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Cosmic Space

Moon rocket returns to launch pad for rehearsal rerun

NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket is back at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B for another dress rehearsal aimed at clearing the way for a round-the-moon mission.

This time, NASA hopes the full-up rehearsal will include a fill-up.

The SLS rocket had its first rollout to the pad in mid-March, and NASA went through several rounds of pre-launch tests in April. But the team wasn’t able to fill the rocket’s tanks with super-chilled hydrogen and oxygen propellants due to a series of problems.

NASA had to transport the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building and fix the glitches. Early today, the rocket made the 4-mile, eight-hour journey back to the pad to begin preparations for another “wet dress rehearsal,” including the tank-filling operation.

You can watch a live video feed of the SLS on the pad via Kennedy Space Center’s YouTube channel.

If all goes according to plan, NASA will go all the way through the countdown to the moment of ignition in two weeks. And if the reviews of the rehearsal are sufficiently glowing, the first-ever SLS launch would send NASA’s Orion spaceship on an uncrewed mission around the moon and back in August.

That mission, known as Artemis 1, could be considered a robotic rehearsal for a crewed Artemis 2 mission around the moon. The Artemis 2 launch is scheduled for no earlier than 2024. NASA’s plan calls for the mission after that, Artemis 3, to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 — 50 years ago.

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Universe Today

NASA will rent future spacesuits from two suppliers

NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.

Under the terms of the contracts issued for Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services, or xEVAS, Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space will own the spacesuits. They’ll also be free to explore non-NASA commercial applications for the data and the technologies they develop in partnership with NASA.

NASA will purchase services from Collins and Axiom to fill the space agency’s spacewalking (and moonwalking) needs through 2034. The contracts have a combined maximum potential value of $3.5 billion, with the actual payout for each company determined by how NASA divvies up its task orders.

The model builds upon the precedents set by NASA’s commercialization of crew transport and cargo delivery services for the space station. A similar model was followed last year when NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the Artemis program’s lunar lander.

“With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said today in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

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GeekWire

NASA funds big ideas from small businesses

How do you keep moondust from gumming up the works in NASA’s future spacesuits and spacecraft? That’s one of the issues addressed in the latest batch of projects backed by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

“NASA is working on ambitious, groundbreaking missions that require innovative solutions from a variety of sources – especially our small businesses,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a news release. “Small businesses have the creative edge and expertise needed to help our agency solve our common and complex challenges, and they are crucial to maintaining NASA’s leadership in space.”

Four SBIR research contracts will go to Washington state companies. And two of those contracts are going to Everett-based Off Planet Research. One Off Planet project focuses on the development of a flexible fiber seal that will hold up in dusty environments.

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Cosmic Space

NASA rolls back its SLS moon rocket to make repairs

NASA brought its Space Launch System rocket back to one of the world’s biggest repair shops — the 526-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida — to fix some flaws that turned up during rehearsals for a mission beyond the moon.

It took 10 hours to roll the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket on its mobile launch platform from Launch Complex 39B to the VAB. The 4-mile journey, which made use of a giant crawler-transporter handed down from the Apollo and space shuttle programs, was basically a rewind of the rocket’s trip to the pad on March 17-18.

NASA had hoped to conduct a “wet dress rehearsal” for the launch of the SLS and its Orion deep-space capsule on an uncrewed trip around the moon. That mission, known as Artemis 1, is meant to set the stage for a crewed round-the-moon mission in 2024 and the first crewed landing on the moon since the Apollo era in 2025 or 2026.

Unfortunately for NASA, the practice runs came across some issues that need to be addressed in the days and weeks ahead.

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GeekWire

NASA lays out its plan for another moon lander

NASA has laid out its plan for choosing a second commercial venture to build a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

The venture would provide a competitive alternative to SpaceX’s lunar landing system, which is based on its Starship design and won a $2.9 billion NASA contract last April. The Starship lunar lander is scheduled to take on an uncrewed test mission to the moon in 2024, followed by the first crewed lunar landing for NASA’s Artemis program in 2025.

“We expect approximately one human landing per year, over a decade or so, and these are not isolated missions,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today. “Each is going to build on the past progress. … And all of that is, of course, in preparation for us then to have the first human mission to Mars late in the 2030s or 2040.”

When SpaceX won NASA’s nod last April, two competitors for the contract — Alabama-based Dynetics and a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — complained that NASA should have made more than one award, in the interest of promoting competition. Some members of Congress, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., made similar arguments.

Nelson said the new program, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract or NextSTEP Appendix P, would address those complaints. “I promised competition, so here it is,” he told reporters.

If the program proceeds according to plan, the second company’s landers would go into service in the 2026-2027 time frame, starting with an uncrewed test mission to the lunar surface.

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Cosmic Space

The stage is set for NASA moon rocket’s rehearsal

For the first time in nearly 50 years, a NASA rocket capable of sending humans to the moon is sitting on its launch pad.

The overnight rollout of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, topped by an Orion capsule, evoked memories of the Saturn V rocket launches that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida between 1968 and 1972.

The SLS is being prepared for a monthlong test mission known as Artemis 1, which will send the Orion on an uncrewed flight around the moon and back. That flight, currently set for the May-June time frame, is due to be followed by a crewed round-the-moon mission in 2024, and then a mission to send astronauts to lunar surface in 2025.

The precise timing of all these missions depends on the outcome of on-the-ground tests of the multibillion-dollar rocket. Those tests are due to take place over the next couple of weeks and come to a climax next month with a dress rehearsal for launch.

The stage for the rehearsal was set when the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket rolled out of Kennedy Space Center’s giant Vehicle Assembly Building on a crawler-transporter that was retooled from the space shuttle era. After a trek that took nearly 11 hours, the rocket was fixed in place at around 4:15 a.m. ET (1:15 a.m. PT) today at Launch Complex 39B, which was first used for Apollo 10’s launch in 1969.

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GeekWire

Amazon’s Alexa will ride on NASA’s Orion moon ship

Alexa, when are we arriving at the moon?

Putting Amazon’s AI-enabled voice assistant on a moon-bound spaceship may sound like science fiction (hello, HAL!). But it’s due to become science fact later this year when a radiation-hardened console rides along in NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule for the Artemis 1 round-the-moon mission.

There’ll be no humans aboard for the test flight, which will mark the first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket. Instead, Alexa’s voice, and Echo’s pulsing blue ring, will be interacting with operators at Houston’s Mission Control for a technology demonstration created by Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco.

The project is known as Callisto — a name that pays tribute to the mythological nymph who was a follower of the Greek goddess Artemis.

“Callisto will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could be used in the future to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant as they explore deep space,” Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of commercial civil space, said in a news release.

Including Alexa on the mission is particularly meaningful for Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa. “The Star Trek computer was actually a key part of the original inspiration for Alexa — this notion of an ambient intelligence that is there when you need it … but then also fades into the background when you don’t need it,” he said during a teleconference.

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Universe Today

NASA’s first Artemis moon landing slips to 2025

NASA has pushed back the timetable for landing astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than a half-century from 2024 to no earlier than 2025.

Blue Origin’s unsuccessful legal challenge to a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract awarded to SpaceX was one of the factors behind the delay in the Artemis moon program, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a Nov. 9 teleconference.

Nelson also pointed to Congress’ previous decisions not to fund the lander program as fully as NASA wanted, plus delays forced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that “the Trump administration target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility.”

“After having taken a good look under the hood these past six months, it’s clear to me that the agency will need to make serious changes for the long-term success of the program,” he told reporters.

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GeekWire

A win for SpaceX: Blue Origin loses lunar lander lawsuit

A federal judge today rejected Blue Origin’s challenge to a $2.9 billion contract that NASA awarded to SpaceX for building the lunar lander destined to carry astronauts to the moon.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture had argued that NASA gave overly wide leeway to SpaceX in advance of the contract award in April — but Judge Richard Hertling of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rejected Blue Origin’s arguments. His opinion was sealed, pending a Nov. 18 conference to discuss which details needed to be redacted for competitive reasons.

In a statement, NASA said that it would resume work with SpaceX under the terms of the contract “as soon as possible.”

Bezos tweeted that today’s ruling was “not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”

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Universe Today

NASA picks the target for its water-hunting moon rover

NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going.

Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape by the end of the decade.

“Once it’s on the surface, it will search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface that could one day be used and harvested for long-term human exploration of the moon,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a teleconference.