Good morning. Let’s kick things off with a programming note: We’re off 4/18 for Easter Monday and (US) Tax Day. Space may never sleep for holidays, the 9-5, or religious observances, but the humans who write about it do. Also we need to do our taxes.
Separately, we’d like to welcome the 92 of you who joined us yesterday.
In today’s newsletter…
🌙 Russian moon missions
🏛️ Federal pushback
📝 The contract report
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Putin declared that Russia is going to restart its own lunar program, develop a nuclear space tug, and field a new launch vehicle, Russian media reported. But ongoing sanctions on Russia warrant some healthy skepticism on the feasibility of these programs.
- The Russian leader made the announcement on Yuri’s Night, the 61st anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic first orbit around the Earth.
The lunar program: Russia has been planning a series of robotic lunar expeditions for several decades now. Roscosmos has delayed the Luna-25, -26, and -27 expeditions for about a decade so far, but plans to launch the missions in the next few years. The first, Luna-25, is scheduled for this August.
Those other missions? The most likely culprit for the launch vehicle Putin referred to has also been in development for decades. It’s unlikely to get off the ground anytime soon, Ars Technica’s Eric Berger writes. The vehicle, Orel, is meant to be able to deliver humans to LEO and the Moon. The nuclear tug Putin mentioned is even more conceptual, and it’s anyone’s guess when it might manifest in reality.
Going it alone: ESA announced yesterday that it will officially end its cooperation with Roscosmos on the Luna missions. The agency had initially signed on to provide lunar landers for Luna-25 and 27 and a lunar orbiter on Luna-26. Last month, ESA decided to officially cut ties with Roscosmos on ExoMars. The Mars rover mission has been bumped to 2026 or, more likely, 2028 as long as ESA cannot launch it on a Soyuz.
ESA has already built and delivered an experimental navigation camera, Pilot-D, slated for use on Luna-25. The agency has requested the camera back from Roscosmos, but it’s reportedly already integrated with the mission.
For Luna-27, ESA would have supplied Roscosmos with Prospect, which consists of a drill and analysis package. ESA director general Josef Aschbacher said that NASA will fly that payload to the moon instead as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
What we’re wondering: Will Russia find new space programs to ally with, or will Roscosmos go it alone?
Two states that are among the biggest movers and shakers in the US space economy are fighting back against federal decision-making, albeit in very different ways.
Senators Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D) and Reps Doug Lamborn (R) and Jason Crow (D) released a joint statement Monday:
- “We have said before that the US Space Command basing decision was the result of a flawed and untested process that lacked transparency and neglected key national security and cost considerations.”
- “After reviewing the draft GAO report, we are even more concerned about the questionable decision” to move SPACECOM from Colorado to Alabama.
Backstory: In its final days, the Trump administration decided to relocate SPACECOM from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, AL. The US’s General Accountability Office (GAO) and Pentagon auditors are reviewing the decision. The DoD has said it would revisit the rebasing decision if improprieties were found.
Gov. Greg Abbott says he will do everything he can to ensure SpaceX launches Starship from Starbase, the Rio Grande Guardian reports.
- “What I am going to do if Biden interferes with the ability of SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica; I am going to be working every step of the way to make sure that they are going to be able to launch from Boca Chica,” Abbott said. “We will be working with [Elon] very closely, every step of the way.”
Backstory: Last week, Bloomberg reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers blocked SpaceX plans to expand Starbase. The Army Corps told SpaceX via letter that it had failed to provide all the information requested and needed for expansion approval. While the South Texas permit can likely be reopened again, SpaceX is also clearly making contingency plans to orbitally test—and eventually launch—Starship from Florida.
In Other News
- Yuzhmash, a Ukrainian propulsion developer, has supplied ESA with enough upper-stage engines for Vega and Vega C to last through 2023. But the European space agency will have to find a solution, or stopgap replacement, from 2023 to 2026.
- The USSF plans to launch a $50M on-orbit refueling experiment called Tetra-5 by 2025, SpaceNews reports.
- SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission to the ISS has slipped to April 23 (next Saturday).
- Geomagnetic storm watches are in effect for today and tomorrow.
- NASA has restarted the countdown to the modified SLS wet dress rehearsal. If all goes well, tanking operations should begin today.
- MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) is the JWST’s coldest sensor at only a few degrees above zero Kelvin, and it has reached its operating temperature.
- JAXA had 4,127 applicants for its astronaut program, a 329% increase from the last round of applications. 22.3% of applicants were women.
- Elon wants to buy Twitter for $43B in cash.
The Contract Report
- NASA awarded Canoo (NASDAQ:GOEV) $148,855 to create Artemis crew transport vehicles that will transport Artemis astronauts to the pad. Under the terms of the contract, Canoo has to deliver the vehicle by June 2023.
- ULA will buy 116 RL10 engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE:AJRD) to power the forthcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket. It’s the largest contract ever for the upper-stage engine, per Aerojet.
- Arianespace signed a contract with ESA to launch the Sentinel-1C satellite on the Vega C rocket, which is meant to make its debut flight in June (via Payload).
- South Korea will tap Falcon 9 to launch five military spy satellites by 2025. The first launch will take place by 2023.
- Axiom and Mitsui & Co. have formed a Japanese JV “to accelerate on-orbit services to commercial & government customers.” Mitsui has invested in the Houston startup.
- LeoStella has purchased electric thrusters from Astra (NASDAQ:ASTR). Deliveries are slated to begin later this year and run through 2023 (also: see Astra’s updated spacecraft engine page).
- Speedcast and Lars Thrane have partnered to deliver Iridium (NASDAQ:IRDM) safety solutions and SATCOM terminals to customers.
- Precious Payload partnered with IENAI SPACE on the first API content integration for its Launch.ctrl platform.
- Hughes was selected by Indonesian telco Pasifik Satelit Nusantara to provide ground services for the Nusantara Lima satellite. Nusantara Lima will have 160 Gbps+ of capacity and serve Indonesia, as well as some additional ASEAN countries.
The View from Mars
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover captured this image on April 2 (Sol 397) using its Left Mastcam-Z camera. The photo shows a Mars solar eclipse with its moon Phobos drifting by. And we’re not done yet!
NASA’s InSight Mars lander took this on April 10 (Sol 1998) via its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). Nothing like Sunday sunrises on the Red Planet…