“Incident” that Occurred During Loading Pushes the Webb Launch Date to Dec. 22nd

At Europe’s Spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, technicians are busy getting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ready for launch. The observatory arrived at the facility on Oct. 12th and was placed inside the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry it to space on Nov. 11th. The upper stage was then hoisted high above the core stage and boosters so that a team of engineers could integrate them.

Unfortunately, an “incident” occurred shortly after when the engineers attempted to attach the upper stage to the launch vehicle adapter (LVA) to the launch vehicle. According to a NASA Blogs post, the incident involved the sudden release of a clamp band (which secures the JWST to the LVA), which sent vibrations throughout the observatory. According to NASA, this incident could push the JWST’s launch date (slated for Dec. 18th) to Dec. 22nd.

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There’s Enough Oxygen in the Lunar Regolith to Support Billions of People on the Moon

When it comes to the future of space exploration, a handful of practices are essential for mission planners. Foremost among them is the concept of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), providing food, water, construction materials, and other vital elements using local resources. And when it comes to missions destined for the Moon and Mars in the coming years, the ability to harvest ice, regolith, and other elements are crucial to mission success.

In preparation for the Artemis missions, NASA planners are focused on finding the optimal way to produce oxygen gas (O2) from all of the elemental oxygen locked up in the Moon’s surface dust (aka. lunar regolith). In fact, current estimates indicate that there is enough elemental oxygen contained in the top ten meters (33 feet) of lunar regolith to create enough O2 for every person on Earth for the next 100,000 years – more than enough for a lunar settlement!

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Court Turns Down Blue Origin’s Attempt to Prevent SpaceX’s Lander Contract

For months, the commercial space sector has waited for a pivotal case to be resolved. This was none other than the legal action filed by Blue Origin in response to NASA selecting SpaceX to execute the Human Landing System (HLS) contract worth $2.9 billion. This system is a vital piece of the Artemis Program mission architecture, which will be used in the coming years to transport crew and cargo to the lunar surface.

In a recently-announced decision, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims officially shot Blue Origin’s protest down. This puts an end to nearly seven months of legal proceedings and gridlock following SpaceX’s selection back in April. While this means that SpaceX can get back to developing their concept – the Starship HLS – in preparation for the Artemis III missions, it is unclear if that mission will happen on schedule.

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Artemis 1 Comes Together as the Orion Capsule is Stacked on Top of the Space Launch System

Since 2004, NASA has been working on the launch system that will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. These efforts bore fruit in 2011 with the proposed Space Launch System (SLS), the heaviest and most powerful rocket since the Saturn V. Paired with the Orion spacecraft, this vehicle will be the workhorse of a new space architecture that would establish a program of sustained lunar exploration and even crewed missions to Mars.

Due to repeated delays, cost overruns, and the expedited timeframe for Project Artemis, there have been serious doubts that the SLS will be ready in time. Luckily, ground crews and engineers at NASA’s Launch Control Center (LCC) – part of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – recently finished stacking the Artemis I mission. The vehicle is now in the final phase of preparations for this uncrewed circumlunar flight in February 2022.

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How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars

Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.”

With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future robotic missions to Mars. These would reduce these missions’ “bioburden” requirements, which are designed to prevent the unintentional contamination of the Red Planet with Earth-based organisms. Specifically, the report considers how Earth organisms would interfere with searches for indigenous life on the planet.

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Nancy Grace Roman Just Passed a Critical Design Review

By 2027, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope – or Roman Space Telescope (RST), for short – will take to space and build on the legacy of the venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Combing a large primary mirror, a camera as sensitive as its predecessors, and next-generation surveying capabilities, Roman will have the power of “One-Hundred Hubbles.” It’s little wonder then why the telescope is named after Dr. Roman (1925 – 2018), NASA’s first Chief Astronomer and the “Mother of Hubble.”

As part of its journey towards realization, this next-generation space telescope recently passed a crucial milestone. This would be the all-important Mission Critical Design Review (CDR), signaling that all design and developmental engineering work is complete. With this milestone reached, the next-generation space telescope is now ready to move from the conceptual stage into the fabrication and assembly phase.

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Communication With Mars is About to Become Impossible (for two Weeks)

Every two years, Mars enters what is known as a “Solar Conjunction,” where its orbit takes it behind the Sun relative to Earth. During these periods, the hot plasma regularly expelled by the Sun’s corona can cause interference with radio signals transmitted between Earth and Mars. To avoid signal corruption and the unexpected behaviors that could result, NASA and other space agencies declare a moratorium on communications for two weeks.

What this means is that between Oct. 2nd and Oct. 16th, all of NASA’s Mars missions will experiencing what is known as a “commanding moratorium.” This will consist of NASA sending a series of simple commands to its missions in orbit, which will then be dispatched to landers and rovers on the surface. These simple tasks will keep all of the robotic Martian explorers busy until regular communications can be established.

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NASA’s Human Space Exploration Division is Being Split in Two

Large government organizations require lots of people to run them.  NASA is no exception.  America’s space agency has long been under pressure to organizationally support its ongoing Artemis program to return to the moon. Now, it has taken a step in that direction by announcing that its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will split into two new ones: the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate and the Space Operations Missions Directorate.

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How Much Carbon Dioxide Snow Falls Every Winter on Mars?

Like Earth, Mars experiences climatic variations during the course of a year because of the obliquity of its rotational axis. This leads to the annual deposition/sublimation of the CO2 ice/snow, which results in the formation of the seasonal polar caps. Similarly, these variations in temperature result in interaction between the atmosphere and the polar ice caps, which has a seasonal effect on surface features.

On Mars, however, things work a little differently. In addition to water ice, a significant percentage of the Martian polar ice caps are made up of frozen carbon dioxide (“dry ice”). Recently, an international team of scientists used data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) mission to measure how the planet’s polar ice caps grow and recede annually. Their results could provide new insights into how the Martian climate varies due to seasonal change.

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The Future Could Bring Pinpoint Deliveries From Orbit

Since the dawn of the Space Age, considerable progress has been made with launch vehicles. From single stage to multistage rockets and spaceplanes to reusable launch vehicles, we have become very good at sending payloads to space. But when it comes to returning payloads to Earth, our methods really haven’t evolved much at all. Some seventy years later, we are still relying on air friction, heatshields, and parachutes and landing at sea more often than not.

Luckily, there are many solutions that NASA and commercial space companies are currently investigating. For example, SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc (SEI) is currently working on an orbital delivery system known as Reentry Device (RED) capsules. With support provided by NASA, they are gearing up for a test run this October where one of their capsules gets dropped from an altitude of 30 km (19 mi).

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