SpaceX needs to launch more spacecraft, more times, NASA official says

HomeFinanceSpaceX needs to launch more spacecraft, more times, NASA official says
SpaceX needs to launch more spacecraft, more times, NASA official says

SpaceX's Starship program and its critical nature of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) lunar missions are at the top of NASA's mind as it enters the next phase of the Artemis program. The space agency held an in-person press conference earlier today with the Artemis 2 astronauts, who will be the first humans to go to the moon since the Apollo program. This mission is scheduled to fly in November 2024, and the only delay in NASA's schedule so far is the rocket booster, which should be completed by February.

NASA, SpaceX Conduct Detailed Review of Starships and Crucial Orbital Refueling Flights

Today's press conference came after NASA flew an unmanned Orion spacecraft around the Moon late last year as part of the Artemis 1 launch to test both the SLS rocket and the ship. The launch took place after several delays and scrubs, primarily due to problems with the hydrogen that the rocket uses as fuel.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained that the main goal of the Artemis mission is to give the space agency experience in carrying out missions to Mars. As part of this plan, the agency has contracted with SpaceX to provide the lunar lander that will serve as the first astronaut base on the lunar surface.

Artemis 2 will fly four astronauts, but they will not land on the moon since Orion is simply a transfer vehicle that will dock with SpaceX's Starship lunar lander or the Gateway lunar station. NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy explained that the mission is integrated into the Artemis program. It will be a crucial test flight that will allow the crew to understand the spacecraft for the first time.

NASA had extensively tested the Orion spacecraft during the Artemis 1 mission, and the spacecraft passed most of these. The tests covered, among other things, the evaluation of power generation systems, cooling systems and electrical systems. Another important segment tested was the heat shield, which showed irregularities inconsistent with NASA's estimates.

The Artemis 2 mission will focus on astronaut safety, with mission manager Reid Weisman explaining that if the spacecraft does not perform as expected before it heads for the moon, it will abort the mission to return the crew to Earth.

After Artemis 2, Artemis 3 will be the first mission to land astronauts on the Moon, and according to NASA's Assistant Administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Directorate, Mr. Free, the agreed date for this is December 2025. The mission depends on SpaceX's ability to successfully launch Starship multiple times to ensure the rocket can support the crucial NASA flight.

To launch the second-stage spacecraft to the moon, SpaceX must refuel in Earth orbit. Demonstrating this to NASA will be critical to influencing the agency's Artemis 3 timeline and suppliers working with SpaceX to ensure the Starship has the equipment to support crewed missions from lunar orbit to the lunar surface.

According to the NASA official, SpaceX has provided the company with an updated schedule, and the agency has visited Starbase to take a detailed look at SpaceX's milestones and hardware for a propellant demonstration and an unmanned demonstration flight next year.

Free explained that the insights NASA gained from the visit were "tremendous", with the 12-hour visit giving the teams a chance to discuss the cryogenic propellant transfer mission. His comments hinted at a communication gap between the two, and the official added that a deeper understanding of SpaceX's schedule will allow NASA to work with other teams effectively.

In summary, he said:

Starships do not exist by themselves. There are interfaces to our suits, so the suit contractor has to understand the interface and the design and the emulators and simulators that are ready for that. Likewise for Orion we need the interface to work. So I think we have a better understanding of the big picture, our relationship, our needs. But we know that they have [SpaceX] proven that they can make great progress, and I'm sure they will continue to do so.

As for the contract date for the December 2025 mission, when asked by Joey Roulette of Reuters whether NASA's meetings with SpaceX have affected it, he shared:

You know I think our teams are really trying to understand, I'm not going to give you a date with Joey, because our teams are trying to understand what these trades are. So we obviously have to go through a contract amendment when we do this, because we had a contracted date with SpaceX, and we have to understand where their pressure points are, where our needs are with some of the emulators, simulators, and interfaces that I talked about.

And then decide what is the realism in it. We don't want some kind of zero margin plan. We need to understand what the margin is in all of this, so to do that our teams need to interact, that meeting at Starbase that I talked about was one of many. And then I think we'll come out in consultation with the management team of the agency and say hey here's where we think it's realistic what that date is.

As for the Artemis 2 mission, the SLS booster currently being stacked is the most important for a successful and timely launch. The rocket must arrive at NASA's Kennedy Space Center by February for launch next year, and investigations into the heat shield anomaly are focusing on the cause.

NASA has been testing the heat shield at the Ames facility and will continue testing this month to run through a fault tree. The agency has some theories as to the cause behind the ablation, and the tests will narrow down potential reasons for the ongoing testing at the agency's facilities across the United States

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