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NASA's SLS' core stage to undergo final Green Run test
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that its Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket designed to send astronauts to the Moon, will undergo its final Green Run series test this week on Thursday. The space agency said that the two-hour testing window will open at 3 p.m. EDT on March 18 and plans to begin streaming the event 30 minutes before the test on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.
In this eighth and final Green Run test, engineers will power up all of the core stage systems and fire the rocket’s four RS-25 engines to simulate the stage’s operation during launch. The engines will burn 700,000 gallons of supercold cryogenic propellant and generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust.
Two hours after the test, NASA will hold a briefing on NASA TV where it will be able to explain whether everything went smoothly and will answer media questions by phone. Once this test is complete, NASA will be assured that the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis missions to the Moon, marking a major milestone.
The core stage of the rocket is a very important part of the rocket; it includes a liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank, four RS-25 engines, computers, electronics, and avionics, which NASA explains, acts as the brains of the SLS.
The Artemis I mission, which will use the SLS rocket, is planned for November this year. It is an uncrewed test flight and will be the first to integrate the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System. This will then pave the way for two planned Artemis missions and a further six proposed missions - all of which will be crewed.
SpaceX almost lands Starship successfully on the third attempt
by Paul Hill
SpaceX has gotten closer to landing Starship SN10 succesfuilly after two failures with SN8 and SN9 in December and January respectively. While the Starship did manage a landing this time, a fire broke out which spread to the propellant leading to a massive explosion destroying the rocket around 8 minutes after landing.
Today’s mission looked uncertain for a while, initially, it was due to take off several hours ago but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted out to say that the launch was aborted to adjust the thrust limit which he described as “slightly conservative”. After recycling the propellant, the rocket was set for another launch attempt which it carried out successfully.
Today’s mission brings SpaceX one step closer to getting humans to Mars. In the future, Starship with use two stages - the first is a booster stage called Super Heavy and the upper stage is called Starship. Super Heavy will be used to take off from Earth but when taking off from the Moon and Mars, only the upper stage will be needed. During the tests, Starship has been using three Raptor engines but it’s intended that six will be used in the future.
With Starship set to be used for human transportation in a couple of years, it will undergo more testing until the company can get the landing right. It will also have to be trialled using the six Raptor engines at some point and launching atop the Super Heavy booster.
If you missed the test, you can watch it in full above and If you want to know when SpaceX has an upcoming Starship launch, be sure to read This Week in Rocket Launches, a new weekly series posted each weekend detailing all the missions that are planned for the coming week.
Rocket Lab releases plans for reusable Neutron rocket
by Paul Hill
Rocket Lab, one of the many private space firms, has revealed plans for a new reusable rocket called Neutron. The firm said that the 8-ton payload launch vehicle will deploy satellite constellations, go to other planets and take humans into space.
If you’ve been following Neowin’s new This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL) series, you’ll know that Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket already delivers satellites into space. While Electron is limited to launching 300 kg satellites, the new rocket will be able to lift 8,000 kg to low-Earth orbit, 2,000 kg to the Moon, and 1,500 kg to Mars and Venus.
Speaking about the announcement, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said:
Much like SpaceX has been doing with its rockets, Neutron’s first of two stages will be designed to land on an ocean platform, this will allow the company to lower costs for customers and get more launches done. Rocket Lab expects to perform Neutron launches from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Launching from this facility will eliminate the need for Rocket Lab to build a new pad which will accelerate the time to launch.
The firm said it expects to begin launches of Neutron rockets from 2024 and is looking for sites across America to build a new factory that will support the manufacture of the Neutron rocket and create hundreds of jobs.
Japan agrees to provide important Lunar Gateway components
by Paul Hill
NASA and the Government of Japan have come to an agreement over the Lunar Gateway that will see the east Asian nation provide capabilities for the Gateway’s International Habitation module (I-Hab). The I-Hab is a key component of the modular space station as it includes life support capabilities and additional space where astronauts can live and work during Artemis missions.
According to the American space agency, JAXA’s planned contributions include I-Hab’s environmental control and life support system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components. Once developed, these parts will be integrated into the I-Hab module by the European Space Agency (ESA) which shows just how much of an international effort this new space station is.
Under a previous agreement between JAXA and Northrop Grumman, Japan will supply the batteries that’ll be used in Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Output (HALO) – the area of the station where astronauts will go first once arriving at Gateway. Japan has also decided to take a look at its HTV-X cargo resupply craft to see whether it can adapt it for use in Gateway logistics resupply missions.
Commenting on today’s partnership, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Dan Hartman said:
The Lunar Gateway, which is set to orbit the Moon, will begin launching in January 2024. Initially, the Power and Propulsion Element and the HALO modules will be launched and eventually will be joined many other modules. The I-Hab, which Japan is developing components for under today’s agreement is set for launch in 2026.
By Ather Fawaz
China launches Chang'e-5 mission to extract and bring lunar rock samples to Earth
by Ather Fawaz
Image via National Geographic China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 mission on Monday whereby it is sending a spacecraft to the Moon to collect rock samples. If everything goes according to plan, the lander portion of the spacecraft will touch down on the lunar surface by the end of this week and will have approximately 14 days—or the length of a single day on the satellite—to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.
The spacecraft took off from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China on Monday. Unlike previous missions, China was open about live-streaming and consistently sharing information about the launch procedures. The entire event was live-streamed by Chinese state media without any delay, showing the growing confidence that the nation has in its space program.
The mission is being hailed as the most ambitious program in China's space history. Not only will it be the first attempt at collecting lunar rock samples in over forty years, but it also sets the nation on course to become only the third country to bring pieces of the moon back to Earth, joining the ranks of the U.S. and Soviet Russia who each completed this feat with the Apollo Missions and the Luna robotic landings, respectively.
China plans to land Chang'e-5 on the Mons Rümker, which is an isolated volcanic formation that is located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side. It's also much younger than the craters that the Apollo astronauts visited. Once there, the spacecraft is slated to retrieve more than four pounds of lunar samples. For contrast, the three successful Soviet Luna missions brought close to 0.625 pounds while NASA’s Apollo astronauts ferried 842 pounds of moon rock and soil back to the Earth.
From liftoff to touchdown back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month. China hopes that the successful completion of Chang’e-5 will be a stepping stone towards establishing an international lunar research station before colonizing the moon by the next decade.
Source: The New York Times via Engadget