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Jeff Bezos gives NASA an offer it can't refuse to win the moon mission contract
by Chandrakant Isi
In Godfather-like fashion, billionaire Jeff Bezos has made NASA an offer it can't refuse. In a bid to secure a manned lunar lander mission for Blue Origin, its Founder who also happens to be the wealthiest man on the planet has offered to waive $2 billion of payments.
For those not in the know, this is a reaction to NASA's decision to award a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to Elon Musk's SpaceX. Blue Origin has already managed to put this program on hold by filing a complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GOA) claiming favorable treatment to SpaceX.
In a letter to NASA's Administrator, Bill Nelson, Bezos emphasizes how "meaningful competition" is crucial to take the Americans back to the moon, perhaps making you wonder how he feels about Amazon's monopoly in e-commerce. Bezos highlights that in April, only SpaceX was given a chance to revise their pricing, which led to their selection. The billionaire called it a "mistake" but stated it is "not too late to remedy".
As a solution, Bezos has offered to waive payments of up to $2 billion. Mind you, it is not like Amazon Buy Now, Pay Later scheme. As mentioned in the letter, it is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. Blue Origin is willing to accept a fixed-price contract and will take care of any cost overruns.
Bezos believes that his offer takes care of "NASA's near term budgetary issues". As a result, the space agency can now afford to go ahead with the "dual-source" strategy for the Artemis program.
NASA and Bezos' rival billionaire Elon Musk, have not yet commented on this offer. It will be interesting to see if $2 billion are enough to influence a decision at the most prolific space agency in the world.
TWIRL 19: SpaceX set to launch Transporter-2 satellite mission
by Paul Hill
In the upcoming week, SpaceX is expected to launch its Transporter-2 mission carrying several satellites as part of a rideshare. Roscosmos plans to launch the Progress MS-17 mission which will deliver cargo to the International Space Station, and a Starsem Soyuz rocket will try to orbit 36 OneWeb internet satellites
Tuesday, June 29
The first mission of the week will come from SpaceX with its Transporter-2 rideshare mission. A Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will launch several payloads to Sun-synchronous orbit. Aboard will be the Kleos Polar Vigilance Mission consisting of four satellites, at least four NuSats for Satellogic, YAM 3, Mars Demo 1, and a Vigoride CubeSate carrier with Skycraft, TROPICS Pathfinder, Sen EarthTV, and IRIS-A. This mission was also mentioned in last week’s TWIRL installment with the launch date set at June 25 but it looks like that slipped.
Wednesday, June 30
Roscosmos will be launching its trusty Soyuz 2.1a rocket in the early hours (local time) on Wednesday carrying the Progress MS-17 mission. This is the 78th Progress cargo delivery ship heading for the International Space Station. It will remain connected to the space station acting as an expansion of the Russian Orbital Segment for around 179 days before being undocked. Following the launch, Progress MS-17 will spend 3 hours and 20 minutes getting to the space station before it automatically docks.
Thursday, July 1
On Thursday, the private company, Starsem, will launch a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying 36 OneWeb internet satellites. Similarly to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, the OneWeb constellation can beam internet connectivity back down to the planet. One instance where OneWeb’s satellites will be used will be on airplanes following a deal the firm made with SatixFy. The Canadian military will also benefit from the satellites following a deal OneWeb made with ROCK Networks which serves the Canadian military.
It’s was a bit quiet last week in terms of actual rocket launches but the Pion-NKS 1 satellite managed to launch successfully.
NASA Crew-1 Dragon set to return to Earth with Saturday splashdown
by Paul Hill
The American space agency NASA has announced that it will be live streaming the return to Earth for the NASA SpaceX Crew-1 mission from the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi are set to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 11:36 a.m. EDT on Saturday, May 1.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft which will be returning the astronauts is dubbed Resilience and will undock from the ISS at 5:55 p.m. following the hatch closure at 3:50 p.m. NASA TV will stream the hatch closure from 3:30 p.m. and the undocking from 5:30 p.m. It will then provide continuous coverage until the following morning when the craft finally lands back in the gulf. Following the return, NASA will hold a news conference from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston at 1:30 p.m. You can find the NASA TV stream on the agency’s website.
According to NASA, the undocking and splashdown were originally slated for Wednesday, April 28, but due to weather conditions expected in the splashdown zones, the return has been delayed. The agency and its commercial partner SpaceX will continue to monitor the weather forecasts to ensure that the return can still go ahead on Friday night.
There are currently 11 people on the space station which is several more than we usually see up there at any one time. This is because the SpaceX vehicles take four astronauts up at a time rather than the three that Soyuz vehicles are able to carry and the arrival of two crews in quick succession. The latest crew arrived at the ISS on April 21 aboard the Crew-2 Dragon.
NASA has delayed the Crew-2 Dragon mission to the ISS
by Paul Hill
Over the weekend when This Week in Rocket Launches #9 was published, it was planned that the Crew-2 Dragon mission carrying astronauts to the International Space Station would take place on Thursday, April 22. Due to unfavourable weather conditions along the flight path, NASA is now looking to launch the mission at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23.
According to the new schedule, the crew is scheduled to dock at the space station just under 24 hours after launch at 5:10 a.m. on Saturday, April 24. The mission will be carrying four astronauts, namely NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet. Once they arrive, the ISS will be host to a large crew of 11 people.
On Friday at 1:30 a.m. EDT, NASA Television will begin live launch coverage. This will be followed up at 7:30 a.m. with a press conference hosted by NASA’s Steve Jurczyk and Kathy Lueders, JAXA’s Hiroshi Sasaki, ESA’s Frank de Winne, and an unnamed representative from SpaceX.
The docking, hatch opening, and welcoming ceremony will also be streamed live on Saturday at 5:10 a.m., 7:15 a.m., and 7:45 a.m. respectively. To prepare for the stream, be sure to head over to the NASA TV website and save it as a bookmark ready for the launch.
TWIRL 9: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon to take astronauts to ISS, NASA to try Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
Background image by NASA This week is panning out to be quite dramatic with NASA set to test its Mars Helicopter and SpaceX taking astronauts to the ISS on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. In addition to those events, SpaceX is also expected to launch the Starship SN-15 mission which will see the firm attempt to land the craft following NASA’s decision to pick Starship as the human landing system for its missions to the Moon from 2024.
Monday, April 19
There are no rocket launches listed for Monday, however, Elon Musk did put out a tweet explaining that SpaceX is aiming to launch Starship SN-15 this week, therefore, Monday is the earliest time we will see the launch. This is the first Starship launch since NASA chose the vehicle for its human landing system on the Artemis missions so SpaceX should have a bit more motivation to get the landing right this time around.
While this series is called This Week in Rocket Launches, it’s probably worth mentioning that NASA is looking to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT). Data from the autonomous flight will take time to get back to Earth and a live stream is due to start at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT). If the flight takes place, NASA will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) to apprise us of how the mission went.
Tuesday, April 20
There’s only one event set for Tuesday and that is ExPace’s planned launch of the Kuaizhou KZ-1A with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28) aboard. We’ve spoken several times about this launch in older issues of TWIRL but briefly, this satellite will capture high-resolution full-colour images from 535 km and will work within the Jilin 1 constellation that’s already in orbit.
Thursday, April 22
Thursday will be one of the most interesting days of the week with SpaceX carrying out the Crew-2 Dragon mission which will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the international space station. This Dragon capsule is named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle and was the first of the dragon capsules to carry a crew.
Interestingly, the ISS only got new arrivals two weeks ago so when the four new astronauts arrive there will 11 people on-board which is the highest number that has ever been on the space station at once, though, it’s not the highest number of people that have been in space at one time. Luckily for those on board, four of the astronauts will be departing on the SpaceX Crew-1 on April 28 bringing the ISS crew size to 7.
Sunday, April 25
On Sunday there will be two missions. Roscosmos is looking to launch the Resurs-P 4 satellite from Baikonur atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket and OneWeb will have 36 of its satellites put into orbit by a Starsem-owned Soyuz 2.1b rocket. The Resurs-P satellite will conduct Earth observation for Russian government agencies while the OneWeb satellites will make up a constellation providing internet for people on Earth and flying in planes.