NASA and ESA sign simple lunar exploration agreement

In what appears to be an attempt by both to maintain their working relationship, even though several major European nations have not yet signed the Artemis Accords, last week NASA and ESA signed a simple agreement reaffirming their desire to work together in exploring the Moon.

Neither ESA nor NASA published the agreement, which in a photograph appeared to be little more than one page. In a Sept. 23 statement, NASA described the agreement as a “non-binding joint statement” about current and prospective future cooperation in Artemis.

Of ESA’s members, only France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, and the United Kingdom have signed the Artemis Accords. Thus, ESA and NASA face a conundrum. According to the accords and the NASA policy established by the Trump administration and supposedly continued under Biden, only signatories can participate in the Artemis program. Yet, most of the members of ESA have not signed, and ESA has no authority to make them do so. ESA however is building the service module for the Orion capsule — as well as other major components of Artemis — which NASA must have.

I suspect this short one page agreement is the Biden administration’s under-handed admission that — when it comes to Europe — the Artemis Accords will no longer be required.

Astrobotic to build solar power grid for use by others on Moon

Astrobotic's proposed lunar electric grid

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic yesterday announced its plan to build a solar power system on the Moon, using its rovers, thus reducing the weight and cost of other projects.

The graphic to the right illustrates how the system will work. First, vertically deployed solar panels, attached to a small rover, will unfold to produce power. These can be placed in many locations, thus providing each location a source of electricity. Second, an additional rover will be linked to the panel, providing power storage and a moveable wireless charger for transferring power to a customer’s equipment.

Astrobotic plans to begin deploying and demonstrating LunaGrid elements as early as 2026 with the goal of the first operational LunaGrid by 2028 at the lunar south pole. With LunaGrid power service available, a host of science, exploration, and commercial activity can begin sustained and continuous operation.

The biggest advantage of this proposed grid concept is its scalability. To provide more power Astrobotic need only send more panels to a location. The more the merrier. And all can be built in an assembly-line manner, thus making construction very cheap and efficient.

September 16, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who trolls Twitter so I don’t have to.

CAPSTONE update: Situation improved but not resolved

Advanced Space, the company operating the CAPSTONE smallsat lunar orbiter that is on the way to the Moon, has issued a hopeful update on the efforts to regain full control of the spacecraft after it began tumbling out-of-control on September 8th.

The communications situation has dramatically improved, the power state of the spacecraft appears to be sufficient for continuous (duty cycled) heating of the propulsion system which dropped below its operational temperature, Over the past few days, CAPSTONE’s power – though limited by the orientation of the spacecraft in its spin relative to the Sun – appears to be sufficient for heating of the propulsion system. When the spacecraft propulsion system temps are at +5C for 12+ hours the system will be further evaluated for use in the recovery operation. Information on the cause of the anomaly has been obtained and is being evaluated, and recovery plans that mitigate risk of further anomalous behavior are being developed. We do not have a timeline for a recovery attempt.

It appears they have not yet done the detumble maneuver that the engineers think will bring the spacecraft back to nominal operations. However, the spacecraft appears to also be on its planned course towards the Moon, so all signs suggest a full recovery is likely.

Astrobotic acquires bankrupt Masten

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic announced this week that it has successfully purchased Masten, a bankrupt company that for almost two decades specialized in developing suborbital vertical rocket landing technology.

This acquisition will combine the workforce of the two companies, and give Astrobotic control over Masten’s test sites at Mojave. Since Astrobotic is one of the many companies with a NASA contract to build lunar landers, the experience of Masten’s workers — experienced experts in vertical rocket landings — will be immeasurable.

Update on CAPSTONE, still in safe mode

According to a detailed update from Advanced Space, the private company operating CAPSTONE for NASA, engineers have partly recovered control of the spacecraft after an anomaly had caused it to tumble and lose power.

It appears the problem that occurred on September 8th near the end of an mid-course correction engine burn was more serious that NASA initially revealed. CAPSTONE was tumbling out-of-control, its use of power was exceeding the power the solar panels were generating (draining its batteries), and the computer was periodically rebooting.

Since then engineers at Advanced have managed to stabilize the tumbling so that the spacecraft’s batteries were gaining power rather than losing it. Communications were re-established and the computer was also stabilized so that the spacecraft was able to get into a good safe mode. It remains however in a poor orientation that limits communications, power, and prevents proper operations.

While work is ongoing to diagnose the cause of the anomaly, the team is preparing the spacecraft to attempt a detumble operation to regain attitude control of the vehicle. This detumble operation was successfully demonstrated after separation from the launch vehicle in July. A successful detumble will result in the vehicle resuming control of its orientation, orienting the solar panels to the Sun to fully charge the batteries of the power used during the detumble. The spacecraft will then orient to the ground and await further instructions.

When this operation will occur was not stated, but it certainly will take place as soon as possible.

September 12, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of stringer Jay.

CAPSTONE in safe mode

The lunar orbiter CAPSTONE, presently on its way to the Moon, went into safe mode on September 8th at the end of a mid-course correction engine burn.

The CAPSTONE mission team has good knowledge of the state and status of the spacecraft. The mission operations team is in contact with the spacecraft and working towards a solution with support from the Deep Space Network.

Under such conditions engineers almost always recover the spacecraft so that the mission proceeds as normal. No guarantees of course, but it is not unreasonable to expect the same with CAPSTONE.

Russia confirms Luna-25 delayed till next year

The landing area for Luna-25
The landing zone for Luna-25 at Boguslawsky Crater

The head of Roscosmos, Yury Borisov, confirmed yesterday that the launch of Russia’s first lunar science probe since the 1970s has been delayed until 2023.

The Doppler speed and distance sensor made by the Vega Concern owned by the Rostech State Corporation, that could guarantee a soft landing, underperformed in terms of measurement precision, a source in the space industry told TASS in July. The launch will likely be postponed until 2023, the source added.

Russian sources had indicated in July that this delay was likely. Yesterday’s announcement merely made it certain.

This project has been under development for almost a quarter of century, which appears to be the average development time for government-run projects, whether in Russia or in the U.S. Just long enough to provide an almost entire career for bureaucrats.

Axiom chosen by NASA to build first Artemis moonsuits

Capitalism in space: NASA today awarded Axiom the contract to build the moonsuits the astronauts will use on the first lunar landing of its Artemis program, dubbed Artemis-3.

After reviewing proposals from its two eligible spacesuit vendors, NASA selected Axiom Space for the task order, which has a base value of $228.5 million. A future task order will be competed for recurring spacesuit services to support subsequent Artemis missions.

The contract award continues NASA shift from its failed spacesuit effort — taking fourteen years and a billion dollars to produce nothing — to hiring the private sector to do it.

Previously NASA had awarded contracts to both Axiom and Collins Aerospace to build spacesuits, either for spacewalks or on the Moon. Today’s award is specifically for moonsuits for that first lunar mission.

South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter successfully makes course correction

On September 2nd engineers for South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter successfully completed a major course correction, firing its engines to adjust its path towards the Moon.

The science ministry announced Sept. 4 that the maneuver was so successful that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), which controls the spacecraft called Danuri, has decided to skip an additional correction maneuver planned for Sept. 16.

It will reach lunar orbit on December 16th, then make five more orbital adjustments before reaching its science orbit in January. While the spacecraft has instruments from both South Korea and the U.S. for studying the lunar surface, its main goal is to teach South Korea engineers and scientists how to do this.

NASA describes Starship’s first unmanned test lunar landing

In a briefing focused on the science that could be placed on the mission, a NASA official yesterday provided a status update of SpaceX’s first unmanned test flight by Starship to the Moon.

First, the official revealed that NASA is only requiring SpaceX to demonstrate a successful landing. Take-off will not be required. Also,

Starship is not designed to fly directly to the Moon like NASA’s Space Launch System, however. Instead, the first stage puts it only in Earth orbit. To go further, it must fill up with propellant at a yet-to-be-built orbiting fuel depot. Other Starships are needed to deliver propellant to the depot.

Watson-Morgan described the Concept of Operations for Starship’s Artemis III mission, starting with launch of the fuel depot, then a number of “propellant aggregation” launches to fill up the depot, then launch of the Starship that will go to Moon.

Previously SpaceX suggested that the ship would be directly refueled by subsequent Starships, with no middle-man fueling depot. It could be either engineering had made the depot necessary, or NASA politics have insisted upon it.

Finally, the talk outlined the elevator SpaceX is developing to lower the astronauts and equipment to the ground from Starship’s top.

August 22, 2022 Quick space links

From BtB’s stringer Jay:

NASA lists 13 candidate landing sites for Artemis-3 manned mission

Candidate landing sites for Artemis-3
Click for original image.

NASA yesterday revealed its first preliminary list of thirteen candidate landing sites for the Artemis-3 manned mission, the first manned mission the agency wants to send to the Moon in 2026.

The image to the right, reduced, enhanced, and annotated by me to post here, shows these thirteen zones in blue. I have added the red dot to mark what I understand to be the planned landing zone of Viper, an unmanned rover that NASA hopes to launch by ’23 at the latest. From the press release:

The team identified regions that can fulfill the moonwalk objective by ensuring proximity to permanently shadowed regions, and also factored in other lighting conditions. All 13 regions contain sites that provide continuous access to sunlight throughout a 6.5-day period – the planned duration of the Artemis III surface mission. Access to sunlight is critical for a long-term stay at the Moon because it provides a power source and minimizes temperature variations.

Note that this mission will land a Starship with crew at this South Pole region. That spacecraft’s large payload capacity likely means that it could conceivably leave behind supplementary supplies for a follow-up next mission, and thus speed up development of the first lunar base.

August 18, 2022 Quick space links

As stringer Jay correctly noted to me in an email today, “Slow news day.” None of the stories below merit a full post, even though they are pretty much all of today’s space news.

Astrobotic makes bid to buy assets of bankrupt Masten

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, a startup focused on building lunar and planetary unmanned landers, has now made a formal bid to buy the remaining assets of Masten Space Systems, which had also been a startup focused on planetary missions but recently went bankrupt.

In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Delaware Aug. 14, Masten said it received a “stalking horse” bid of $4.2 million for Masten’s assets, including a SpaceX launch credit worth $14 million, from Astrobotic. The agreement, in effect, sets a minimum price for the sale of those assets but does not prevent Masten from seeking higher bids through an auction process that runs through early September.

The agreement appears to supersede an earlier agreement between Masten and a third lunar lander company, Intuitive Machines, included in Masten’s Chapter 11 filing July 28. That agreement covered the SpaceX launch credits alone and Masten did not disclose the value of it in its original filing.

Masten’s long term specialty has been vertical take-off and landing, something it has successfully done for the last several years on suborbital flights. This technology would be of great value to both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines in developing their own first lunar landers.

Study: The Moon’s poles might not be the only places to find lunar water

Global map of hydrogen abundances on Moon
Click for full image.

According to a new study published in June in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, while the lunar poles might contain water ice in permanently shadowed craters — based on detected hydrogen abundances — there is an even higher concentration of hydrogen found in the Aristarchus Plateau region in the lower mid-latitudes.

The map to the right is figure 9 from the paper, annotated to post here, showing the Moon’s hydrogen abundances globally, with lighter areas having higher concentrations. The boxes indicate five lunar regions that appear to hold higher levels of hydrogen and thus might contain higher amounts of water. From the paper’s conclusions:

The bulk hydrogen map also led to the first identification of bulk hydrogen enhancements within a pyroclastic deposit (Aristarchus Plateau), an identification that corroborates previous suggestions that hydrogen was among the volatiles involved in the eruption and emplacement of pyroclastic deposits. Further, with the understanding that there are enhanced bulk hydrogen abundances within at least one pyroclastic deposit and not just a surface enhancement, this leads to the implication that the hydrogen contained within just the Aristarchus Plateau may represent a significant fraction of the hydrogen that exists in the Moon’s near-subsurface, including that at both lunar poles. [emphasis mine]

It is important to note that finding high hydrogen abundances does not automatically mean you have found water. For hydrogen to exist on the Moon the atom must be bound in a molecule, and usually water is chosen as the most likely candidate. In the case of Aristarchus, however, the paper instead suggests that hydrogen was placed there as pyroclastic deposits, when active volcanism was occurring a long time ago. While water ice might not be present now in these regions, the data also suggests that water played a major role in its formation.

These hydrogen abundances however also signal the faint possibility of that water ice might be buried here, below the surface, left over from those early volcanic processes. The data also suggests even if the hydrogen is bound in other materials, mining and processing might be able to extract water from it.

Hyundai signs deal with South Korean government research agencies to develop lunar rovers

Capitalism in space: Hyundai today signed an agreement with six different South Korean government research agencies to develop a lunar rover on which those agencies can place their science instruments.

The government-funded research institutes to take part in this joint research are Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and Korea Automotive Technology Institute.

This deal is apparently part of South Korea’s effort to expand its space capabilities, with the government directing and funding the program. This deal also suggests that the government there is also emulating the U.S. approach and using the country’s industry to make it happen.

Draper wins NASA contract to put a lander on the Moon’s far side

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded a $73 million contract to the space company Draper to place a lander on the Moon’s far side by 2025.

The lander, called SERIES-2 by Draper, will deliver to Schrödinger Basin three experiments to collect seismic data, measure the heat flow and electrical conductivity of the lunar subsurface and measure electromagnetic phenomena created by the interaction of the solar wind and plasma with the lunar surface.

The mission is the eighth NASA has awarded to date as part of CLPS, but the first to go to the lunar farside. The only mission by any country to land on the far side of the moon is China’s Chang’e-4 mission, which successfully landed in Von Kármán Crater in January 2019 and deployed the Yutu 2 rover that remains operational today.

With this award, there are presently five American companies with contracts to put landers on the Moon, Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic, Firefly, and Masten. Masten however shut down operations recently. This new contract to Draper for almost the exact same amount that had been awarded to Masten appears to replace Masten in the program.

NASA sets tentative launch date for SLS

NASA yesterday announced that it is targeting August 29, 2022 for the first unmanned launch of its SLS rocket.

NASA is tentatively targeting Aug. 29 for the long-awaited maiden flight of the agency’s huge Space Launch System moon rocket, officials said Wednesday. But they cautioned major challenges remain for the oft-delayed rocket and an official date will not be set until later.

As it stands, the launch processing schedule is extremely tight and depends on successful checkout of a repaired hydrogen line fitting, good results from end-to-end pre-flight checks of the rocket’s myriad other systems and getting everything done in time to haul it back out to the launch pad by around Aug. 18.

If any delays occur, this launch window extends until September 6th. If they can’t make that date, the next launch window opens on September 19th.

The mission, to send the Orion capsule around the Moon and back, would last 42 days and if launched as planned would return October 10th.

The announcement also slipped in this tidbit:

If the initial test flight goes well, NASA plans to launch four astronauts atop the second SLS rocket for an around-the-moon shakedown flight in 2024 — Artemis 2 — before sending the first woman and the first person of color to a landing near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026 as part of the Artemis 3 mission. [emphasis mine]

This I think is the first time NASA officials have hinted that the launch might be delayed to ’26. It is no surprise, but as they have always done with SLS, they give these hints softly, prepping the press so that it doesn’t make news.

As for the disgraceful unseemly focus on race and sex, it appears that NASA is now an apartheid state. The make-up of missions will no longer be determined by skill and experience, but by ethnic considerations, with favoritism always given to minorities or women.

Van Johnson – Flim Flam Floo

An evening pause: This song comes from the first full television movie, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, first aired on NBC in 1957, and then subsequently re-aired almost yearly for the next decade. If you want to watch it, it is available on the internet archive here.

I post it today because it is a perfect expression of the hopeful culture of the 1960s that made possible the Apollo 11 lunar landing that occurred fifty-three years ago today. As the song says, “The world is filled with wonderment and magic,” and then insists “You can find the beauty in all you perceive/Just believe that it’s there in view.”

I recently rediscovered this movie of my childhood, and was astonished to discover that though I hadn’t heard this song in more than fifty years, I remembered its message as if I had only watched it yesterday. Its message was what my parent’s generation believed, and tried with all their might to pass on to their children. Their belief made the Apollo 11 landing possible. Sadly, most of my baby boomer generation decided to reject this hopeful vision, thus producing the increasingly gloomy society we have today.

Let us work to recapture that wonder and hope. Only then can our children breathe free to achieve some true wonders of their own.

Thanks to Wayne Devette for clipping this song from the full movie for me.

Ispace now aiming for a November ’22 launch of its lunar lander

Capitalism in space: The private Japanese company Ispace today announced that it is targeting November 2022 for the launch of its Hakuto-R lunar lander, carrying commercial as well as governmental payloads.

The launch will be on a Falcon 9 rocket. The payload includes two small rovers, one built by Ispace and a second, Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rashid has already been delivered to SpaceX. This announcement indicates that Hakuto-R is on schedule for delivery in time for that November launch.

Both rovers are engineering tests, and will are expected to only function on the Moon for one lunar day.

Russia may delay its Luna-25 lander again

The landing area for Luna-25
The landing zone for Luna-25 at Boguslawsky Crater

According to Russia’s state run media, Roscosmos is considering delaying its Luna-25 lander again from September ’22 to sometime next year because of recently discovered issues with its landing system.

The launch of Russia’s lunar mission Luna 25 will most likely be pushed back to 2023 at the earliest because recent tests of its soft-landing device showed it failed to meet requirements, two sources in the space industry told TASS.

The Doppler speed and distance sensor made by the Vega Concern, part of the Rostech State Corporation, was tested in May and June and underperformed in terms of measurement precision, the sources said. The current precision would give 80% probability of a successful landing while the desired specifications call for a higher probability, which means either the device or the landing plan will have to be reworked.

The launch of this lunar lander has been delayed repeatedly, though the recently deposed head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, had said as recently as late May that the September launch date was firm. It could very well be that with his removal the new head, Yuri Borisov, took another look and decided this new delay was necessary.

NASA delays launch of its VIPER lunar rover to over concerns about commercial lander

VIPER's planned route on the Moon
VIPER’s planned route at the Moon’s south pole

In order to do more engineering tests of Astrobotic’s Griffin lunar lander, NASA has now delayed the launch of its VIPER lunar rover from November 2023 to November 2024.

NASA’s decision to pursue a 2024 delivery date results from the agency’s request to Astrobotic for additional ground testing of the company’s Griffin lunar lander, which will deliver VIPER to the lunar surface through CLPS. The additional tests aim to reduce the overall risk to VIPER’s delivery to the Moon. To complete the additional NASA-mandated tests of the Griffin lunar lander, an additional $67.8 million has been added to Astrobotic’s CLPS contract, which now totals $320.4 million.

Though the press release makes no mention of it, the launch of Astrobotic’s Griffin lander is partly dependent on the launch of Astrobotic’s first and smaller lunar lander, Peregrine, which was originally supposed to fly on the inaugural flight of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, in 2021. That rocket’s first flight however has been delayed repeatedly because of delays by Blue Origin in completing development of the BE-4 rocket engine, to be used in Vulcan’s first stage. It is presently scheduled for early 2023, but that date remains tentative. This new delay of Griffin could be to make sure Peregrine flies first.

Regardless, this new budget increase means that the budget for Griffin has experienced a 62% cost overrun from its original $199 million number. This large increase in what is supposed to be a fixed price contract suggests that Astrobotic has been having some problems unstated by NASA, despite an inspector general report [pdf] that said all was going reasonably well.

Masten lays off staff, apparently shuts down

Capitalism in space: The small lunar lander company Masten Space Systems, which for years has worked to develop vertical rocket landing technology and has a $75.9 million contract with NASA to put a rover on the Moon, has apparently furloughed its staff and shut down operations.

The XL-1 lander was originally scheduled to launch in December 2022 bound for a landing at the moon’s south pole. In June 2021, Masten announced an 11-month launch delay to November 2023. The company said the delay was caused by industry-wide supply chain disruptions and the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

CLPS partners are expected to supplement NASA mission funding by carrying payloads for other parties. The source who requested anonymity said that is where Masten’s mission ran into problems. “We ran out of money after grossly underbidding. The estimate was $105 million but I was told that we had found a 30 million dollar private customer who wanted to fly with us,” the source said.

However, that customer later pulled out the venture. Subsequent attempts to fill the gap failed, the source added.

Masten is one of four companies with similar NASA lunar lander contracts. The others, Astrobotic, Firefly, and Intuitive Machines, all have scheduled missions planned, all of which however have been delayed for a variety of reasons.

CAPSTONE completes mid-course correction

Engineers at Advanced Space today successfully completed CAPSTONE’s first mid-course correction, following a quick investigation that determined why communications with the probe was lost for almost a full day.

The communications blackout was apparently due to software issues and human error.

During [in-flight] commissioning of NASA’s CAPSTONE (short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) spacecraft, the Deep Space Network team noted inconsistent ranging data. While investigating this, the spacecraft operations team attempted to access diagnostic data on the spacecraft’s radio and sent an improperly formatted command that made the radio inoperable. The spacecraft fault detection system should have immediately rebooted the radio but did not because of a fault in the spacecraft flight software.

CAPSTONE’s autonomous flight software system eventually cleared the fault and brought the spacecraft back into communication with the ground, allowing the team to implement recovery procedures and begin commanding the spacecraft again.

All looks good for a November 13, 2022 arrival in lunar orbit.

Having regained communications with CAPSTONE, engineers prepare for first mid-course burn

Engineers are now preparing CAPSTONE for its first first mid-course engine burn, slightly late due to a loss of communications during the past two days.

The spacecraft is in good health and functioning properly.

The CAPSTONE team is still actively working to fully establish the root cause of the issue. Ground-based testing suggests the issue was triggered during commissioning activities of the communications system. The team will continue to evaluate the data leading up to the communications issue and monitor CAPSTONE’s status.

If all goes well, that engine burn will occur as early as 11:30 am (Eastern) on July 7th.

South Korea ships its first lunar orbiter to U.S. for August launch

The new colonial movement: South Korea today packed and shipped its first lunar orbiter, dubbed Danuri, to the United States for an August 3, 2022 launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, Danuri was sent from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, to Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, in a specially designed container. The orbiter will be flown to Orlando International Airport and arrive at the Floridian space center Thursday. It will later undergo maintenance, assembly and other pre-launch preparations for about a month before launch.

If all goes right, Danuri will orbit the Moon for a year, both testing its own technology as well as observing the lunar surface.

Rocket Lab’s Photon completes course corrections, deploys CAPSTONE to Moon

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage successfully completed its seventh engine burn, putting NASA’s cubesat test lunar orbital on a path toward the Moon.

Following its launch on June 28, CAPSTONE orbited Earth attached to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage, which maneuvered CAPSTONE into position for its journey to the Moon. Over the past six days, Photon’s engines fired seven times at key moments to raise the orbit’s highest point to around 810,000 miles from Earth before releasing the CAPSTONE CubeSat on its ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon. The spacecraft is now being flown by the teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital. [emphasis mine]

From here on out CAPSTONE will use its own tiny thrusters to do any course corrections as it heads for an arrival in lunar orbit on November 13, 2022.

The highlighted words in the quote above are significant in and of themselves. The spacecraft is not being operated by NASA. In fact, other than paying for it, NASA has little to do with CAPSTONE. It was designed and built by Terran Orbital. It was launched by Rocket Lab. And it is now being controlled by Advanced Space, a private commercial company focused on providing in-space operations for others.

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