Inflatables, solids, strap-ons and riders – oh my, it's the week in space

Also, decoding the Donald and opening up BEAM

Time-lapse images of the BEAM inflation. Pic: NASA TV
Behold the engorgement of BEAM – coming to a Moonbase near you?

Roundup Presidential frothing over NASA's direction was swiftly wiped from the walls last week while ESA continued quietly progressing towards new rockets and vehicles.

ESA Rider

While space fandom continues to breathlessly anticipate Boeing and SpaceX's latest and greatest reusable capsule, ESA has continued to plough its own furrow with its Space Rider re-entry vehicle, designed for launch atop a Vega-C.

More X37 than Dragon, the Space Rider is designed to serve as an uncrewed laboratory, operating for two months or more in low earth orbit, before returning to Earth for refurbishment and reuse.

While meatbags will not be on board, the Space Rider can accommodate 800kg of payload in 1,200 litres of space within the environmentally controlled cargo bay. That payload will be able to enjoy up 600W of power.

Space Rider bears a strong resemblance to ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), which enjoyed a successful demonstration mission in 2015. IXV, which spent 100 minutes in space, had been intended as a precursor to Europe's Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator for Europe (PRIDE) vehicle, with a 300kg payload, but has now evolved into the beefier Space Rider.

As well as heritage from IXV, Space Rider also makes use of the Vega-C's AVUM+ stage. The stage will serve as a service module for the vehicle, providing power and attitude control until it is time to de-orbit.

A critical design review of the Space Rider is expected at the end of 2019, with a first launch from Kourou, French Guiana, in 2022. Assuming nothing explodes with the debut launch of the Vega-C, currently expected in 2020.

Ariane 6 inches closer to launch

Also scheduled for 2020 is the first launch of ESA's Ariane 6. Nabbing solid rocket booster smarts from the Vega-C, the Vulcain 2.1-powered core stage will enjoy either two or four P120C solid boosters strapped to it.

ESA flung out an update last week, boasting that the launch zone for the booster in French Guiana was nearly complete, while integration and engine tests are proceeding, although the results of those tests still required reviewing by boffins.

The first qualification model of the P120C booster for the Vega-C has already been fired without anything unexpected blowing up. The Ariane 6 version of the 11.5m long strap-on booster is due to be ignited at the beginning of 2020. It will be joined by a test model of the Ariane 6. The gang also plans a static fire of the core engine stage.

Ariane 6 will eventually replace the successful and reliable Ariane 5, with Arianespace expecting it to be cheaper to operate. The two strap-on booster version (A62) should be able to push 5 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, while the beefier four booster incarnation will send a payload weighing up to 11 metric tons to the same location.

Arianespace notes there is "growth potential" in those figures.

NASA BEAMs with delight as another Starliners Atlas V arrives

While ESA was trumpeting its future plans, NASA remained very much in the here and now as the Atlas V destined (if nothing explodes, SpaceX-style) to send the first crewed Starliner mission to the International Space Station (ISS) turned up at the Cape.

Though the date for the mission remains dependent on a variety of factors, not least getting an uncrewed CST-100 Starliner to and from the ISS first, the Atlas V booster that NASA 'nauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing's (and former Shuttle flier) Chris Ferguson, will ride to the space station is now at Cape Canaveral.

The Atlas V destined for the uncrewed flight turned up last year. A tentative August date for its launch has been set by planners, although Boeing will also need to complete a pad abort test before putting a crew anywhere near the thing.

As NASA continued to inch forward on the commercial crew front, commercial ISS component the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) continued to perform like a champ while astronauts opened up the inflatable add-on to sample the air inside and stash more gear within.

Attached in the spring of 2016, the module had its stay at the ISS extended in November 2017. The technology could well find its way into NASA's lunar planning, but for now is a handy place for space-constrained 'nauts to shove unwanted gear.

That, of course, has not stopped Bigelow Aerospace from dreaming some big dreams.

Oh, Donald

US president Donald Trump sent space fans into a bit of a tizz at the end of last week by apparently giving NASA a kicking regarding its plans to get boots back on the moon.

Trump thundered: "For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

It took a few hours for NASA Administrator to parse Trump's latest emission to explain what the president actually meant.

Alas, Bridenstine did not manage to explain the message before observers began gently ribbing the orange one with comparisons to former glories.

Still, we have a Lego Lunar Lander Module to put together here at Vulture Central. It doesn't get a lot better than that, does it? ®




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