¶NASA turns to the commercial sector for new spacesuits. NASA’s space suits are as old as the ISS itself, and are showing their age, most recently with dangerous water leaks. In 2017 and 2021, NASA OIG reports pointed fingers at NASA’s 14-year-long, $420M xEMU effort to create next-generation spacesuits and concluded that the agency would spend over $1B and would still not have suits ready for Artemis III. So the agency decided to turn to the commercial sector in a COTS-like program called xEVAS, passing over their xEMU designs, but not stipulating their use. Now two awards have been announced to teams led by Axiom Space (newcomer) and Collins Aerospace (longtime spacesuit maker), who will each develop next-generation spacesuits for NASA to lease on EVAs and eventually lunar excursions, as well as to sell to third parties (and, in the case of Axiom, to use on their own station and missions). The agency hopes this path will expedite suit development and result in suits that are ready for Artemis 3 in (hopefully) 2025. The total contract value if all orders are exercised is a whopping $3.5B through 2034. Meanwhile, SpaceX is developing its own EVA-rated pressure suit for Jared Isaacman’s Polaris Program.
Small glass globules spotted by Yutu-2 on the Moon’s far side.
¶News in brief. Starliner returned to Earth safely ● Chinese launch startup Orienspace raised a $60M Series A ● Startup Astroforge raised a $13M seed to mine near-Earth asteroids for platinum group metals—their first mission, developed by OrbAstra and booked on a Falcon 9 rideshare, will mine metal from an asteroid simulant in LEO ● Lunar Outpost raised their own $12M seed to develop a larger class of autonomous lunar rovers—their existing MAPP rover is manifested on Intuitive Machines’ second, mid-2023 CLPS lander and they have partnerships with Northrop Grumman, Made in Space Europe, and Masten Space ● Blue Origin is now assembling the flight BE-4 engines for Blue Origin’s maiden Vulcan Centaur flight ● SpaceX’s Transporter-5 (T5) delivered 59 spacecraft to orbit, mostly bundled onto three tugs: Momentus’s first Vigoride, Spaceflight’s Sherpa-AC (likely the last to launch on a SpaceX rideshare), and D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier ● Ursa Major, a dedicated engine maker, announced the development of their new, heavy-lift, reusable, methalox, staged combustion Arroway engine comparable to SpaceX’s kerosene-based Merlin 1D or the now-unavailable Russian RD-180 and RD-181 ● One of the many payloads on T5 was Outpost Mars Demo-1 from Nanoracks and Maxar, a hosted payload on T5’s second stage designed to demonstrate cutting metal in space ● Astrocale is moving forward with their ELSA-M debris removal mission in 2024 with $16M of support from the UK Space Agency via OneWeb ● The FAA delayed SpaceX’s Starship environmental review for a fifth time, this time to June 13, and released redacted community comments ● Three new crew members arrived at the CSA as part of the Shenzhou-14 mission which will oversee the addition of two new station modules during its six month duration ● China also launched 9 sats on a Long March 2C designed to provide self-driving car navigation services for Geely ● NASA is purchasing 5 more Crew Dragon flights to the ISS to “ensure redundant and backup capabilities through 2030”, Space Force bought upcoming satellite launches on ULA (5) and SpaceX (3), and the NRO awarded decade-long military intelligence contracts worth billions to Maxar, Planet, and BlackSky ● Russia launched Progress MS-20 to resupply the ISS ● After 28 successful flights (recent video from flight 25), Ingenuity is hibernating through the cold, dark Martian winter—we hope it makes it ● SLS rolled out and headed back to Launch Pad 39B for a second attempt at a full wet dress rehearsal test, currently scheduled for June 19th.
Artemis-I SLS rolls out on its 11-hour journey to Pad 39B for its second attempt at a wet dress rehearsal test.
- On this date in 1961, a ‘rocket belt’ was demonstrated publicly for the first time, carrying Harold M. Graham in a “controlled free flight to an altitude of 15 feet and a standup landing 150 feet from his starting point.” Four years later, James Bond used one.
- A quick video of Chinese Taikonaut Wang Yaping practicing Tai Chi in microgravity on CSS.
- Tim Dodd’s second new Starbase tour video with Musk. He rode to the top of the 143 m robotic rocket launching (and catching) tower and talked Starlink 2 details. SpaceX is (unsurprisingly) betting on Starship with v2 Starlink satellites both larger and heavier, at 7 m long and 1.2 tons each. This version will support 10x the data throughput of current Starlink v1.5 sats. The Starlink constellation now supports (non-moving) RVs and has nearly 500,000 global subscribers.
- Astronaut Ed Lu’s B612 Foundation, along with the University of Washington’s Institute for Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology, announced the discovery of over 100 asteroids by searching old astronomical images for undetected objects using large amounts of donated Google Cloud compute resources. Meanwhile, China continues to get more serious about planetary defense, and an international team recently simulated an imagined surprise detection of Apophis’s well-known upcoming close encounter with Earth to practice coordination.
- Views from Ukrainian space professionals on the impact of the ongoing Russian invasion on the country’s growing space industry.
- NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft had a close call this year when its inertial navigation system failed over to a backup unit, putting the craft in danger of losing all attitude control. As with previous aging spacecraft, an all-stellar navigation system was being developed, but was now needed urgently. The software team finished their all-stellar navigation patch five months ahead of schedule and the spacecraft is now back to its scientific mission.
- Joe Morrison urges EO companies to release their older archival data for free, and we agree.
- A Citi report predicts that the space industry will hit $1T in revenue by 2040 with launch costs dropping 95%.
- Watch what happens to astronauts when the ISS performs a reboost (at 8x speed).
- Visualize where your home was at any point in Earth’s tectonic past.