¶Artemis III is delayed to 2025, but for unexpected reasons. NASA’s Inspector General released a statement concluding that the in-development, next-generation xEMU spacesuits will not be complete in time for a 2024 crewed lunar mission. The development program has already had $420M invested in it and is slated for another $625M in the coming years, bringing the total cost of the new suits to over $1B. In typical Muskian fashion, the SpaceX CEO tweeted that “SpaceX could do it if need be.” NASA does have a demonstration of their new suits planned on the ISS for completion by next summer and “prior to the first crewed Artemis mission.”
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¶Super Heavy was stacked, then unstacked. Briefly, SpaceX assembled the tallest (120 m), highest-thrust (about double the Saturn V), and only fully reusable orbital rocket in history. Then, having completed a fit test and photo-op, they unstacked it and wheeled it back to the high bay for finishing touches (installation of additional heat shield tiles, engine testing and heat shielding for the Raptors, and completion of the orbital launch tower and tank farm). Super Heavy Booster 4 alone is already an incredible 69 m tall and 9 m in diameter. Then they put a 50 m tall Starship (Ship 20) on top of it (which requires using the second tallest crane on Earth, according to Everyday Astronaut’s second interview video with Musk). The first launch, whenever it is approved by the FAA, will use the orbital launch tower, but not the future upgraded robotic tower, lovingly named “Mecha-zilla”, which will catch returning Super Heavy boosters with moving arms and place them back on the pad for refueling and rapid relaunch—here’s an approximate, Musk-approved video. (The tower is a good example of Musk’s philosophy of removing parts: in this case landing legs, drone ships, ground transport equipment to move the rocket back to the stand, etc.) Enough talk, though. Pictures.
- Neutron stars are so dense that they warp space, causing some light emitted from their far sides to bend around and become detectable from their near sides. This effect makes neutron stars appear larger than they actually are. The NICER instrument on the ISS measures X-rays emitted from hot spots on pulsars—spinning neutron stars—with enough accuracy to determine how they distort space-time, and thus to estimate their size. New measurements from NICER across multiple pulsars challenge current assumptions about how the density of these objects changes with their mass and call into question our models of the exotic matter in their cores.
- The enigma of why some instruments—like Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS)—reliably detect methane on Mars, while others—including ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)—do not has been resolved. It turns out that time of day is important (paper). TLS operates at night due to Curiosity’s daytime power demands, while TGO requires sunlight to spot methane, and by this time the methane has dissipated or been destroyed. To confirm the discrepancy, Curiosity did a daytime sampling and found no methane. The source of the detected methane remains a mystery, as does its mechanism of destruction. It’s possible that either surface oxygen or low-level electric discharges induced by dust could be destroying methane molecules before they can build up.
- The ability for life to survive in a cloud layer is likely tied to the presence of stable quantities of water vapor. Previously, it has been speculated that such conditions exist on Venus, but a new study found that Venus’ atmosphere doesn’t have nearly enough water to support anything like Earth’s microbial life. Interestingly, though, Jupiter’s clouds above the stratosphere-thermosphere boundary do. While cloud-based life is becoming less likely as a source of the Venusian phosphine detected last year, volcanism could explain it.
¶News in brief. Varda raised a $42M Series A for their in-space manufacturing dreams, targeting 2023 for the launch of their first spacecraft with standard satellite bus, attached manufacturing payload, and reentry capsule ● A Chinese Long March 3B rocket successfully launched a geostationary communication satellite ● Netflix will be releasing a five-part documentary about the Inspiration4 orbital tourist mission launching next month—seems like that’s one more part than is strictly necessary ● Lucy has arrived at KSC in preparation for an Oct 16th Atlas 5 launch to fly by one Main Belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids (we’ll talk more about the mission next week!) ● Perseverance has started sample collection on Mars, but an as-yet-unknown glitch resulted in the sample tube being empty ● SpaceX is buying Swarm Technologies, builder of an eventually 150 satellite VHF picosatellite (0.25U) constellation for IoT—this is interesting since SpaceX doesn’t tend to make acquisitions, in fact, this may be their first one (it’s been suggested that SpaceX will just reserve .25U on future Starink satellites instead of launching separate picosats) ● An Antares rocket, named the “S.S. Ellison Onizuka” after one of the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, launched to the ISS with supplies and experiments, including one from Redwire (née Made in Space) which will 3D print using lunar regolith simulant ● ispace, inc. (the Japanese one) announced $46 million of funding for their Moon landing missions ● Planet signed a multi-year, multi-launch rideshare agreement with SpaceX, which is probably worrying news for the slew of upcoming small launch providers ● …such as Astra, who is targeting their first commercial launch on Aug 27th (recently completing a static fire of the rocket) and just announced that Space Force has awarded them the OSP-4 launch contract.
- An amateur astronomer discovered a new moon of Jupiter, bringing its retinue to 80.
- Speaking of amateurs making scientific contributions, Scott Manley discusses new evidence suggesting that the Apollo 11 LM Ascent Stage might still be in lunar orbit (instead of having crashed into the surface due to the Moon’s lumpy gravity field, as assumed), based on an amateur analysis by Roger Twank, which he just got published in Planetary and Space Science. (If it is still in orbit, retrieving it seems like a great use of Lunar Starship’s large amount of extra payload capacity.)
- If you’re aged 30 to 55 in the US and are a pilot, military officer, or have a STEM master’s degree, you could apply to NASA’s upcoming year-long Mars analog mission, starting in Fall 2022. You and three of your soon-to-be-best friends (or soon-to-be-worst enemies) will occupy a “1,700-square-foot module 3D-printed by ICON, called Mars Dune Alpha. The habitat will simulate the challenges of a mission on Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failure, communication delays, and other environmental stressors.” Sounds like 2020.
- Or, if you’re a college student, you can help NASA design a non-traditional lunar vehicle that “may hop, slither, crawl, balloon, tumble, levitate, or leap” on the Moon.
- At least one industry veteran is calling for NASA to commission an independent investigation of the Nauka space station incident.
- Blue Origin’s powerful BE-4 engine is more than four years late—here’s why. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, but "SpaceX has built about as many 50-meter Starship prototypes in the last two years as Blue Origin has built BE-4 development engines in five years.”
- Can the U.S. and China Cooperate in Space?
- Caltech is working on beamed orbital solar power technology and recently received a $100M donation to the project. China and the US Air Force are also both working on beamed solar power. We’ve previously linked to Casey Handmer’s claim that space-based solar power doesn’t make sense, so we should also share a thoughtful rebuttal. We’re reserving judgment.