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Northrop Grumman to polish NASA's HALO, techies test tardy telescope tower, SLS boosters ready for Florida

And other tidbits from the realm of rocketry

Roundup NASA's Gateway edged a little closer to reality last week as the agency took another look at the James Webb Space Telescope's launch date and prepared for the arrival of the solid rocket motors for the SLS.

Northrop Grumman handed design and development contract for first NASA Gateway module

Northrop Grumman is to execute the preliminary design and development of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the first crew module of NASA's long-dreamt-of Gateway.

Assuming funding doesn't get yanked in the pursuit of putting boots on the Moon by 2024, the module will be deployed in lunar orbit to support long-term deep space shenanigans. A second contract will be needed in order to actually build the component.

HALO will be launched together with the station's Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) in 2023. It is described as being "about the size of a small studio apartment."

While plans had originally called for the two to fly separately and dock in lunar orbit, launching both at once removes this element of complexity. NASA remains tight-lipped about what will actually lift the modules, saying only that "NASA's Launch Services Program will select a launch provider for PPE and HALO by late fall 2020."

While Northrop Grumman has the know-how to build a pressurised habitation module, thanks in part to its experience with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, it lacks a launcher beefy enough to lift the HALO and PPE. For that we suspect that NASA might well turn to new the commercial crew flinger, SpaceX, and its Falcon Heavy.

James Webb Space Telescope stretches its tower

Technicians have tested the Deployable Tower Assembly (DTA) of the hugely delayed space telescope with less than a year to go before its launch atop an Ariane 5 rocket.

The DTA is a critical component of the telescope, and is designed to create a large gap between the upper part of the spacecraft, which houses the mirrors and instruments, and the warmer electronics and propulsion systems lurking in the lower section. The gang used a series and pulleys and counterbalances to simulate a zero gravity environment as the mechanisms were tested.

Already running late, the schedule of the telescope was further hit by process changes resulting from COVID-19. While the NASA/Northrop Grumman team working on the spacecraft recently resumed full operations, NASA admitted it was "evaluating potential impacts on the March 2021 launch date."

Those "potential impacts" are, sadly, unlikely to result in that launch date being brought forward.

Don't Stop Me Now (unless you're a virus)

Rocket Lab has named the date for its own delayed mission. The 12th launch of the company's Electron is set for no earlier than 04:43 11 June UTC.

Destined for launch from the company's New Zealand Launch Complex 1, the mission, dubbed "Don't Stop Me Now", will be carrying payloads for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The launch comes as the company continues to make progress on its second New Zealand pad (imaginatively named Launch Complex 1 Pad B), which will permit back-to-back launches rather than the pause of "days, weeks or months" that seem to be a feature of the company's operations at present.

Artemis I booster segments prepare for the journey from Utah to Florida

NASA is preparing to ship the 10 solid rocket motor segments that will give its monster SLS rocket an extra boost from the Northrop Grumman facility in Promontory Point, Utah, to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Ground crews at KSC will then process the segments in the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF), which previously saw action in the Space Shuttle programme, before eventually stacking the boosters on the mobile launcher, where the SLS core stage itself will also be placed.

The solid rocket boosters are impressive bits of kit. Comprising five segments each (up from the four of the Shuttle era), the twin boosters generate 3.6 million pounds of thrust each and will burn for 126 seconds. The pair will provide more than 75 per cent of the total SLS thrust at launch.

Unlike the boosters of the Shuttle, the five segment incarnations will not be recoverable and will dropped into the ocean when spent.®

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