Lawmakers seek to accelerate asteroid finder and want more Mars helicopters

NASA’s <em>Ingenuity</em> Mars helicopter is seen here in a closeup taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover.

Enlarge / NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a closeup taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This week, the US House of Representatives will release a detailed blueprint of its budget for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies, including information about NASA’s budget. The House proposes to provide 25.446 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2023, which is $1.4 billion more than what NASA received this year but $527 million less than what the agency asked for.

In advance of its release, Ars obtained a copy of the 208-page budget blueprint, which represents the opening salvo in the process of funding the federal government. The Senate must still release its budget blueprint later this summer, and then the House and Senate must reconcile their budgets. This may not happen until the fall or winter, after the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2022.

However, the preliminary document nonetheless provides some sense of lawmaker priorities. And in general, the House budget writers appear to largely support NASA’s activities, including the Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon this decade.

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#budget, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA’s Psyche mission won’t be ready for launch this year

One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is successfully deployed in JPL’s storied High Bay 2 clean room.

Enlarge / One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is successfully deployed in JPL’s storied High Bay 2 clean room. The twin arrays will power the spacecraft and its science instruments during a mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Friday, NASA held a press call to announce that its planned mission to the asteroid Psyche, planned for launch this autumn, was on indefinite hold. While the spacecraft itself is ready and has been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, there has been a delay in validating the software that will run the mission as it operates in remote areas of the Solar System.

That delay has pushed mission readiness past the point where the mission’s launch window closes due to changes in the alignment of the bodies Psyche will pass on its journey to the asteroid of the same name. NASA is saying that a mission review will evaluate all options ranging from cancellation to simply delaying the mission until the next time a window opens. Problematically, Psyche’s launch included a ride-along for a separate asteroid mission called Janus that has its own launch windows, so the review will need to include NASA’s entire Discovery Mission program more broadly.

Psyche out

The asteroid Psyche is an unusual body in the Solar System. It’s the former core of an object that was large enough to form a core of metallic elements; collisions have since stripped away the outer layers of this body, leaving behind something that’s nearly entirely metal. Accordingly, visiting Psyche provides the opportunity to improve our understanding of the formation of everything from present-day asteroids to the bodies that merged to form the planets.

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#jpl, #nasa, #planetary-science, #psyche, #science, #space

SpaceX moves a massive rocket with 33 engines to its launch pad for tests

A fully stacked Starship and Super Heavy rocket are seen in February, 2022, during fit checks on the orbital launch tower.

Enlarge / A fully stacked Starship and Super Heavy rocket are seen in February, 2022, during fit checks on the orbital launch tower. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

It has been a long time since SpaceX launched a rocket from South Texas. After a flurry of seven Starship prototype test flights from August 2020 through May 2021, the company has not flown from its launch pads near Boca Chica Beach.

There are good reasons for this hiatus and good reasons to believe it may soon change as SpaceX makes progress toward an orbital launch attempt from South Texas later this year.

The seven launches of a full-scale Starship prototype gradually pushed the envelope, beginning with two 150-meter hops before moving to flights as high as 12.5 km to demonstrate a belly-flop maneuver that will be needed during the vehicle’s return through Earth’s atmosphere. The flight test program culminated with a successful soft-landing of Starship after a 10 km flight.

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#science, #space, #spacex, #starship

Rocket Report: SpaceX steamroller rolls on; Russian rocket workers are idled

A Falcon 9 rocket first stage launches for the 13th time on June 17, 2022.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket first stage launches for the 13th time on June 17, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 4.47 of the Rocket Report! It has been a big week for NASA, with the near completion of its wet-dress rehearsal test for the Space Launch System rocket. Assuming final preparations go well, this sets up a huge launch in a couple of months that we will be following with great interest.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

South Korea successfully launches its own rocket. The three-stage Nuri rocket, built by the government’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute with hundreds of local companies, ​blasted off from the Naro Space Center in Goheung​ on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. Seventy minutes after the​ liftoff, South Korea announced that ​Nuri had succeeded in its mission of ​thrusting a ​357-pound ​working ​satellite, as well as a 162-kg dummy satellite​, into orbit ​435 miles above the Earth.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

For the first time, a small rocket will launch a private spacecraft to the Moon

A graphic representation of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment in orbit near the Moon.

Enlarge / A graphic representation of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment in orbit near the Moon. (credit: NASA)

NASA and Rocket Lab are gearing up to fly a novel mission to lunar orbit that in many ways serves as the vanguard of what is to come as the space agency and US companies ramp up exploration and development of the Moon.

The space agency is financially supporting the privately built satellite, named CAPSTONE, with a $13.7 million grant. It is scheduled to launch on an Electron rocket as early as Saturday from New Zealand. Developed by a Colorado-based company named Advanced Space, the spacecraft itself is modestly sized, just a 12U cubesat with a mass of around 25 kg. It could fit comfortably inside a mini-refrigerator.

The mission’s scientific aims are also modest—primarily, the demonstration of a new system of autonomous navigation around and near the Moon. This Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, or CAPS, is important because there is a lack of fixed tracking assets near the Moon, especially as the cislunar environment becomes more crowded during the coming decade.

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#capstone, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA counts down to within 29 seconds of launching the large SLS rocket

NASA's Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA tried three times during April to complete a critical fueling test of its large Space Launch System rocket. And three times, due to about half a dozen technical problems, the space agency failed.

And so NASA made the difficult decision to roll the large rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs, adding a couple of months of delays to a program already years behind schedule. After this work was complete in early June, NASA rolled the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft back out to the launch pad for a fourth try.

The painful decision turned out to be the correct one. Over the course of more than 14 hours on Monday, NASA largely succeeded in completing this fueling test, loading hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the first and second stages of the SLS rocket.

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#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket, #space

Europe’s major new rocket, the Ariane 6, is delayed again

First hot-firing of the P120C solid-rocket motor that will be used by Europe's new Vega-C and Ariane 6 rockets.

Enlarge / First hot-firing of the P120C solid-rocket motor that will be used by Europe’s new Vega-C and Ariane 6 rockets. (credit: ESA/CNES)

Europe’s much-anticipated next-generation rocket, which has a roughly comparable lift capacity to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, was originally due to launch before the end of 2020.

The Ariane 6 rocket has subsequently been delayed a few times, but before this week the European Space Agency had been holding to a debut launch date before the end of this year. However, during a BBC interview on Monday, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher said the rocket would not fly until sometime in 2023.

On Thursday, during a background call with reporters, a senior European Space Agency official provided more information about the reasons for the additional delay.

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#ariane-6, #esa, #science, #space

NASA says it’s ready for a fourth attempt to fuel the massive SLS rocket

NASA's SLS rocket is seen at sunrise on June 7, 2022, after its second trip to the launch site.

Enlarge / NASA’s SLS rocket is seen at sunrise on June 7, 2022, after its second trip to the launch site. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA has been attempting to conduct a critical fueling test of its Space Launch System rocket for nearly three months, and now the agency says it is ready to try again.

This will be NASA’s fourth attempt to load the SLS rocket’s first and second stages with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and go deep into a countdown toward launch before ending the test at T-10 seconds. The space agency plans to call its team of engineers and technicians to their stations on Saturday evening and begin fueling operations on Monday morning, June 20.

“Our team is ready to go,” said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s launch director for the Artemis I mission, which represents a test flight for the SLS vehicle and Orion spacecraft. “We’re really looking forward to getting back to this test and getting into it starting on Saturday evening and certainly looking forward to the tanking operation.”

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#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket, #space

SpaceX’s Starship launch plan gets an environmental OK from the feds

SpaceX's next rocket on site at Boca Chica.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s next rocket on site at Boca Chica. (credit: Getty Images / Washington Post)

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave SpaceX one of several approvals that will be needed before the company can launch its Starship from the Boca Chica site in South Texas. The environmental approval comes in part because technology developments have allowed the company to eliminate some of the facilities initially planned for the location, greatly reducing its footprint and impacts.

Still, the company will face restrictions within the site and timing of the launches; it will also be expected to support some environmental and historical interests. The company will still need the FAA’s approval regarding safety and risks before it can begin operations.

Less is more

SpaceX has been pursuing atmospheric testing of its hardware at Boca Chica. Ultimately, it plans to turn this into the main launch site for the Falcon Super Heavy vehicles that will loft its Starship vehicle into orbit, along with potential commercial cargo. The booster would also potentially return to the site or land offshore and be ferried back.

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#boca-chica, #environmental-review, #faa, #nepa, #science, #space, #spacex

Astra rocket’s second stage fails, NASA CubeSats lost

Image of a rocket launch.

Enlarge (credit: Astra)

On Sunday, the launch of two CubeSats on an Astra rocket failed to go as planned, with the rocket’s second stage cutting out prematurely. The loss cost NASA two CubeSats that were meant to be part of a small constellation that would track the development of tropical storms. The failure represents yet another setback for a rocket company that has emphasized rapid development and testing-by-launching.

The lost CubeSats were intended to be part of a six-satellite series called TROPICS. With six satellites in three different orbital planes, TROPICS was designed to provide detailed temporal and spatial imaging of precipitation in tropical storms. NASA’s statement on the loss indicates that the agency will still be able to pursue the mission with just four satellites.

As for the failure itself, NASA indicates that this launch was part of a program that tolerated greater risks:

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#astra, #cubesats, #nasa, #rockets, #science, #space

NASA to figure out how to get data on unexplained objects in the sky

Is the truth out there? NASA's going to figure out what kind of data it would need to start asking the question scientifically.

Enlarge / Is the truth out there? NASA’s going to figure out what kind of data it would need to start asking the question scientifically. (credit: David Wall)

On Thursday, NASA announced it’s going to start working on a report about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), which are more commonly referred to as UFOs. The goal of the report isn’t intended to draw any conclusions about their identity (or identities); instead, its goal is to figure out what data NASA either already has or could gather that would help us understand what they are and subject them to scientific study, if possible.

Although lots of the interest in UFOs is anything but scientific, NASA is putting this initiative in its Science Mission Directorate, and Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of that directorate, took part in a press call announcing it. The “UAP” nomenclature used in the announcement is important from NASA’s perspective, in that there’s currently no indication that any of the unidentified things we’ve observed are flying in any sense—they could easily be optical illusions or natural phenomena.

Zurbuchen made it clear that NASA doesn’t expect to have any answers to the question of the identity of UAPs when the report is released in a year or so. Instead, the goal of the effort is to figure out how, in Zurbuchen’s words, to “take a field that is data-poor and make it into something that’s data-rich.” He noted that NASA performs a lot of observations of Earth’s atmosphere in a variety of wavelengths, so it may potentially already have data that can help determine what’s going on if we could identify how to pick out the right data. Alternatively, if the report identifies that new sensors are needed, then NASA is well-positioned to build and operate them.

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#nasa, #science, #space, #ufos

NASA’s second mobile launcher is too heavy, years late, and pushing $1 billion

A comparison of the initial variant of the Space Launch System rocket (left), with the upgraded variant, as well as the original and new mobile launch towers.

Enlarge / A comparison of the initial variant of the Space Launch System rocket (left), with the upgraded variant, as well as the original and new mobile launch towers. (credit: NASA OIG)

Three years ago, NASA awarded a cost-plus contract to the engineering firm Bechtel for the design and construction of a large, mobile launch tower. The 118-meter tower will support the fueling and liftoff of a larger and more capable version of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket that may make its debut during the second half of this decade.

When Bechtel won the contract for this mobile launcher, named ML-2, it was supposed to cost $383 million. But according to a scathing new report by NASA’s inspector general, the project is already running years behind schedule, the launcher weighs too much, and the whole thing is hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The new cost estimate for the project is $960 million.

“We found Bechtel’s poor performance is the main reason for the significant projected cost increases,” the report, signed by Inspector General Paul Martin, states. The report finds that Bechtel underestimated the project’s scope and complexity. In turn, Bechtel officials sought to blame some of the project’s cost increases on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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#bechtel, #mobile-launch-tower, #nasa, #science, #space

Rocket Report: Four Falcon Heavy launches this year; meet the Baguette-one

A French startup named its rockets the Baguette-one and the Orbital-Baguette-1.

Enlarge / A French startup named its rockets the Baguette-one and the Orbital-Baguette-1. (credit: HyPrSpace)

Welcome to Edition 4.46 of the Rocket Report! This report is coming to you a day early because I’ll be on vacation for a while—long enough that there may not be a newsletter next week. We’ll see. In terms of happenings I’m likely to miss, look for the Federal Aviation Administration to finally decide on SpaceX’s Starship launch site in South Texas by next Monday.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

France picks two small launch companies. As part of its France 2030 economic development plan, the European country seeks to provide technical and financial support to develop a nascent small launch industry. More than a dozen companies applied in a competitive bid process, and last Friday, two companies were named. According to Challenges, HyPrSpace and Sirius Space Services won. Amazingly, HyPrSpace’s first rocket will be named Baguette-one. They are instantly my favorite rocket company ever.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

The large Vulcan rocket is unlikely to make its debut in 2022

Hot fire test of a BE-4 rocket engine in West Texas in 2019.

Enlarge / Hot fire test of a BE-4 rocket engine in West Texas in 2019. (credit: Blue Origin)

United Launch Alliance’s powerful new Vulcan rocket was originally scheduled to debut in 2020 but has since been delayed a couple of times.

Presently, it is due to fly during the second half of this year, and the Colorado-based launch company is still holding to the 2022 date. On Wednesday, United Launch Alliance spokesperson Jessica Rye told Ars, “We are well positioned for a Vulcan first launch late this year.” However, another delay now seems inevitable, sources say, with the rocket slipping toward a demonstration launch in 2023.

There are two main issues holding Vulcan back from making its debut: the readiness of its main engines and the payload that it will carry. At this point, neither appear likely to support a 2022 launch.

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#blue-origin, #science, #space, #ula, #vulcan

Russia seeks to hijack German telescope on its X-ray spacecraft

Artist's impression of the Spektr-RG spacecraft carrying the German ‘extended ROentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array’ (eROSITA) X-ray telescope and its Russian ART-XC partner instrument.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of the Spektr-RG spacecraft carrying the German ‘extended ROentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array’ (eROSITA) X-ray telescope and its Russian ART-XC partner instrument. (credit: German Aerospace Center)

Launched in 2019 on a Proton rocket, the Spektrum-Röntgen-Gamma telescope is arguably the most significant space science mission built and flown by Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union more than three decades ago.

The 1.2-ton Spektr-RG spacecraft, located about 1.5 million km from Earth in a halo orbit, is an advanced X-ray observatory designed to detect and map galaxy clusters as well as supermassive black holes. The concept for the spacecraft originated during the Soviet Union, but like a lot of major space projects, it was set aside during the USSR’s collapse.

The Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, eventually picked up the idea and partnered with the German space agency, DLR, on the mission. Under the plan, Russia would build the Spektr-RG spacecraft and launch it, whereas the Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics would design and build the primary instrument on board, named eROSITA. This instrument took its first observations in late 2019 and was intended to conduct a seven-year survey.

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#rogozin, #russia, #science, #space

The privately funded killer-asteroid spotter is here

Visualization of asteroid trajectories

Enlarge / Visualizing the trajectories through the Solar System of asteroids discovered by the Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping platform. (credit: B612 Asteroid Institute | University of Washington DiRAC Institute | DECam)

Gigantic asteroids have smashed into the Earth before—RIP dinosaurs—and if we’re not watching out for all those errant space rocks, they could crash into our world again, with devastating consequences. That’s why Ed Lu and Danica Remy of the Asteroid Institute started a new project to track as many of them as possible.

Lu, a former NASA astronaut and executive director of the institute, led a team that developed a novel algorithm called THOR, which harnesses massive computing power to compare points of light seen in different images of the night sky, then matches them to piece together an individual asteroid’s path through the solar system. They’ve already discovered 104 asteroids with the system, according to an announcement they released on Tuesday.

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#asteroids, #nasa, #near-earth-asteroids, #science, #space

Rocket Report: India wants its own SpaceX, Firefly targets July for Alpha launch

Photo of SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket will be rolling back to the launch pad in early June. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 4.45 of the Rocket Report! Just as a programming note, I’ll be traveling during the second half of next week for a family reunion, so there may or (may not) be a report next week. Thank you for your patience.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Firefly targets July for second Alpha launch attempt. Nine months have passed since Firefly’s Alpha rocket launched for the first time, lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Unfortunately, one of the rocket’s four main engines failed about 15 seconds into the flight, and the rocket was lost about two minutes later. The period since then has been a difficult one for the company and its founder, Tom Markusic. In addition to dissecting the cause of the Alpha failure, Firefly also ran afoul of rules set by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, CFIUS.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

NASA just bought the rest of the space station crew flights from SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready to launch NASA's Crew-4 mission.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready to launch NASA’s Crew-4 mission. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA said this week that it plans to purchase five additional Crew Dragon missions from SpaceX to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Although the space agency’s news release does not specifically say so, these may be the final flights NASA needs to keep the space station fully occupied into the year 2030. As of now, there is no signed international agreement to keep the station flying until then, but this new procurement sends a strong signal that the space agency expects the orbital outpost to keep flying that long.

The announcement also suggests that SpaceX will fly more than twice as many crews to the space station than the other partner in NASA’s commercial crew program, Boeing. Under the new agreement, SpaceX would fly 14 crewed missions to the station on Crew Dragon, and Boeing would fly six during the lifetime of the station.

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#crew-dragon, #nasa-boeing, #science, #space, #spacex

After 9 difficult months, Firefly is set to take its next shot at orbit

Firefly's second Alpha rocket is shipped from its test site in Texas to California in May.

Enlarge / Firefly’s second Alpha rocket is shipped from its test site in Texas to California in May. (credit: Firefly)

Nine months have passed since Firefly’s Alpha rocket launched for the first time, lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Unfortunately, one of the rocket’s four main engines failed about 15 seconds into the flight, and the rocket was lost about two minutes later.

The period since then has been a difficult one for the company and its founder, Tom Markusic. In addition to dissecting the cause of the Alpha failure, Firefly also ran afoul of rules set by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, CFIUS.

In December, the Air Force blocked Firefly from working at the Vandenberg launch site due to these CFIUS complications with the company’s primary investor, Ukrainian Max Polyakov. Eventually, the issue was resolved this spring after Polyakov sold his interest in Firefly, and Firefly regained access to the launch site. But it was a messy and distracting situation at a time when Firefly needed to focus on reaching orbit.

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#alpha, #firefly, #science, #space

NASA chooses two companies to build spacesuits for its 21st century Moonwalkers

An artist’s illustration of two suited crew members working on the lunar surface.

Enlarge / An artist’s illustration of two suited crew members working on the lunar surface. (credit: NASA)

On Wednesday, NASA took another step toward landing humans on the Moon when the agency announced a plan to purchase new and more versatile spacesuits for its astronauts.

After more than a decade of work to develop a new spacesuit in-house, NASA said it would instead buy spacesuit services from two private companies, Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace.

Each of these companies will be able to use technology NASA has worked on but are responsible for the overall development of the spacesuits used on the International Space Station and activities on the lunar surface. Axiom and Collins said they intended to demonstrate their spacesuits for NASA—likely in the form of a spacewalk outside the space station—by 2025.

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#science, #space, #spacesuits

NASA still “pushing” for a Russian cosmonaut to fly on next SpaceX mission

Anna Kikina will be just the fourth Russian woman to go to space.

Enlarge / Anna Kikina will be just the fourth Russian woman to go to space. (credit: Roscosmos)

More than three months after the invasion of Ukraine, it is clear from the actions of Russia, the United States, and the International Space Station’s other partners that they would like to keep the jointly operated facility flying above Earth-bound tensions.

But one of the biggest outstanding questions is whether the manner in which astronauts and cosmonauts reach the space station will change. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, NASA and Russia had been planning to initiate “seat swaps” this fall, with a cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, flying on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle for the first time.

Presently, Kikina is scheduled to launch as part of the “Crew 5” mission in September, which will be commanded by NASA astronaut Nicole Mann. Around the same time, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio would launch on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, commanded by Sergei Prokopyev.

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#anna-kikina, #russia, #science, #space

Rocket Report: Meet the Gravity-1 rocket; will Starship really cut launch costs?

A rendering of Orienspace's "Gravity11" launch vehicle.

Enlarge / A rendering of Orienspace’s “Gravity11” launch vehicle. (credit: Orienspace)

Welcome to Edition 4.44 of the Rocket Report! This week saw the successful completion of Boeing’s Starliner test flight to the International Space Station, which is a promising step forward for assured US astronaut access to space. And wherever you find yourself this Memorial Day Weekend, I hope it is a happy and safe one.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets, as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit targets August UK launch. The California small launch company expects to perform its first mission from England in late August, pending receipt of a launch license, Space News reports. In a speech at Space Tech Expo in Southern California, Jim Simpson, chief strategy officer of Virgin Orbit, said the UK mission will come after a launch from Mojave Air and Space Port in California called “Straight Up,” scheduled for no earlier than June 29. It will carry seven US government payloads.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Earth’s orbital debris problem is worsening, and policy solutions are difficult

Dave Hebert, Caleb Henry, Therese Jones, and Eric Berger at Ars Frontiers 2022 on the growing problem of orbital debris. Click here for transcript. (video link)

One of the greatest threats to humanity’s ongoing expansion into space is the proliferation of debris in low Earth orbit. During a panel discussion at the Ars Frontiers conference earlier this month, a trio of experts described the problem and outlined potential solutions.

The issue of debris is almost as old as spaceflight, explained Caleb Henry, a senior analyst at Quilty Analytics. During the Space Race in the 1960s, the Soviet Union and the United States often launched rockets without regard for the trajectory of the upper stages.

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#ars-frontiers, #frontiers-recap, #orbital-debris, #science, #space, #space-situational-awareness

New photo reveals a NASA spacecraft cloaked in Martian dust

Planetary scientist Paul Byrne created this compilation of NASA images showing the InSight spacecraft on its 10th day on Mars, and the lander 1,201 days later.

Enlarge / Planetary scientist Paul Byrne created this compilation of NASA images showing the InSight spacecraft on its 10th day on Mars, and the lander 1,201 days later. (credit: Paul Byrne/Twitter/NASA)

Anyone planning to move to Mars should probably account for dust. Lots of dust.

Earlier this month NASA announced that it would soon have to cease science operations on its Mars InSight lander due to diminishing power levels from the vehicle’s dust-cloaked solar panels. The spacecraft, which landed on the red planet in November 2018 to study seismic activity, simply cannot produce enough power to operate normally.

InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes, NASA scientists say, including a relatively powerful magnitude 5 quake on May 4. This was the largest marsquake detected to date, and at the upper limit of what scientists hoped to observe. This seismic activity has allowed scientists to tease out details about the inner structure of the red planet.

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#insight, #mars, #nasa, #science, #space

How NASA finally melted its giant “self-licking ice cream cone”

Lori Garver and Eric Berger on commercial space at Ars Frontiers 2022. Click here for transcript. (video link)

During the Ars Frontiers conference earlier this month, former deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver spoke about her efforts to change the space agency when President Obama came into office.

Large bureaucracies are resistant to change, of course, and NASA had been around for five decades in 2009. In particular, Garver and other appointees from the Obama administration sought to help NASA take advantage of the country’s emerging commercial space industry.

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#ars-frontier, #frontiers-recap, #lori-garver, #science, #space

Rocket Report: Starliner soars into orbit, About those Raptor RUDs in Texas

The Starliner spacecraft launches Thursday evening on top of an Atlas V rocket.

Enlarge / The Starliner spacecraft launches Thursday evening on top of an Atlas V rocket. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 4.43 of the Rocket Report! Thanks for your patience last week with me for not putting out a newsletter—I’ve tried to reward it this week with an extra-long version. I would also like to extend our congratulations to Boeing, NASA, and United Launch Alliance on a successful launch of the Starliner spacecraft, and a good orbital insertion. Next comes a rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station on Friday.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space completes stage tests. The California-based launch company announced this week that it has successfully completed a mission duty cycle test for its Terran 1 rocket’s second stage, running the full test duration (see video from the company’s test stage in Mississippi). Finishing this test means that the company believes that the upper stage, and all of its subsystems, are ready for flight. Relativity Chief Executive Tim Ellis has previously said he is highly confident that the Terran 1 rocket will make its debut launch from Florida this year.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Today’s the day when Boeing’s Starliner takes to the skies. Probably

Boeing's Starliner is seen on Wednesday atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Enlarge / Boeing’s Starliner is seen on Wednesday atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Today’s the day for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to take to the skies. Unless it’s not.

Nearly 29 months have passed since the company’s first attempt to demonstrate that Starliner could safely launch into orbit, fly up to the International Space Station and dock, and then return to Earth in a New Mexico desert beneath three parachutes. During that December 2019 test flight, of course, there were myriad software problems, and Starliner ended up lacking the fuel to rendezvous with the space station.

As part of its fixed-price contract with NASA—the space agency is paying about $5.1 billion to Boeing to develop a crew transport system to the space station—the company agreed to redo the demonstration flight. Boeing thought it was ready for this repeat flight last August, but hours before launch more than a dozen valves in Starliner’s propulsion system became stuck. The attempt was called off, so Boeing never got to test its revised software code.

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#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

NASA reveals launch dates for Artemis I through the first half of 2023

NASA's Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA has published a list of potential launch dates for the Artemis I mission (see PDF), starting as early as July 26 and running through June of next year. During this time period, due to various constraints, the space agency has preliminarily identified 158 launch opportunities.

The Artemis I mission will encompass the debut launch for NASA’s large Space Launch System rocket and the second orbital flight of its Orion spacecraft. Depending on when the uncrewed demonstration mission launches, it could last from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.

In its news release, NASA helpfully explains the various constraints behind these dates, including orbital mechanics. For example, NASA says, “The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range. Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight.”

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#nasa, #science, #sls, #space

Former NASA leaders praise Boeing’s willingness to risk commercial crew

Politically, Boeing's spacecraft has done a lot of heavy lifting for NASA's commercial crew program.

Enlarge / Politically, Boeing’s spacecraft has done a lot of heavy lifting for NASA’s commercial crew program. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

The last few years have been pretty rough for the Boeing Company. Its newest generation of 737 aircraft, the Max, was grounded in 2019 after two fatal crashes. And following a series of poor management decisions, the company has continued to lose commercial aircraft market share to European multinational corporation Airbus.

Boeing’s defense segment has fared little better. After winning a large military refueling contract, Boeing started producing the KC-46 tanker for the Air Force. But because of manufacturing and design problems with the tanker, the company has taken about $5 billion in losses during the last decade.

Finally, there is Boeing’s space unit, which has struggled to adapt to the new era of commercial space and fixed-price contracts. Most visibly, Boeing has competed directly with SpaceX over the last decade in the commercial crew program to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. So far, things have not gone terribly well. Boeing is running about three years behind SpaceX, which has now launched five crewed missions for NASA.

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#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

After losing contact with its helicopter, NASA put the entire Mars mission on hold

NASA's Mars <em>Ingenuity</em> helicopter has been flying across the red planet for more than a year.

Enlarge / NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been flying across the red planet for more than a year. (credit: NASA)

The achievement of powered flight on another world is one of the great spaceflight feats of the last decade. Since its first brief hop on April 19, 2021, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has subsequently made an additional 27 flights, traveling nearly 7 km across the surface of the red planet and scouting ahead of NASA’s Perseverance rover. It has wildly exceeded the expectations and hopes of its scientists and engineers.

But recently the small, automated helicopter has had problems with dust accumulating on its solar panels, NASA says. This dust reduces the ability of the vehicle to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. And just as the helicopter needs all of the solar energy it can get, the northern hemisphere of Mars is approaching the dead of winter, which comes in a little more than two months.

Due to these battery issues, the helicopter’s team of flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with the helicopter on May 3. They had been closely monitoring the health of their tiny spacecraft, particularly the charge state of its batteries. After losing contact, the engineers figured that the Ingenuity‘s field-programmable gate array—essentially, its flight computer—entered into shutdown mode due to a lack of power. In such a situation, virtually all of the helicopter’s on-board electronics turned off to protect them from the cold nighttime temperatures, more than 100° Fahrenheit below freezing. This included the internal clock.

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#ingenuity, #mars, #nasa, #science, #space

Rocket Report: Virgin Galactic delayed again, June targeted for next SLS test

Tory Bruno shared an image of a brightly painted Vulcan rocket first stage tank this week on Twitter.

Enlarge / Tory Bruno shared an image of a brightly painted Vulcan rocket first stage tank this week on Twitter. (credit: Tory Bruno)

Welcome to Edition 4.42 of the Rocket Report! I am sorry to say there will be no Rocket Report next week as I will be traveling to Washington, DC, to participate in the Ars Frontiers conference on Thursday. I’ll be speaking with former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver about commercial spaceflight and to an esteemed panel about the problem of space debris.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab grabs a booster from the sky. For the first time on Monday evening, Rocket Lab attempted to catch the falling first stage of its Electron booster with a helicopter. And briefly, it succeeded with this mid-air recovery, Ars reports. As the rocket descended beneath its main parachute at about 10 meters per second, a drogue chute trailed behind with a 50-meter line. A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter tracked this descending rocket, and it, too, had a 50-meter line with a hook on the end of it.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

SpaceX caps an incredibly busy month with a NASA crew landing Friday morning

Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth's atmosphere on Friday morning.

Enlarge / Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth’s atmosphere on Friday morning. (credit: NASA)

After a 177-day spaceflight four astronauts returned to Earth early Friday morning aboard Crew Dragon Endurance.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, undocked from the International Space Station on Thursday before lining up Endurance for a return that brought it back to Earth across the Bay of Campeche, Yucatan Peninsula, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Seas were fair when Endurance splashed down at 12:43 am ET on Friday (04:43 UTC), with a glassy surface on the ocean. The spacecraft was brought on board the recovery ship, named Shannon, and the crew clambered out less than an hour after landing. From there they boarded a helicopter, and subsequently will take a plane ride to Houston for reunions with family members.

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#crew-dragon, #crew-3, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

This time, can Boeing’s Starliner finally shine?

Boeing says its Starliner spacecraft is ready to roll to the launch pad in Florida.

Enlarge / Boeing says its Starliner spacecraft is ready to roll to the launch pad in Florida. (credit: Boeing)

Boeing and NASA say the Starliner spacecraft is ready for a do-over flight, with a second uncrewed test mission of the spacecraft now scheduled for May 19.

Nine months have passed since a standard pre-flight check of the spacecraft, then sitting atop a rocket on a launch pad in Florida, found that 13 of 24 oxidizer valves within Starliner’s propulsion system were stuck. The discovery was made within hours of liftoff.

Since then, engineers and technicians at Boeing and NASA have worked to fully understand why the valves were stuck and to fix the problem. They found that the dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer that had been loaded onto the spacecraft 46 days prior to launch had combined with ambient humidity to create nitric acid, which had started the process of corrosion inside the valve’s aluminum housing.

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#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

SpaceX engineer says NASA should plan for Starship’s “significant” capability

In this illustration, SpaceX's Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon.

Enlarge / In this illustration, SpaceX’s Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

As part of its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon this decade, NASA has a minimum requirement that its “human landing system” must be able to deliver 865 kg to the lunar surface. This is based on the mass of two crew members and their equipment needed for a short stay.

However, in selecting SpaceX’s Starship vehicle to serve as its human lander, NASA has chosen a system with a lot more capability. Starship will, in fact, be able to deliver 100 metric tons to the surface of the Moon—more than 100 times NASA’s baseline goal.

“Starship can land 100 tons on the lunar surface,” said Aarti Matthews, Starship Human Landing System program manager for SpaceX. “And it’s really hard to think about what that means in a tangible way. One hundred tons is four fire trucks. It’s 100 Moon rovers. My favorite way to explain this to my kids is that it’s the weight of more than 11 elephants.”

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#moon, #nasa, #science, #space, #starship

After flying 150th Falcon 9, SpaceX continues to make efficiency gains

The number of days between the first 50 Falcon 9 launches, the second 50, and the last 50.

Enlarge / The number of days between the first 50 Falcon 9 launches, the second 50, and the last 50. (credit: Eric Berger)

SpaceX launched its first Falcon 9 rocket on June 4, 2010, nearly a dozen years ago. During those first years, the company grappled with a whole host of challenges, from things as seemingly simple as trying to transport the rocket over land instead of by sea or air to more demanding tasks such as producing enough Merlin engines.

The company’s first 50 flights took nearly eight years to complete, and in that time SpaceX engineers and technicians learned much about building large rockets, testing and transporting them, and then flying them. From 2010 to early 2018 SpaceX would make three major “block” upgrades to the rocket, as well as debuting the Falcon Heavy variant of the booster.

During this learning period of activity, SpaceX managed to launch a Falcon 9 rocket only every 56.6 days. As it started to experiment with reusing the first stage, of its first 50 launches, seven of those were on reused rockets. Also during this learning period, SpaceX had one launch failure, CRS-7 in 2015, and one failure during pre-launch activities, the Amos-6 accident in 2016.

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#falcon-9, #science, #space, #spacex

Rocket Report: FAA decision day, or another delay? Using a balloon first stage

The Space Launch System rocket rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building this week.

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building this week. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 4.41 of the Rocket Report! For your situational awareness, Rocket Lab’s “There and Back Again” mission is now scheduled for 22:35 UTC on Friday from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company is seeking optimal weather for the launch and subsequent recovery of the first stage by helicopter. Can’t wait to see it.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Angara 1.2 rocket finally ready for flight. Russian space journalist Anatoly Zak reports that the Angara 1.2 vehicle—a single-core version of the Angara booster—is finally ready for its debut flight. It may launch as early as Friday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia, carrying the small MKA-R spacecraft. The vehicle, Zak notes, has been under development for 25 years in various guises.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

First all-private mission to the space station will finally come home

On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module's space-facing international docking adapter.

Enlarge / On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. (credit: NASA)

The Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station on Sunday evening, setting the stage to bring four private astronauts back to Earth.

After slowly backing away from the orbiting laboratory, Endeavour is now positioned to conduct a de-orbit burn on Monday, nudging it into Earth’s atmosphere. After a brief, fiery trip through the atmosphere, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:06 pm ET (17:06 UTC).

Upon landing back on Earth, Ax-1 mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy will have spent 17 days in space following their launch on April 8. The crew was originally scheduled to spend eight days docked to the space station, but the mission was eventually extended a week by poor weather in Dragon’s landing zones around Florida.

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#axiom, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

Rocket Report: Falcon 9 says Aloha to Hawaii, Blue Origin to abandon ship?

A Falcon 9 rocket launched the NROL-85 mission on April 17.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launched the NROL-85 mission on April 17. (credit: SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 4.40 of the Rocket Report! There is a lot happening in spaceflight this week, but I’m probably most excited about Rocket Lab’s attempt to capture the first stage of its Electron rocket in mid-air. This launch (and capture?) will happen no earlier than 22:35 UTC (6:35pm EDT, 3:35pm PDT) on Saturday April 23.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab signs multi-launch deal with HawkEye 360. The Virginia-based satellite company HawkEye 360 has contracted with Rocket Lab for three Electron launches to deliver 15 satellites into low-Earth orbit by 2024. The first of the three missions is scheduled to be Rocket Lab’s inaugural Electron mission from Launch Complex 2 on Wallops Island, Virginia. This first flight will launch no earlier than December 2022, Rocket Lab said.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

NASA rover captures an amazing view of a solar eclipse on Mars

April 2, 2021, solar eclipse on Mars.

When NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021, it carried a high-definition video camera, complete with a powerful zoom capability. This camera has since provided all sorts of amazing views of the red planet during the last 14 months.

However, earlier this month operators of rover turned its powerful Mastcam-Z camera toward the sky to capture Mars’ potato-shaped moon Phobos transiting across the surface of the Sun. And the result, well, the result is spectacular.

Phobos is much smaller than Earth’s Moon, measuring only about 20 km across, so it does not plunge Mars into darkness. However, with the moon etched against the Sun, the video reveals the lumpy nature of Phobos’ terrain, complete with ridges and small hills. It also showcases sunspots on the surface of our star.

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#mars, #science, #solar-eclipse, #space

NASA is supporting some seriously risky missions to the Moon—it’s about time

This illustration shows a concept for a commercial lunar lander from Astrobotic Technology.

Enlarge / This illustration shows a concept for a commercial lunar lander from Astrobotic Technology. (credit: NASA)

For more than three years, NASA has been intensely focused on the Artemis Moon program. This high-profile international effort, spearheaded by the US space agency at a cost of nearly $7.5 billion per year, seeks to return humans to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s and establish a sustainable presence in deep space.

But in recent years, NASA has been funding a second, much smaller-scale Moon program, at just 3 percent of the cost of Artemis. This is the “Commercial Lunar Payload Services” program, which seeks to use private companies to send small- and medium-size landers to the Moon’s surface for primarily science-based missions. Its budget is about $250 million per year.

This program, known as CLPS, is showing some promising signs and will beat the Artemis program to the Moon by at least a couple of years. Moreover, it represents a bold new effort by NASA’s Science division, which is seeking to leverage the emerging commercial space sector to radically increase scientific and exploration capabilities. If successful, the CLPS model of exploration could be extended to Mars and beyond.

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#clps, #features, #moon, #nasa, #science, #space

United States commits to ending “reckless” anti-satellite missile testing

Vice President Kamala Harris receives an unclassified briefing in the Command Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Space Force Base on April 18, 2022.

Enlarge / Vice President Kamala Harris receives an unclassified briefing in the Command Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Space Force Base on April 18, 2022. (credit: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The United States will no longer conduct anti-satellite tests, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Monday. With this declaration, the country seeks to establish a new norm for responsible behavior in space.

“We have consistently condemned these tests and called them reckless, but that is not enough,” Harris said. “Today we are going further. I am pleased to announce that as of today, the United States commits not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing. Simply put: These tests are dangerous, and we will not conduct them. We are the first nation to make such a commitment. And I call on all nations to join us.”

Harris made her comments on Monday evening during a visit to Vandenberg Space Force Base, the preeminent launch site on the West Coast of the United States. During her speech, Harris said the US government will work with other nations to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space, noting that ending such tests would benefit all nations and help to preserve the environment of low Earth orbit.

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#anti-satellite-tests, #science, #space

NASA to roll back its mega rocket after failing to complete countdown test

The Space Launch System rocket rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building in mid-March, 2022.

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building in mid-March, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

After three attempts to complete a critical fueling test of the Space Launch System rocket, NASA has decided to take a break.

On Saturday night the space agency announced plans to roll the large SLS rocket from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center to the Vehicle Assembly Building in the coming days. This marks a notable step back for the program, which has tried since April 1 to complete a “wet dress rehearsal” test, during which the rocket is fueled and brought to within 10 seconds of launch.

The decision comes after three tries during the last two weeks. Each fueling attempt was scuttled by one or more technical issues with the rocket, its mobile launch tower, or ground systems that supply propellants and gases. During the most recent attempt, on Thursday April 14, NASA succeeded in loading 49 percent of the core-stage liquid oxygen fuel tank and 5 percent of the liquid hydrogen tank.

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#science, #sls-rocket, #space

Rocket Report: NASA scrubs third SLS fueling test, Pythom Space strikes back

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster is delivered to Cape Canaveral by NASA's Pegasus barge this week.

Enlarge / A United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster is delivered to Cape Canaveral by NASA’s Pegasus barge this week. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Welcome to Edition 4.39 of the Rocket Report! As usual there is plenty to discuss in the world of launch this week, from a successful hot fire test in Spain to a not-so-successful fueling test at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. So without further delay, read away.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Pythom Space tests Eiger rocket, receives blowback. On March 19, the California-based small launch company conducted a hold-down test of the first stage of its Eiger rocket with a single engine. (The complete first stage will have nine small engines.) The company uploaded a video containing this footage about three weeks ago. Lasting about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the video shows instances where Pythom employees appear to be handling the Eiger rocket and its hypergolic propellants with less than industry-standard care. At one point in the company’s promotional video, a handful of employees can be seen running from an expanding cloud of dust and exhaust.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Trying to sound impressive, Putin says Russia will resume lunar program

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin (right) speaks to Russia President Vladimir Putin (left) and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during their visit at the Vostochny cosmodrome on Tuesday.

Enlarge / Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin (right) speaks to Russia President Vladimir Putin (left) and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during their visit at the Vostochny cosmodrome on Tuesday. (credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

To mark the 61st anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic first spaceflight, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his country’s newest spaceport on Tuesday. Putin was accompanied by the chief of Russia’s space program, Dmitry Rogozin, and Belarusian President Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, who has managed to hold on to his office since 1994.

Russians are understandably proud of their nation’s historic spaceflight glory, and Putin wanted to cloak himself in the glow of Gagarin’s achievement. Putin also sought to explain to Russians how he will continue Gagarin’s legacy by talking up Russia’s civil spaceflight efforts. “We need to successfully stand up to the challenges of space exploration,” he said. To that end, Putin said Russia is working on a “next-generation transport ship,” as well as a nuclear-powered space tug. And, according to Russian media reports, Putin added, “We will resume the lunar program.”

The next-generation ship presumably refers to the “Orel,” or Eagle, spacecraft that would be capable of launching cosmonauts into low Earth orbit as well as to the Moon. The problem with this is that Orel, under various guises and names, has been in development for nearly two decades and is likely years away from flying—if it ever does. And the nuclear-powered space tug is a concept that is years or more likely decades-to-never away from launching.

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#luna, #putin, #rogozin, #roscosmos, #science, #space

NASA to restart fueling test of SLS rocket, with key modifications

Will the third time be the charm for a Space Launch System rocket fueling test? NASA will find out this week.

Enlarge / Will the third time be the charm for a Space Launch System rocket fueling test? NASA will find out this week. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA will resume its efforts to complete a key fueling test of the Space Launch System rocket on Tuesday.

The space agency has decided to modify this test, however, due to a problem with a check valve on the rocket’s upper stage that leads to a pressurized helium bottle. The valve was found to be stuck last week and will need to be replaced.

With the valve in this position, NASA does not feel it would be safe to load the upper stage with cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen during the “wet dress” test as originally planned. Therefore, Thursday’s test will fuel only the core stage—the largest and least-proven part of the rocket—during tanking operations. As part of this test, the launch system will be brought into a terminal countdown before cutting off at T-10 seconds.

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#science, #sls-rocket, #space

Pythom Space tests its rocket with questionable safety practices

A Pythom Space video from March 19 shows employees reacting to an expanding cloud of dust and exhaust.

Enlarge / A Pythom Space video from March 19 shows employees reacting to an expanding cloud of dust and exhaust. (credit: Pythom Space)

There’s a small rocket company based in eastern California named Pythom Space. And like a lot of space startups, it has big dreams. In this case, co-founders Tina and Tom Sjögren have the goal of flying to Mars in 2024—and if not then, by 2026.

“We see this as a new world,” Tina Sjögren said recently. “When Columbus sailed to America, there were both better boats and sailors. But no one else did it. He did. All it took was three weeks. It was not difficult; it was fear that held everyone back. It was believed that one would fall over the edge of the earth. Or be eaten by sea monsters. He showed… that was wrong.”

This seems naïve, of course. Even SpaceX, which from the beginning was well-funded and able to hire excellent early employees, is still years away from sending humans to Mars after its founding in 2002. But the Sjögrens are undaunted. “You have to work hard, but you do not have to be very smart,” Tina Sjögren added.

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#pythom, #science, #space

The Axiom-1 crew launches today—are these guys tourists, astronauts, or what?

The Axiom-1 mission will fly on the fifth mission of this Falcon 9 rocket first stage.

Enlarge / The Axiom-1 mission will fly on the fifth mission of this Falcon 9 rocket first stage. (credit: NASA)

A crew of four private citizens is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station today on a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center.

This is the Axiom-1 mission, named after the private company, Axiom Space, that organized the flight. This mission will make history, as it is the first completely private mission to the International Space Station. The orbiting laboratory was created decades ago to foster international cooperation in space at a time when spaceflight was almost solely the province of large, powerful nations.

But the laboratory, at least for the United States, has become an important beachhead in low Earth orbit for commercial activity. NASA astronauts have for years conducted private research experiments, deployed CubeSats, and performed other government-sanctioned activities to foster commercial spaceflight.

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#axiom, #science, #space, #spacex

Rocket Report: NASA buys a SpinLaunch, Space Force brass visits Starbase

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the Endeavour spacecraft await the Axiom-1 crew launch on Friday.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the Endeavour spacecraft await the Axiom-1 crew launch on Friday. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 4.38 of the Rocket Report! We’re already in the second quarter of 2022, hard as it is to believe. This means that many companies with aspirations to debut new rockets this year, including United Launch Alliance, ABL Space Systems, Relativity Space, and Arianespace, are down to less than nine months to work with.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab ready for helicopter grab. After several experimental tests, Rocket Lab announced it will attempt a mid-air capture of the Electron rocket’s first stage for the first time. The company will make this attempt during its next flight, with a launch window that opens on April 19 for the “There and Back Again” mission to deploy 34 small satellites. After the first stage completes its boost phase, at 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it will separate and begin descending at speeds up to 8,300 km per hour.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

That time when Soviet rocket scientists nearly nuked New York City

That time when Soviet rocket scientists nearly nuked New York City

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

The world will mark the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is known to Russians as the Caribbean Crisis, in October. The incredibly tense confrontation brought the United States and the Soviet Union the closest they would come to nuclear war during the Cold War.

The crisis has fresh relevance today in the weeks after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that using his country’s nuclear weapons stockpile is a possibility, and Western experts have not disputed that such use could happen.

While Putin employing nuclear weapons remains unlikely, experts say some situations may cause the Russian leader to lash out. These include Russia losing the war badly, the country being crushed by economic sanctions, or Putin feeling as though his hold on power is threatened. Were some or all of these things to happen, Putin could conceivably turn to his option of last resort. A nuclear strike could take the form of a demonstration over an unpopulated area, or perhaps even a tactical blow in Ukraine. Such a move would almost certainly force a response from the West.

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#boris-chertok, #cuban-missile-crisis, #features, #science, #space

Jeff Bezos and Amazon just hired everybody but SpaceX for Project Kuiper

A giant rocket is transported on its side to a launch pad.

Enlarge / Amazon is counting on the Vulcan rocket, a pathfinder for which is shown here, to deliver a large number of satellites into space. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Amazon on Tuesday announced the largest commercial launch deal ever. The company said it has finalized agreements with three different rocket companies for a total of 83 launches. The rockets will deploy a majority of Amazon’s low-Earth-orbit constellation of broadband satellites.

With this deal, Amazon has acquired an extraordinary amount of medium- and heavy-lift launch capacity over the next five years, procuring launches from every major Western provider except for its direct satellite competitor, SpaceX. Aside from SpaceX, this purchase represents the vast majority of any “spare” launch capacity for larger rockets in the United States or Europe over the next half-decade.

Amazon announced launch agreements with the following companies as it seeks to build out its constellation of 3,236 satellites:

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#amazon, #launch, #project-kuiper, #science, #space