aerospace Artemis astronomy Blue Origin Dynetics lunar lander nasa spacex

NASA selects three companies for human landing system awards

Starship lunar lander

WASHINGTON — NASA announced April 30 it has selected three companies to begin work on designs for human lunar landers, one of which the agency still hopes will be ready to land humans on the moon by the end of 2024.

NASA selected teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX for 10-month study contracts for the Human Landing System (HLS) program. The combined value of the awards is $967 million.

“Let’s make no mistake about it: We are now on our way,” Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a media teleconference to announce the awards, saying it completed NASA plans under the Artemis program to return humans to the moon. “There are no more puzzle pieces to add. We’ve got all the pieces we need.”

The largest award went to the team led by Blue Origin, which received $579 million. That so-called “national team,” announced in October, includes Draper, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Blue Origin will develop the descent module, based on its Blue Moon lander design, while Lockheed provides the ascent module, Northrop builds the transfer stage, and Draper develops avionics and related systems.

A team led by Dynetics with more than 25 subcontractors received $253 million. Dynetics announced in January it had bid on the HLS program, with Sierra Nevada Corporation as one of its partners. The Dynetics design features a single module capable of both descending to the surface and ascending back to orbit.

SpaceX received the third HLS award, valued at $135 million. SpaceX is offering its Starship vehicle for lunar landings, which would be launched on its Super Heavy booster and fueled in Earth orbit by other Starship vehicles before departing for the moon. SpaceX had not announced its intent to bid on the program, declining to answer questions about it in the past, although the company was widely rumored to have submitted a bid.

Dynetics lunar lander Blue Origin human lunar lander

The three winning bidders will begin work with NASA to refine their concepts, including defining requirements for each lander. “We’re going to spend the first three months understanding the awardees’ designs,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s HLS program manager. “This is far more than just studies. It’s going to encompass deep design, development, long-lead procurements for each of the awardees.”

That work will lead to a level of maturity for each design equivalent to a preliminary design review. NASA plans to conduct a “continuation review” by the end of the 10-month studies, she said, “so we know, quickly, who we think has the best shot of making 2024.”

The lander most likely to be ready for a 2024 landing will go forward, but NASA suggested one or both of the other companies could be retained to develop landers better suited for later missions where NASA has emphasized sustainability.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the lander selected for the 2024 mission likely will not make use of the lunar Gateway. “We believe that getting to the moon by 2024 does not require the Gateway,” he said when asked about previous comments by agency officials, like Loverro, that suggested the Gateway was not on the critical path. “The Gateway is not required for that 2024 mission, and, in fact, I would go as far to say that it’s not likely that we will use the Gateway for the 2024 mission.”

Bridenstine added that NASA was not formally taking the Gateway “off the table” for that initial 2024 mission, and that the Gateway is “critically important” for later phases of lunar exploration.

None of the three companies proposed using the Space Launch System for their lunar landers. Blue Origin said their lander can launch either on its own New Glenn vehicle or United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, while Dynetics has baselined Vulcan and SpaceX its own Super Heavy booster for Starship. Bridenstine said SLS will still be used for launching the crewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit, where it will dock with the Gateway or directly with the selected lander.

NASA said its budget proposal released in February was sufficient to fund development of the HLS lander systems, along with the rest of the Artemis architecture needed for a 2024 landing. Bridenstine said he met with members of Congress of both parties in recent days about the upcoming HLS awards and found broad support for the effort.

“They have all been very supportive of the effort to get to the moon,” he said. “We have a budget request that reflects that budget priority and I have not heard anybody suggest that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re going to have to cut NASA.”

It’s unclear, though, when and how Congress will act on that budget request, or if NASA will spend much or all of the 2021 fiscal year on a continuing resolution that would fund the agency at 2020 levels and deprive it of the additional funding needed for Artemis. Bridenstine did note that, if Congress does take up a new stimulus spending package focused on infrastructure as part of its response to the pandemic, he hopes that NASA will be a part of that bill.

Notably absent from the winners was Boeing, which announced in November it had proposed a lunar lander system that could be launched in one piece on the SLS. NASA officials on the call declined to state why Boeing was not selected, or if it had received other proposals, saying that would be included a source selection statement.

That source selection statement, posted on a procurement site April 30, confirmed Boeing submitted a proposal — along with another, previously unknown company, Vivace — but offered no explanation of why it was not selected.

“While Boeing is disappointed not to have been selected for HLS, we remain focused on delivering our elements of NASA’s Space Launch System, the rocket that will take Americans to the Moon and Mars,” Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said in a statement to SpaceNews.

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SpaceX to test Starlink “sun visor” to reduce brightness


WASHINGTON — SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said April 27 that he hopes to test a new way to reduce the brightness of the company’s Starlink satellites on the next launch for the broadband megaconstellation.

In a briefing to a committee working on the next astrophysics decadal survey, Musk said the experimental “VisorSat,” along with a new approach for orienting Starlink satellites as they raise their orbits, should address concerns raised by astronomers that the Starlink constellation could interfere with their observations.

“Our objectives, generally, are to make the satellites invisible to the naked eye within a week, and to minimize the impact on astronomy, especially so that we do not saturate observatory detectors and inhibit discoveries,” Musk said.

SpaceX first attempted to address the brightness problem with an experimental “DarkSat” included in a batch of Starlink satellites launched in January. The satellite used what the company described as experimental darkening treatments over reflective surfaces, like its antennas, in an effort to reduce the amount of sunlight it reflects and thus make it darker.

While DarkSat has shown some promise, appearing about one magnitude darker than untreated Starlink satellites, the company is moving in a different direction. “We found an option that is even better than that, which is basically to give the satellites shades,” he said.

Musk and others at SpaceX have previously discussed a sunshade that they compared to a patio umbrella that would deploy from a satellite, keeping the antennas in shadow. Musk, at the committee meeting, described a concept called VisorSat that would deploy panels, like sun visors mounted on a car windshield, to block the sun.

“We have a radio-transparent foam that will deploy nearly upon the satellite being released, and it blocks the sun from reaching the antennas,” he said. “They’re sun visors, essentially: they flip out and block the sun and prevent reflections.” He predicted that the visors would have a “massive effect” on the brightness of the satellites.

SpaceX is planning test VisorSat on the company’s next Starlink launch. “It’s a bit of a challenge, but that’s our goal,” he said. He didn’t say how many satellites would be equipped with visors, or when the launch was scheduled. SpaceX has been performing Starlink launches at the rate of at least one a month so far this year, most recently April 22.

A second effort involves the brightness of the satellites as they raise their orbits after launch. Musk said the satellites appear bright because of the orientation of the solar panels, which are aligned differently during orbit raising than once at their operational orbit.

As soon as this week, Musk said SpaceX will try an “orientation roll” to change the alignment of the solar panels relative to the Earth, reducing the amount of sunlight they reflect to the ground. “Early indications are this will have a significant effect on the brightness during orbit raise,” he said. “The satellites will be significantly less visible from the ground.”

The measures SpaceX has taken have come after months of discussions with astronomers, who have been worried about the effects a full constellation of Starlink satellites — about 12,000 according to current plans, with proposals for up to 30,000 more — would have on astronomy. The situation was of particular concern to those operating telescopes with wide fields of view, like the Vera Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile, where Starlink satellites would be visible in a large fraction of images taken each night.

In a separate presentation to the committee earlier in the day, Tony Tyson, chief scientist for the Rubin Observatory, said the concern was that the brightness of unmodified Starlink satellites would cause “nonlinear crosstalk,” or severe image artifacts, in the observatory’s camera. “We would be left with all of these fake trails, fake galaxies, etc., in our data, damaging the science,” he said.

SpaceX has already made progress darkening the satellites, with newer satellites about one magnitude darker than the original “v0.9” satellites launched in May 2019 even without the darkening treatments used on DarkSat. If the satellites can be made about a factor of two darker than DarkSat, Tyson said a technique to correct for the nonlinear crosstalk can work, although it is computer intensive and won’t correct for the original streak left in the images by passing satellites.

The new approaches won’t address the issue of brightness of existing Starlink satellites, but Musk said their lifetime is limited. He estimated the initial generation of satellites will be deorbited in about three to four years to make way for improved satellites. “We’ll just have far greater throughput capability with version two” of the Starlink satellites, he said.

While the focus of the committee presentation and subsequent discussion, which lasted for more than an hour, was on Starlink, there was some talk about the role SpaceX could play in supporting space-based astronomy, which is not affected by Starlink or other megaconstellations.

“I’m very excited about the future of space-based telescopes that could be very large,” he said. He mentioned Starship, the company’s next-generation large reusable launch system, which will begin regular flights “I think within a couple of years,” he promised. “It allows for space telescopes to be transported to orbit at probably an order of magnitude lower cost than in the past.”

“I’m pretty interested in trying to figure out how to help launch and possibly build a big observatory in space,” he said, offering to meet with astronomers to discuss mission concepts. “Like a planet imager or something like that.”

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Starship passes key pressurization test

Starship SN4

WASHINGTON — A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship next-generation launch vehicle passed a pressurization test April 27, one that had destroyed three of its predecessors.

The Starship SN4 vehicle, on a pad at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, was loaded with liquid nitrogen, a test designed to confirm its ability to hold cryogenic propellants at pressure. That test came a day after a pressurization test where the tanks were filled with gaseous nitrogen at ambient temperatures.

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk confirmed the cryogenic pressurization test was a success. “SN4 passed cryo proof!” he tweeted.

Three previous Starship prototypes all failed that test in spectacular fashion. In November 2019, a bulkhead in the Starship Mark 1 vehicle, which the company showed off to the media two months earlier, ruptured during a cryogenic pressurization test, sending debris flying. The company said at the time that the outcome “was not completely unexpected.”

A second Starship vehicle, SN1, was also destroyed in a cryogenic tanking test Feb. 28, this time with the vehicle bursting near its base. Musk said that the failure in that test appeared to be with a “thrust puck” at the base of the tank that takes the load from the vehicle’s Raptor engines.

The company then stripped down the next Starship prototype in development, SN2, to its tanks, which alone passed a pressurization test in early March. However, the Starship SN3 vehicle collapsed in another cryogenic pressurization test April 3. Musk said at the time that a test configuration error, rather than a flaw with the vehicle itself, may have caused the vehicle to crumple.

With the cryogenic pressurization test completed, SpaceX will install a Raptor engine in the vehicle and perform a static-fire test as soon as later this week, Musk said. That will be followed by a short “hop” test of the vehicle where it flies to an altitude of 150 meters, similar to a flight by a smaller “Starhopper” vehicle in August 2019.

Musk said in an April 26 tweet that Starship SN4 will be “physically ready” for that flight in a few weeks. “Approvals may take longer.” That flight would require an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, as was the case for Starhopper’s test flight last August.

SpaceX is working on the next Starship prototype, SN5, which Musk said will have three Raptor engines and the vehicle’s distinctive nose cone section. Musk said in tweets earlier in the month that the vehicle’s flaps and other aerodynamic surfaces “are undergoing redesign for mass reduction & simplicity.” The revised flaps would be installed on either the SN5 or SN6 vehicles.

For all the challenges SpaceX has had testing the Starship prototypes, Musk said the biggest challenge is developing the production line for the vehicle. “The thing that’s really hard is the production system,” he said in an April 24 online discussion hosted by Hack Club, a student group. Musk said in the conversation that he was at Boca Chica overseeing work on Starship.

“Designing a rocket is 1x hard, then building one of it is 10x,” he said. “Building the production system is at least 100x, possibly a 1000x.”

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Safety panel concludes May launch of commercial crew test flight is feasible

Crew Dragon spacecraft

WASHINGTON — A NASA safety panel believes the agency’s plan to launch a SpaceX commercial crew test flight in late May is feasible, although some issues still need to be resolved before the launch.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), meeting by teleconference April 23, said it was unable to talk with NASA’s commercial crew program during its quarterly meeting, which was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. The panel’s chair, Patricia Sanders, said that scheduling issues prevented a meeting, but that her committee planned to hold a “part 2” of their quarterly meeting in early May to discuss commercial crew and other topics not taken up this week.

Sanders said the panel has been kept up to date by NASA about commercial crew activities, including plans for SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed test flight scheduled for May 27. “We are aware of a few technical items that remain to be more fully understood,” she said, “but the path forward appears feasible.”

She did not elaborate on the technical issues that need to be addressed before launch. However, SpaceX is still wrapping up testing of the Mark 3 parachutes used by the Crew Dragon spacecraft. In an April 17 statement, the company said it had performed 12 successful multi-parachute tests, as well as their use on the spacecraft’s in-flight abort test in January, but at that time at least one more parachute test was expected.

There is also an investigation into the premature shutdown of one of the nine Merlin engines in the first stage of a Falcon 9 during a March 18 launch. That did not affect the rocket’s ability to place its payload of Starlink satellites into orbit but did prevent the stage from landing on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

In a tweet hours before the April 22 launch of another set of Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said the engine shutdown happened after a small amount of isopropyl alcohol, used as cleaning fluid in the engine, was trapped in a “sensor dead leg” and ignited during flight.

During the company’s webcast of the launch, Lauren Lyons, a SpaceX engineer who served as host of the broadcast, said that the alcohol couldn’t flow through that conduit and was trapped there, igniting in flight. “We did not perform that cleaning process on the rocket supporting today’s mission,” she said. The Merlin engines performed as expected on that launch, including supporting a successful droneship landing of the first stage.

NASA participated in the investigation into the engine anomaly. NASA spokesman Josh Finch said April 23 that the investigation was still ongoing and that the agency will have to agree on both the cause and corrective actions before proceeding with the Demo-2 mission. The Falcon 9 that will launch the Demo-2 mission will be a new rocket, while the first stage involved in the March launch anomaly was on its fifth flight, and the April 22 launch used a first stage on its fourth flight.

Sanders said a final decision to go ahead with the Demo-2 mission will have to take into account several factors. “Clearly, the decision on when to launch and on the duration of the test mission will be one that balances any residual risks with the vehicle design and implementation with hazards of the current pandemic environment and with the risk of insufficient manning of the International Space Station,” she said.

The Demo-2 mission’s crew, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will fly to the ISS, docking there within a day after launch. They will remain on the station, which currently has only three people on board, for what NASA calls an “extended” stay, the duration of which it has not announced.

The panel also weighed in on the status of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle after a test flight in December 2019 that suffered several problems. At the previous ASAP meeting Feb. 6, the committee revealed an issue, not previously reported, involving the spacecraft’s software that could have caused the Starliner’s service module to collide with its crew module after separation just before reentry.

An independent review ultimately found 61 corrective actions for Boeing regarding the spacecraft, and Boeing announced April 6 it would perform a second uncrewed test flight, or Orbital Flight Test (OFT), of the Starliner spacecraft late this year before moving ahead with a crewed test flight.

“Much remains to be resolved before they will be expected to be certified for human spaceflight,” Sanders said of Boeing, saying that work goes beyond a second OFT mission.

That second flight, she said, “is not sufficient to address the concerns that have arisen following the OFT, and we continue to strongly advise NASA to ensure that the underlying technical and organization or cultural shortcomings uncovered during the investigation of the mishap and subsequent reviews are fully addressed and mitigated before any attempt to launch astronauts on the vehicle.”

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comominimo:So… this happened in the sky on March 5 2020 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina. It’s…


So… this happened in the sky on March 5 2020 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

It’s supposed to be Starlink, a SpaceX “Satellite Train”.

Everywhere around the globe now … Elon Musk’s satellite chains for Starlink

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universedope: Fly over Earth with the ISS ✨Music by Ikson


Fly over Earth with the ISS ✨

Music by Ikson

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