Back in April 2021, NASA chose SpaceX to develop a lunar lander that will take astronauts to the moon for its future Artemis missions. SpaceX’s vehicle won’t be the only one flying astronauts to the surface of the Moon, though: NASA has announced that it’s welcoming proposals from American companies for landers that can take human spacefarers from the Gateway station in the lunar orbit to the Moon itself. By having that capability, the lander design can be used for missions beyond Artemis III, which will be the first crewed landing on the Moon since Apollo 17.
In its announcement, the agency said it’s also exercising an option under its existing contract with SpaceX and is asking the company to change the landing system it proposed to meet the new requirement. “Pursuing more development work under the original contract maximizes NASA’s investment and partnership with SpaceX,” the agency said. Having a second lunar lander “provides redundancy in services” and can help ensure reliable transportation for astronauts that will be part of future lunar missions.
While the call for a second lunar lander is new, the plan to have more than one company working on the project isn’t. NASA was originally supposed to choose more than one lunar lander provider for Artemis, but the agency didn’t receive enough funding from Congress, prompting it to go with SpaceX alone.
Blue Origin, one of the finalists for the contract, filed a complaint with the US Court of Federal Claims, calling the decision “fundamentally unfair.” The Jeff Bezos-owned space corporation argued that NASA allowed SpaceX to modify its bid and wasn’t given the same chance to do so. To note, the contract SpaceX won was worth $2.9 billion, while Blue Origin’s bid was almost twice that at $5.9 billion. NASA believed Blue Origin bid high on purpose on the assumption that NASA would haggle and that it would receive more funding than it did. While the court dismissed Blue Origin’s lawsuit in November, SpaceX had to pause work on the lander twice, losing months in the process. When NASA pushed back the Artemis III mission to 2025, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Blue Origin’s lawsuit was partly to blame.
NASA will issue a draft solicitation for the second lunar lander in the coming weeks before issuing a formal request for proposals this summer.
Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s Human Landing System Program manager, said:
“This strategy expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe. We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under NASA’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market.”
SpaceX launches two Starlink missions in 24 hours – Teslarati
Two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets have completed back-to-back Starlink launches less than 24 hours apart, successfully delivering 106 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO).
Originally scheduled just a handful of hours apart, slight delays eventually saw Starlink 4-13 and Starlink 4-15 settle on 6:07 pm EDT, May 13th and 4:40 pm EDT, May 14th, respectively. Entering the final stretch, launch preparations went smoothly and both Falcon 9 rockets ultimately lifted off without a hitch.
The series began with Starlink 4-13 on Friday. SpaceX chose Falcon 9 B1063 to support the Starlink launch and the booster did its job well, wrapping up its fifth launch since November 2020 with a rare landing aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). Since SpaceX permanently transferred OCISLY from the East Coast to the West Coast in mid-2021, the drone ship has only supported five booster recoveries. Save for an unusual East Coast Starlink launch in May 2021, Falcon 9 B1061 has also primarily been tasked with supporting SpaceX’s West Coast launch manifest. With only one older pad – Vandenberg Space Force Base’s (VSFB) SLC-4 complex – available to SpaceX, the company’s West Coast Falcon launches are also considerably rarer than its East Coast missions.
SpaceX has also taken to using the pad – which is in an optimal location to launch satellites that orbit Earth’s poles – to launch several batches of Starlink satellites into more ordinary equatorial orbits, essentially augmenting the capabilities of its two Florida launch sites.
Starlink 4-13 and 4-15 were more or less identical, in that regard; both launched 53 Starlink V1.5 satellites into LEO to continue filling out the fourth of five Starlink orbital ‘shells’ that will make up SpaceX’s first licensed constellation. Since SpaceX began Plane 4 (or Group 4) launches in November 2021, the company has now completed 15 missions that carried a total of 860 Starlink V1.5 satellites into orbit. Excluding a solar storm-related fluke that destroyed almost an entire launch worth of satellites, all but 8 remain operational in orbit. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell’s independent tracking, about 300 Group 4 Starlink satellites have reached operational orbits, while another 500 or so are either raising their orbits or waiting for the right moment to do so.
As of May 2022, the first shell or ‘group’ of SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation has about 1500 operational Starlink satellites of a nominal 1584. If all working Group 4 satellites currently in orbit become operational, SpaceX has another ~770 satellites or 15 launches to go to complete the shell (17 to finish Shell 1 and Shell 4). If SpaceX maintains its current six-month launch cadence of one Starlink mission every ~11 days, SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation could have around 3400 working satellites in orbit and be more than three-quarters complete by the end of 2022.
SpaceX, by all appearances, fully intends to push its vehicles and workforce to the absolute limits in 2022 in a bid to complete as many as 60 orbital launches. To launch Starlink 4-15, for example, SpaceX made an unprecedented decision to debut a brand new Falcon 9 booster on the internal mission, demonstrating just how fully its customers have embraced reusability and how much the company wants to expand its fleet of Falcon 9 boosters as quickly as possible.
Following Starlink 4-13 and 4-15, SpaceX has completed 20 launches in the first 19 weeks of 2022 and has another two launches scheduled in the last two weeks of May.
Photos: Total lunar eclipse bathes Moon in red – Al Jazeera English
Skywatchers have gathered in different parts of the globe to enjoy a total lunar eclipse that graced the skies for longer than usual.
For about an hour and a half on Sunday night into early Monday morning, the Moon was bathed in the reflected red and orange hues of the Earth’s sunsets and sunrises.
It was one of the longest totalities of the decade and the first so-called “Blood Moon” in a year.
Observers in the eastern half of North America and all of Central and South America had prime seats for the whole show, weather permitting.
Partial stages of the eclipse were visible across Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
A total eclipse occurs when the Earth passes directly between the moon and the sun and casts a shadow on our constant, cosmic companion.
The moon was expected to be 362,000km (225,000 miles) away at the peak of the eclipse.
Q and A: She discovered the black hole at the center of our galaxy. This week, she finally saw it – Phys.org
This week, the world got its first-ever look at Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy. The image of a hazy golden ring of superheated gas and bending light was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of eight radio observatories scattered across the globe.
Feryal Özel, a University of Arizona astronomer and founding member of the EHT consortium, said that seeing the black hole’s image was like finally meeting in real life a person you’ve only interacted with online.
For Andrea Ghez, an astrophysicist at UCLA, the encounter was perhaps more like a biographer meeting her subject after decades of pursuit.
In 2020, Ghez was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for her role in the discovery of a supermassive object at the core of the Milky Way. That object is now known to be Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short.
Ghez studies the center of our galaxy and the orbits of thousands of stars encircling the dense object at its very heart. Though she wasn’t involved with the EHT project, she said its “impressive” achievements—including its 2019 unveiling of the black hole anchoring a distant galaxy known as Messier 87—offer intriguing new possibilities for the study of the cosmos.
The Los Angeles Times spoke to her about black holes, cosmic surprises and what Einstein has to do with the GPS app on your phone. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does it feel to finally lay eyes on the thing you’ve spent your career studying?
It’s super exciting. We live in a really interesting moment where technology is advancing so rapidly in so many arenas and giving us new insights into these incredibly exotic objects.
Does it look different than you anticipated?
No, actually. It’s remarkably similar. You should see this ring at roughly two and a half times the Schwarzschild radius (the radius of the event horizon, the boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or matter can escape). That’s the prediction of where gravity should bend, and that’s exactly where you see it. That’s impressive.
How much have technological capabilities changed for researchers since you started studying black holes?
Huge, huge advances. I often say we’re surfing on a wave of technological development. Everything that we do really can be described as technology-enabled discovery.
One of the things that I love about working in these areas where the technology is evolving really quickly is that it affords you the opportunity to see the universe in a way you haven’t been able to see before. And so often that reveals unexpected discoveries.
We’re really lucky that we’re living at this moment where technology is evolving so quickly that you can really rewrite the textbooks. The Event Horizon Telescope is a similar story.
What unanswered questions about the universe excite you most?
I have a couple favorites right now. The one that I’m super excited about is our ability to test how gravity works near the supermassive black hole using star orbits, and also as a probe of dark matter at the center of the galaxy. Both of those things should imprint on the orbits.
A simple way that I like to think about it is: The first time around, these orbits tell you the shape. And then after that you get to probe more detailed questions because you kind of know where in space the star is.
For example, S0-2 (which is my favorite star in the galaxy, and probably in the universe) goes around every 16 years. Now we are on the second passage, and that’s giving us the opportunity to test Einstein’s theories in ways that are different than what the Event Horizon Telescope is probing, as well to constrain the amount of dark matter that you might expect at the center of the galaxy. There are things that we don’t understand about the early results, and to me that’s always the most exciting part of a measurement—when things don’t make sense.
What’s your approach in those moments?
You have to have complete integrity with your process. Things may not make sense because you’re making a mistake, which is the uninteresting result, or they may not make sense because there’s something new to be discovered. That moment when you’re not sure is super interesting and exciting.
We’ve just discovered these objects at the center of the galaxy that seem to stretch out as they get close to the black hole, then become more compact. They’re called tidal interactions. If you think of the movie “Interstellar” with that big giant tidal wave, this would be like a big tidal wave that just lifts off the planet. If we’re seeing stars having those kinds of interactions, it means that the star has to be, I don’t know, a hundred times larger than anything we predicted to exist in this region. So that makes you scratch your head.
Does the new image of Sgr A* reinforce your finding that, for now, Einstein’s theory of general relativity seems to do the best job of explaining how gravity operates throughout the universe?
Yes. Absolutely. Black holes kind of represent the breakdown of our understanding of how gravity works. We don’t know how to make gravity and quantum mechanics work together. And you need those two things to work together to explain what a black hole is, because a black hole is strong gravity plus an infinitesimally small object.
Wait, what? I thought black holes were huge
No. The image is of the phenomena that happens around the black hole. The black hole has no finite size, but there is this abstract size of the event horizon, which is the last point that light can escape. And then the gravitational interaction with local light gets concentrated in this ring that’s two-and-a-half times bigger that the event horizon.
Anyway, we know that black holes represent the breakdown of our knowledge. That’s why everyone keeps testing Einstein’s ideas about gravity there, because at some point you expect to see what you might call the expanded version of gravity, in the same way that Einstein was the expanded version of Newton’s version.
Is it fair to say that Newton’s laws do a decent job of explaining how gravity works here on our little planet, but we need Einstein once we head out into the universe?
Yes, except for what we take for granted today: our cellphones. The fact that we can find ourselves so well on Google or Waze or your favorite traffic app is because GPS systems position your phone with respect to satellites going around the Earth. Those systems have to use Einstein’s version of gravity. So, yes. We could use Newton until we cared about things like this.
©2022 Los Angeles Times.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Q and A: She discovered the black hole at the center of our galaxy. This week, she finally saw it (2022, May 16)
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