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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this majestic image of the Earth at night highlighting the green and red hues of an Aurora. NASA NASA is asking American companies to provide input on the agency’s requirements for end-to-end services as part of the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program.
In the future, the agency plans to transition its operations in low Earth orbit to commercially owned and operated destinations to ensure continued access and presence in space for research, technology development, and international collaboration after the planned retirement of the International Space Station.
Through a request for information (RFI), NASA is seeking feedback from industry as the agency refines its anticipated requirements for new commercial space destinations. The requirements will help industry understand NASA’s human-rating standards that will be used by the agency to certify that the new systems meet NASA expectations for low Earth orbit operations and transportation. An industry briefing day is scheduled to take place Tuesday Oct. 12, with responses to the RFI due Wednesday, Nov. 17.
“This RFI is a significant next step in transitioning low Earth orbit operations to the private sector, allowing NASA to be one of many customers for services” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “These requirements will be the foundation upon which the companies can design safe systems. But the requirements have to work for companies as well. Thus, we are seeking industry feedback on these draft requirements to ensure that the Commercial LEO destinations will be safe, reliable, and cost effective.”
The agency is currently supporting the development of several new stations and destination concepts through both funded and unfunded agreements. However, a company does not need to have a current agreement with NASA in order to provide feedback via the RFI or to bid on future procurements to provide low Earth orbit services to the agency.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of innovation and effort from industry thus far in developing their station designs,” says Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We are working in lockstep with multiple companies to help guide them in a way that sets them up for success to meet our requirements. However, it’s crucial that we open feedback to as wide of an audience as possible. The more commercial stations that are successfully operating in low Earth orbit, the greater likelihood that we can continue to drive down costs and encourage innovation in this new commercial space industry.”
NASA previously sought industry input in 2022 and early 2023, and has hosted two industry days on the agency’s assumptions and expectations for crew and technical requirements to guide companies’ technical and business plans. The feedback from industry will continue to inform the agency’s future commercial services strategy for low Earth orbit destinations.
NASA’s goal is to enable a strong commercial marketplace in low Earth orbit where NASA is one of many customers for private industry. This strategy will provide services the government needs safely, at a lower cost, and enables the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars, while continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
Information about how to attend the industry briefing day is contained in the RFI on SAM.gov. The dates for industry day and responses due are subject to change pending a government shutdown resolution and will be updated on SAM.gov when available. For more information about NASA’s commercial space strategy, visit:
By Rebecca Turkington
Johnson Space Center, Houston
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The NASA Space Tech Catalyst Prize will recognize U.S. individuals and/or organizations that share effective best practices for how they support underrepresented and diverse space technology innovators, researchers, technologists, and entrepreneurs. The prize competition’s primary goals are: (1) Showcase effective strategies and approaches for developing the capacity and skill sets of these groups, enhancing their ability to succeed, (2) Expand the outreach and engagement efforts of the NASA ESIP portfolio, ensuring a diverse and inclusive pool of applicants for future funding opportunities, and (3) Recognize the efforts of those who support and nurture underrepresented and diverse individuals and organizations in the space technology sector.
Award: $500,000 in total prizes
Open Date: September 29, 2023
Close Date: February 22, 2024
For more information, visit: https://www.spacetechcatalystprize.org/
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NASA logoCredits: NASA NASA has selected four small explorer missions to conduct concept studies. These studies aim to expand knowledge of the dynamics of the Sun and related phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections, aurora, and solar wind to better understand the Sun-Earth connection.
Any missions selected to move forward after the concept studies are conducted will join the current heliophysics mission fleet, which not only provides deeper insight into the mechanics of our universe, but also offers critical information to help protect astronauts, satellites, and communications signals, and helps enable space exploration.
“These four mission concept studies were selected because they address compelling science questions and could greatly impact the field of heliophysics,” said Nicky Fox, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These mission proposals are exciting because they build upon and complement the science of our current mission fleet, have the potential for broad impact and could provide new and deeper insight into the solar atmosphere and space weather.”
The Cross-scale Investigation of Earth’s Magnetotail and Aurora (CINEMA) mission would work to understand the structure and evolution of Earth’s plasma sheet – a long sheet of denser space plasma in the magnetic fields flowing behind Earth, known as the magnetotail — using a constellation of nine CubeSats flown in sun-synchronous, low Earth orbit. The primary purpose of this mission is to study the role of plasma sheet structure, as well as how Earth’s magnetic fields transfer heat and change over time at multiple scales. CINEMA will complement current heliophysics missions, such as the THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), MMS (Magnetospheric Multiscale) mission, and the planned Geospace Dynamics Constellation mission. The principal investigator for the CINEMA mission concept study is Robyn Millan from Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The Chromospheric Magnetism Explorer (CMEx) mission would attempt to understand the magnetic nature of solar eruptions and identify the magnetic sources of the solar wind. CMEx proposes to obtain the first continuous observations of the solar magnetic field in the chromosphere – the layer of solar atmosphere directly above the photosphere or visible surface of the Sun. These observations would improve our understanding of how the magnetic field on the Sun’s surface connects to the interplanetary magnetic field. The principal investigator for this mission concept study is Holly Gilbert from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
EUV CME and Coronal Connectivity Observatory
The Extreme ultraviolet Coronal Mass Ejection and Coronal Connectivity Observatory (ECCCO) consists of a single spacecraft with two instruments, a wide-field extreme ultra-violet imager and a unique imaging EUV spectrograph. ECCCO’s observations would contribute to understanding the middle corona, the dynamics of eruptive events leaving the Sun, and the conditions that produce the outward streaming solar wind. The mission would address fundamental questions about where the mass and energy flow linking the Sun to the outer corona and heliosphere originate ECCCO’s concept study principal investigator is Katharine Reeves from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The primary objective of the Magnetospheric Auroral Asymmetry Explorer (MAAX) mission would be to improve our understanding of how electrodynamic coupling between Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere regulates auroral energy flow. The mission would use two identical spacecraft equipped with dual-wavelength ultraviolet imagers to provide global imaging of northern and southern aurora. The principal investigator for the MAAX concept study is Michael Liemohn from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“These mission concept study selections provide so much promise to ongoing heliophysics research,” said Peg Luce, acting Heliophysics division director at NASA Headquarters. “The potential to gain new insights and answer longstanding questions in the field while building on the research and technology of our current and legacy missions is incredible..”
Funding and management oversight for these mission concept studies is provided by the Heliophysics Explorers Program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
For more information on NASA heliophysics missions, visit:
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