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NASA Partners with American Companies on Key Moon, Exploration Tech

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The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, spacecraft is pictured after its atmospheric re-entry test in November 2022. Through a new Tipping Point partnership, United Launch Alliance will continue development of the inflatable heat shield technology demonstrated by LOFTID.
Credits: NASA/Greg Swanson

NASA has selected 11 U.S. companies to develop technologies that could support long-term exploration on the Moon and in space for the benefit of all. The technologies range from lunar surface power systems to tools for in-space 3D printing, which will expand industry capabilities for a sustained human presence on the Moon through Artemis, as well as other NASA, government, and commercial missions.  

“Partnering with the commercial space industry lets us at NASA harness the strength of American innovation and ingenuity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The technologies that NASA is investing in today have the potential to be the foundation of future exploration.” 

The projects, chosen under the agency’s sixth Tipping Point opportunity, will be funded jointly by NASA and the industry partners. The total expected NASA contribution to the partnerships is $150 million. Each company will contribute a minimum percentage – at least 10-25%, based on company size – of the total project cost. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will issue milestone-based funded Space Act Agreements lasting for up to four years.

The selected technologies support infrastructure and capabilities in space and at the Moon. Six of the selected companies are small businesses. The awarded companies, their projects, and the approximate value of NASA’s contribution are:

  • Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $34.6 million – LunaGrid-Lite: Demonstration of Tethered, Scalable Lunar Power Transmission
  • Big Metal Additive of Denver, $5.4 million – Improving Cost and Availability of Space Habitat Structures with Additive Manufacturing
  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, $34.7 million – In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)-Based Power on the Moon
  • Freedom Photonics of Santa Barbara, California, $1.6 million – Highly Efficient Watt-Class Direct Diode Lidar for Remote Sensing
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $9.1 million – Joining Demonstrations In-Space
  • Redwire of Jacksonville, Florida, $12.9 million – Infrastructure Manufacturing with Lunar Regolith – Mason
  • Protoinnovations of Pittsburgh, $6.2 million – The Mobility Coordinator: An Onboard COTS (Commercial-Off-the-Shelf) Software Architecture for Sustainable, Safe, Efficient, and Effective Lunar Surface Mobility Operations
  • Psionic of Hampton, Virginia, $3.2 million – Validating No-Light Lunar Landing Technology that Reduces Risk, SWaP (Size, Weight, and Power), and Cost
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, $25 million – ULA Vulcan Engine Reuse Scale Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator Technology Demonstration
  • Varda Space Industries of El Segundo, California, $1.9 million – Conformal Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator Tech Transfer and Commercial Production
  • Zeno Power Systems of Washington, $15 million – A Universal Americium-241 Radioisotope Power Supply for Artemis

“Our partnerships with industry could be a cornerstone of humanity’s return to the Moon under Artemis,” said Dr. Prasun Desai, acting associate administrator for STMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By creating new opportunities for streamlined awards, we hope to push crucial technologies over the finish line so they can be used in future missions. These innovative partnerships will help advance capabilities that will enable sustainable exploration on the Moon.”

Five of the technologies will help humanity explore the Moon. For astronauts to spend extended periods of time on the lunar surface, they will need habitats, power, transportation, and other infrastructure. Two of the selected projects will use the Moon’s own surface material to create such infrastructure – a practice called in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU. Redwire will develop technologies that would allow use of lunar regolith to build infrastructure like roads, foundations for habitats, and landing pads.

Blue Origin’s technology could also make use of local resources by extracting elements from lunar regolith to produce solar cells and wire that could then be used to power work on the Moon.

Astrobotic’s selected proposal will advance technology to distribute power on the Moon’s surface, planned to be tested on a future lunar mission. The company’s CubeRover would unreel more than half a mile (one kilometer) of high-voltage power line that could be used to transfer power from a production system to a habitat or work area on the Moon.

The remaining seven projects will help create new capabilities in other areas of space exploration and Earth observation. Freedom Photonics will develop a novel laser source that could enable a more efficient lidar system – a technology similar to radar that uses light instead of radio waves to make measurements. This system could better detect methane in Earth’s atmosphere and improve scientists’ understanding of climate change.

United Launch Alliance will continue development of inflatable heat shield technology, building on the success of LOFTID (Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator). ULA will further develop the technology for possible use to return large rocket components from low Earth orbit for reuse. Such technology could also be used to land heavier payloads – such as the infrastructure required for crewed missions – on destinations like Mars.

For more information about NASA’s latest Tipping Point selections, visit:

https://go.nasa.gov/43BzWyV

Source: NASA

aerospace

Sierra Space Unveils Dream Chaser Spaceplane: A New Era in Space Travel

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane ‘Tenacity’ brings a futuristic touch to space travel, poised to visit the ISS. #SpaceExploration

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Colorado-based space company Sierra Space recently showcased its remarkable Dream Chaser spaceplane at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. This private spacecraft, named “Tenacity,” boasts a design reminiscent of NASA’s iconic Space Shuttle, blended with futuristic elements like aerodynamic wings straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Dream Chaser. (2024, February 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_Chaser

Standing 55 feet tall atop its cargo module, Tenacity is scheduled to embark on its historic journey to the International Space Station later this year. The spaceplane is set to launch vertically on the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, following in the footsteps of successful missions like Astrobotic’s lunar lander deployment.

Upon reentry to Earth, Tenacity will elegantly glide back using its wings, offering a safe alternative to traditional parachute and ocean landings for cargo and, eventually, crew members. Sierra Space’s CEO, Tom Vice, stressed the importance of rigorous testing to ensure the spacecraft’s resilience in the harsh conditions of outer space.

As Sierra Space prepares for Tenacity’s maiden voyage to the ISS in the first half of the year, the company faces stiff competition in the commercial space industry. NASA’s partnerships have already seen SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully complete numerous crew and uncrewed missions to the space station.

Sierra Space’s bold entry into the spaceplane arena promises exciting developments in space travel and cargo transportation. The company’s commitment to innovation and safety echoes the spirit of exploration that drives humanity’s forays beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

This blog post is based on a cool article I read on Futurism’s website by Victor Tangermann.

https://futurism.com/sierra-space-reveals-star-wars-looking-new-spaceship

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Sonic Boom Startles West Valley Residents: Understanding the Phenomenon and Its Impact

Sonic booms: Understanding the loud surprise that rattled Buckeye, Arizona, and its impact on communities.

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Photo by Omar Barrera on Pexels.com

Residents of Buckeye, Arizona woke up to an unexpected surprise on Tuesday morning when a loud sonic boom rattled the area. The source? An F-16 jet from the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base. While the incident left many startled, it also sparked curiosity about the nature of sonic booms and their implications.

Check out the 12news story: https://www.12news.com/article/news/national/military-news/sonic-boom-heard-west-valley-tuesday-luke-afb/75-6bc006af-2b1c-4846-b5be-5652274a10f7

What is a sonic boom?

A sonic boom is an intense sound that occurs when an object travels through the air faster than the speed of sound (approximately 750 miles per hour at sea level). The U.S. Air Force describes it as an “impulsive noise” akin to the thunderous sound of an approaching storm. This phenomenon occurs when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier, creating a rapid change in air pressure that leads to the characteristic shockwave.

Luke Air Force Base’s Response

In response to the recent incident, a spokesperson for the 56th Fighter Wing assured the community that procedures within the airspace are specifically designed to mitigate sonic booms, preventing them from disturbing residents in the West Valley Phoenix area. Sean Clements, chief of media relations, emphasized the Air Force’s commitment to investigating the event and ensuring the safety and well-being of the local community.

The Impact of Sonic Booms

Sonic booms can startle individuals, rattle windows, and even cause minor structural vibrations. While military aircraft are capable of supersonic speeds and have been conducting faster-than-sound test flights since 1947, efforts are made to minimize the impact of these events on civilian populations.

Community Awareness and Safety

The recent sonic boom incident serves as a reminder of the importance of community awareness and safety when it comes to military training activities. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial for both military personnel and civilians to remain vigilant about the potential impact of such events.

Moving Forward

As investigations into the recent incident unfold, it is imperative for the Luke Air Force Base and the local community to maintain open communication and transparency. By working together, both parties can ensure that proper measures are in place to minimize disruptions caused by sonic booms.

In conclusion, while the sonic boom in Buckeye, Arizona may have caused a moment of surprise for residents, it also provides an opportunity to understand the nature of these events and the efforts made to safeguard communities. Through ongoing communication and collaboration, it is possible to strike a balance between military training needs and the well-being of civilian populations.

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The Aviation Industry’s Unaddressed Safety Costs: A Critical Look at the Recent Boeing 737 MAX 9 Incident

Recent Boeing 737 MAX 9 incident raises concerns about aviation safety and cost-cutting measures.

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By KirkXWB – https://www.jetphotos.com/photo/10884712, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=140503211

The aviation industry has been left reeling by a recent near disaster that occurred on January 5, 2024. During a flight at 16,000 feet, a 60-pound “door plug” blew out from a nearly new Boeing 737 MAX 9, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all 737 MAX 9 planes with similar plugs, with other countries following suit. While the media has highlighted the safe landing of the affected Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, questions remain about the industry’s approach to safety.

As a former United Airlines pilot now lecturing at Yale University’s School of Management, I believe the focus needs to shift from celebrating successful emergency landings to addressing the underlying issues. The use of door plugs to seal unused exits on commercial airliners raises critical questions about safety and airline practices. The industry’s cost-cutting measures often take precedence over passenger safety, as every functioning emergency exit comes with associated costs in maintenance, inspections, and staffing.

The U.S. aviation regulations dictate aircraft maintenance procedures, in-flight personnel assignments, and minimum standards for emergency exits. However, the issue arises when the same airplane is sold to different airlines with varying needs. While federal rules allow air carriers to disable exits and plug the openings based on seating capacity, it is unclear whether this approach is in the best interest of air safety.

The Boeing 737 MAX 9, a part of the 737 family of aircraft, has faced a series of safety concerns. Despite its popularity and high demand, the 737 MAX’s safety record has been marred by two fatal crashes and subsequent grounding. The rush to continue MAX development despite its problematic history raises significant safety concerns, especially considering its widespread use by major U.S. carriers.



These incidents underscore the need for a more thorough examination of the aviation industry’s safety practices and cost-cutting measures. It is crucial for regulatory bodies like the FAA to prioritize passenger safety over potential cost savings for airlines. As the aviation industry continues to grapple with safety challenges, it’s imperative for stakeholders to address the unintended costs and consequences of compromising safety in favor of financial interests.

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