2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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Honeywell, Lockheed Martin To Provide Critical Components For NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

The Orion spacecraft with European Service Module undergoing environmental testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station. (Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja)

CLEARWATER, Fla., Jan. 17, 2020 (Honeywell PR) — Honeywell (NYSE: HON) has been awarded a contract by Lockheed Martin to support production of NASA’s Orion spacecraft fleet for the upcoming Artemis missions, which will bring humans back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

The contract to supply key components of the Orion crew module and service module will be managed and performed out of Honeywell’s facility in Clearwater, Florida. Work will also be conducted at the company’s facilities in Glendale, Arizona, and Puerto Rico.

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Collins Aerospace Signs $320 Million Contract to Provide Critical Subsystems for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

Orion and European Service Module orbiting the Moon. (Credit NASA/ESA/ATG Medialab)

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (Collins Aerospace PR) – Collins Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX), has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to provide critical subsystems to support production of NASA’s Orion spacecraft fleet for Artemis missions III through VIII.

Valued at $320 million, the systems being provided by Collins Aerospace will play an important role in enabling NASA’s goal of boots on the Moon by 2024, as well as establishing a sustained presence on and around the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.

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ESA Opens Oxygen Plant – Making Air Out of Moondust

ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse and Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow preparing to make oxygen and metal out of simulated moondust inside ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory. (Credit: ESA–A. Conigili)

ESA’s technical heart has begun to produce oxygen out of simulated moondust.

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — A prototype oxygen plant has been set up in the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

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Could Future Homes on the Moon and Mars Be Made of Fungi?

A researcher holding a petri dish containing mycelia – the underground threads that make up the main part of a fungus – growing in simulated martian soil, also known as martian regolith. (Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Lynn Rothschild)

by Frank Tavares
NASA’s Ames Research Center

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — Science fiction often imagines our future on Mars and other planets as run by machines, with metallic cities and flying cars rising above dunes of red sand. But the reality may be even stranger – and “greener.” Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.

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NASA’s New Moon Rover Tested in Lunar Operations Lab

Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) engineering model undergoing tests. (Credit: NASA / Bridget Caswell, Alcyon Technical Services)

CLEVELAND (NASA PR) — An engineering model of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is tested in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

About the size of a golf cart, VIPER is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s South Pole looking for water ice in the region and for the first time ever, actually sample the water ice at the same pole where the first woman and next man will land in 2024 under the Artemis program.

The large, adjustable soil bin contains lunar simulant and allows engineers to mimic the Moon’s terrain. Engineers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the rover was designed and built, joined the Glenn team to complete the tests.

Test data will be used to evaluate the traction of the vehicle and wheels, determine the power requirements for a variety of maneuvers and compare methods of traversing steep slopes. Respirators are worn by researchers to protect against the airborne silica that is present during testing.  

VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency.  NASA’s  Ames  Research Center in Silicon Valley is managing the project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations and software.

The rover’s instruments are provided by Ames, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and commercial partner, Honeybee Robotics in  California.  The spacecraft, lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon will be provided through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon.  

NASA Rings in Busy New Year in Florida to Prepare for Artemis Missions

The Orion crew module for Artemis I is lifted by crane on July 16, 2019, in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew module was moved to the final assembly and test cell and work was completed to secure it atop the service module. (Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

by Linda Herridge
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will have a busy year preparing facilities, ground support equipment and space hardware for the launch of Artemis I, the first uncrewed launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft. In 2020, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) activities will ramp up as launch hardware arrives and teams put systems in place for Artemis I and II missions.

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Video: Back to the Moon with ESA

Video Caption: The first flight of the Artemis programme, which will see humans return to the Moon, is scheduled to begin soon.

The lunar spacecraft consists of NASA’s Orion crew module and the European Service Module, or ESM. Developed by ESA and building on technology from its Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the ESM will provide propulsion, life support, environmental control and electrical power to Orion.

The Artemis 1 spacecraft modules are undergoing thermal vacuum and electromagnetic interference tests in the world’s largest space simulation vacuum chamber at the Glenn Research Centre’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, USA.

Learn more about Orion: http://bit.ly/ESAOrion

Roscosmos Allocates More Funding for Oryol Spacecraft Development

Ergonomic testing has been conducted for the new Oryol spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

Sputnik reports that Roscosmos will devote more than 8 billion rubles ($130.7 million) in additional funding for development of the Oryol (Eagle) beginning next year.

The contract with Energia would fund the construction of two Oryol spacecraft. They are designed to replace the Soyuz transport that has been in use since 1967 and allow cosmonauts to perform lunar and deep space missions. The spacecraft was formerly known as Federatsiya (Federation).

An Oryol mockup would be launched on the Angara A5 heavy booster in 2023, Sputnik reported. A flight test to the International Space Station is planned for 2025, followed by a lunar flyby in 2029 and a landing on the surface the following year.

The additional funding will also be used for the testing of the Yenisei super-heavy booster in 2028, Sputnik said.

First NASA Artemis Rocket Core Stage Loaded on Pegasus Barge

The first Artemis rocket stage is guided toward NASA’s Pegasus barge Jan. 8 ahead of its forthcoming journey to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Teams rolled out, or moved, the completed core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the barge in preparation for the core stage Green Run test series. Pegasus, which was modified to ferry SLS rocket hardware, will transport the core stage more than 40 miles from Michoud to Stennis for the comprehensive core stage Green Run test series. Green Run, named for its testing of new, or green, hardware progressively, is the final test campaign ahead of the first Artemis launch. (Credits: NASA)

NEW ORLEANS (NASA PR) — The first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage for NASA’s Artemis program completed manufacturing work at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and was loaded onto the agency’s Pegasus barge on Jan. 8 for delivery to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. With NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard in attendance, NASA rolled out the core stage for the SLS rocket onto Pegasus in preparation for the Green Run test series, the final test campaign ahead of the agency’s first Artemis launch.

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China Using Space to Further Geopolitical Goals

Completing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine how China is using its space program to achieve the nation’s geopolitical and economic goals. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China is using its growing space program to achieve a range of geopolitical and economic goals, including attracting partners for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), improving economic and political ties with other countries, and deepening others’ reliance on its space systems and data services.

“Beijing views its space program as key to elevating its leadership profile in international space cooperation, including through BRI, and establishing a dominant position in the commercial space industry,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress.

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NASA Prepares Artemis I SLS Rocket Stage for Move to Pegasus Barge

four RS-25 engines mated to Space Launch System core stage for Artemis 1 mission. (Credit: NASA/Eric Bordelon)

NEW ORLEANS (NASA PR) — Teams at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans moved the core stage, complete with all four RS-25 engines, for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to Building 110 for final shipping preparations on Jan. 1.

The SLS core stage includes state-of-the-art avionics, propulsion systems and two colossal propellant tanks that collectively hold 733,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to power its four RS-25 engines.

The completed stage, which will provide more than 2 million pounds of thrust to help power the first Artemis mission to the Moon, will be shipped via the agency’s Pegasus barge from Michoud to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, later this month.

Once at Stennis, the Artemis rocket stage will be loaded into the B-2 Test Stand for the core stage Green Run test series. The comprehensive test campaign will progressively bring the entire core stage, including its avionics and engines, to life for the first time to verify the stage is fit for flight ahead of the launch of Artemis I.

NASA is working to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world and will send astronauts in the Orion spacecraft farther into space than ever before. No other rocket is capable of carrying astronauts in Orion around the Moon.

ISRO Confirms Chandrayaan-3 Lunar Landing Mission

Chandrayaan-2 rover (Credit: ISRO)

ISRO Chairman K. Sivan confirmed the Indian space agency will launch a new lunar lander and rover to replace the ones that crashed as part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission last year. The BBC reports:

He said the country was aiming to launch the mission in 2020 but that it “may spill over” to 2021….

Mr Sivan said the new mission would land in the same area, and would “have a lander, rover and propulsion module like its predecessor”. The new equipment is set to cost some $35m (£26m), while the full cost of the mission is set to be significantly more.

Jitendra Singh, junior minister for the department of space, has said the new mission will be “quite economical”.

“The orbiter is already there. So we are going to be cutting cost,” he told the Times of India.

Report: China Could Follow South China Sea Strategy in Seeking Space Resources

Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization (Credits: Joel Sercel)

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine how China is seeking to shape the governance of space activities. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China’s actions in asserting sovereignty over the disputed South China Sea could serve as a model by which that nation would claim extraterrestrial resources and consolidate its control over key space assets, a new report to the U.S. Congress warned.

“Contrary to international norms governing the exploration and commercial exploitation of space, statements from senior Chinese officials signal Beijing’s belief in its right to claim use of space-based resources in the absence of a clear legal framework specifically regulating mining in space,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 report.

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Artemis Program 2019 in Review

The Orion crew module for Artemis 1 is lifted by crane on July 16, 2019, in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Using a sustainable architecture and sophisticated hardware unlike any other, the first woman and the next man will set foot on the surface of the Moon by 2024. Artemis I, the first mission of our powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, is an important step in reaching that goal.

As we close out 2019 and look forward to 2020, here’s where we stand in the Artemis story — and what to expect in 2020. 

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