House budget committee has likely killed the 2024 Moon landing (Ars Technica) If you like this post, then this post.
  4. India to Attempt Moon Landing at the Lunar South Pole Today. How to Watch Live The moon landing is set for between 4 and 5 p.m. EDT (2000-2100 GMT). Update for 5:28 pm ET: ISRO officials lost contact with the Vikram lander during its descent to the lunar surface. Read our full story. India is about to land where no one has before on the moon, and you can watch it all online. The Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander Vikram, built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is scheduled to land amid the craters of the moon's south pole today (Sept. 6). Touchdown is scheduled for sometime between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. EDT (2000-2100 GMT, 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Sept. 7 IST). ISRO will live stream the landing in a webcast beginning at 3:40 p.m. EDT (1940 GMT, 1:10 a.m. IST). You can watch the Indian moon landing webcast here and on Space.com's homepage, as well as directly from the ISRO webcast here. The target landing site for India's Chandrayaan-2 mission to explore the lunar south pole. (Image credit: Indian Space Research Organisation) Chandrayaan-2 is the second to the moon by India, following on the heels of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, but this latest project is tackling lunar exploration in more extensive fashion.Whereas Chandrayaan-1, which explored the moon from 2008 to 2009, was just an orbiter, Chandrayaan-2 has an orbiter, lander and the small rover Pragyan. The purpose of Chandrayaan-2 is to study the mysterious moon from top to bottom, including its topography, mineralogy, exosphere, elemental abundance and even possible seismic activity. With seven instruments aboard the orbiter, three aboard the lander and a further two attached to the rover, there will be no stone left unturned. India launched the Chandrayaan-2 mission on July 22 atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The mission entered orbit just under a month later, with the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter placed into orbit 62 (100 meters) above the lunar surface. Once settled, the orbiter’s cameras, spectrometers and radars will get to work in finding the elusive lunar water ice and hydroxyl (molecules containing the oxygen and hydrogen bond) signatures. The Vikram lander, which also contains the Pragyan rover, disengaged from the orbiter on Monday (Sept. 2) to prepare for today's landing. The Vikram lander has a unique science payload. It contains a thermophysical experiment to measure the surface’s thermal properties, an instrument designed to study the surface’s ionosphere and atmosphere, and lastly a seismic activity instrument, which will allow scientists to delve deeper into the moon than any other instrument before. About four hours after Vikram's (hopefully) successful landing, the Pragyan rover will be deployed from the lander, releasing the mini-tank of scientific adventure onto the lunar surface. India's Vikram lander and Pragyan rover are designed to last one lunar day (14 Earth days), though Chandrayaan-2 is expected to spend a full year studying the moon from above. The Chandrayaan-2 mission has a full cost of about 10 billion rupees (about $145 million), ISRO officials have said.' Visit Space.com today for complete coverage of India's Chandrayaan-2 Vikram landing on the moon. Source: India to Attempt Moon Landing at the Lunar South Pole Today. How to Watch Live
  5. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that remarkable feat of technology and daring. And while the moonwalkers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, dominate our memories of the moon landing, there’s a third astronaut who deserves his place in history. Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 command module spacecraft in lunar orbit while his two colleagues collected moon rocks. In a rare interview he tells Sarah Abo if it wasn’t for him, one of our greatest successes would have been a monumental failure.
  6. Israel's Beresheet moon landing attempt ends with a crash Landing on the moon is hard, but SpaceIL still achieved historic milestones during the mission. Beresheet snapped this partial selfie during its approach to the moon. SpaceIL/IAI Israel's Beresheet would have been the most unlikely lunar lander in history, but the spacecraft didn't survive its reach for the moon's surface Thursday. SpaceIL's live broadcast followed the tense maneuvers needed to get the lunar lander down to the Sea of Serenity on the near side of the moon. The Beresheet team members worked in the control room as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watched from a spectator area. The landing process suffered some glitches when the main engine cut out and mission control lost communication. The disappointed team reacted calmly to the failure. The failed mission will be remembered as bittersweet. "Well, we didn't make it, but we definitely tried, and the achievement of getting where we got is really tremendous," said Morris Khan, an Israeli entrepreneur who provided a large portion of the funding for Beresheet, as he addressed the observers near the control room. "We can be proud." NASA commended the mission in a tweet: "We congratulate SpaceIL, Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit." Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 pilot, also had kind words. "Never lose hope. Your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all," he tweeted. View image on Twitter This was a mission of firsts. Beresheet was to be Israel's first moon lander, which would have put the country in an exclusive club that includes the US, Soviet Union and China. In addition, nonprofit SpaceIL would have been the first private, nongovernment group to set a lander on the moon's surface. SpaceIL was originally conceived to compete in Google's Lunar X Prize which, in 2007, threw down a challenge to private companies to build a spacecraft that could land on the moon. The original deadline to claim the $30 million in prize money was originally 2014, but it was extended out until 2018 before an announcement that the prize would go unclaimed. Although SpaceIL didn't quite make the deadline, the X Prize foundation was inspired by its attempt, creating a new prize dubbed the Moonshot Award. Originally, the foundation stated "for their achievement upon landing on the moon", X Prize would hand SpaceIL the first Moonshot Award -- and $1 million. Of course, Beresheet did not make it to the surface in one piece but it did still land -- albeit with a little more force than hoped. As a result, the foundation said it would still be providing SpaceIL with the cash. Beresheet launched on Feb. 21 on a SpaceXFalcon 9 rocket and overcame a brief technical glitch along the way. The lander was designed to take pictures of its surroundings and measure the moon's magnetic field. It was even able to snap one final, breathtaking image as it approached the lunar surface and beam it back to Earth. SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) had placed a time capsule in the lander filled with digital files covering Israel's history and heritage. That time capsule was likely lost along with the spacecraft. The dream didn't quite come to fruition, but Beresheet's journey to lunar orbit was still an important moment in space history that made the moon feel more in reach for the world. Source Before crashing into the moon, Israel's lunar lander grabbed a breathtaking final image The spacecraft captured a wonderful image of the moon's gray, shadowed surface before its untimely end. The surface of the moon as seen by Beresheet moments before it crashed into the lunar surface. It was a bittersweet end for SpaceIL's Beresheet probe, the first privately funded lunar lander humans have sent to the moon. During the landing attempt on Thursday, the main engine cut out and communication was lost, ultimately resulting in Beresheet crashing into the moon's surface. But before its untimely demise, Beresheet was able to turn its camera toward the lunar surface one final time to snap a stunning last image of the moon's surface. Elad Raston, a diplomat at the Israel Foreign Ministry, tweeted that he had received "what appears to be the last image" that the spacecraft sent back to Earth before it failed. View image on Twitter Landing on the face of another space rock is a decidedly difficult process. Although the lander did not achieve its core mission of a soft moon landing, it was still marked with a number of important firsts. Beresheet was the first private spacecraft to insert itself into lunar orbit and made Israel the seventh nation to achieve such a feat. The robotic explorers we send to new frontiers have a history of providing us with final images of other worlds before going gently (or violently) into the good night. Opportunity, the deceased Mars rover, was also able to snap a breathtaking panorama of the Martian surface, before it succumbed to a dust storm in 2018. Source
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