NASA funds CubeSat Pathfinder mission to unique lunar orbit

The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the moon's surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations.

"This is an exciting opportunity for NASA to aggressively push forward towards the moon in partnership with several American small businesses as a vanguard to Artemis and sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "This mission is highly ambitious in both cost and schedule—and taking that deliberate risk is part of the objective of this mission—alongside the rapid technological advancement in cislunar navigation and the opportunity to verify orbital trajectory assumptions and retire unknowns for future missions."

The 12-unit CubeSat is about the size of a small microwave oven. Onboard is a communications system capable of determining how far CAPSTONE is from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two spacecraft is changing. The inter-spacecraft information will be used to demonstrate software for autonomous navigation, allowing future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.

CAPSTONE will provide NASA and its partners with important insights to support exploration of the moon and Mars, including:

Demonstration of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services
Verification of near rectilinear halo orbit characteristics for future spacecraft
Experience entering this orbit with a highly efficient lunar transfer
Experience with rideshare or small dedicated launches to the moon
Commercial experience providing mission planning and operations support services for CubeSats beyond Earth
Rapid commercial delivery of a CubeSat mission beyond Earth orbit

"CAPSTONE offers a lot in a small package," said Advanced Space CEO Bradley Cheetham. "Not only will it serve as a pathfinder for Artemis, but it will also demonstrate key exploration-enabling commercial capabilities. Our team will be pioneering state-of-the-art tools for mission planning and operations to enable growth in the number of future missions to the moon, Mars, and throughout the solar system."

A number of launch options are possible for the mission, including being the primary payload on a small spacecraft launch vehicle. After launch, CAPSTONE will take approximately three months to enter its target orbit and begin a six-month primary demonstration phase to understand operations in this unique regime.

The award to Advanced Space is through a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, a follow-on to earlier SBIR awards that developed CAPSTONE's autonomous positioning and navigation system experiment.

The CAPSTONE team includes Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc. of Irvine, California. The project is managed by NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program within the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate. Based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, SST expands U.S. capability to execute unique missions through rapid development and demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft applicable to exploration, science and the commercial space sector. Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) within NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will fund the launch and support mission operations. AES engages in activities focused on advanced design, development, and demonstration of exploration capabilities to reduce risk, lower life cycle cost and validate operational concepts for future human missions.

NASA's Artemis lunar exploration program includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap—sending astronauts to Mars.

NASA astronauts are preparing for the Moon in a big water tank

NASA astronaut candidates have to meet a long list of criteria before the space agency decides they’re fit to carry out important duties in space. When astronauts return to the Moon in the near future, they’ll be met with challenges that few space travelers have ever endured, and NASA wants to make sure they’re ready for life on another world.

In a new blog post, NASA highlights one of the tools at its disposal for preparing future Moon explorers: the Neutral Buoyancy Lab located at the Johnson Space Center. In a massive water tank, astronauts experience simulated low-gravity, and they wear much more than your average swimmer.

When it comes to simulating low gravity here on Earth, our options are very much limited. NASA’s massive water lab is about as good as it gets, and while it’s not exactly a one-to-one simulation of the Moon’s low-gravity environment, it’s close enough that astronauts get a good idea of what challenges await them when they arrive on the lunar surface.

NASA explains: NASA astronauts wear weighted vests and backpacks to simulate walking on the Moon, which has one-sixth the gravity of Earth.  Astronauts Drew Feustel and Don Pettit are among those training in the massive pool, which is used primarily to train astronauts for spacewalks aboard the International Space Station.

As you can see from the image, an entire team of divers aids in the simulated exercises, and the astronaut is equipped with boots and gloves that match closely with what they’ll be wearing during Moonwalks.

NASA is currently expecting to have crewed missions ready for travel to the Moon as soon as 2024. The mission’s launch date, which was mandated by the Trump administration, shortened the timeline for a return to the Moon dramatically, and there are still plenty of experts who believe NASA will fall short of the goal and have to push things back a bit.

In any case, the astronauts chosen for the missions will be ready for the Moon whenever the rockets are ready to fly.

Brad Pitt Working With NASA To Discuss Artemis Program With ISS Astronaut

After working with NASA for his latest film “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt is set to talk about the Artemis Program and what it’s like to live aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in an upcoming live stream event. The actor will talk about the exciting topic with veteran NASA astronaut Nick Hague.

In his latest film, Pitt plays an astronaut who ventures to the outer edges of the Solar System to search for his father. Although “Ad Astra” is considered as a science fiction film, NASA noted that it participated in the movie’s production by providing their own images and footage.

“We reviewed a script of ‘Ad Astra’ early in production, Bert Ulrich, NASA’s liaison for film and television collaborations, said in a statement. “Although there was no NASA storyline, we provided some of the exciting images and footage for the film especially of the Moon and Mars.”

“Sci-fi films like ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘The Martian,’ ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Gravity’ take movie audiences out of this world incorporating some of NASA’s most inspirational photography and footage,” Ulrich added.

Aside from working together for the film, Pitt and NASA will collaborate once again for a special call to the ISS. During the call, Pitt will have the opportunity to talk to Hague, who is currently serving as the flight engineer on the ISS for Expedition 59/60.

According to NASA, Pitt and Hague will discuss the daily routine of the astronauts aboard the massive space station. This includes talking about what it’s like to live inside the ISS for a long time.

In addition, the actor and the astronaut will also tackle the Artemis Program. This is NASA's upcoming crewed spaceflight program. It was developed through its partnerships with commercial spaceflight companies such as SpaceX as well as other agencies like the European Space Agency.

The first step of the program involves launching a crewed expedition to the Moon in 2024. This will then be followed by a human mission to Mars.

Pitt and Hague call will be aired live on Sept. 16 at 11:35 am EDT. It will be broadcasted through NASA’s live streaming website.

Astronauts Train For Future Space Missions In This Massive Underground Cave

Once a person gets selected to be an astronaut, he/she has to go through rigorous and extensive training for upto two years to become a fully qualified candidate. These astronauts are made to take survival training, medical procedures, language classes, etc, for them to be considered an efficient astronaut. To that end, ESA has a latest training adventure in underground cave where six astronauts from five different space agencies are getting trained for future exploration of uncharted terrains on the Moon and Mars.

This training course, named, CAVES, involves taking astronauts to the very depths of Earth to help improve their communication, problem-solving, and team-work skills. As a part of underground exploration, astronauts will have to follow the flow of air and water as telltale signs of new paths ahead. This crew of astronauts will be made to learn how to trace water. Moreover, to keep the element of exploration alive in astronauts, they are not made aware of the exact location of their training.

“The genesis of caves, mysterious groundwater flow and subterranean life still pose numerous scientific questions. Astronauts could help us answer them,” mentioned Franci GabrovÅ¡ek, professor, Karst Research Institute ZRC SAZU, Slovenia.

Astronauts undergo a week of preparation above and underground after which they are set to explore a cave in Slovenia where they have to live and work for six days. “It is all part of a simulation, but the experience is the closest you can get on this planet to the environmental, psychological and logistics constraints of a space mission. The training involves real science, real operations and real astronauts with the best speleologists in the field,” explains Loredana Bessone, course designer.

CAVES training started last week on September 11 where the “cavenauts” from NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency, Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), and JAXA will be working there. Also, these six astronauts will be supported by a team of instructors and safety personnels where they will make their own decisions and work autonomously.

Vulcan Centaur Rocket will be launch in 2021 – Astrobotic’s Private Moon Lander

Private moon lander will now have a ride for its historic 2021 mission. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) will launch Vulcan Centaur rocket and send Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. This mission is towards Earth’s nearest neighbor in the next two years. This is announced on August 2019 by the representative’s companies. According to Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, their teams are excited to sign fly Peregrine and ULA on Vulcan Centaur. They launch the first lunar lander from the American soil from the time when Apollo launch, onboard first Vulcan Centaur rocket. And it is expected that it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise.

This mission is to fly via Commercial Lunar Payload Services – a program of NASA. This awarded Astrobotic US$ 79.5 million to deliver up to 14 NASA payloads to lunar surface on Peregrine in May. Lander will tote various other payloads as well. According to the company 16 different customers signed up for flight to date and representatives of Pittsburgh-based. Vulcan Centaur is a successor to the ULA’s Atlas V rocket. It has launched several high-profile spacecraft over the previous years. It includes NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, and New Horizons Pluto probe. ULA is also developing the next-gen Vulcan later 2014.

Astrobotic is a second company to commit that Vulcan Centaur in less than a week. On 14 August, Sierra Nevada Corp. announced that rocket would launch company’s Dream Chaser space plane through its robotic cargo missions to NASA’s International Space Station. CLPS is aiming to put NASA’s technology and science payloads down on a lunar surface. The primary goal is to help the agency’s Artemis program. This involves plans to land astronauts close to moon’s south pole by 2024. Besides, to establish a long-term, constant human presence on as well as around Earth’s natural satellite. Moreover, such activity will aid to prepare NASA and his partners to leap to Mars in 2030.

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