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NASA sees cost ballooning 30% on Boeing rocket for moon missions – BNN

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Boeing Co.’s Space Launch System, the largest rocket in NASA’s history, will carry a price tag of at least US$9.1 billion — or 30 per cent more than the previous estimate for a key element in the agency’s plan to return to the moon.

Additionally, the costs for new ground infrastructure at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to support the deep-space exploration program has jumped to US$2.4 billion, Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight, said in a blog post Wednesday. That’s also a 30 per cent increase, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in an email Thursday.

“NASA has notified Congress of these new commitments, and we are working at the best possible pace toward launch, including streamlining operational flow at Kennedy and assessing opportunities to further improve the efficiency of our integration activities,” Lueders wrote.

The new cost estimates are based on NASA’s pledge to fly the first SLS-powered Artemis mission around the moon, without crew, in November 2021. Addressing the escalating costs, NASA referred to its previous statements on “challenges associated with design development, manufacturing development, first-time production, and initial operations for SLS.”

Coronavirus Uncertainty

While the space agency is confident of meeting the November 2021 flight date, it’s too early to predict the full impact of work delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Lueders said. NASA will follow the first SLS flight with a crewed mission in 2023. A third Artemis flight to put astronauts on the moon is planned for 2024 to meet a challenge set by the Trump administration.

“Boeing is responsible for the rocket core and upper stages and we are making great progress,” the Chicago-based company said in a statement.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the prime contractor for the ground support work at Kennedy Space Center, didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

In March, a NASA Inspector General report on the SLS program found that the agency has struggled with rising costs and delays, citing “program management, technical issues, and contractor performance.” By the end of the current U.S. fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, NASA will have spent more than US$17 billion on the overall SLS program, according to the report. That’s 60 per cent more than NASA’s 2014 cost estimate.

The next big test for the SLS, which will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty, will be in October when engineers plan to fire all four main RS-25 engines simultaneously and drain the fuel tanks within eight minutes, simulating flight conditions.

NASA approved the rocket’s development in August 2014, setting the cost at US$7.02 billion with a first flight “no later than November 2018.” Throughout its history, the SLS program has enjoyed immense support in the Senate, and Congress has continued to fund the program despite setbacks in cost and schedule.

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Nasa outlines plan for first woman on Moon by 2024 – BBC News

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The US space agency (Nasa) has formally outlined its $28bn (£22bn) plan to return to the Moon by 2024.

As part of a programme called Artemis, Nasa will send a man and a woman to the lunar surface in the first landing with humans since 1972.

But the agency’s timeline is contingent on Congress releasing $3.2bn for building a landing system.

Astronauts will travel in an Apollo-like capsule called Orion that will launch on a powerful rocket called SLS.

Speaking on Monday afternoon (US time), Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “The $28bn represents the costs associated for the next four years in the Artemis programme to land on the Moon. SLS funding, Orion funding, the human landing system and of course the spacesuits – all of those things that are part of the Artemis programme are included.”

But he explained: “The budget request that we have before the House and the Senate right now includes $3.2bn for 2021 for the human landing system. It is critically important that we get that $3.2bn.”

Artemis: To the Moon and Beyond

The US House of Representatives has already passed a Bill allocating $600m towards the lunar lander. But Nasa will need more funds to develop the vehicle in full.

Mr Bridenstine added: “I want to be clear, we are exceptionally grateful to the House of Representatives that, in a bipartisan way, they have determined that funding a human landing system is important – that’s what that $600m represents. It is also true that we are asking for the full $3.2bn.”

The new document outlines Phase 1 of the plan, which includes an uncrewed test flight around the Moon – called Artemis-1 – in the autumn of 2021.

Nasa’s human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said that Artemis-1 would last for about a month to test out all the critical systems.

She said that demonstration flight would reduce the risk for Artemis-2, which will repeat the trip around the Moon with astronauts.

A new test has been added to this mission – a proximity operations demonstration. Shortly after Orion separates from the upper-stage of the SLS rocket – known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage – astronauts will manually pilot the spacecraft as they approach and back away from the stage.

This will assess Orion’s handling qualities, along with the performance of the spacecraft’s hardware and software.

Artemis-3 will become the first mission to send astronauts to the lunar surface since Apollo 17 some 48 years ago.

Nasa has provided $967m (£763m) to several companies to work on designs for the landing vehicle that will take them there.

Later in the decade, the plan calls for Nasa to establish a base for humans, called Artemis Base Camp, that would include the infrastructure needed for long-term exploration of the Moon.

Scientists would like to extract water-ice from the lunar South Pole, because it could potentially be used to make rocket fuel on the Moon, at a lower cost than carrying it from Earth.

By comparison with Artemis, the Apollo programme in the 1960s and 70s cost upwards of $250bn in inflation-adjusted US dollars.

However, the $28bn for this new plan does not include money already spent developing the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

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NASA lays out $28 billion plan to return astronauts to the moon in 2024 – Spaceflight Now

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Astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt collects lunar rake samples from the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Credit: NASA

NASA officials released a nearly five-year, $28 billion plan Monday to return astronauts to the surface of the moon before the end of 2024, but the agency’s administrator said the “aggressive” timeline set by the Trump administration last year hinges on Congress approving $3.2 billion in the next few months to kick-start development of new human-rated lunar landers.

The plan unveiled Monday contained few new details not previously disclosed by NASA. It assumes crews will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, fly to the moon’s vicinity on an Orion capsule, then transfer into a commercially-developed lunar lander to ferry the astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

NASA released a new overview document Monday describing the agency’s approach to landing astronauts on the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The program, named Artemis, encompasses the SLS, Orion, Human Landing Systems, and the Gateway, a human-tended platform in lunar orbit that will eventually serve as a staging point for missions to the moon.

“NASA has all the key systems and contracts in place to ensure that we are meeting the president’s ambitious goal to return American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The Trump administration last year directed NASA to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by the end of 2024, moving up the space agency’s previous moon landing schedule by four years.

Bridenstine acknowledged the challenge of landing astronauts on the moon in four years. Three companies — Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX — are developing human-rated lunar landers for NASA, which plans next year to select one or two of the lander teams to continue work on their spacecraft.

“There’s a number of different risks when you deal with human spaceflight,” Bridenstine said. “NASA is really really good at dealing with the technical risks.”

“The challenge that we have is the political risk — the programs that go too long, that cost too much, and that end up getting cast out later in the development program,” Bridenstine said, adding that programs that develop over longer schedules often end up with higher overall costs. “So to save money, and to reduce political risk, we want to go fast … 2024 is an aggressive timeline. Is it possible? Yes. Does everything have to go right? Yes.”

Artist’s concept of an Orion spacecraft at the moon. Credit: NASA

The Gateway is not required for the 2024 mission, which is designated Artemis 3. NASA decided earlier this year it would allow the companies developing human-rated lunar lander concepts to propose ways to transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface and back to the Orion spacecraft without using the Gateway, at least for the first landing on Artemis 3.

Bridenstine said Monday the Gateway is “critically important” for creating a “sustainable” lunar exploration program. It will allow lunar landers to be refueled and reused, and help NASA lead the establishment of a base camp on the moon, where engineers will develop the know-how to tap lunar resources like water ice to generate air, drinking water, and rocket fuel.

The Gateway will also have international contributions from Canada, Europe, and Japan.

The lessons learned will ultimately feed into planning a human expedition to Mars, according to NASA.

In the planning document released Monday, NASA outlined a two-step program to initially move fast to get astronauts to the moon by the end of 2024. Then NASA aims to develop an “Artemis Base Camp” by the end of the 2020s near the moon’s south pole, where crews will be able to live and work for months at a time.

The budget estimates in the planning document do not include developments focused on sustaining the lunar program, such as the Gateway station, surface habitats, and rovers.

That does not mean those programs will not be funded in the next year years, NASA said. The first two elements of the Gateway station remain scheduled to be launched together in 2023.

NASA projects the parts of the Artemis program required for the 2024 moon landing — known as Phase 1 — will cost $28 billion through fiscal year 2025, which begins Oct. 1, 2024.

That figure “represents the costs that are associated with the next four years in the Artemis program to land on the moon by 2024. so SLS funding, Orion funding, the Human Landing System, and of course the spacesuits, all of those things that are part of the Artemis program are included in that $28 billion.”

The Orion spacecraft has been in development since 2006 as part of NASA’s Constellation program initiated by the George W. Bush administration. After rising costs and delays, the Obama administration canceled the Constellation program in 2010, but the Orion spacecraft survived in NASA’s revamped deep space exploration program aimed at Mars.

The Space Launch System was announced in 2011 to loft the Orion spacecraft with crews on expeditions in deep space.

Both programs have suffered years of delays, but NASA says the first SLS/Orion test flight — named Artemis 1 — is scheduled for launch by November 2021. The first flight-ready SLS core stage will be test-fired in late October or early November at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, then delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for final assembly with its solid rocket boosters, cryogenic upper stage, and Orion spacecraft.

The segments of the SLS solid boosters, the rocket’s upper stage, and the Orion spacecraft have been completed and are awaiting arrival of the core stage before ground teams begin stacking the launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy.

The Artemis 1 mission will test out the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on a mission to orbit the moon and return to Earth. No astronauts will fly on Artemis 1.

“That mission will be over a month long, and it’ll be checking out all of the critical systems,” said Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight directorate.

A mock-up of the Blue Origin-led human-rated lunar lander was recently delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for simulations and testing. Credit: Blue Origin

Assuming Artemis 1 goes according to plan, the next SLS/Orion launch in 2023 will carry a crew on a 10-day mission around the moon, sending people farther from Earth than ever before.

NASA recently decided to add a rendezvous and proximity operations demonstration to the Artemis 2 flight plan. The astronauts on Artemis 2 will take manual control of their Orion spaceship and pilot the capsule back toward the SLS upper stage after separating from the rocket in a high-altitude orbit around Earth, before setting off on a trajectory toward the moon.

The astronauts will “assess Orion’s handling characteristics” during the manual piloting demo, which will stop short of an actual docking with the upper stage,” NASA officials wrote in the Artemis planning document released Monday The demonstration will “provide provide performance data and operational experience that cannot be readily gained on the ground in preparation for critical rendezvous, proximity operations, docking, as well as undocking operations” beginning on the Artemis 3 mission.

After looping around the moon on a “free return trajectory,” the Artemis 2 astronauts will return to Earth and ride their Orion capsule to a parachute-assisted splashdown at sea.

That will set the stage for Artemis 3, which will use a similar SLS/Orion vehicle to launch the astronauts to rendezvous with a human-rated lander pre-positioned near the moon after launch aboard a commercial rocket. After flying the Orion spacecraft to link up with the lander in a high-altitude lunar orbit, the astronauts will move into the descent vehicle for the final leg of the journey to the moon.

NASA officials anticipate the Artemis 3 crew will spend nearly a week on the lunar surface to conduct at least two, and perhaps four, moonwalk excursions. Then the astronauts will take off and head back to the Orion spacecraft to ferry them back to Earth.

In parallel with the SLS, Orion, and lander test flights, NASA engineers will demonstrate an upgraded spacesuit design on the International Space Station before it is used by astronauts on the lunar surface.

Bridenstine said Monday that NASA could select a “cadre” of astronauts to begin training for Artemis missions, but the agency has no immediate plans to do so. He added that the agency typically assigns space crews about two years before launch.

The NASA chief also said Monday that the Artemis 3 mission’s landing site remains near the moon’s south pole. In a meeting of lunar scientists last week, Bridenstine discussed a hypothetical scenario in which the Artemis 3 astronauts could return to one of the Apollo landing sites in the moon’s equatorial regions if NASA defers plans for a polar landing

“Right now, we have no plans for Artemis 3 for anything other than the south pole,” Bridenstine said Monday.

Scientists have discovered evidence for water ice harbored in permanently shadowed craters near the moon’s south pole, but no mission has landed there yet. NASA plans to send robotic precursors to the south pole region in the next few years, including a rover named VIPER that will attempt to study the ice deposits up close.

The core stage for NASA’s first Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket was hoisted into a vertical test stand in January at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for testing that will culminate in a hotfire of the rocket’s four main engines. Credit: NASA

The chances of achieving a lunar landing with astronauts in 2024 depend on winning support in Congress, and that support is not assured.

“The budget request that we have before the House and the Senate right now includes $3.2 billion for the Human Landing System,” Bridenstine said. “It is critically important that we get that $3.2 billion.”

A draft budget for NASA passed by the House in July would provide $628 million for lunar lander development in fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1. The Senate has not drafted a NASA budget bill for the next fiscal year, and Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution by the end of September to keep the government running through Election Day, after which lawmakers could pass a budget for the rest of fiscal year 2021.

The continuing resolution would fund government agencies at 2020 levels, and would not include money NASA says it needs for a Human Landing System.

“We need that $3.2 billion for the Human Landing System,” Bridenstine said. “I think that if we can have that done before Christmas, we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing.”

If Congress passes a longer-term continuing resolution stretching into early next year, perhaps expiring in March, the longer wait for Human Landing System funds would make a 2024 moon landing more challenging, Bridenstine said. “I would argue that we’re still within the realm of possibility because we do have our work underway right now.”

“If we go beyond March and we still don’t have the Human Landing System funded, it becomes increasingly more difficult,” he said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “We want this to be a bipartisan effort, which we have had a lot of success in achieving. We would like to see the $3.2 billion for the Human Landing System funded at the earliest possible opportunity, and the best we can see that happening right now would be with an omnibus appropriations bill some time before the end of the year.”

More than $16 billion of the $28 billion NASA projects needing to make the Artemis 3 mission happen in 2024 will go toward developing a moon lander.

“If Congress doesn’t fund the moon landing program, then it won’t be achieved,” Bridenstine said later in his conference call with reporters Monday. “It’s really that simple. If they push the funding off, our goal would be to get to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity … If they keep delaying the funding, we will go to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Despite the funding uncertainty, Bridenstine said he is confident NASA will get the lunar lander money.

“I will tell you that there is broad consensus that it is time to go to the moon sustainably, and 2024 is achievable, and we’re working towards that,” he said. “When that omnibus appropriation is complete, I really believe there will be $3.2 billion for a Human Landing System. That could be at the end of the year, and it could be in March.”

Lueders said Monday that the lander teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX are “hitting every single milestone” under contracts awarded by NASA in April. After advancing their designs and refining their plans, the teams will submit proposals to NASA again ahead of a decision by agency managers early next year on which lander concepts provide the best chance of achieving a crewed landing on the moon by the end of 2024.

NASA’s budget will be a key factor in determining whether the space agency has to pick one lunar lander team to go forward, or if NASA can afford to keep funding two concepts.

“We would really like to maintain competition,” Lueders said.

NASA has set up the HLS program as a public-private partnership, in which the government and companies share the cost of developing the landing vehicles.

Two of the lead contractors vying to build NASA’s first human-rated lunar lander in 50 years are Blue Origin and SpaceX, led by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Bridenstine said companies could supply more private funding to make up for a potential shortfall in the NASA budget.

“We are getting our final proposals from the each of the (HLS) provides right now, and it would also be nice to look at different opportunities for different financing, and what that would mean for us,” Lueders said.

She said NASA officials will evaluate their options in the “February/March timeframe” of next year before finalizing the HLS procurement strategy.

SpaceX’s lander is a derivative of the Starship transportation system the company is privately developing. Blue Origin’s concept involves a descent element the company will build itself, along with a crew cabin from Lockheed Martin, and a propulsive transfer stage from Northrop Grumman.

“With a public-private partnership, the companies themselves could actually step up to the plate in a bigger way,” Bridenstine said. “That is something that needs to be seriously considered. Our goal is to create the plan that best optimizes our ability to land on the moon by 2024, but certainly if the money doesn’t materialize, could they do it with their own resources? I’ll leave it to them to make their own determination.”

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New NASA images show 'fresh ice' forming on Saturn’s moon – Yahoo Canada Sports

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In these detailed infrared images of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, reddish areas indicate fresh ice that has been deposited on the surface. Image Credit: NASA

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In these detailed infrared images of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, reddish areas indicate fresh ice that has been deposited on the surface. (Nasa)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Composite images captured by an orbiting Nasa spacecraft have offered hints that fresh ice is forming in several areas on Saturn’s mysterious moon Enceladus.” data-reactid=”32″>Composite images captured by an orbiting Nasa spacecraft have offered hints that fresh ice is forming in several areas on Saturn’s mysterious moon Enceladus.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="With Geyser-like plumes of ice erupting from the surface of the moon, scientists have suggested that life could lurk in its subsurface ocean.” data-reactid=”33″>With Geyser-like plumes of ice erupting from the surface of the moon, scientists have suggested that life could lurk in its subsurface ocean.

The data shows that fresh ice is forming not just near the plumes, but in other areas of the moon, which looks like a reflective, bright white snowball to the naked eye.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth” data-reactid=”35″>Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

Gabriel Tobie, VIMS scientist with the University of Nantes in France, said: “The infrared shows us that the surface of the south pole is young, which is not a surprise because we knew about the jets that blast icy material there.

“Now, thanks to these infrared eyes, you can go back in time and say that one large region in the northern hemisphere appears also young and was probably active not that long ago, in geologic timelines.”

Close-Up Of Saturn Against Black BackgroundClose-Up Of Saturn Against Black Background

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Nasa’s Cassini probe captured the data while orbiting Saturn. (Getty)

Enceladus’s ocean is likely heated and churned by hydrothermal vents like those on Earth’s ocean floors.

Some theories have suggested that such environments were where life first arose on Earth.

The researchers said that the same infrared features seen near the plumes also appear in the northern hemisphere.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Read more: There might once have been life on the moon” data-reactid=”61″>Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

That tells scientists not only that the northern area is covered with fresh ice but that the same kind of geologic activity – a resurfacing of the landscape – has occurred in both hemispheres.

The resurfacing in the north may be due either to icy jets or to a more gradual movement of ice through fractures in the crust, from the subsurface ocean to the surface.

Managed by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California, Cassini was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply. 

The mission plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017.

While it still orbited Saturn, Cassini sampled a plume of material erupting from Enceladus’s surface, and analysis of the material suggested an environment where life could flourish inside the moon.

Researchers led by Lucas Fifer of the University of Washington found that the plumes are chemically different from the ocean beneath – changed by their 800mph eruption into space.

It means that the surface of the moon could be much more hospitable to life than previously believed.

Fifer said: “Those high levels of carbon dioxide also imply a lower and more Earth-like pH level in the ocean of Enceladus than previous studies have shown. This bodes well for possible life.

“Although there are exceptions, most life on Earth functions best living in or consuming water with near-neutral pH, so similar conditions on Enceladus could be encouraging.”

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