Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 14th, 2021

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA announces nuclear thermal propulsion reactor concept awards. The agency is working on adding Orion’s launch abort system onto the spacecraft ahead of the Artemis I mission.

Human Space Exploration

NASA issues contracts for nuclear thermal propulsion studies
Coalition Members in the News – Aerojet Rocketdyne, BWX Technologies, Lockheed Martin (7/13): NASA on Tuesday announced contracts to pursue three reactor design concept proposals for a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The reactor would be a component of a nuclear thermal engine, which would utilize high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel. Working with the Department of Energy, NASA contracted with BWX Technologies, which will work with Lockheed Martin; General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, which will work with X-energy and Aerojet Rocketdyne; and Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies, working with its parent company, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Blue Origin, General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome, and Materion. The $5 million agreements will span 12 months. Efforts to develop nuclear thermal propulsion are supported by Congress, which has set aside funding for the effort, even when NASA has not requested it. That includes an FY2022 appropriations bill which cleared the House CJS subcommittee July 12, and which provides $110 million for nuclear thermal propulsion technologies.

NASA prepares 1st Moonbound Orion spacecraft to receive its launch abort system (7/14): The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission completed fueling and servicing checks at the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and has now made it to its next stop, the Launch Abort System Facility. There, it will be outfitted with the launch abort system, which is designed to pull crew away to safety from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in the event of an emergency during launch. Once the system’s integration is complete, the spacecraft will be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). There, it will join the already stacked flight hardware and be raised into position atop the SLS rocket, marking the final assembly milestone for Artemis I.

Today’s Tidbits: July 13, 2021: NASA seeks commercial LEO development proposals
Coalition Member in the News – Axiom Space (7/13): NASA this week released an announcement seeking proposals for building commercial low Earth orbit (LEO) facilities to replace the International Space Station (ISS). The Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) solicitation will be done in two phases. The current announcement is for Phase 1, which involves formulation and design of CLD capabilities. Proposals for this phase are due August 26. Phase 2 is a potential competitive procurement of services to transport NASA crews, supplies, and equipment to a commercial LEO destination as well as return to Earth.


Space Science

New photos from the Mars helicopter Ingenuity’s 9th flight help refine Perseverance rover science goals (7/13): Images from Ingenuity’s July 5 flight have offered scientists and engineers working with the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover a critical opportunity to scout out the road ahead. Ingenuity provided new insight into where different rock layers begin and end, each layer serving as a time capsule for how conditions in the ancient climate changed at this location. The flight also revealed obstacles the rover may have to drive around as it explores Jezero Crater.

NASA and ESA sign agreement on climate science cooperation (7/14): Officials from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a joint statement of intent in a meeting yesterday declaring their plans to cooperate on Earth science research. The agreement is intended to create a more overarching partnership, including cooperation on missions and other research activities. One example is joint work by the agencies to define a mission to study the water cycle that would be a successor to the current Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Follow-On spacecraft.

Moon’s ‘wobble’ in the 2030s will cause ‘decade of dramatic increases in flood numbers,’ NASA says
USA Today (7/13): A University of Hawaii-led research team warns that a wobble in the Moon’s orbit coupled with rising sea levels could lead to increased high tides that will in turn lead to increased flooding over the 2030s. NOAA counted more than 600 floods in 2019. The coming change would mean three to four times as many. The concerns were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A lander on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may have to dig at least 1 foot down to find signs of life (7/13): NASA is preparing Europa Clipper, an orbital mission to Jupiter that would conduct dozens of close flybys of the Jovian moon Europa, which scientists believe may harbor biological activity. However, investigating up close and below the icy surface will likely mean plunging into the waters to carry out scientific activities. An assessment of the challenge was published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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