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NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity will have to wait a few more days to make its historic first flight on the Red Planet.
Ingenuity, which flew to Mars tucked into the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover that successfully landed on the planet Feb. 18, is set to make history with the first controlled, powered flight through another planet’s atmosphere.
The interplanetary helicopter was previously set to take off no sooner than April 8, but the little craft will now take flight no earlier than April 11, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, announced via Twitter Wednesday (March 31).
“Come fly with us,” JPL tweeted. “#MarsHelicopter is preparing to do something that’s never been done: controlled, powered flight on another planet. Takeoff is now slated for no earlier than April 11, with data arriving on Earth on April 12.”
The helicopter, located underneath the rover, has been unfurling from Perseverance’s belly, preparing for the Flight. On March 21, Perseverance dropped a protective shield, which helped the helicopter to endure the perilous descent through Mars’ atmosphere. It takes a bit of time for the helicopter to unfold and formally deploy for the flight. It takes about six sols, or six Mars days (one sol is equal to about 24 hours and 40 minutes on Earth, or a little more than one Earth day), NASA officials said in a statement.
A NASA audit concluded that costs imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the agency could reach $3 billion, with several major science and exploration programs accounting for much of that cost.
A March 31 report by the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) stated that the agency expects that the pandemic’s effects on the agency, ranging from closed facilities to disrupted supply chains, to be nearly $3 billion. Of that, about $1.6 billion came from 30 major programs and projects, defined by NASA as those with a total cost of at least $250 million.
“Although NASA managers include schedule margin in program and project plans to address unforeseen circumstances, in many instances the margins were not sufficient to absorb the impact of the pandemic,” the OIG report stated. It added the full cost accounting of the pandemic won’t be possible “until after the COVID-19 emergency has subsided.”
The project with the largest cost increase in the report is the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It reported $3 million in costs because of the pandemic in fiscal year 2020, but estimates nearly $400 million in additional impacts in future years. The mission has a lifecycle cost of $3.9 billion.
The Space Launch System had the second-highest cost increase in terms of overall dollars, at $363 million, of which $8 million was in fiscal year 2020 and $355 million in fiscal years 2021 through 2023. A three-month delay in the first SLS mission, Artemis 1, along with “rephrasing production” each accounted for about one-third of the costs. The rest came from “surge costs” to compress schedules as well as the costs of facility shutdowns.
The Orion spacecraft suffered $146 million in costs, including $5 million in fiscal year 2020 and $66 million in fiscal year 2021. Because the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 1 mission was nearly complete at the time the pandemic hit, the largest effects were on the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 2 and 3 missions, both still in production. Those problems extended to Europe, with delays in the production of the European Service Module for the Artemis 2 Orion.
The James Webb Space Telescope will see its cost increase by $100 million because of the delay in its launch from March to October of this year. That increase, though, will be contained within the $8.8 billion cost cap for the mission using existing budget reserves.
Two other science missions in development, Europa Clipper and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and ocean Ecosystem (PACE), reported cost increases of $97 million and $89.2 million, respectively. PACE, whose cost increases account for about 10% of its estimated total cost, will also see its launch slip by nine months.
How NASA will cover those costs is not certain. The agency received just $60 million in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, which the agency is using for pandemic-related costs ranging from enhanced information technology infrastructure to personal protective equipment. Hertz, in recent presentations, noted that overruns in one part of NASA’s astrophysics portfolio, such as the flagship missions JWST and Roman, would not be paid out money in other parts of the portfolio, like smaller missions or research funding. So it seems, the effects of Coronavirus on NASA will be considerable as one of the disturbing effects of the Covid19 pandemic on the space sector.
One year ago, NASA announced the agency is opening the space station for business, enabling commercial and marketing opportunities on the station, and the agency has moved forward toward its ultimate goal in low-Earth orbit to partner with industry to achieve a strong ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities at a lower cost. Providing expanded opportunities at the International Space Station to manufacture, market, and promote commercial products and services will help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.
The new policy includes activities that can be as simple as a product pictured in space for use in marketing materials or a company flying and returning commemorative or other items to be sold after having been in space. NASA crew members on the station also can support these activities behind the scenes. The key is that the activity must require the unique microgravity environment, have a nexus to the NASA mission, or support the development of a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy.
U.S. entities can continue to submit proposals for such activities. NASA has received five proposals so far for commercial and marketing opportunities on the station, and the first of those agreements is already now at the station, launched on the SpaceX CRS-20 mission. The agency has two signed Reimbursable Space Act Agreements (RSAA), is processing two, and is evaluating one more. NASA is making available annually 90 hours of crew time and 175 kg of cargo launch capability but will limit the amount provided to any one company.
NASA also enabled private astronaut missions to the station, ensuring the ability to accommodate two missions each year at the space station of up to 30 days duration. The agency has an agreement in place with KBR to train private astronauts using NASA facilities. NASA has an agreement with Axiom Space for developing plans to enable private astronaut missions to the space station. In addition, the agency signed an agreement with Virgin Galactic as it develops a program to identify candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the station then procures the transportation, on-orbit resources, and ground resources for private astronaut missions.
Axiom Space and SpaceX made a separate agreement for a future private astronaut mission to the station. And SpaceX also announced an agreement for another private astronaut mission not to the space station, an example of NASA enabling a broader market in space. Axiom’s partnership with SpaceX for a private astronaut mission and Virgin Galactic’s plans to develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program directly support NASA’s broad strategy to facilitate the commercialization of low-Earth orbit by U.S. entities.
NASA awarded a contract to Axiom Space to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the International Space Station. NASA also intends to support development of free-flying commercial destinations with release of a solicitation soon.
These companies are willing to make these commitments because they can see the long-term potential to sell services to both the U.S. government and to private citizens. They are putting their private capital at risk in these developments for future profit, whether from the U.S. government flying astronauts, or other missions for private astronauts.
NASA also is providing seed money for seven proposals to enable enterprising companies to mature their concepts and stimulate scalable demand for existing and future platforms in space. One example is the work LambdaVision is doing to produce protein-based artificial retinas in space that would be returned to Earth for surgical implant to restore sight for patients suffering from degenerative retinal diseases.
At release, NASA provided a forecast of its minimum long-term, low-Earth orbit requirements, representing the type and amount of services that NASA intends to purchase when those services become commercially available.
Creating a robust economy in low-Earth orbit will be dependent on bringing many new companies and people into that economy, and will require the development of not only the supply of services but also the demand for those capabilities. We are continuing to see new entrants enabled by the new commercial use policy, and via research and development being conducted through the ISS National Laboratory. NASA continues to work with industry to reduce areas of uncertainty regarding the future of these commercial activities.
NASA’s goal is to achieve a robust economy in low-Earth orbit from which the agency can purchase services as one of many customers. A robust commercial space economy ensures national interests for research and development in low-Earth orbit are fulfilled while allowing NASA to focus government resources on deep space exploration through the Artemis program and land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signaled today that astronauts would soon be cleared to take suborbital spaceflights aboard the commercial rocket ships being tested by Virgin Galactic and by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.
“NASA is developing the process to fly astronauts on commercial suborbital spacecraft,” Bridenstine said in a tweet. “Whether it’s suborbital, orbital or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation’s innovative commercial capabilities.”
Bridenstine said the details will be laid out in a request for information to be released next week. Efforts to get further information from NASA Headquarters weren’t immediately successful.
NASA and Virgin Galactic team up for a deal that aims to help the US develop “high-Mach vehicles for potential civil applications.”
Virgin Galactic and NASA will work together to help get superfast air travel off the ground.
NASA has signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic and its manufacturing subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, representatives of the suborbital spaceflight company announced on Tuesday (May 5).
The deal is designed to foster collaboration “in order to advance the United States’ efforts to produce technically feasible, high-Mach vehicles for potential civil applications,” Virgin Galactic representatives said in a statement.
“This is the beginning of an important partnership for Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company that will support the future development of aviation technology,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in the statement.
“Virgin Galactic’s unique experience and innovative technology platform will, in partnership with the historic capabilities of NASA and other government agencies, enable the progression of new technical steps that will improve U.S. competitiveness,” he added. “We see this as an area with tremendous growth potential that we will continue to invest in, alongside our commercial spaceflight operations.”
Virgin Galactic is gearing up to fly paying customers to and from suborbital space on VSS Unity, its latest SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. The six-passenger Unity is in the final phases of its test campaign and seems on target to begin operational flights out of New Mexico’s Spaceport America soon, perhaps sometime this year.
More than 600 people have reserved a seat to fly on SpaceShipTwo, company representatives have said. Virgin Galactic isn’t selling more tickets at the moment, but in February of this year the company offered people the chance to jump to the front of the line when that time comes. More than 400 people have put down a refundable $1,000 deposit via this “One Small Step” initiative, company representatives said in today’s statement.
While Virgin Galactic’s primary business interest has long been the establishment of a suborbital spaceline, company representatives have repeatedly expressed interest in ferrying passengers on superfast trips from point to point here on Earth.
Indeed, Tuesday’s statement notes that Virgin Galactic and its industry partners are “seeking to develop a vehicle for the next generation of safe and efficient high-speed air travel, with a focus on customer experience and environmental responsibility.”
And NASA is now part of this emerging picture as well.
“This Space Act Agreement will enable NASA to collaborate with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company to allow our organizations to take advantage of new tools, techniques, and technologies developed over the last 50 years and to explore potential new solutions for the commercial aviation industry,” James Kenyon, director of NASA’s Aeronautics Advanced Air Vehicles Program, said in the same statement.
Regardless of what is happening with COVID19 Pandemic, there are many exciting developments in Aerospace Technology such as the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Scheduled Launch for Astronauts. No matter what happens Space Technology will be the salvation of mankind in the future. Please watch the video by Prof. Dr. Ugur GUVEN on his views of future aerospace developments.
2019-2020 NASA Aeronautics University Design Challenge: Urban Air Mobility
Students from U.S. universities are invited to design a safe, reliable autonomous system that can deliver small packages to extremely short-takeoff-and-landing platforms within an urban environment. The system must be designed for autonomous operation with the ability to conduct at least two round trip missions over a 10 mile radius without human intervention. Other requirements include:
- Must be low-noise vehicles (decibel level maximum will be posted soon)
- Must have ability to take off and land safely in less than 100 ft. of landing platform length
- Must carry package size 5 lbs or less, dimensions no larger than 6 x 6 x 6 inches
- Team must develop a profitable business case for such a delivery service
- Multidisciplinary partnerships are encouraged through inter-department collaborations and inter-university partnerships permitted among US institutions
Notice of intent to participate must be emailed by February 15, 2020, to Elizabeth Ward, and must include:
Subject line: Aeronautics University Competition
Body of message contents:
- student leader’s name(s)
- faculty advisor’s name
- name of college/university
- name of department(s) participating
- location of college (city and state)
- level of study for all participating student(s) (freshmen undergraduate through graduate school)
- email and phone number for student lead
- email and phone number for faculty adviser.
Design concept and paper are due June 15, 2020. Learn more about eligibility and submission requirements via the links at the top of this page: https://aero.larc.nasa.gov/university-contest/