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.

ISRO chief: India’s manned mission will be delayed

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO revealed during a press conference following yesterday’s PSLV launch that he is delaying by one or two years Gaganyaan manned mission.

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Chairman S Somanath on Thursday said the launch of the ambitious Gaganyaan mission, the country’s first manned space flight, cannot happen this year or next year as the agency is keen to ensure that all safety systems are in place.

Somanth’s comments confirm an earlier report. It appears he wants the agency to do at least two unmanned tests of the spacecraft’s crew abort system. He also want further tests of the GSLV rocket that will launch the manned capsule.

Somanth also indicated that India’s next attempt to land a rover on the Moon, Chandrayaan-3, might also be delayed from the presently scheduled August ’22 target launch as they review the lander’s systems.

Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage completes 3rd of 7 engine firings to get CAPSTONE to Moon

Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage has now successfully completed the third of seven planned engine burns designed to slowly raise the Earth orbit of NASA’s experimental lunar cubesat CAPSTONE so that it can eventually be sent towards the Moon.

Lunar Photon’s HyperCurie engine will perform a series of orbit raising maneuvers by igniting periodically to increase Photon’s velocity, stretching its orbit into a prominent ellipse around Earth. Six days after launch, HyperCurie will ignite one final time, accelerating Photon Lunar to 24,500 mph (39,500 km/h) and setting it on a ballistic lunar transfer. Within 20 minutes of this final burn, Photon will release CAPSTONE into space for the first leg of the CubeSat’s solo flight. CAPSTONE’s journey to NRHO is expected to take around four months from this point. Assisted by the Sun’s gravity, CAPSTONE will reach a distance of 963,000 miles from Earth – more than three times the distance between Earth and the Moon – before being pulled back towards the Earth-Moon system.

Once in lunar orbit, CAPSTONE will be used to both test operations in that orbit (similar to the one NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station will use) while also demonstrating the use of a cubesat on an interplanetary mission.

LRO scientists locate impact on Moon from rocket stage believed to be Chinese

Impact, before and after

The science team for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) today released images identifying the location on the Moon where a mystery rocket stage crashed in March 2022.

The image to the right shows the before and after LRO images, with the impact at the center of the second photo, showing as two superimposed craters. Since the sunlight in the second image come from the opposition direction as the first, the shadows in all previously existing craters are reversed.

Surprisingly the crater is actually two craters, an eastern crater [59 feet diameter] superimposed on a western crater [52 feet diameter]. The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end. Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may help to indicate its identity.

No other rocket body impacts on the Moon created double craters. The four Apollo SIV-B craters were somewhat irregular in outline (Apollos 13, 14, 15, 17) and were substantially larger [>115 feet in diameter] than each of the double craters. The maximum width [95 feet] of the double crater of the mystery rocket body was near that of the S-IVBs.

Though the evidence strongly points to this stage being from China, that fact is not certain, and China denies that conclusion.

Regardless, the unexpected double nature of the impact only increases the mystery, as it suggests that rocket stage had a mass distribution different than past stages.

UAE’s Rashid lunar rover getting ready for November launch

The new colonial movement: Engineers have now delivered the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first lunar rover, Rashid, to France for testing and preparation for its early November launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The 10-kilogram rover will now spend a few weeks in Toulouse for vibration and thermal vacuum testing, a series of final checks to ensure it can survive the extreme environment during a rocket launch and spaceflight. It will then be moved to Germany, so it can be integrated with a Japanese lander, called Hakuto-R Mission 1, built by private company ispace inc, which will deliver the rover to the lunar surface.

Once completed, it will be shipped to the launch site in Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre in September.

Unlike the UAE’s Al-Amal Mars orbiter — which was mostly built in the U.S. by American companies and universities as part of a training program for UAE citizens, Rashid appears to have largely built in the UAE by those engineers.

U.S. and Japan agree to send Japanese astronaut to Gateway and the Moon

In a deal negotiated for signing this week while President Biden was in Japan, the United States and Japan have agreed to send a Japanese astronaut on a mission to the Lunar Gateway station, as well as begin planning for a Japanese astronaut to land on the Moon, all part of the Artemis program.

The agreement also confirmed the exchange of material from the countries’ two sample return asteroid missions, Hayabusa-2 and OSIRIS-REx.

None of this is a surprise. Not only was Japan one of the first to sign the Artemis Accords, Japanese subcontractors are already providing some of the life support equipment for Gateway.

Scientists grow plants in lunar soil brought by from Apollo missions

In their first attempt, scientists have successfully grown plants in a small lunar soil sample brought by astronauts during the Apollo missions.

Researchers at the University of Florida had spent 11 years requesting permission from Nasa to borrow some of the lunar dust brought back by astronauts on the first manned Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions in 1969 and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Armstrong and Aldrin brought back 21.6kg of material including 50 rocks, samples of dust and two cores of rock after boring 13cm down into the Moon’s surface. They contained no water and no signs of life.

…The lunar samples are deemed to be of “incalculable historical and scientific significance”, so the scientists were given only 12 grams, just a few teaspoons’ full, to work with and had to design a miniature experiment.

The researchers used thimble-sized wells in a dish usually used for growing cells as miniature plant pots and filled each with about one gram of lunar soil. They moistened the soil with water and a solution of nutrients and added a small number of seeds from the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, a common flowering weed also known as mouse-ear or thale cress. [emphasis mine]

The plants grew, but were smaller and took longer to grow then plants on even the most extreme environments on Earth. The scientists also found that plants did better in buried lunar soil then the material on the surface that had been exposed to the harsh radiation of space, suggesting that plowing the soil before planting will enhance growth.

The highlighted words in the quote above illustrate the madness of NASA’s bureaucracy. These lunar samples were brought back so that scientists could study it, not so that it could be locked away in a vault forever never to be touched. To make this very intelligence experiment wait 11 years before getting permission is absurd.

CAPSTONE Moon satellite shipped to New Zealand by Terran Orbital

Capitalism in space: Terran Orbital has completed construction of the CAPSTONE Moon smallsat and has now had it shipped to New Zealand for its launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket no earlier than May 27th.

Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, built the spacecraft for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE. The 12U CubeSat includes a radio tower on top that extends its size from a traditional 12U form factor.

CAPSTONE will not go directly to the Moon but instead, follow a “ballistic lunar transfer” that will take it out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning into lunar orbit. That transfer, which will take about four months to complete, is designed to save propellant, making the mission feasible for such a small spacecraft. The CAPSTONE payload and its software are owned and operated by Advanced Space for NASA.

CAPSTONE will use Rocket Lab’s Proton upper stage to get it to the Moon. It will then test maneuvering as well as communicating in the lunar halo orbit that NASA wants to use with its Lunar Gateway space station. It will also be proving out the use of this kind of smallsat for future interplanetary missions.

Lunar samples from Chang’e-5 confirm fuel and oxygen can be mined from surface

Chinese scientists studying the lunar samples returned by Chang’e-5 probe have confirmed earlier studies of Apollo lunar samples that it is possible to extract oxygen and fuel from the Moon’s soil.

After analyzing the Chang’e-5 lunar soil, the team found the sample contains iron-rich and titanium-rich substances, which could work as a catalyst to make oxygen using sunlight and carbon dioxide.

The team proposed a strategy using lunar soil to electrolyze water from the moon and the astronauts’ life support system into oxygen and hydrogen. The process is powered by sunlight. The carbon dioxide exhaled by moon inhabitants can be collected and combined with hydrogen to yield the fuel methane, also catalyzed by lunar soil, according to the study. With this method, no external energy apart from sunlight would be used to produce oxygen and fuel to support life on a moon base, said the researchers.

What is new about these results are the proposed techniques and components used to make the process practical. The science team is now proposing testing it on future Chinese Moon missions

Rogozin: Expect delays for future Russian lunar probes

China/Russian Lunar base roadmap
The so-called Chinese-Russian partnership to explore
the Moon.

According to a statement by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, yesterday in the Russian state-run press, the launch of two unmanned probes to the Moon, Luna-26 and Luna-27, are likely to be postponed due to “the current circumstances.”

“As for the Luna-26 lunar orbiter and the Luna-27 heavy lander mission, possibly, it will be adjusted taking into account that in the current situation we will be spending the main financial and industrial resources on increasing the orbital group. Now it is more important,” the space chief emphasized.

The Roscosmos CEO also asked for understanding if the mission is postponed. “Science is very important but now we are talking about the viability of Russia’s orbital group, about bringing it to a new level, its work as a group of double and military designation. Yet we are not postponing the lunar missions for long,” he added.

Rogozin added that Luna-25, scheduled for launch this year, has not been postponed.

Apparently the more than $1 billion of income that Roscosmos has lost by its refusal to launch OneWeb’s satellites is forcing it to make choices. For the government, the priority has to be launching communications, weather, navigation, and military surveillance satellites. Being tight on cash, Rogozin thus has no recourse but to favor those launches over any purely science missions.

This decision also demonstrates that Russia’s so-called partnership with China to explore the Moon, as shown in the graphic to the right that was released by China and Russia in June 2021, is pure hogwash. as I noted then:

Of the three Russian missions, Luna 25 is scheduled to launch later this year, making it the first all-Russian-built planetary mission in years and the first back to the Moon since the 1970s. The other two Russian probes [Luna-26 and Luna-27] are supposedly under development, but based on Russia’s recent track record in the past two decades for promised space projects, we have no guarantee they will fly as scheduled, or even fly at all.

Rogozin also said yesterday that he plans further talks with China in May to further their partnership concerning lunar exploration and building a lunar base. Let me translate: “We need cash to launch anything, and hope the Chinese will provide some.”

China plans a constellation of communications/GPS-type satellites around Moon

The new colonial movement: According to a statement by one Chinese official on April 24th, China now plans to launch a constellation of communications/GPS-type satellites that will orbit the Moon and provide support for its unmanned and manned missions to the surface.

China will take the lead in demonstrating a small, lunar relay communication and navigation system, Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), told Chinese media on April 24. The first launch for the small constellation could take place in 2023 or 2024, according to Wu, who added that countries around the world are welcome to jointly build it.

That first launch will likely be a relay satellite to support the first unmanned landers/rovers targeting the lunar south pole. It will also likely be the first of several satellites designed to provide service long term for China’s planned manned lunar base, what it has dubbed the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Though announced as a project partnered with Russia, expect a large bulk of the work to be done by China.

Astrobotics unveils nearly complete Peregrine lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Astrobotics yesterday unveiled its nearly complete Peregrine lunar lander, scheduled for launch later this year on the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket.

The lander is still being assembled, said John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic. Remaining work includes installation of its solar panels, two fuel tanks and decks holding payloads. The engines are “just about done,” he said, and will soon be installed.

He was optimistic that remaining work will be done quickly. “In just a couple months’ time, this will be heading out to environmental testing,” he said, followed by shipment to the launch site late this year.

This announcement now strongly suggests that Peregrine would not have been ready for Vulcan’s original launch date in late 2021. Since then the delays by Blue Origin in developing Vulcan’s first stage BE-4 engine has pushed the rocket’s first launch back by more than a year, time that apparently Astrobotics needed to finish Peregrine.

Dawn on the Moon

Dawn on the Moon's far side
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, reduced to post here, was taken on August 25, 2019 by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). It shows an oblique view looking west just after lunar dawn of an unnamed 13-mile-wide crater in Mare Moscoviense on the far side of the Moon. From the caption:

Mare Moscoviense is one of the few volcanic plains on the farside, which is largely comprised of ancient cratered highland terrain. The fact that the farside was strikingly different from the familiar nearside was a surprise when the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft returned the first farside images in 1959. The highland crust is thicker on the farside than on the nearside, which is thought to have inhibited magmas from reaching the surface as frequently as they once did on the nearside.

As seen in the image above, Mare Moscoviense lies within a large impact basin, the formation of which thinned the local crust, perhaps making it easier for lavas to erupt that would have otherwise stalled below the surface. But why does this global asymmetry in crustal thickness exist? This is still a mystery, like the origins of the large-scale asymmetries observed on Mars and Mercury, though ideas like a giant impact event that stripped off a portion of the crust or asymmetric overturn of the mantle have been proposed.

Note the dark shadow obscuring the foreground on the left. It appears from the topography in the overhead map at the link that the ridgeline that marks the eastern border of Mare Moscoviense is just high enough at dawn to keep the mare in shadow while allowing the sun’s dawn light to peek over and illuminate the crater’s rim. That ridgeline however only extends so far to the north, thus allowing sunlight to hit the plains on the right sooner.

Apollo 16 on Moon, as visualized by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 16 mission to the Moon in April 1972, scientists using images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have created a short digital visualization of the lunar surface where astronauts John Young and Charles Duke completed three different excursions across the lunar surface.

I have embedded that video below. The audio is the discussion between John Young and the capcom at mission control during the last excursion. The key moment is when John Young reaches the rim of North Ray crater, and realizes he cannot see its floor because the interior slopes are so steep.
» Read more

Europe removes its science instruments from future Russian lunar missions

The Europe Space Agency (ESA) yesterday announced that because of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine it will no longer fly any science instruments on three upcoming Russian unmanned lunar probes.

ESA will discontinue cooperative activities with Russia on Luna-25, -26 and -27. As with ExoMars, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change of circumstances and make it impossible for ESA to implement the planned lunar cooperation. However, ESA’s science and technology for these missions remains of vital importance. A second flight opportunity has already been secured on board a NASA-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission for the PROSPECT lunar drill and volatile analysis package (originally planned for Luna-27). An alternative flight opportunity to test the ESA navigation camera known as PILOT-D (originally planned for Luna-25) is already being procured from a commercial service provider.

In other words, Europe is switching to the many private American companies that are developing lunar landers for NASA science instruments. It has also signed onto a Japanese lunar mission. All have payload space, and all are willing to take the cash of a new customer.

Meanwhile, this is how Dmitry Rogozin responded to this decision:

“Good riddance! One less European dame off our backs, so Russia should go far with a lighter load,”

To sum this all up, when it comes to space, the Ukraine invasion has been Russia’s loss, and everyone else’s gain. Even if the invasion were to end today, it will take at least a decade to re-establish Russia’s business ties with the west.

Unfortunately, the invasion will cost the Ukraine as well. In making the above announcement ESA officials also said that it is looking for alternatives to the Ukrainian rocket engines used in its Vega-C upper stage.

At the news conference, ESA also discussed the future of its small Vega rocket, which relies on Ukraine-built engines in its upper stage. The engines are manufactured by the Ukrainian company Yuzhmash, which is based in the tech city of Dnipro. Although Dnipro has been under heavy bombardment, there have been no official reports so far about damage to Yuzhmash. It is, however, clear that ESA doesn’t expect to continue its partnership with the company in the future. “We now have sufficient engines for 2022 and 2023,” Aschbacher said. “We are working on options for 2024 and onwards based on different technologies.”

Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, added: “We are working on engine opportunities within Europe and outside of Europe, which are either tested or, even better, already existing and fully qualified.”

Whether ESA completely breaks off its partnership with the Ukraine however is not certain. Should the war continue to favor the Ukraine, then it could be that partnership will continue. Only time will tell. Right now, it is simply prudent for ESA to look for more stable alternatives.

Inspector General: NASA’s lunar rover VIPER mission on schedule, with some cost increases

VIPER's planned route on the Moon

According to a report [pdf] issued today by NASA’s inspector general, the agency’s VIPER lunar rover mission is generally on schedule for its ’23 launch, though it has experienced some cost increases and still carries some scheduling risks, mostly related to the development of Astrobotic’s commercial Griffin lunar lander, and its precursor Peregrine mission that ULA hopes to launch on its first Vulcan rocket test.

Although Astrobotic personnel explained that Griffin’s development schedule is largely independent of its Peregrine mission, the Peregrine Lander—planned to launch in 2022—has multiple systems and subsystems that will also be used on Griffin. Therefore, any technical problems with these systems may adversely affect development of the Griffin Lander because Astrobotic would only have about a year, depending on the Peregrine launch date and start of lunar operations, to resolve the issues prior to NASA delivering VIPER for integration and launch. Furthermore, any failures during the Peregrine mission may lead to Griffin delays as NASA and Astrobotic investigate the failures and develop corrective actions.

In addition, VIPER long-lead acquisitions—such as the rover solar power array and avionics unit—have been affected by aerospace industry supply chain delays caused by COVID-19 as have delivery of computer boards and motor parts. Both of these issues have impacted design verification testing needed for the mission’s Critical Design Review, while COVID-19 also delayed some component development schedules.

Peregrine’s launch has been delayed by a year because Vulcan has been delayed because of Blue Origin’s problems with the BE-4 rocket engine. Though ULA hopes the Vulcan/Peregrine launch can occur late this year, that date remains very much in doubt. Further launch delays would thus threaten the launch of Griffin and VIPER.

As for the cost increases, the IG found that NASA had been forced to increase the budget for VIPER by 18.1%, a relatively minor increase compared to many of NASA’s other big projects. The IG noted however that further cost overruns are very possible, especially if the Peregrine mission experiences problems.

The photo above shows the rover’s presently planned route in the relatively flat area about 85 miles from the Moon’s south pole and near the western edge of Nobile Crater (pronounced No-BEEL-e).

Europe to put instrument on Japanese rover being launched and landed on the Moon by India

The new colonial movement: The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed an agreement with Japan’s space agency JAXA to put a science instrument on a Japanese rover that will be launched by India to the Moon and landed there on an Indian lander.

Under the deal, ESA would provide instruments for the Japanese rover, which would be used in the exploration of the Moon’s south pole under the mission targeted for 2024. … The lunar endeavour between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and JAXA is called the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX) which aims to launch an Indian lander and a Japanese rover to the Moon.

In the next three years a lot of landers and rovers are planning to land on the Moon, most built by private American companies flying NASA and private payloads, but also joined by probes being sent by Russia, China, and now this Japanese-Indian-European mission. Even if only half succeed, the exploration of the lunar surface will still be quite busy.

The most valuable real estate on the Moon

The most valuable real estate on the Moon
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, reduced and annotated to post here, is an oblique view of the terrain near Shackelton Crater and the Moon’s south pole, taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and released today.

Shackleton-de Gerlache ridge, about 9 miles long, is considered one of the prime landing sites for both a manned Artemis mission as well as the unmanned Nova-C lander from the commercial company Intuitive Machines. To facilitate planning, scientists have created a very detailed geomorphic map [pdf] of this region. As explained at the first link above,

Going back to time-proven traditions of the Apollo missions, geomorphic maps at a very large scale are needed to effectively guide and inform landing site selection, traverse planning, and in-situ landscape interpretation by rovers and astronauts. We assembled a geomorphic map covering a candidate landing site on the Shackleton-de Gerlache-ridge and the adjacent rim of Shackleton crater. The map was derived from one meter per pixel NAC image mosaics and five meters per pixel digital elevation models (DEM) from Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) ranging measurements.

Such geology maps guide planning and exploration, but actual images tell us what the first explorers will see. Below is a close-up overhead view of small area at the intersection of the ridge and the rim of Shackleton.
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South Korea to build its own unmanned lunar lander

The new colonial movement: The government of South Korea has begun a project to build its own unmanned lunar lander, scheduled for launch sometime in the 2030s.

South Korea presented an action plan to develop a lunar lander weighing more than 1.5 tons that would carry out scientific research on the surface of the moon in the 2030s. The project is to begin in 2024 after a preliminary feasibility study.

The Ministry of Science and ICT would form a working group of industry-academic experts to conduct research on a lunar lander and draw up strategies and detailed plans by August 2022. It is a follow-up project to launch a lunar orbiter in August 2022. The lunar lander will be lifted by a next-generation homemade rocket.

The goal is to encourage the country’s own aerospace industry. The working group will spend the next month recruiting South Korean companies to join the project.

South Korea however has to first get its own homemade rocket, Nuri, to successfully launch. The first launch attempt in October 2021 failed, and the second has been delayed to fix the cause.

Startup Astrolab unveils its manned lunar rover design

Capitalism in space: A small startup company, Astrolab, yesterday unveiled its concept for a manned lunar rover, designed for NASA’s Artemis program.

The company has already built a full scale prototype, which it tested in Death Valley. It also intends to try to win NASA’s contract for building it, with bidding expected to begin in only a few months.

Astrolab will likely have major competition for the LTV contract. Lockheed Martin announced in May 2021 a partnership with General Motors to design lunar rovers but said at the time their concept was still in the early stages. Northrop Grumman announced in November it was working with several companies on a lunar rover design but also provided few technical details.

By contrast, Astrolab, based in Hawthorne, California, is a 15-person company founded two years ago after [Jaret Matthews, the founder of the company,] left SpaceX.

In a rational world, Astrolab’s small size and newness would not matter, if its design was best. In the strange world of our modern federal government, however, the political clout of big companies like General Motors and Northrop Grumman could easily be more important, even if their designs are mediocre and cost much more. Their designs might not be inferior, but their clout cannot be ignored. It will make Astrolab’s success far more difficult, requiring this startup to offer something much more superior to have a chance of winning.

At the same time, the competition might very well force the older big space companies to up their game, which will be all to the good, for everyone.

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