Monday, September 29, 2014
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis
After spending more than two weeks in Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility getting loaded up with fuel for Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, Orion is now inside KSC's Launch Abort System Facility...the capsule's final stop before heading to the launch pad for its maiden flight to Earth orbit on December 4. Orion's Delta IV Heavy rocket is now assembled at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with the clock soon ticking down on NASA's return to deep space with its own manned vehicle—even though Orion won't have any astronauts aboard for this inaugural mission.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis
Saturday, September 27, 2014
With the Space Launch System (SLS) on the verge of beginning construction now that its prime welding tool at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana is complete, progress is also being made on the Mobile Launcher (ML) from which SLS will soar from as it sends astronauts to deep space. Once destined to send the now-cancelled Ares rockets beyond Earth orbit in NASA's defunct Constellation program, the ML is being redesigned and reinforced to handle the massive weight of the SLS once it becomes operational as soon as late 2017. Exploration Mission 1, SLS' first flight, is scheduled to launch no earlier than December of 2017 and no later than November of 2018...so engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida still have plenty of time to complete the ML. Can't wait to return to KSC one day to see this new launcher in person.
NASA / Daniel Casper
NASA / Daniel Casper
NASA / Daniel Casper
Thursday, September 25, 2014
NASA / Aubrey Gemignani
New Crew Launches to Space Station to Continue Scientific Research (Press Release)
Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:25 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 25 (2:25 a.m. on Sept. 26 in Baikonur).
The Soyuz capsule carrying Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA and Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is scheduled to dock with the space station about six hours after launch at 10:16 p.m.
NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 9 p.m. Hatches are scheduled to open at about 11:50 p.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 11 p.m.
The arrival of Wilmore, Samokutyaev and Serova returns the station's crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev of Roscosmos, Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency. They have been aboard the complex since May.
Suraev, Wiseman and Gerst will return home in November. At that time, Wilmore will become commander of the station for Expedition 42. Wilmore, Samokutyaev and Serova will return to Earth in March 2015.
The crew members will be working off the Earth, for the Earth, conducting hundreds of scientific investigations and technology demonstrations during their six-month sojourn on the orbiting laboratory. This research includes seedling growth, observation of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere and studies of animal biology and bone and muscle physiology.
One new study, the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) 19, will focus on the growth and development of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings in microgravity. A. thaliana is a small flowering plant related to cabbage. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how the growth responses of plants alter in microgravity. The seedlings will be preserved and returned to the ground for evaluation. BRIC helps to maximize research and minimize space and crew time. The hardware also adds to the collective body of knowledge about basic plant growth phenomena and may help improve growth and biomass production to benefit farming practices on Earth.
Another new space station investigation is the Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor). Meteor will enable the first space-based scientific investigation of meteors as they enter Earth's atmosphere. Meteor uses high-resolution video and image analysis of the atmosphere to ascertain the physical and chemical properties of meteoroid dust, such as size, density and chemical composition. Because scientists can usually identify the parent comets or asteroids for most meteor showers, the study of the meteoroid dust from the space station provides information about the parent comets and asteroids. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors adds to our understanding of how the planets developed, and continuous measurement of meteor interactions with Earth's atmosphere could spot previously unforeseen meteor showers.
Effects of Gravity on Maintenance of Muscle Mass in Zebrafish (Zebrafish Muscle) is an investigation that will observe the effects of microgravity on the zebrafish, Danio rerio, a tropical freshwater fish belonging to the minnow family. The goal of the study is to determine whether zebrafish muscles weaken in microgravity similarly to human muscles and, if so, isolate the cause. Results from the Zebrafish Muscle investigation may help identify molecular changes involved in the deterioration of muscles exposed to microgravity. This data can help scientists develop new treatments for weakened muscles. The findings could potentially benefit patients on extended bed rest or with limited mobility. In addition, this information would aid researchers in developing countermeasures for muscle weakness in astronauts living in microgravity during extended missions.
The new crew members will perform additional experiments that cover human research, biological and physical sciences, technology development and Earth observations, as well as engage in educational activities. The crew will conduct one Russian and as many as three U.S. spacewalks. They will greet two Russian Progress spacecraft resupply flights, the third commercial resupply flight of Orbital Science's Cygnus spacecraft and the fifth and sixth flights of SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft.
The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has had continuous human occupation since November 2000. In that time, it has received more than 200 visitors and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration.
NASA / Reid Wiseman
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
NASA / Daniel Casper
Earlier this month, all of the components that comprise the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle that will send the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to Earth orbit this December were assembled at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. The Delta Cryogenic Second Stage motor was the last piece to be attached to the mammoth rocket...this milestone having been completed on September 12. The Orion capsule itself is currently being loaded with fuel inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center a few miles away. In just a few days the capsule will be brought over to the Launch Abort System Facility, where the spacecraft will be united with its Launch Abort Motor. Once this is accomplished, the assembled Orion EFT-1 stack will be transported to CCAFS, where it will finally be attached to the Delta IV Heavy rocket and then wait silently as Orion's maiden flight nears on December 4 (with lift-off set for 7:05 AM, Eastern Standard Time, that Thursday). Exciting times lay ahead.
NASA / Daniel Casper
NASA / Daniel Casper
NASA / Daniel Casper
Sunday, September 21, 2014
NASA / Sandy Joseph and Kevin O'Connell
NASA Cargo Launches to Space Station aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)
About 5,000 pounds of NASA science investigations and cargo are on their way to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The cargo ship launched on the company's Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:52 a.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21.
The mission is the company's fourth cargo delivery flight to the space station through a $1.6 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support experiments to be conducted by the crews of space station Expeditions 41 and 42.
One of the new Earth science investigations heading to the orbital laboratory is the International Space Station-Rapid Scatterometer. ISS-RapidScat monitors ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station. This space-based scatterometer is a remote sensing instrument that uses radar pulses reflected from the ocean's surface from different angles to calculate surface wind speed and direction. This information will be useful for weather forecasting and hurricane monitoring.
Dragon also will deliver the first-ever 3-D printer in space. The technology enables parts to be manufactured quickly and cheaply in space, instead of waiting for the next cargo resupply vehicle delivery. The research team also will gain valuable insight into improving 3-D printing technology on Earth by demonstrating it in microgravity.
New biomedical hardware launched aboard the spacecraft will help facilitate prolonged biological studies in microgravity. The Rodent Research Hardware and Operations Validation (Rodent Research-1) investigation provides a platform for long-duration rodent experiments in space. These investigations examine how microgravity affects animals, providing information relevant to human spaceflight, discoveries in basic biology and knowledge that may have direct impact toward human health on Earth.
The Dragon spacecraft also will transport other biological research, including a new plant study. The Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware has supported a variety of plant growth experiments aboard the space station. The BRIC-19 investigation will focus on the growth and development in microgravity of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings, a small flowering plant related to cabbage. Because plant development on Earth is impacted by mechanical forces such as wind or a plant’s own weight, researchers hope to improve understanding of how the growth responses of plants are altered by the absence of these forces when grown in microgravity.
Dragon is scheduled to be grappled at 7:04 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23, by Expedition 41 Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, using the space station's robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. NASA's Reid Wiseman will support Gerst in a backup position. Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in mid-October for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, bringing from the space station almost 3,200 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.
The space station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. NASA recently awarded contracts to SpaceX and The Boeing Company to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station with the goal of certifying those transportation systems in 2017.
SpaceX / NASA TV
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
NASA Chooses American Companies to Transport U.S. Astronauts to International Space Station (Press Release)
Selection Will Return Launches to America
U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts NASA announced Tuesday. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.
"From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars."
These Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit. Once certification is complete, NASA plans to use these systems to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth.
The companies selected to provide this transportation capability and the maximum potential value of their FAR-based firm fixed-price contracts are:
-- Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, $2.6 billion
The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program will implement this capability as a public-private partnership with the American aerospace companies. NASA's expert team of engineers and spaceflight specialists is facilitating and certifying the development work of industry partners to ensure new spacecraft are safe and reliable.
The U.S. missions to the International Space Station following certification will allow the station's current crew of six to grow, enabling the crew to conduct more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.
"We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope."
The companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs for all customers.
By encouraging private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit -- a region NASA's been visiting since 1962 -- the nation's space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America's investment in the International Space Station. NASA also can focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions, including flights to Mars.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
NASA / Dan Casper
NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Nears Completion, Ready for Fueling (Press Release)
NASA is making steady progress on its Orion spacecraft, completing several milestones this week at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the capsule's first trip to space in December.
Engineers finished building the Orion crew module, attached it and the already-completed service module to the adapter that will join Orion to its rocket and transported the spacecraft to a new facility for fueling.
"Nothing about building the first of a brand new space transportation system is easy," said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. "But the crew module is undoubtedly the most complex component that will fly in December. The pressure vessel, the heat shield, parachute system, avionics -- piecing all of that together into a working spacecraft is an accomplishment. Seeing it fly in three months is going to be amazing."
Finishing the Orion crew module marks the completion of all major components of the spacecraft. The other two major elements -- the inert service module and the launch abort system -- were completed in January and December, respectively. The crew module was attached to the service module in June to allow for testing before the finishing touches were put on the crew module.
The adapter that will connect Orion to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket was built by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is being tested for use on the agency's Space Launch System rocket for future deep space missions.
NASA, Orion's prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and ULA managers oversaw the move of the spacecraft Thursday from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy, where it will be fueled with ammonia and hyper-propellants for its flight test. Once fueling is complete, the launch abort system will be attached. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on the Delta IV Heavy.
Orion is being built to send humans farther than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. Although the spacecraft will be uncrewed during its December flight test, the crew module will be used to transport astronauts safely to and from space on future missions. Orion will provide living quarters for up to 21 days, while longer missions will incorporate an additional habitat to provide extra space. Many of Orion's critical safety systems will be evaluated during December's mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1, when the spacecraft travels about 3,600 miles into space.
Monday, September 8, 2014
NASA / Rad Sinyak
Orion’s First Crew Module Complete (Press Release)
NASA’s first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew and service module will be transferred together on Wednesday to another facility for fueling, before moving again for the installation of the launch abort system. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space on its first flight in December. For that flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth – farther than any spacecraft built to carry people has traveled in more than 40 years – and return home at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour, while enduring temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
This obviously isn't human spaceflight news, but just thought I'd post this photo that Expedition 40 crew member Gregory R. Wiseman took from aboard the International Space Station earlier today. It is of Florda and The Bahamas, which I traveled to six years ago this month. How time flies... I'd definitely go back to the Sunshine State again—though hopefully my vacation won't be thwarted by a tropical storm like it did in 2008 (which is why I ended up visiting Kennedy Space Center on a second trip to Florida in 2009). Carry on.
NASA / Gregory R. Wiseman
NASA / Gregory R. Wiseman
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
NASA / MSFC
NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars (Press Release)
NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) -- the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars -- and approved the program's progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.
"We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey."
For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.
This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.
Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program's control.
“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who oversaw the review process. “After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment.”
"The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”
The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.
"We are keeping each part of the program -- the rocket, ground systems, and Orion -- moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA. "We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day."
“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”
The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.
Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.
SLS will be the world's most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require its use and can’t be flown on commercial rockets.
The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency's confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.