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NASA chooses SpaceX to land next Americans on the Moon
by Paul Hill
NASA has awarded a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to continue developing a commercial human lander that will deliver the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. Under current plans, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will take astronauts to Lunar orbit where two of the up to four crew members would transfer to SpaceX’s human lander.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said:
You’re probably already familiar with SpaceX’s human landing system, it’s the Starship which the firm has recently been smashing into the ground as it attempts to perfect the landing sequence. The latest Starship test is expected next week where it will hopefully achieve a landing with the newfound financial motivation from NASA.
For those wondering whether the private sector can meet the rigorous NASA requirements, the space agency has confirmed that SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts to ensure the lander design meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. The standards range from engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.
The first mission to the Moon's surface by NASA is its Artemis 3 mission which is expected in 2024 but it could still be delayed. Artemis 3 will be preceded by Artemis 1 expected in November 2021 and Artemis 2 planned for August 2023. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed lunar orbital test flight while Artemis 2 will send a crewed mission to lunar orbit.
NASA has big plans for the Moon in this decade. It wants to carry out several lunar surface missions and build a space station in orbit around the Moon for easier access to the lunar surface.
TWIRL 8: Starship SN15 undergoing tests ready for launch
by Paul Hill
Background image via SpaceX There’s not too much going on with rocket launches this week, SpaceX is going to be performing tests ready for the launch of its SN15 Starship and Blue Origin could finally launch New Shepard NS-15 which has been delayed for the last few weeks. If you read last week’s TWIRL article you might remember that a crewed mission was due to go to the ISS; the mission was successful and there are currently 10 people residing on the space station which is quite a lot of people to be in space at once.
Wednesday, April 14
Wednesday will be the first day that Blue Origin could launch its New Shepard NS-15 mission. A major caveat with this mission is that it’s marked as No Earlier Than which just means we won’t see any launch attempts before this date. The crew capsule has been upgraded for this flight to better suit the needs of astronauts that will be aboard for future missions. The crew will be involved in this mission but only to practice coming aboard and leaving the rocket again. The first crewed New Shepard mission will be NS-16.
When Blue Origin does finally go ahead with the launch, it will be live-streamed on its website and a replay will be available afterwards.
Thursday, April 15
The second and final launch of the week has also been discussed in previous editions of This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL). The launch will be performed by ExPace, a Chinese firm, which will launch a Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite which is also known as Jilin 28. It will join the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation and take full-colour images from a 535 km altitude with a resolution better than 0.75 metres.
This mission is also marked with No Earlier Than so it could take off at a later date and there probably won’t be a live stream but we may see post-launch footage.
Soyuz MS-18 (mission to the ISS) recap
Starship SN15 status
It isn’t clear yet whether we’ll see a launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN15 this week. SpaceX has been prepping the rocket for some testing expected this week before the firm has another crack at trying to land the rocket. While the firm made significant progress on the landing with SN10, SN11 turned out to be less successful. The Starship rockets will be crucial over the next decade as SpaceX turns to this rocket to conduct its planned missions to Mars.
As always, the SN15 mission will be live-streamed by SpaceX and a replay will be made available after the event on the firm’s YouTube channel.
Starship SN11 explodes as SpaceX tries low-visibility landing
by Paul Hill
Images via SpaceX The Starship SN11 mission was supposed to be the mission where SpaceX fixed the errors from the Starship SN10 mission and performed a flawless landing, instead, the company went for a landing attempt in low-visibility conditions and the rocket ended up failing for an as yet unconfirmed reason. The official live feed went dead five minutes and 49 seconds into launch but third-party feeds managed to capture the explosion.
According to Elon Musk, it looks as though there were some problems with engine 2 and that "something significant" happened after the landing burn but it's not clear what until more investigations have been carried out.
SN11 was the firm’s fourth attempt at landing the rocket after flying to an altitude of 10 km. The mission was delayed twice in total, first last Friday and then yesterday. The second delay was caused by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after its inspector was unable to reach the launch site in time.
Had the mission been delayed today, the firm would have had to have waited until Friday before it could get the go-ahead to launch. It also had several hours left today before the launch window closed so it could have waited to see whether the fog cleared but ultimately it decided to take the risk of launching. SpaceX had concerns that if it had waited, winds could have picked up making a launch unviable.
It’s unclear when SpaceX will be conducting its next Starship launch but we should probably expect it in the next few weeks if the previous launches are anything to go by. The firm really does need to nail the landing process soon as it wants to try out the rocket on orbital and lunar flights in the coming months and years. Be sure to follow This Week in Rocket Launches for any updates on the Starship-front.
TWIRL 5: Starship SN11 could launch sometime this week
by Paul Hill
Welcome to the fifth instalment of This Week in Rocket Launches, this week has a packed schedule thanks to a few launch delays and a possible Starship SN11 launch by SpaceX. Glavkosmos will attempt to launch the Korean CAS500 satellite, Rocket Lab could finally launch the BlackSky Global 7 satellite, SpaceX has several missions penciled in, OneWeb wants to launch several internet satellites, India and a Chinese firm are looking at launches too.
The first launches of the week, on Monday, will be from Glavkosmos and possibly Rocket Lab. The Glavkosmos mission will take the Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) into orbit along with Astroscale’s ELSA-d debris removal demonstration mission. The launch was scrubbed from last week but hopefully, it can get off the launch pad tomorrow. You can find a live stream on YouTube.
Rocket Lab’s ‘They Go Up So Fast’ mission has been a possibility for several weeks now. The launch could take off early this week from New Zealand but it’s not definite. The mission consists of an Electron rocket launching a BlackSky Global satellite alongside several other satellites. The BlackSky satellite constellation is made up of 1-metre resolution Earth observation microsatellites that are useful for ground observation. If Rocket Lab’s mission goes ahead, you can find a live stream on its website.
Wednesday is the earliest time we’ll see the launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN11, according to the Neowin forums. SpaceX wants to do a static fire test at the start of the week and if all goes according to plan, it can attempt a launch on Wednesday or Thursday. SpaceX was almost able to do a successful landing of its Starship SN10 rocket earlier this month but it ultimately exploded due to a fire. All of the SpaceX flights this week will be live-streamed and shared on the SpaceX website.
On Wednesday, SpaceX will also be trying again with its Falcon 9 B5 rocket to launch a batch of Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. This mission was mentioned in TWIRL 4 but was delayed. As the end goal, SpaceX wants to have 30,000 Starlink satellites in orbit around the Earth to beam internet connectivity down to those in areas that are hard to connect. The firm also has a separate Starlink mission to launch the day after.
On Thursday, India will launch its EOS 3 satellite that is designed to provide continuous remote sensing observations over India from a geostationary orbit. It will be taken into space using India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which has received several modifications that are being used for the first time.
Also on Thursday, China’s state-run ExPace will launch a Kuaizhou KZ-10 rocket with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28). The 230kg satellite will be used to take full-colour images from a 535km-high operational orbit to complement other satellites that are already in orbit as part of the commercial Jilin 1 constellation.
The final launch of the week will be a Soyuz 2.1b which will carry 36 OneWeb internet communication satellites. The satellites will go into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 450km. OneWeb, which is now owned by the British government, announced plans earlier in the week to help deliver Wi-Fi to aeroplanes from its satellites; those being launched this week will contribute to connecting those planes to the net.
TWIRL 4: Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket set for maiden flight
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, it's expected that there will be around five rocket launches from the likes of Firefly Aerospace, SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Glavkosmos. The most interesting launch will be that of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket which is making its maiden flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which we have been saying will launch for the last two weeks, still hasn’t launched yet but could do on Monday.
Firefly Alpha The first launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket will be carrying commercial payloads for Benchmark Space Systems and AstroGrams. The mission will also deploy a Spinnaker 3 dragsail prototype. In its first launch, the Alpha rocket will carry several projects from the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM) programme which gives students and small companies a way to put their payloads in space.
The rocket has been delayed several times since late 2019 so hopefully, it can perform the flight on Monday as planned. If it does get it off the ground it will fly a ‘dogleg’ inclination which is considered to be a safer option, protecting those near to the base, at the expense of more fuel being used.
Also on Monday, Rocket Lab could launch its Electron rocket carrying the Blacksky Global 7 satellite and SpaceX is expected to send up a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying the SXM 8 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM’s digital audio radio service (DARS). The SXM 8 will carry a large unfurlable antenna reflector which permits radio broadcasts to be sent back down to Earth without the need for a large dish receiver on the ground. It will be replacing the XM 4 satellite and has a lifespan of 15 years.
On Saturday next week, another Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will take off, this time carrying 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Whereas Rocket Lab has been continually delaying its latest planned launch, SpaceX is in fact bringing this launch forward. It was initially planned to take place sometime in the second quarter.
The final launch of the week comes from Glavkosmos, a Roscosmos subsidiary, which is flying a Soyuz 2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying two Korean CAS500 (Compact Advanced Satellite 500) satellites. These are designed for the observation of Earth and were built by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. The Soyuz rocket will also be taking several other satellites into orbit as well as Astroscale’s ELSA-d active debris removal demo mission.
Finally, SpaceX’s Starship SN11 could launch soon but we do not know when. If you’d like to follow all the latest developments on this front, be sure to check out the Neowin forum thread which is updated regularly by the Neowin community.