How Boeing is building the world’s most powerful deep-space rocket

When NASA sends the first woman and the next man to the moon, those astronauts won’t just be the first humans to land on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, they’ll also be riding atop the biggest and most powerful rocket in NASA’s history: the Space Launch System, built by Boeing.

The SLS will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty when it’s ready to take off from the launchpad with the crew of NASA’s Artemis program. And with almost 9 million pounds of thrust, it will be powerful enough to carry a 38-metric ton payload to the moon.

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According to Matt Duggan, mission management and operation manager for the Boeing Company, the Space Launch System is a key piece of technology that will enable humans to travel farther into space and for longer periods. 

“The reason we need larger and larger rockets, as we go further and further into space, is that we want to take more and more stuff with us as we go,” Duggan said in an interview for CNET’s Now What series. “You’re going to pack differently if you’re going on a monthlong trip, than if you’re going on an overnight trip.

“That’s where the SLS comes in. It can carry these huge, huge payloads … and include all the supplies that humans need to live and work in deep space.”


An artist’s image of the SLS, shortly after launch. 


That ability to carry large payloads isn’t just vital for carrying crew and cargo to the moon, but also for future missions to Mars. Unlike previous rockets developed for NASA missions, the SLS will be able to carry entire payloads, pre-assembled, to deep space so that supplies are ready to go on Mars as humans arrive. 

While the team working on the SLS includes veterans who worked on the space shuttle program and the International Space Station (and the design of the SLS itself incorporates parts used on shuttle missions) a lot has changed since those earlier spacecraft were built. 


This interview is part of CNET’s Now What series, covering the leaders and trends shaping the world.

“It’s never been done before quite this way,” said Duggan “We’re taking advantage of the very best, most modern engineering practices that we have today. And I think that’s a huge advantage we have now over the people who — successfully, of course — but who designed Saturn V. That was a rocket where you had people doing designs on paper, doing calculations by hand, and making parts by hand. 

“We can do as much analysis in a single day as they did on their entire program over years. And with computer-aided manufacturing, we can build parts that are so precise, that they’re literally sculpted to be

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Why NASA’s moonshot, Boeing, Bezos and Musk have a lot riding on U.S. election

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s differences with rival presidential candidate Joe Biden extend far beyond planet earth.

FILE PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 39A with the seventh batch of SpaceX broadband network satellites, at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

President Trump’s plans to win the race in space call for a 2024 moon mission, and ending direct U.S. financial support for the International Space Station in 2025 – turning over control of the decades-old orbital laboratory to private space companies.

Biden, on the other hand, would likely call for a delayed moonshot and propose a funding extension for the International Space Station if he wins the White House, according to people familiar with the fledging Biden space agenda.

Pushing back the moon mission could cast more doubt on the long-term fate of Boeing Co’s BA.N Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, just as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival rockets to market as soon as next year.

Extending support for the space station for a decade would also be a major boost for Boeing, whose $225 million annual ISS operations contract is set to expire in 2024 and is at the depths of a financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 737 MAX grounding after fatal crashes.

Boeing and SpaceX are already supplying spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS under a program begun under the Obama administration and supported by both Trump and Biden.

Though slowing the moonshot would push back contracts for moon landers and related equipment the companies aim to win, the emerging Biden space agenda appears broadly set to promote competition between traditional defense contractors like Boeing and “new space” rivals like SpaceX who promise lower-cost and reusable rocket systems and space vehicles.


For the commercial space industry, “consistency is key,” said Mike French, a vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association trade group who earlier served as NASA chief of staff under Obama.

“If you shake the etch-a-sketch now, you will (be) risking a series of potentially historic accomplishments and the strong and sustained bipartisan support NASA has seen across its portfolio,” French told Reuters.

Roughly 20 former senior NASA officials and scientists have assembled as a volunteer subgroup under the Biden campaign’s science committee to informally help draw up ideas for a space platform.

Many held jobs in the Obama administration and are jockeying for influential roles on the transition team or in a Biden administration.

Reuters spoke to three of those people, as well as over a dozen lobbyists, industry executives, and former NASA officials who have held their own discussions with Biden’s campaign.

Members of the subgroup also want to boost NASA funding for Earth science and support partnerships with other nations. They stressed that Biden’s space agenda, and the staff assignments to lead it, were in a formative stage as

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NASA SOFIA Boeing 747SP finds surface water

Scientists were able to spot water on the moon for the first time.

Let that sink in. The moon, as we know it, was supposed to be an arid mass orbiting our H2O-rich planet. But NASA scientists just spied a small amount of water they say is about equivalent to 12 ounces, trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across Clavius Crater. That’s one of the largest craters you can see from Earth.

Although an earlier lunar exploration failed to reveal water, a modified Boeing 747SP airplane called SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) flying at up to 45,000 feet and carrying a 106-inch-diameter telescope was able to detect water molecules with its infrared camera.

The fact that it was found on the sunny side of the moon presents an interesting new opportunity for scientists who are working on sending the first female astronaut (and another male astronaut) there in 2024.

“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said Casey Honniball, the lead author, who published the results from her graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in Honolulu. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules—like we drink every day—or something more like drain cleaner.”

This is a critical discovery, as NASA’s Artemis program is tasked with establishing “a sustainable human presence [on the Moon] by the end of the decade.”

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Trump Trade War Backfires Again, China Sanctions Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon

China Sanctions Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon

Business Insider reports Industrial stocks tank after China sanctions Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon over Taiwan sales.

Industrial stocks dragged major indexes lower on Monday after China announced it will sanction US defense firms over planned weapons sales to Taiwan.

The announcement drove a sharp sell-off of the involved companies’ stocks that broadly pulled industrials into a hefty intraday loss. The corresponding S&P 500 sector sat 2.9% lower as of 12:50 p.m. ET, trailing only energy stocks in what’s poised to be the worst day for stocks in a month. Within the industrials sector, aerospace and defense stocks fell more than 3%.

Boeing fell as much as 4.4%. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin fell 4.3% and 3.2% at their respective intraday lows.

China Accuses Trump of Trade Deal Violation

Please consider Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on October 26, 2020
regarding US military sales to Taiwan.

Zhao Lijian: As China pointed out on multiple occasions, the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan severely violate the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, and seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests. China firmly opposes and strongly condemns it. 

To uphold national interests, China decides to take necessary measures to sanction U.S. companies involved in the arms sales to Taiwan including Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) and Raytheon, as well as the U.S. individuals and entities who played an egregious role in the process. 

Once again we urge the United States to strictly observe the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, and stop selling weapons to Taiwan or having any military ties with it. We will continue taking necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security interests.

Three Communiqués

The Three Communiqués or Three Joint Communiqués (Chinese: 三个联合公报) are a collection of three joint statements made by the governments of the United States and the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.). The communiqués played a crucial role in the establishment of relations between the U.S. and the P.R.C. and continue to be an essential element in dialogue between the two states.

  1. The first communiqué (February 28, 1972), known as the Shanghai Communiqué, summarizes the landmark dialogue begun by President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai during February 1972. Some of the issues addressed in this communiqué include the two sides’ views on Vietnam, the Korean Peninsula, India and Pakistan and the Kashmir region, and perhaps most importantly, the Taiwan (Republic of China) issue (i.e., Taiwan’s political status). Essentially, both sides agreed to respect each other’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States formally acknowledged that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China”.
  2. The second communiqué (January 1, 1979), the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, formally announces the commencement of normal relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In so doing, the United States recognized that the government of the People’s
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Soon, Boeing and Lockheed Could Be the Only Space Companies Without Reusable Rockets

You know how they say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? Well, Elon Musk must be feeling very flattered today.

a group of people on a beach: Soon, Boeing and Lockheed Could Be the Only Space Companies Without Reusable Rockets

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Soon, Boeing and Lockheed Could Be the Only Space Companies Without Reusable Rockets

For 54 years, the Soviet Union and then Russia have been flying variants of their “Soyuz” rocket to send astronauts, satellites, and cargo to space. Last week, though, Russian Space Agency Roscosmos announced that it will design and build a new space rocket — a new reusable space rocket — dubbed the “Amur” to carry Russia’s space program through the rest of the 21st Century. 

Reading through the details of the new methane-oxygen-powered rocket, described in a combination press release-interview story by Russian state news agency TASS, it’s impossible to miss the similarities to Elon Musk’s fleet of Falcon 9 rockets at SpaceX — or the dissimilarities to anything produced by Boeing (NYSE: BA) or Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT).

Here’s what we know about Russia’s new Amur.

a group of people on a beach: 3 men racing in business attire one of them riding a rocket

© Getty Images
3 men racing in business attire one of them riding a rocket

The name

Russia’s new rocket will be named for the region from which it will launch — Amur Oblast in Russia’s Far East. Probably not coincidentally, this is the location of Russia’s newest spaceport, the Vostochny Cosmodrome, near the border with China.


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The specs

Amur will be designed with an optionally reusable first stage powered by five RD-0169A methane-oxygen engines, and an expendable second stage with a sixth, vacuum-rated RD-0169V engine. After launch, the first-stage booster will land back on Earth, slowed and guided en route by gridlike “fins” — just like SpaceX’s Falcon first stages. (Roscosmos also mentions the possibility of first stages landing “like an airplane” with the use of “folding wings” — but that would seem more of a backup plan in case Roscosmos cannot master landing on retrorockets.)

Either way, because Vostochny is an inland site, located several hundred miles from the sea, Amur first stages will only land on solid ground. At this time, Russia has no plans to build SpaceX-like drone ships for landings at sea, due to frequently adverse weather conditions in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk.

That’s the first big difference between Amur and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 — and it will flatten Roscosmos’s learning curve, because land landings are easier than hitting a moving target on water. Another difference is size. With a 55-meter height and a 4.1-meter diameter, Amur will be shorter, but a bit squatter, than SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Despite its wider stance, Amur’s payload fairing (the “capsule” that contains the satellites, astronauts, or other cargo) will be slightly smaller than Falcon 9’s — just 5.1 meters in diameter.   

To maximize what Amur can carry within that smaller fairing, the Russian rocket will load itself with super-cooled propellant to maximize its fuel load.

The payload

Despite steps like these, however, it’s clear Amur will be a less robust rocket than SpaceX’s Falcons. At best, Amur

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