Saturday, June 25, 2022

What’s next in space: Boeing Starliner test and UFOs in Congress

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The week of May 16 will see two long-awaited space-related events – the long-delayed second test flight of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft and a US Congressional hearing on the subject of UFOs.

Read more below about what’s next in space in the coming weeks.

House Intelligence Subcommittee Hearing on “UFOs” – May 17

The US Congress will hold hearings on Tuesday, May 17th on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs – the new Pentagon nomenclature for what were once called “UFOs.”

The House Intelligence Committee Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation will host the hearing beginning at 10 a.m. EDT, which will be attended by two witnesses, Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray and Undersecretary for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie.

You can follow the public portion of the hearing live on YouTube.

According to Indiana Congressman Andre Carson, the hearing will be the first congressional hearing on UFOs/UAPs in more than 50 years.

The hearing follows a Pentagon report on UAPs released in 2021, which concluded that UAPs observed by US military pilots were not US technology, but also found no evidence that they were extraterrestrial Spacecraft acted — in other words, US military officials don’t know what UAPS are.

Boeing’s orbital flight test May 2-19

NASA’s Crew-3 and Crew-4 flew to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. That’s because, as of 2020, SpaceX is the only commercial launch operator licensed to fly astronauts under Nasa’s Commercial Crew program.

Boeing will take a second shot at a critical flight test of its Starliner spacecraft on Thursday, May 19, Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2.

The unmanned spacecraft is scheduled to launch at 6:54 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Nasa will begin broadcasting live coverage of pre-launch activities on Nasa Television and the space agency’s website beginning at 6 p.m. EDT.

If successful, the Starliner spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station on Friday, May 20 at 7:10 p.m.

In 2020, Nasa awarded contracts to both Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the ISS under the space agency’s Commercial Crew program. So far, however, only SpaceX has completed the necessary tests with its Crew Dragon spacecraft and has been flying Nasa astronauts since 2020.

The Boeing Starliner has been held up since a failed first attempt at an orbital flight test in 2019. A computer error prevented the Starliner from docking with the space station, and although Boeing tried again in August, further technical problems kept the spacecraft grounded.

If Boeing can successfully complete the OFT-2 mission, it will set the stage for a manned test flight and then regular crewed commercial flights to the space stations.

Nasa officials, including Administrator Bill Nelson, have repeatedly said that hardware redundancy, a second trip to the ISS using different technology than SpaceX has done so far, is important to the space agency.

Test flight of NASA’s moon rocket – maybe in August

As late as April, Nasa officials were still debating launch windows in May, June and July for the first test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

But after three aborted attempts to complete a crucial launch pad refueling test, known since March 17 as the wet dress rehearsal, Nasa rolled the 322-foot-tall rocket on Tuesday, March 26. During a Tuesday morning media briefing, Nasa’s deputy administrator banged Bob Cabana suggested that conducting an SLS test flight by sometime in August would be a schedule that the space agency would have to work hard to meet at that point.

SLS and Orion together form the core of Nasa’s Artemis Moon program. Artemis I, an unmanned test flight of both vehicles, must take place before Artemis II, a crewed lunar flyby scheduled for May 2024, and Artemis III, a mission to return humans to the lunar surface scheduled for 2025.

Psyche Asteroid Mission – Launch scheduled for August 1st

On May 2, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft was flown from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility in California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the probe will be tested in preparation for an August 1 launch.

Psyche will be the first spacecraft to use solar-electric propulsion to travel beyond the moon, using 800 square feet of solar panels to power its Hall effect thrusters for the 1.5 billion mile journey to the asteroid Psyche in the main power the asteroid belt. Thrusters use electric fields to propel fuel and create thrust, and are very efficient but take a long time to build up speed – Psyche the starship won’t reach Psyche the asteroid until 2026.

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