The Big Spaceflight Stories You Should be Watching in 2022

Credit: (clockwise from upper left) NASA/NASA/SpaceX/ESA/VCRO/Saggitarius A; Wikimedia/

The year 2021 was a big one as far as stories from space are concerned! From start to finish, 2021 witnessed innumerable milestones and groundbreaking missions mounted by space agencies and the commercial space industry. Among them, the long-awaited launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the arrival of the Perseverance mission, the launch of Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), multiple test flights with the Starship, and the inauguration of space tourism. There was something for everyone!

However, looking at what’s planned for the year ahead, one might get the impression that 2021 was the appetizer and 2022 is the main course! That may sound like an idle boast, but not when you consider all of the ambitious missions, programs, and developments that are scheduled and anticipated for the next twelve months! So exactly what’s in store for space in 2022? We’ve provided a helpful list below:

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NASA’s Target for Landing the First Artemis Astronauts on the Moon Slips to 2025

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Credits: SpaceX

NASA has pushed back the timetable for landing astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than a half-century from 2024 to no earlier than 2025.

Blue Origin’s unsuccessful legal challenge to a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract awarded to SpaceX was one of the factors behind the delay in the Artemis moon program, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a Nov. 9 teleconference.

Nelson also pointed to Congress’ previous decisions not to fund the lander program as fully as NASA wanted, plus delays forced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that “the Trump administration target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility.”

“After having taken a good look under the hood these past six months, it’s clear to me that the agency will need to make serious changes for the long-term success of the program,” he told reporters.

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Artemis 1 is Launching in February

It’s been a long time coming, but NASA’s next moon rocket is just months from liftoff on its first uncrewed test flight. The Space Launch System (SLS) is a super heavy-lift vehicle capable of delivering 95 tons to Low Earth Orbit, but its primary purpose will be to deliver humans to lunar orbit and, eventually, to the lunar surface. SLS has been in development since 2011, and it’s faced a series of delays, but launch day is finally within sight. Earlier this month, the rocket was fully stacked for the first time in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, and the Orion capsule (the spacecraft’s crew cabin) was attached to the top. The full stack stands an impressive 322 feet tall, just shy of the Saturn V’s 363 feet.

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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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NASA Chooses Falcon Heavy Over SLS to Launch Europa Clipper, Saving About $2 Billion

The bureaucracy of government control is slowly fading away in space exploration, at least in the US.  A series of delays, cost overruns, and imposed requirements have finally started taking its toll on the Space Launch System (SLS), the next generation NASA rocket system.  Now, the space agency has finally conceded a point to the commercial launch industry.  It has elected to use Space X’s Falcon Heavy to launch one of its upcoming flagship missions – Europa Clipper.

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NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Astronauts on the Moon!

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Credits: SpaceX

As part of the Artemis program, NASA is gearing up to send the “first woman and next man” to the Moon by 2024. Central to this is the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon, and the Orion spacecraft. But after these elements transport astronauts to Lunar orbit, they will need a lander to take them to and from the surface.

For this reason, NASA contracted a number of commercial partners to develop a Human Landing System (HLS). After much consideration, NASA announced on Friday, April 16th, that they had selected SpaceX to continue developing their concept for a lunar lander. When American astronauts return to the Moon for the first time in fifty-two years, it will be a modified version of the Starship that will bring them there.

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This Time NASA’s SLS Hotfire Goes the Full 8 Minutes

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a second hot fire test, Thursday, March 18, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The four RS-25 engines fired for the full-duration of 8 minutes during the test and generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust. The hot fire test is the final stage of the Green Run test series, a comprehensive assessment of the Space Launch System’s core stage prior to launching the Artemis I mission to the Moon. Photo Credit: (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

When NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is fully integrated, assembled, and finished with testing, it will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. To get it there, NASA has been conducting a testing campaign known as the Green Run, an 8-step assessment that culminates in a test-firing of all four of the Core’s RS-25 engines (aka. a “Hot Fire” test).

On January 16th, NASA made its first attempt at a Green Run Hot Fire test at the Stennis Space Center’s B-2 Test Stand in Mississippi, which only lasted for about one minute. Another attempt was made on Thursday, March 18th, where all four engines fired for 8 minutes and 19 seconds. This successful fire test is a crucial milestone for the SLS and brings it one step closer to sending astronauts back to the Moon.

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SLS Will be Tested Again in About 3 Weeks

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a scheduled eight minute duration hot fire test, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Credits: NASA/Robert Markowitz

In November of 2021, NASA will embark on a new era of space exploration as they make the inaugural launch of the Space Launch System (SLS). When it enters service, this booster will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V, which took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. This is fitting since the SLS will be the rocket returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024 (as part of Project Artemis).

To get the SLS ready for its first launch, NASA has been running the Core Stage through a series of tests designed to test all the systems and components of the heavy-launch system – collectively known as a “Green Run.” The next step in this process will be a second Green Run Hot Fire Test, where all four RS-25 engines on the SLS Core Stage will fire at once to show they can operate as part of a single integrated system.

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SLS Hot Fire Test Should Have Lasted 8 Minutes, Not 1

Credit: NASA/SSC

Today, at close to 04:30 PM local time (CST), NASA achieved a major milestone with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) – the heavy launch system they will use to send astronauts back to the Moon and crewed missions to Mars. As part of a Green Run Hot Fire Test, all four RS-25 engines on the SLS Core Stage were fired at once as part of the first top-to-bottom integrated test of the stage’s systems.

This test is the last hurdle in an eight-step validation process before the Core Stage can be mated with its Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and sent on its maiden voyage around the Moon (Artemis I) – which is currently scheduled to happen sometime in November of 2021.

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NASA Announces its Artemis Astronauts: 18 People Training to Fly to the Moon

Credit: NASA

In less than four years, NASA will be sending the “first woman and next man” to the Moon as part of the Artemis III mission. This will be the first time that astronauts have landed on the lunar surface since the final mission of the Apollo Program, which was Apollo 17 in 1972. After careful consideration, NASA has announced the names of the 18 astronauts that make up the Artemis Team.

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