Today’s Tidbits May 20, 2019

Today’s Tidbits May 20, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for May 20, 2019: SecAF Wilson bids farewell; NASA picks 11 companies for lunar lander studies; LRO images of Beresheet impact point. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

SecAF Wilson Bids Farewell

The Air Force will hold a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, DC tomorrow to say goodbye to Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson.  She announced her departure in March.  She is returning to academia and will become President of the University of Texas at El Paso.   Her resignation is effective at the end of the month.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne A. Clark)

Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy and served in Europe as an officer.  Her career then took a different trajectory that included stints on the White House National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush Administration, a member of Congress from New Mexico, and President of the South Dakota School of Mines before returning to Washington as SecAF two years ago.

She is well respected in Congress and the Air Force, with many expressing regret that she is departing.  Rumors are that she and Acting Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Patrick Shanahan, now nominated to be SecDef, did not see eye to eye and that was at least in part responsible for her decision to leave.

Matthew Donovan, currently the Under Secretary of the Air Force, will serve as Acting SecDef beginning on June 1.  He is a former staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Air Force fighter pilot, commanding the 95th Fighter Squadron of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, FL from 2001-2003.

NASA’s Eleven

NASA has chosen 11 companies to conduct studies and produce prototypes of human lunar landing systems.  The Trump Administration’s decision to accelerate NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 4 years — 2024 instead of 2028 — added urgency to the need to develop landers so this procurement is moving fast.

NASA’s plan is to send astronauts to a small space station called Gateway in lunar orbit using the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule.  The crews will transfer through the Gateway to vehicles to take them down to and back from the surface.  NASA’s concept was for three vehicles — a transfer vehicle to get the crew closer to the surface, a descent vehicle to land, and an ascent vehicle to get back to the Gateway.  Colloquially they are collectively referred to as “landers” though they have separate functions.

Instead of telling companies what systems to build, NASA decided to let industry make its own decisions on how to do the landing/ascent portion of the journey.  Some companies like Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin have been working on designs for quite some time.  Others are newly engaged. Some of the designs are only for one part of the journey — the descent vehicle for example, like Blue Origin’s Blue Moon.  In fact, none of these awards are for an ascent vehicle.

NASA is trying to use public-private partnerships (PPPs) as much as possible to build components of the Moon program, which was recently named Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister).  The companies had to agree to provide 20 percent of the total project cost to win these contracts.  The 11 companies will share $45.5 million of NASA funding for this study/prototype development effort.

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California
    • One transfer vehicle study
  • Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
    • One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
  • Boeing – Houston
    • One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  • Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama
    • One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
  • Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado
    • One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
  • Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California
    • One descent element prototype
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia
    • One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  • OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey
    • Two refueling element prototypes
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin
    • One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
  • SpaceX – Hawthorne, California
    • One descent element study
  • SSL – Palo Alto, California
    • One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype

LRO Images of Beresheet Impact Point

Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander crashed into the lunar surface on April 11, 2019.  It might not have been the landing the SpaceIL team hoped for, but it was a landing nonetheless.  In fact, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been in lunar orbit since 2009 making detailed maps of the surface, snapped some amazing images of the impact point.

Left: Beresheet impact site. Right: An image processed to highlight changes near the landing site among photos taken before and after the landing, revealing a white impact halo. Other craters are visible in the right image because there is a slight change in lighting conditions among the before and after images. Scale bar is 100 meters. North is up. Both panels are 490 meters wide. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA’s press release provides much more information about how the images were taken and how to interpret them. []

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