What’s next in space: Nasa fuels its Moon rocket



Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center is the the focus of some major space events over the next two weeks, as Nasa continues testing of its big Moon rocket and the first all-private space missions heads to the International Space station, trailed by the next schedule launched of Nasa astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX Falcon 9 carries Axiom-1 — Friday April 8

Axiom-1, the first all-private mission to the ISS, is scheduled to launch from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center at 11:17 am Eastern on Friday. A four-person crew from Axiom Space will lift off in a SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket to spend eight days on the space station conducting experiments on robotics, cancer biology and laundry detergent.

Liver coverage of the launch can be found on both the SpaceX website and the Axiom Space website beginning around 7:55 am Eastern, while Nasa will livestream the launch activities beginning around 10 am Eastern.

Axiom Space is a commercial space station company developing a new module for the International Space Station, a module the company hopes to add on to and eventually detach to become a stand alone, private space station by the time the ISS is retired in 2030.

While Axiom is developing its space station, it plans to send regular flights of commercial space crews to the ISS to aid in the module development and to participate in space tourism. Axiom-1 will be the first such mission.

The crew of Axiom-1 includes former Nasa astronaut Michael López-Alegría as mission commander, Canadian investment banker Mark Pathy as a mission specialist, Larry Connor, an education nonprofit executive from Ohio as the mission pilot, while Israeli Air Force veteran and businessman Eytan Stibbe also serves as a mission specialist. The four crew will spend eight days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth.

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While a SpaceX dragon capsule will take the Axiom-2 crew to the ISS, its competitor will get a second shot at an uncrewed flight to the space station sometime in the next month and a half.

Nasa’s SLS and Orion – TBD

On Monday 4 April, Nasa will begin the “wet dress rehearsal” of its Space Launch System (SLS) Moon rocket and the Orion spacecraft at its apex. The testing involves pumping cryogenic fuel into the rocket, testing countdown, and other systems, and then recovering the fuel and liquid oxygen from the launch vehicle, which is why it’s called a “wet” dress rehearsal for launch.

But NASA called a halt to the test late Monday morning after pumping half of the expectation of liquid oxygen into the big rocket when a pressure control valve triggered a safety warning.

Nasa officials said the valve issue is the type of minor problem the wet dress rehearsal is designed to detect, and did not reflect any major problem with the rocket. They plan to try again to complete the wet dress sometime after the Axiom-1 launch on Friday.

The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft together make up the core of Nasa’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon with the Artemis III mission planned for 2025. The space agency rolled the 322-foot-tall rocket out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on 17 March to complete final testing on launchpad 39B before a test flight, the uncrewed Artemis I mission, later this year.

After the wet dress rehearsal, Nasa will roll the SLS back into the Vehicle Assembly Building for final assessments and determination of the Artemis I launch data — the space agency is currently considering launch windows in May, June, and July.

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If Artemis I can blast off this year, Artemis II, a crewed mission to orbit the Moon, is scheduled for May 2024.

Mars Helicopter’s 25th flight — Sometime after April 8

Although Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory can’t yet say exactly when, its Ingenuity helicopter is gearing up for a record breaking flight on Mars sometime after Friday.

When it does lift off, the twin-rotor, battery and solar powered drone will make a 704-meter flight above the Martian Jezero Crater to scout a path up a dry river bed for the Perseverance Mars rover.

Helicopter and rover arrived on Mars together in February 2021, with Ingenuity making its first flight on 19 April 2019, the first powered, controlled flight on another world.

The Ingenuity team at JPL was recently awarded the prestigious Collier trophy for achievements in aerospace for Ingenuity’s performance.

Boeing’s OST-2 – early April

Nasa awarded two companies with contracts for its Commercial Crew program to fly astronauts to the ISS, SpaceX and Boeing. But while SpaceX began regular service with Crew Dragon in 2020, Boeing’s Strainer spacecraft ran into a computer glitch during its 2019 orbital test flight that prevented the uncrewed spacecraft from docking with the space station.

A second shot at that test flight, a mission enumerated as OST-2, was further delayed in August and was rescheduled for 20 May. According to reporting by Spaceflight Now, however, a change in the launch schedule of a Space Force payload could allow OST-2 to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in the first half of April.

NASA Crew-4 — 21 or 23 April

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Nasa’s fourth mission to the ISS as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew program will now lift of at least a day later than previously scheduled to accommodate the Axiom-1 launch on Friday, the head of Nasa’s human spaceflight program Kathy Lueders posted on Twitter Wednesday .

Nasa’s Commercial Crew Missions have flown aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets in SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft since 2020. The Crew-4 mission, unlike Axiom-1, consists of only government astronauts — Nasa astronauts Jessica Watkins, Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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