Posts tagged with "Artemis"

U.S. company’s spacecraft malfunctions on its way to the Moon

January 10, 2024

The first NASA-financed commercial mission to send a robotic spacecraft to the surface of the Moon will most likely not be able to make it there, reports The New York Times.

The lunar lander, named Peregrine and built by Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh (ATOP), encountered problems shortly after it lifted off early Monday morning, January 8, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch of the rocket, a brand-new design named Vulcan, was flawless—successfully sending Peregrine on its journey.

But a failure in the lander’s propulsion system depleted its propellant and most likely ended the mission’s original lunar ambitions.

“The team is working to try and stabilize the loss, but given the situation, we have prioritized maximizing the science and data we can capture,” Astrobotic said in a statement. “We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.”

The failure raises questions about NASA’s strategy of relying on private companies, mostly small startups, for getting science experiments to the lunar surface. Those scientific studies are part of the space agency’s preparations ahead of sending astronauts back to the Moon under its Artemis program.

“Each success and setback are opportunities to learn and grow,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA’s science mission directorate, said in a statement.

Peregrine was the first of the missions under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS, to get off the ground. Ever since CLPS was announced in 2018, NASA officials have said that they are willing to take greater risks in exchange for lower costs and that they expect some of the missions to fail.

Thomas Zurbuchen, then the associate administrator for science at NASA, made a hockey analogy; Each CLPS mission is like a shot on goal, and if the costs are lower, there will be more shots on goal even though not all of the shots will score.

For the Peregrine mission, NASA was the primary customer—paying $108 million to Astrobotic to transport five experiments. The mission also carried a variety of other payloads, including a small rover built by students at Carnegie Mellon University, experiments for the German and Mexican space agencies, and mementos.

Still, getting to the Moon on a low budget has proven to be more difficult than many thought it would be.

The Peregrine spacecraft launched at 2:18 a.m. Eastern time on Monday. Fifty minutes later, it was successfully sent on its way along a highly elliptical Earth orbit. All of its systems were successfully powered on. To give time to diagnose any problems, Astrobotic designed the trajectory so the craft would make one and a half loops around Earth before entering orbit around the Moon about two and a half weeks after it launched.

However, a few hours after launch, Astrobotic reported on the social media service X that the spacecraft was having trouble keeping its solar panels pointed at the sun to generate power, pointing to a likely malfunction in the propulsion system.

An improvised maneuver succeeded in reorienting the solar panels back toward the Sun, allowing the battery to charge. However, the loss of propellant meant the Moon-landing objective could not be achieved.

Astrobotic was the third private entity to try to send a spacecraft toward the surface of the Moon, and is most likely the third to fail.

In 2019, Beresheet, a spacecraft built by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, crashed when its engine was inadvertently shut off while the spacecraft was still far above the surface.

Last year, a lander sent by the private Japanese firm Ispace misjudged its altitude because of a software glitch and then plummeted to its destruction after it ran out of fuel.

Astrobotic, SpaceIL and Ispace all grew out of teams that had sought to win the $20 million grand prize in the Google Lunar X Prize competition for the first private venture to make it to the surface of the Moon. The competition, announced with fanfare in 2007, came to a quiet end in 2018 without any of the teams even getting to space.

Astrobotic and Ispace pivoted to seeking investors who believed sending experiments and other payloads to the Moon could become a profitable business, while SpaceIL received continued financing from Morris Kahn, an Israeli telecommunications entrepreneur, and other backers to finish Beresheet and launch it.

The next CLPS mission, by Intuitive Machines of Houston, could launch as soon as mid-February, headed toward a region near the Moon’s south pole.

Astrobotic has a contract for a second mission, using a larger lander called Griffin, to take NASA’s VIPER robotic rover to explore a shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. With the failure of Peregrine, NASA may now reconsider that mission.

Research contact: @nytimes

Left out in the rain: NASA says Hurricane Nicole peeled patch of insulation off Artemis

November 16, 2022

NASA’s uber-expensive Space Launch System (SLS) Moon rocket— each successful launch of Artemis will cost about $4.1 billion, according to the U.S. space agency—is still out on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, having survived hurricane-level wind gusts last week, reports Futurism.

The question is, why was the rocket left out in a tropical storm? Predictions for Hurricane Nicole were that it could bring 75 mph winds during its expected landfall as a Category 1 hurricane along Florida’s east coast. Forecasters said that the upper part of the rocket could see higher wind gusts, possibly above 85 mph.

Now, that its engineers have inspected the spacecraft for damage, Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin says that a ten-foot-long piece of insulation peeled away from the rocket while Hurricane Nicole stormed by, and it’s too late to go in and fix it on the launch pad.

The piece of insulation is designed to minimize aerodynamic heating during ascent where the fairing of the rocket attaches to NASA’s Orion capsule. The strip, a caulk-like material called RTV, peeled off the base of the crew capsule’s protective nose cone.

In short, it’s news that nobody wanted to hear.

“It was an area that was about ten feet in length [on the] windward side where the storm blew through,” said Sarafin, as quoted by CBS News. “It is a very, very thin layer of RTV; it’s about .2 inches or less… in thickness.”

Additionally, according to  ABC News, one of the umbilicals, which attach to the rocket boosters, was exhibiting “erratic signals” and the team may switch to a backup harness.

NASA was forced to again postpone the launch date—this time, from Monday, November 14, to Wednesday, November 16.

NASA’s SLS rocket is currently scheduled to launch at around 1 a.m. (EST) early Wednesday morning, ferrying the capsule into orbit, and allowing it to journey on to the Moon and back.

Where the latest incident leaves that upcoming launch window remains to be seen. NASA’s teams are meeting today to discuss if the rocket is ready for launch.

The weather for a Wednesday launch, at least, is looking good.

“I feel good headed into this attempt on the 16th,” Sarafin told reporters. “The team is moving forward as one unit,” he added. “We’ve just got some work to do.”

Research contact: @futurism