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Europe steps up contributions to Artemis Moon plan

Artwork: The Gateway will be a staging post for lunar surface operations

Thales Alenia Space in Italy will produce Europe’s two major contributions to the Lunar Gateway, a US-led space station around the Moon.

TAS will build two pressurised sections: one where astronauts can live, and the other on which refuelling and telecoms equipment can be mounted.

The UK-arm of TAS will provide the refuelling hardware.

The Gateway is intended as a staging post for astronauts as they shuttle back and forth to the Moon’s surface.

At 40 tonnes, the station is a key part of the American space agency Nasa’s Artemis project, which is targeting a human return to the lunar environment 50 years after Apollo.

The first landing is envisaged for 2024, although it will be later in the decade before all the sections of the Gateway are in place.

TAS’s iHab and Esprit modules will most likely be launched on separate Falcon Heavy rockets from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The company’s Turin factory has a proud history in developing pressurised space compartments.

It built half the habitable volume of the International Space Station (ISS); it makes the cargo section of the space station’s Cygnus freighter; it’s part of the Dynetics team developing a crewed lunar lander concept for Nasa; and is working with the private outfit Axiom on a commercial space station.

Walter Cugno, vice president of science and exploration at TAS, said the company would lean heavily on its heritage when producing iHab and Esprit.

“They are different from the space station modules in that they will not be occupied all the time. This means they will have to have much more autonomy,” he told BBC News.

The company has just signed a first tranche contract with the European Space Agency (Esa) of €36m (£32m) to begin work on iHab (the eventual, full contract will be worth €327m/£295m); and has an Authorisation To Proceed for Esprit. An ATP allows work to get under way while final contractual details are still worked out.

Lunar logistics lander
Europe will also deliver cargo to the Moon’s surface

iHab will have room for four astronauts to comfortably move around. It will require all the additional equipment needed for life support, and carry protection against micrometeorite impacts – and the increased radiation that exists when moving away from Earth.

Esprit comes in two parts. One is named HLCS (Halo Lunar Communication System) and provides the communications between the Gateway and the Moon.

This part will actually launch in 2024 with the Americans’ Halo module, the first habitation and logistics element of the Gateway.

The other Esprit part is ERM (Esprit Refuelling Module). This combines the refuelling hardware of the Gateway with a small pressurised tunnel with windows. They won’t be as big but these windows will be like those on the International Space Station’s Cupola module.

The windows will be where astronauts go to get a good view of space, the Earth, the Moon – and, most importantly, any robotic operations

NASA advances plan to commercialize International Space Station

Oct. 12 (UPI) — The planned launch of a private commercial airlock to the International Space Station in November will accelerate NASA’s plan to turn the International Space Station into a hub of private industry, space agency officials said.

The commercialization plan also includes the launch of a private habitat and laboratory by 2024 and a project NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on Twitter in May in which actor Tom Cruise will film a movie in space.

The 20-year-old space station may even have a private citizen on board again for the first time in years in late 2021, according to Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight. It’s part of a plan to wean the space station off of NASA’s public funding, which has been $3 billion to $4 billion per year.

“We expanded the scope and range of activities that can be done on ISS,” McAlister said in an interview earlier this year. “We carved out resources — power, oxygen, data — and we know we can support a paying customer, probably twice a year for up to a month.”

Detailed plans for those stints at the space station are partly proprietary, he said.

Whether private citizens return or not, NASA has increased corporate missions to the space station in recent years.

One example was Estee Lauder, which sent 10 bottles of skin cream to the space station Oct. 1 as part of a $128,000 contract with NASA, according to the company and NASA.

The agency charges $17,500 per hour for the astronauts’ time, according to its fee schedule. A spokesperson for Estee Lauder confirmed the project last week, but declined to elaborate.

Anheuser-Busch has sent barley seeds to the International Space Station several times, including an experiment to see how the seeds could be sprouted, known as malting, in microgravity.

“By exposing barley to microgravity, we learned how to maximize production volumes, grow higher quality crops and overall, what it might take to successfully grow and malt barley in microgravity — ultimately furthering our understanding of agriculture both on Earth and in space,” a report from the beer company said.

Freeing up resources on the existing space station for private use will only take NASA so far, and additional infrastructure is needed in space, commercial spaceflight director McAlister said.

NASA plans to install a private airlock to release science experiments and a private habitation module for more space tourism or private researchers.

Pittsburgh-based space company Nanoracks plans to launch its Bishop Airlock to the space station on the next SpaceX cargo mission, scheduled for Nov. 22, the company and NASA confirmed last week.

Having a private airlock just for science experiments and small satellites will allow more efficient use of the station’s airlocks and allow for more commercial activity, McAlister said.

Nanoracks funded the construction of the airlock, which cost about $15 million, for the opportunity to have private enterprise utilize it, according to the company. NASA signed an agreement with the company for the idea.


Washington coach Jimmy Lake’s College Football Playoff plan would solve one tricky Pac-12 problem

Jimmy Lake has a plan for a more perfect playoff.

It’s a six-team field, and the seeding is simple: All Power Five conference champions are automatic entrants in the field, with the College Football Playoff committee ranking them using the same criteria it currently employs. The sixth and final spot goes to a “wild card” — whether an independent (like Notre Dame in 2018), a Group of Five champion (like undefeated and subsequently snubbed Central Florida in 2017) or a second-place finisher in a Power Five conference (like Alabama in 2017).

In the first of three rounds, the top two seeds receive a bye and the winners of a 3-6 and 4-5 match up advance to the semifinals. Then, same as the existing format, the final four teams play for a spot in the title game.

Of course, the JLP (Jimmy Lake Plan) would essentially solve one prickly problem — a Pac-12 program has not been selected for the College Football Playoff since Washington in 2016. It would also put significantly less pressure on the committee, with the foremost responsibility being ranking the conference champions and selecting a single wild card.

“I think that way you take all the subjectivity out of it, all the politics, the East Coast (bias), all of that,” Lake, the Huskies’ first-year head coach, said in a Pac-12 coaches media webinar Wednesday. “Let the champions move on. Let the teams play, and we’ll see who the best team is at the end of the year.”

Lake is so passionate about the JLP, in fact, that he and his oldest son — Jimmy Jr. — recently reseeded every playoff since the CFP came into existence in 2014, using their system. (The coronavirus pandemic, without a doubt, has provided time for passion projects.) Lake declared Wednesday that fans and media “would drool over this schedule.”

And when it comes to UW fans, he’s probably right. In 2018, rather than meeting Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the Pac-12 champion Huskies would have matched up against undefeated Notre Dame in the opening round of the CFP.

“I know our fans would have loved to see that match up,” Lake said.

That’s certainly a safe assumption. But don’t expect the JLP to receive widespread support across college football. If, say, an SEC or Big Ten fan or administrator believes there are two (or three, or four) teams from their conferences that are better than the Pac-12 champion — as is the popular perception, right or wrong — then a permanent Pac-12 representative would theoretically steal a spot from a more deserving squad.

And even UCF, an undefeated Group of Five champion, still would not have cracked the six-team JLP field in 2017.

Lake, unsurprisingly (and perhaps correctly), believes the Pac-12’s best can compete with anyone in the country.

And the JLP would give the Pac-12 champion an annual opportunity to prove it.

“I have not shared this much with my peers, but I definitely have shared it internally —