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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#233 - Space News Week

This week Matt is joined by Birthday Boy Chris to chat about one of those crazy busy periods in space, so much going on. Human missions, human landers chosen for the moon, Near miss, mission extensions.'s all g

“I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.”
Wilbur Wright

  • Chris’s birthday! No one else born on this day!!! ...seriously.

  • 1930 – The British Broadcasting Corporation announced that "there is no news" in their evening report.

  • 19 April 1971 - Salyut 1 - First space station

Space News Episode.

Shock SpaceX only win of the Human Lunar Lander Contract.

The firm-fixed-price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion, The HLS award is made under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).

  • Artemis; NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to return to the Moon in 2024 (...not likely) - Mission Artemis 3

  • SpaceX has been selected to develop the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface.

  • At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon.

  • Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of colour on the lunar surface.

  • Worth mentioning here that whoever goes has been chosen because of their competence to do the job, so it’s important to get people from lots of different backgrounds to apply.

The Rough Plan - In Case you didn’t know

  • The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to an unusual lunar orbit.

    • NASA and the ESA have decided on what's called a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO.) That means the Orion and then later the Gateway will follow an eccentric orbit around the Moon. Sometimes, it'll be as close as 3,000 km to the lunar surface, and other times it'll be 7,000 km away. This will allow easier access to the south pole and is always in line of sight with earth for Communications.

    • South Pole / Shackleton Crater holds abundant deposits of water-ice, which can be turned into rocket fuel and breathable air to support a lunar base

  • There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon.

  • After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

  • "With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”

  • SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts during the HLS base period of performance to inform its lander design and ensure it meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards.

  • A key tenet for safety systems, these agreed-upon standards range from areas of engineering, safety, health, and medical technology areas.

  • SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon, leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks.

  • The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.

  • SpaceX beat out the competition of the National Team (Blue Origin, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman) and Dynetics (inc SNC) in a 10 then 12-month design battle.


  • When the teams were initially chosen the SpaceX seemed to be added on a whim because it was so cheap (half the Dynetics bid, ¼ of the national team), and why not, it was definitely the outsider choice

  • NASA was going to award 2 contracts but have only offered one!

  • Jeff Bezos must genuinely be gutted

  • Many are calling this a pivotal moment in the history of human space travel, that will be talked about for decades.

  • The announcement was a bit rushed probably due to a leak to the press and NASA needed to get ahead of the story.

  • Reasons for choice:

    • Value for money "We looked at what’s the best value to the government," said Kathy Lueders

    • Sustainability - The Flexibility of the system and its chances for growth are enormous - it’s a future-looking technology that pushes space travel in a quantum leap forward. The other two are not much different from the designs imagined by space societies just after the 2nd world war!

    • Spacious Cabin - Great for astronaut comfort

    • Huge payload capability for experiments

    • Two airlocks - Safe and redundant

    • Complex tasks like fueling carried out in LEO

    • Management team - scored highest

    • SpaceX actually has flying hardware!!!

    • They have kicked Boeing ass in the last contract

  • This is going to go down badly with congresspeople who want the jobs in their states.

    • "I am disappointed that the acting Nasa leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent Nasa administrator and deputy administrator," said congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Democrat chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

    • FYI - President Joe Biden will nominate former 3 time NASA astronaut and Air Force colonel Pamela Melroy to serve as NASA's deputy administrator ...awesome choice, Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk also welcomed the decision

  • Ideally, you need a competitor, Starliner v Dragon for example worked out very well, imagine if Nasa had only picked Boeing? As that now looks to have slipped to 2022 for the first crewed flight.

    • But if you have a limited budget you need to drop to one bid- Biden definitely wants this done cheaper.

  • May still be a chance for Blue Origin and Dynetics though if they are able to secure the upcoming “Recurring Landing Service Contacts” that NASA hopes to procure from industry

  • Great advert to the public to have SpaceX involved

  • SpaceX has come soo far, from suing NASA to be even considered for contracts, which is a very brave move, to being the goto contractor despite political lobbying. It’s not even 20 years old!!!!

  • Starship is bound to represent great value for money because so much of the development has been self-funded, using Musks incredible ability to just get funding by clicking his fingers or swiping across a phone screen.

  • Where does this leave SLS? Why travel to the moon via SLS and an Orion if you can go in the Starship in the first place. (Launch escape perhaps)

  • Lots of technical issues still

    • Requires several launches to send fuel

    • Requires refuelling in space

    • Elevator to get to the surface

    • Starship is MASSIVE compared to anything else planned

    • Seems a little silly to land such a massive piece of hardware to then have to take off again.

    • Orion docking

    • New rocket engine design for the landing. This lands nothing like that Boca Chica Belly flops.

      • It can’t land using the raptors on the bottom as it would make a massive crater on the surface

      • It uses a ring of unspecified engines near the top of the rocket.

      • Landing legs can be much bigger

      • Doesn’t need wings

      • Is it going to fly back to Earth to refuel?

      • Is it ever coming back to land on earth?

      • How many will get built?

Sticking with Human Spaceflight

End of Expedition 64 - April 17th saw the return of the two Sergeys, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins who touched down in Kazakhstan Saturday in the MS-17 spacecraft.

Ryzhikov handed command to Shannon Walker

  • "It was an amazing time and it was unforgettable. There were many unforgettable events during our increment."

  • Walker then said to Ryzhikov "It has truly been the teamwork and the camaraderie that has made it very special."

The ISS is now home to Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Mark Vande Hei, Soichi Noguchi, Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov for just over a week until the arrival of SpaceX's Crew-2. Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet who are scheduled to launch on April 22 and dock their Dragon "Endeavour" to the station the next day.

  • The Launch vehicle is already ready on the pad 39a

  • Both the Dragon and the Falcon 9 have flown before!! - first time since the space shuttle in 2011, and the first-ever Booster reuse for human flight.

  • Same Booster as Crew 1 (that flew Glover, Hopkins, Noguchi, Walker)

  • Same Dragon as Demo-2 ( that flew Doug and Bob up)

  • Megan McArthur (a few days older than me) went to fix Hubble, but has never been to the ISS! She’s married to Bob Behnken - So is inside the exact craft that took him up!!! How cool is that!!! ...comfort to their poor son?

Lots happened during Expedition 64 aside from loads of experiments (remember Rubins is a Cancer doctor). There was a lot of fixing and maintaining the station, including the Russian pair using the Poisk Module for its first EVA to ready the station from the Nauka and European arm. While Glover, Noguchi and Rubins all went out to ready the station for new solar panels. Rubins has now spent over a day in EVA. Ryzhikov is a few days short of spending a year in space in total.

SpaceX Quickies

Planning permission for SpaceX 469 feet tall launch tower to lift its new rocket and booster on the launch mount, and to catch the super-heavy booster upon return from launch. The tower will be constructed out of structural steel trusses to allow the mechanical arms to lift vehicles.

SpaceX has given up on catching fairing as it appears that it’s just not worth it to catch them in the nets,

MEV-2 (Mission Extension Vehicle)

launched on 15 August 2020 on Ariane 5 to service a satellite. On 13th April 2021, the MEV successfully attached to the target satellite

Intelsat has an enormous 5.5 Tonne and fully functional Satellite that they launched in 2004, provides television services to more than 18 million households in Europe. digital broadcasting, telephone, and broadband internet access to users in Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East through its 36 Ku-band, and 70 C-band transponders. But it was running out of fuel and so would have had to be put in a graveyard orbit to avoid space debris problems and become useless, which is rubbish for something worths 100’s of millions.

MEV-2 will now do the station keeping for the Comms Sat to keep it in a proper geosynchronous orbit using its own fuel and engine (actually refuelling an old satellite is another far more difficult technique). This is the first time this has been done to an active satellite ever, building on the success of MEV-1 that dragged a defunct Intelsat satellite from graveyard to a working orbit (22,236 miles above Earth) as a demonstration. MEV-2 also provided really unique and cool images of its approach to a geosynchronous massive satellite.

These Mission extensions are very cool and the market is probably worth over 3 billion over the decade where Northrup Grumman hope to do another 75 satellites.

Ingenuity Coming up this week - The first-ever aircraft flight on another planet!!!

NASA is targeting no earlier than Monday, April 19, for the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at approximately 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT).

Data from the first flight will return to Earth a few hours following the autonomous flight. A Livestream will begin at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT), as the helicopter team prepares to receive the data downlink in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Watch on NASA Television, the agency app, website, and social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.

If the flight takes place on April 19, a postflight briefing will be held at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT).

  • Ingenuity was deployed on April 3, 2021, after landing with the rover Perseverance in the crater Jezero at Octavia E. Butler Landing on February 18, 2021, and removal of the debris shield on March 21, 2021. The same day, the small helicopter managed to take a photo of the surface of Mars which was transmitted back to Earth.

  • Ingenuity performed a low-speed rotor spin test on April 8, 2021 (mission sol 48), spinning at 50 rpm. A high-speed spin test was attempted on April 9, but failed due to the expiration of a watchdog timer, a measure to protect the helicopter from incorrect operation in unforeseen conditions. On April 12, a software update to correct the problem was announced.

  • On Wilbur Wrights Birthday, April 16, Ingenuity successfully passed the full-speed spin test. The test involved spinning its rotor blades, while still on the surface, up to full speed at around 2400 rpm for the first time on Mars.

  • A small piece of the wing covering from the Wright brothers' 1903 Wright Flyer, the first powered aircraft on Earth, is attached to a cable underneath Ingenuity's solar panel. In 1969 Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong carried a similar Wright Flyer artefact to the Moon in the Lunar Module Eagle.

  • The rover will be at least 100 m (330 ft) away from the drone to allow it a safe "buffer zone" in which it will attempt to fly

  • Ingenuity is expected to fly up to five times during its 30-day test campaign scheduled early in the rover's mission. Primarily technology demonstrations

  • each flight is planned to fly at altitudes ranging from 3–5 m (10–16 ft) above the ground. for up to 90 seconds each.

  • Ingenuity, which can travel up to 50 m (160 ft) downrange and then back to the starting area,

  • will use autonomous control during its short flights, which will be telerobotically planned and scripted by operators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It will communicate directly with the Perseverance rover after each landing

  • Inform the even more incredible Dragonfly mission to Titan!!!

Two satellites from the fast-growing constellations of OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink dodged a dangerously close approach with one another in orbit last weekend, representatives from the US Space Force and OneWeb said. It’s the first known collision avoidance event for the two rival companies as they race to expand their new broadband-beaming networks in space

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