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Friday, January 13, 2017

EM-1 Update #2: A Major Milestone For SLS Is Achieved At NASA's Kennedy Space Center In Florida!

Yesterday, engineers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida installed the 20th and final work platform that will be used to assemble and prep the Space Launch System for its maiden flight next year. In all, there are 10 levels of platforms that are needed to grant workers access to the mammoth rocket inside the VAB prior to being rolled out to its pad at KSC's Launch Complex 39B in late 2018. Exploration Mission 1 is getting ever so closer to becoming a reality...

The 20th and final work platform that will be used to grant workers access to the Space Launch System is installed inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on January 12, 2017.
NASA / Frank Michaux

Monday, January 9, 2017

EM-1 Update: Progress Being Made on SLS Ground Infrastructure...

SLS manager Robert Bobo, left, and SLS lead engineer Mike Nichols confer in front of Test Stand 4693 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given

Construction Complete: Stand Prepares to Test SLS’s Largest Fuel Tank (Press Release)

Major construction is complete on NASA’s largest new Space Launch System structural test stand, and engineers are now installing equipment needed to test the rocket’s biggest fuel tank. The stand is critical for ensuring SLS’s liquid hydrogen tank can withstand the extreme forces of launch and ascent on its first flight, and later on the second flight, which will carry up to four astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on a journey around the moon, into the deep-space proving ground for the technology needed for the journey to Mars.

"There is no other facility that can handle something as big as the SLS hydrogen tank," said Sam Stephens, an SLS engineer working on the tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "There are few places in the world like NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility that could build these things, and even fewer that can test them."

After the project began in May 2014, Test Stand 4693 changed the skyline of Marshall as its twin towers soared to 221 feet (67.4 meters). In December, contractors and steelworkers handed the stand over to Marshall engineers, who are now busy installing complex networks of cables, pipes, valves, control systems, cameras, lighting and specially designed test equipment.

“The scale and capability of this test stand are unique, and creating it has taken people from across the country, from all walks of life -- concrete suppliers and finishers, steel fabricators and erectors, bolt manufacturers and more," said Robert Bobo, who manages SLS structural strength testing at Marshall. "Everyone who's touching this is proud of the Space Launch System, an American rocket that will send astronauts farther in space than humans have ever traveled before."

The stand will simulate the powerful dynamics of launch and flight by pushing, pulling and bending the SLS liquid hydrogen qualification test article, recently constructed by Boeing at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The 149-foot-long (45.4 meters) test article consists of a liquid hydrogen tank and equipment attached at each end to simulate the other parts of the 212-foot-long (64.6 meters) core stage, the backbone of the rocket. Together, the SLS liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks will feed 733,000 gallons (nearly 3 million liters) of super-cooled propellant to four RS-25 engines, producing a total of 2 million pounds of thrust at the base of the core stage.

The liquid hydrogen tank test article will travel by barge from Michoud to Marshall. When testing begins, the tank test article will be positioned between the towers, suspended beneath a crosshead. A total of 38 hydraulic cylinders or “loadlines,” each weighing from 500 to 3,200 pounds (approximately 230 to 1,500 kilograms), will be individually calibrated, outfitted with custom-built test cells to send and receive instructions and data, and then positioned at points all along the tank. At the base, 24 of the largest cylinders -- 3,200 pounds each, about as heavy as a medium-sized car -- will simulate the thrust produced by the RS-25 engines.

During testing, the cylinders extend and retract, pushing and pulling in different combinations against the test article, the test stand base and towers, applying millions of pounds of pulling and crushing force and up to 340,000 pounds (approximately 1.5 million newtons) of shearing or sideways force. During 30 or more test scenarios, instrumentation will capture more than 3,500 strain and detection measurements, temperatures, pressures, high-definition images and other information.

Careful attention to construction of the stand and the comprehensive testing is vital because every weld, every bolt, every connection, every measurement is important. "Everyone working on this knows that even the smallest things matter in such a big project," Stephens said.

Nearby, similar preparations have been underway since September 2016 on Test Stand 4697, where the SLS's 70-foot-tall (21.3 meter) liquid oxygen tank test article will be anchored in the crook of the L-shaped stand's arms. Because it takes some time for the cryogenic tanks to be brought to the precise temperatures and pressures required, teams also are preparing for some round-the-clock test sessions. A tank's complete test series might take up to four months.

As the new test stands move past the major construction phase, so does the job of Phil Hendrix. He's been the Marshall Center Operations construction project manager for both stands since they were just ideas on paper in 2012, and will continue to provide support as his day-to-day focus shifts to other center operations needs and projects. As the stands took shape, Hendrix said he could see the steelworkers and welders from across the country develop a sense of mission as they worked, and all delivered.

"It really comes down to people when you need to get anything done. And I think NASA brings out the best in people," he said. "It's the sense of awe and wonder about what's out there, about exploration, imagination, pride and patriotism. It's what happens because of our mission."

Source: NASA.Gov

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

ISS Update: Two Astronauts to Venture Up to the Outpost for the First Time in 2018...

NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Jeanette Epps will fly up to the International Space Station for the first time in March and May 0f 2018, respectively.
NASA

NASA Assigns Upcoming Space Station Crew Members (Press Release)

NASA is assigning veteran astronaut Andrew Feustel and first-flight astronaut Jeanette Epps to missions aboard the International Space Station in 2018.

Feustel will launch in March 2018 for his first long-duration mission, serving as a flight engineer on Expedition 55, and later as commander of Expedition 56. Epps will become the first African American space station crew member when she launches on her first spaceflight in May 2018. She’ll join Feustel as a flight engineer on Expedition 56, and remain on board for Expedition 57.

“Each space station crew brings something different to the table, and Drew and Jeanette both have a lot to offer,” said Chris Cassidy, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The space station will benefit from having them on board.”

A native of Lake Orion, Michigan, Feustel was selected as part of the 2000 astronaut class and, in 2009, flew on the space shuttle Atlantis for the final servicing mission of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. He made his first trip to the space station in 2011 as a member of the STS-134 crew on space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.

Feustel has a bachelor’s degree in solid Earth sciences and a master’s degree in geophysics from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In 1995, he completed his doctorate in geological sciences, with a specialization in seismology, from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Epps earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 at LeMoyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. She went on to complete a master’s of science in 1994 and a doctorate in 2000 in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.

While earning her doctorate, Epps was a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project fellow, authoring several journal and conference articles on her research. After completing graduate school, she went on to work in a research laboratory for more than two years, co-authoring several patents, before being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. She spent seven years as a CIA technical intelligence officer before being selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class.

Feustel and Epps will join a long and distinguished line of astronauts who have crewed the International Space Station since November 2000. With the help of the more than 200 astronauts who have visited, the space station enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. Its convergence of science, technology and human innovation provide a springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration, including the Journey to Mars.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

ISS Update: Two EVAs Set to Take Place at the Outpost Early Next Month...

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough of NASA capture a quick selfie during robotics training inside the Cupola module.
NASA

NASA Preps for Space Station Power Upgrade Spacewalks; Live NASA TV Coverage (Press Release)

Expedition 50 astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station at 7 a.m. EST Jan. 6 and 13 to perform a complex upgrade to the orbital outpost’s power system. Coverage of the spacewalks will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, NASA TV will air a briefing at 2 p.m. from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to preview the spacewalk activities. The briefing participants are:

Kenneth Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration Manager
Jud Frieling, flight director for Jan. 6 spacewalk
Gary Horlacher, flight director for Jan. 13 spacewalk
Troy McCracken, lead battery replacement robotics officer
Kieth Johnson, lead spacewalk officer

Media may attend the briefing at Johnson or ask questions by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 1:45 p.m. Jan. 4.

Working on the right side truss of the space station, the crew members will install adapter plates and hook up electrical connections for six new lithium-ion batteries that were delivered to the station in December.

Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA will perform the first spacewalk Jan. 6. The work will continue Jan. 13 during the second spacewalk, which will be conducted by Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

Prior to each spacewalk, the new batteries will be robotically extracted from a pallet to replace 12 older nickel-hydrogen batteries through a series of robotic operations. Nine of the older batteries will be stowed in a cargo resupply craft for later disposal, while three will remain on the station’s truss, disconnected from the power grid. The robotic operations will not air on NASA TV.

This will be the 196th and 197th spacewalks in support of space station assembly and maintenance. Kimbrough will be designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1), wearing the suit bearing red stripes for both spacewalks, the third and fourth of his career.

Whitson will be making the seventh spacewalk of her career and match the record of NASA’s Suni Williams, for most spacewalks by a woman. She will be designated extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2), wearing the suit with no stripes for the first spacewalk.

Pesquet, who will be making the first spacewalk of his career, will be extravehicular crew member 2 for the second spacewalk, also wearing a suit with no stripes.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

SLS Update #2: Testing the Mega-Rocket's Aerodynamics...

An artist's concept of the upgraded Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifting off on its maiden flight...currently scheduled for 2021.
NASA

Wind Tunnel Testing Underway for Next, More Powerful Version of NASA's Space Launch System (Press Release)

As engines are fired, software written and hardware welded to prepare for the first flight of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), engineers are already running tests in supersonic wind tunnels to develop the next, more powerful version of the world's most advanced launch vehicle capable of carrying humans to deep space destinations.

"Aeronautics leads the way in the design of a new rocket," said Jeff Bland, SLS discipline lead engineer for Integrated Vehicle Structures & Environments at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "The first leg any journey for spacecraft launched from Earth is a flight through our atmosphere."

Manufacturing is well underway on the initial configuration of SLS. It is 322 feet tall and able to lift 70 metric tons (77 tons). For the first test flight of SLS, the rocket will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and then return to Earth, deploying 13 small science and technology satellites in deep space during the journey.

The new wind tunnel tests are for the second generation of SLS. It will deliver a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity and will be 364 feet tall in the crew configuration -- taller than the Saturn V that launched astronauts on missions to the moon. The rocket's core stage will be the same, but the newer rocket will feature a powerful exploration upper stage. On SLS’s second flight with Orion, the rocket will carry up to four astronauts on a mission around the moon, in the deep-space proving ground for the technologies and capabilities needed on NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Scale models of the upgraded rocket in crew and cargo configurations are being carefully positioned in wind tunnels for test programs to obtain data needed to refine the design of the rocket and its guidance and control systems, said Dr. John Blevins, SLS lead engineer for aerodynamics and acoustics at Marshall. During hundreds of test runs at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, engineers are measuring the forces and loads that air induces on the launch vehicle during every phase of its mission.

"All the critical aerodynamic environments, from when the upgraded rocket leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral to launch, acceleration through the sound barrier and booster separation at greater than Mach 4 are evaluated in these four tests," Blevins said.

Ascent tests completed at Ames in November determined the rocket's behavior as it climbs after launch, and the kind of instructions to be programmed into the rocket flight computer for guidance and control as the rocket passes through transonic flight. For instance, the tests will determine what commands the autopilot will send to the rocket's nozzles to correct for wind or other factors and stay on course.

Buffet testing at Langley in November focused primarily on how the cargo version of the upgraded rocket behaves as it moves through the atmosphere at just below the speed of sound, approaching about 800 miles per hour, then moves into supersonic flight. As the rocket approaches the speed of sound, shock waves build and move along different points of the launch vehicle. These shock waves can cause buffeting, shaking, vibration and unsteady loads that could result in damage or course changes that must be corrected, Blevins said.

The cargo version of the upgraded rocket has a smooth fairing above the exploration upper stage instead of the Orion spacecraft and launch abort system, so separate wind tunnel testing is needed. Similar tests planned for the fall 2017 at Langley will include observing this transonic shock oscillation and buffeting on the crew version of the rocket, at both subsonic speeds and higher Mach numbers. At Mach 1.5 or 2, the waves terminate, or remain at the same points on the rocket for the rest of the flight, but they continue to change angle and strength.

These wind tunnel tests are critical, Blevins said, because the location and temporal behavior of these shock waves are difficult to predict with computational fluid dynamics -- they must be observed and measured.

Two other test series are planned at Langley. The first in early 2017 will provide data to ensure that as the SLS’s two solid rocket boosters separate from the rocket during ascent, they don't come back into contact with the vehicle. These tests are complex, Blevins said, because the models of the rocket’s core stage and each of the two boosters are separately instrumented, and even the dynamics of the small rocket motors that jettison the boosters are simulated.

Next will be liftoff transition testing, scheduled in the summer. These tests will include evaluation of the effects of winds on the rocket as it is waiting on the pad, and the presence of the mobile launcher and tower during liftoff. Drift of the vehicle as it moves past the tower must be controlled to avoid damage and because the sound bouncing back from the pad can cause damaging vibration.

"We expect that at the end of this test series we will have all the aerodynamic flight data needed for the upgraded rocket," he said. "We'll be ready for the first flight with crew, targeted as early as 2021, and subsequent flights."

NASA engineers have also teamed with CUBRC Inc. of Buffalo, New York, to use a special type of wind tunnel to better understand and analyze how the SLS heats up as it ascends into space. A model of the rocket was used in the first phase of aerodynamic heating tests in CUBRC's Large Energy National Shock Tunnel (LENS-II) in September. A second phase of testing is planned for models of the SLS in crew and cargo versions, in early 2017.

The SLS wind tunnel testing is very much a cross-agency effort resulting in information and new test techniques that also benefit other rocket and aerospace programs, said Dr. Patrick Shea. He's based at Langley, but served as SLS aerodynamics test lead for the transonic ascent testing recently completed at the Ames facilities.

For example, the Ames aerodynamics team is developing an optical measurement method involving Unsteady Pressure-Sensitive Paint. During a test, special lights and cameras will observe changes in the paint's fluorescence, indicating the strength of aerodynamic forces acting along different areas of the rocket or test article. Ames was able to take advantage of the presence of the SLS rocket model to conduct its own tests using the paint.

"For a lot of aero-acoustics and buffet work, we instrument the models with hundreds of pressure sensors. If we can start moving to more of an optical technique such as the dynamic pressure sensitive paint, it will really make good strides forward," Shea said. "It ended up being a really nice integration of their test technique and our test campaign."

Source: NASA.Gov

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A model of the upgraded SLS rocket undergoes wind tunnel testing at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
NASA / Ames / Dominic Hart

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

SLS Update: Welding Continues on the Mega-Rocket's Core Stage Components...

A welding machine is about to plug holes on the liquid hydrogen tank for NASA's Space Launch System rocket...at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steve Seipel

Preparing to Plug Into NASA SLS Fuel Tank (News Release)

A team prepares a robot – the yellow machine attached to the liquid hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System rocket -- for friction plug welding at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Friction plug welding is a technique developed by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It uses a robot to fill holes left after the tank goes through assembly in a larger robotic welder.

The liquid hydrogen tank is more than 130 feet long and is the largest part of the rocket’s core stage -- the backbone of the rocket. The liquid hydrogen tank, along with a liquid oxygen tank, will provide 733,000 gallons of fuel for the first integrated mission of SLS with NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2018. SLS will be the world's most powerful rocket and take astronauts in Orion to deep space, including on the Journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Orion Update: Construction Continues on the European Service Module...

The main engine that will fly on the European Service Module of the Orion EM-1 spacecraft undergoes a vibration test at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA

Orion Main Engine Arrives In Europe (News Release - December 14)

The main engine for the European Service Module that will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft was shipped from NASA’s White Sands facility and has arrived at Airbus Space and Defence assembly hall in Bremen, Germany.

The first Orion exploration mission will fly in 2018 beyond the Moon with a European-built service module to provide electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen as well as keeping the spacecraft at the right temperature and on course.

The service module has 33 engines to provide thrust and manoeuvre the spacecraft on all axes. The main engine on the first mission is a repurposed Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System engine that has flown 19 times in space before on Space Shuttle Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis. The engine provides 25.7 kN, enough to lift a van, and can swivel in pitch and yaw.

Road to Bremen

At White Sands the engine was refurbished and reassembled before shipping to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for shake testing. It was returned to White Sands for leak testing and is now in Europe. The engine flew from Dallas/Fort Worth airport to Frankfurt and continued its trip by truck to the European Service Module integration halls in Bremen, Germany.

Source: European Space Agency

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Japan's Newest Cargo Ship Arrives at the ISS...

KOUNOTORI 6 is grappled by the space station's robotic arm prior to being berthed to the International Space Station on December 14, 2016, Japan Standard Time.
NASA / JAXA

Successful Berthing of the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) to the International Space Station (Press Release)

The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) started its final approach to the International Space Station (ISS), and was captured by the ISS robotic arm at 7:39 p.m. on December 13 (Japanese Standard Time, JST). Being captured and maneuvered by the robotic arm, the HTV-6 was successfully berthed to the ISS at 3:24 a.m. on December 14 (JST).

Once after berthing of vehicle, the internal and external cargo will be unloaded by the onboard crew.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Saturday, December 10, 2016

EM-1 Update: The First Major SLS Rocket Component Is Essentially Complete...

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will fly aboard the Space Launch System during its first flight in 2018 completes major assembly at United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama.
ULA

Major Assembly Complete on System that will Pack a Powerful Push for Orion (News Release - December 9)

The propulsion system that will give the Orion spacecraft the in-space push needed to travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon and back has completed major assembly at United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Decatur, Alabama. The Boeing-designed interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion an extra punch of power on the first, uncrewed flight of the spacecraft with NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System in late 2018. The first integrated exploration mission will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems farther from Earth, and demonstrate Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area of space near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space, including the Journey to Mars.

With major assembly now complete on the flight hardware, the ICPS has several more steps to go, including avionics installation at the ULA-Decatur factory; barge and road transport to the Delta Operating Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for avionics and system-level testing; and delivery to NASA in mid-2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, December 9, 2016

ISS Update: Japan Launches Another Cargo Ship to the Orbital Outpost...

JAXA's KOUNOTORI 6 spacecraft is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan towards the International Space Station, on December 9, 2016.
JAXA / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

Launch Success Of The H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) With The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 On Board (Press Release)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with cargo transporter to the International Space Station, the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) on board at 10:26:47 p.m. on December 9, 2016 (JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 15 minutes and 11 seconds after liftoff, the separation of HTV6 was confirmed.

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, the wind speed was 4.3 meters/second, from the north-west, and the temperature was 15.5 degrees Celsius.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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An artist's concept of JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle separating from its second stage motor after launch.
JAXA