NASA-Funded LEO Commercialization Studies Yield Diverse Results

Credit: Axiom Space

Last week, NASA released the results of low Earth orbit (LEO) commercialization studies the space agency commissioned 12 companies to conduct. The space agency is looking to become a tenant in LEO as it aims to return astronauts to the moon in 2024.

Credit: Blue Origin

The studies were conducted by a diverse group of companies ranging from big aerospace such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to up and comers like Blue Origin and NanoRacks to business consultants Deloitte and McKinsey&Company.
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NASA to Test Sensors for Precision Moon Landings on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

NASA Contract Award
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia

Blue Origin, LLC
Kent, Washington
Amount: $1,301,743

Synopsis:

The work will include the integration of NASA developed technology into Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle, providing opportunities to mature critical sensor technology and algorithms that enable precision and soft landing. Testing will be performed at approximately 100 km altitude on-board the flight proven New Shepard vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital vehicle.

Blue Origin and NASA will use the flight data to anchor analyses and models and support follow-on ground-based algorithm testing and development. The NASA-developed sensor suite will enable Blue Moon to precisely land anywhere on the lunar surface, from the equator to the poles, from the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions, from the far side locations on the South Pole/Aitken basin to lunar lava tubes.

This contract addresses three high-level technology objectives:

1. Demonstrate the performance of NASA-developed precision landing sensor and processing technology (including, but not limited to, Descent Landing Computer (DLC), Navigation Doppler Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR, NDL) and Landing Vision System (LVS) in an operating envelope (altitude, velocity, and vehicle environments) from space environments through soft propulsive landing operations on a commercial vehicle (the New Shepard Propulsion Module).

2. Demonstrate a commercial guidance and navigation system for safe and accurate lunar landings using NASA-developed Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) and Hazard Detection and Avoidance (HDA) algorithms as part of a Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) simulation environment.

3. Develop and demonstrate a Flash LiDAR (FL) prototype for hazard detection derived from NASA-developed Flash LiDAR sensor design.

Study Input Informs NASA Course for a Vibrant Future Commercial Space Economy

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — New insights from companies in the growing space economy are helping NASA chart a course for the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit. Input the companies provided to NASA as part of the studies will inform NASA’s future policies to support commercial activities that enable a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

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SpaceX Protests USAF Launcher Development Awards to Rivals

SpaceX is protesting the U.S. Air Force decision to award $2.3 billion in launch vehicle development funding to rivals Blue Origin,  Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance last year.

SpaceX “respectfully challenges the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s evaluation of proposals and portfolio award decision under the Launch Services Agreement (“LSA”)…as arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law,”  the company said in its complaint. “SpaceX does not seek any advantage, but only the opportunity to compete for national security missions on a fair and level playing field.”

The protest, which SpaceX had hoped to keep secret, says that awards were given to “three unproven rockets based on unstated metrics, unequal treatment under the procurement criteria, and opaque industrial planning.” SpaceX said.

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NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers

Artist’s conception of lunar lander (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 11 companies to conduct studies and produce prototypes of human landers for its Artemis lunar exploration program. This effort will help put American astronauts — the first woman and next man — on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028.

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Bezos Kicks Off Club for the Future with Old Fashioned Postal Plan

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In addition to re-unveiling Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander last week, Jeff Bezos launched a venture called the Club for the Future to get students, parents and educators excited about his bold vision for colonizing space and preserving the Earth for future generations.

The club’s first venture aimed at kids who grew up with e-mail, instant messaging, laptops and tablets involves some old fashioned communication:

Draw or write your vision of millions of people living and working in space on the blank side of a self-addressed, stamped postcard, and send it to us. We’ll pack the first 10,000 postcards received before July 20, 2019 inside the Crew Capsule on an upcoming New Shepard flight. Your idea will launch into space! Once New Shepard returns to Earth, we’ll send your postcard back to you, officially stamped “flown to space.” To participate, follow our step-by-step guide below.

It’s a cool idea, getting something that has flown in space. However, I’m guessing a fair number of kids might never have actually mailed a postcard or bought a stamp. Fortunately, Bezos has laid out details on the terms and conditions page.

And what in addition to publicity will Blue Origin get out of it? Free art to use in its promotional campaigns.

I understand and agree that the text, photographs, drawings, and/or creations contained in or affixed to the Space Mail or other CFTF events or activities may be used in the production of promotional materials, on their respective websites, and for other purposes that CFTF or Blue Origin deems appropriate and that such materials may be distributed to the public and displayed publicly one or more times and in different formats, including but not limited to, print, online and video-based marketing, advertising, and fundraising, and in publications and promotional videos as related to CFTF or Blue Origin and its affiliates.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of art is produced by this competition.

Bezos Re-unveils Blue Moon, BE-7 Engine

Blue Moon lander with payloads. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a presentation in Washington, DC, today, Jeff Bezos laid out a bold vision humans living in giant cylindrical floating space colonies first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill four decades ago.

On a more immediate, practical front, the Amazon.com founder produced updated concept art for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander he says would be perfect for landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024 as the Trump Administration has proposed.

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Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography

Ernest Shackleton

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly a century after his death, Ernest Shackleton is back in the news after Blue Origin tweeted a photo of the Antarctic explorer’s ship, Endurance, with the date 5.9.19.

The tweet has fed speculation that Jeff Bezos’ company might announce a mission next week to a crater at the south pole of the moon that is named after Shackleton. (For more about that, see Why Everyone Interested in Shackleton Crater.)

You might also be asking: Who was Shackleton? What did he accomplish at the South Pole? Why is a crater on the moon named after him? And what does all this have to do with Bezos?

All excellent questions. Let’s find more about one of history’s greatest explorers.

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Why Everyone is Interested in Shackleton Crater

Updated May 1, 2019 at 9:18 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin tweeted out this picture of Endurance, the ship that polar explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed aboard during an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914.

The tweet has prompted a lot of speculation about what Bezos’ rocket company will announce next week, and how it connects to a British explorer who has been dead for nearly a century. (For more about Shackleton, see Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography)

My best guess is it will relate to Blue Orgin’s previously announced plans to make cargo deliveries to a crewed lunar base at a crater named for Shackleton at the moon’s south pole.

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NASA and Blue Origin Help Classrooms and Researchers Reach Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

EDWARDS, Calif.  — “We are now on the verge of giving students and teachers the ability to build and fly affordable experiments in space. When teachers are this excited about putting experiments in space, their students can’t help but get excited about space, too.”

Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, does not take the opportunity to fly an experiment to space for granted. The nonprofit organization has worked with educators and engineers to design and test standard equipment for classroom-developed experiments, including 3D-printed frames, customizable processors, power adaptors and more. The equipment first flew on high-altitude balloons and more recently on a stratospheric glider. Now, thanks to support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the equipment will fly higher than ever before: to space on the next launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

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NASA, Blue Origin Agreement Signals Rocketing Growth of Commercial Space

Test Stand 4670 (Credit: NASA)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Officials from NASA and the private space company Blue Origin have signed an agreement that grants the company use of a historic test stand as the agency focuses on returning to the Moon and on to Mars, and America’s commercial space industry continues to grow.

Under a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines. The BE-4 engine was selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle – both being developed to serve the expanding civil, commercial and national security space markets.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

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NASA Selects Two New Space Tech Research Institutes for Smart Habitats

Habitation concept interior. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As exploration missions venture beyond low-Earth orbit and to the Moon — and eventually Mars — NASA must consider automated technologies to keep habitats operational even when they are not occupied by astronauts. To help achieve this, NASA has selected two new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) to advance space habitat designs using resilient and autonomous systems.

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Blue Origin Plans Major Expansion of Facilities in Florida

Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)

Florida Today reports on plans by Blue Origin to expand its facilities in Florida:

Labeled as “South Campus” in water management district documents obtained by FLORIDA TODAY, the 90-acre expansion will connect to the factory at Exploration Park, which is a publicly accessible region just west of KSC’s main gate. The two-lane Space Commerce Way winds through the area, connecting other players like satellite company OneWeb, economic development agency Space Florida and the main entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The south campus will nearly double the size of land Blue Origin already leases from NASA, enabling the Jeff Bezos-led company to establish “programs complimentary to those constructed on the adjacent North Campus,” according to the documents. Blue will build 270- and 313-foot variants of New Glenn rockets in the massive blue-and-white factory on the north campus, which will launch no sooner than 2021.

Blue Origin’s media team did not respond to an inquiry about the land, which the company leased directly from NASA for 50 years. The total payments over that period will equal $20.3 million according to the final lease signed in December, which was also obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.

Building out a complex and finding a need for additional capacity isn’t uncommon in the spaceflight industry.