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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SLS Update: Preparing Its Engine for Testing...

The electronic controller that will be tested on the Space Launch System's RS-25 engine at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center.
NASA / MSFC

New "Brain" for RS-25 Engine is No Technological Flashback to the '80s (Press Release)

Take a look at your current devices. Can you imagine swapping that smartphone for a gigantic cellphone from the 1980s? Surfing the Internet with dial-up speed? Working out to your favorite music with a cassette player?

Today's technology is better, faster and more innovative. People have to keep up with the rapidly changing times, and so does the "brain" for the RS-25 rocket engine.

The engine controller unit on the RS-25 -- formerly known as the space shuttle main engine -- helped propel all of the space shuttle missions to space. It allows communication between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine's health and status.

Just like the ever-evolving computer, the engine controller unit needed a "refresh" to provide the capability necessary for four RS-25 engines to power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to deep space missions. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.

"You can't put yesterday's hardware on today's engine, especially since many parts of the shuttle-era engine controller unit aren't even made anymore," said Russ Abrams, avionics subsystem manager in the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Marshall manages the SLS Program for the agency. "We need the most updated control systems for this engine to meet SLS specifications and take us to places we've never been before in space."

Controller development is based heavily on the recent development experience with the J-2X engine controller. An engineering model RS-25 controller is being tweaked and tested at Marshall. At one of the center's test facilities, engineers are simulating the RS-25 in flight, using real engine actuators, sensors, connectors and harnesses.

A second engineering model controller and RS-25 engine also recently were installed on the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Pending final preparation and activation work, the engine test series is anticipated to begin in 2015.

"NASA and its partners have been working very hard to evolve this crucial piece of hardware and software for the RS-25, and we look forward to seeing it tested on the A-1 stand very soon," said Johnny Heflin, deputy manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at Marshall. "This is an exciting time for everyone involved with this project."

The RS-25 and controller work are a collaborative effort between NASA and prime contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California.

The first flight test of the SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built and provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of the Space Launch System lifting off from LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

EFT-Update: Orion is Back on Terra Firma!

After arriving in Naval Base San Diego, California, the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is brought out of the well deck of the USS Anchorage via forklift...on December 8, 2014.
NASA / Amber Philman

Yesterday afternoon, the USS Anchorage arrived at Naval Base San Diego after completing a 3-day trip that began once the U.S. warship retrieved the Orion spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean last Friday. Having traveled 60,000 miles in space during Exploration Flight Test 1 and 600 miles from its splashdown zone to Southern California, Orion will now make a 2,500-mile roadside trip back to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This Orion capsule will be refurbished and reused during the Ascent Abort 2 test at Cape Canaveral in 2018. The next Orion to fly into space (on Exploration Mission 1) is now in production by Lockheed Martin...at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is about to be placed inside a makeshift structure at Naval Base San Diego's Mole Pier for temporary storage, on December 9, 2014.
NASA / Cory Huston

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is about to be placed inside a makeshift structure at Naval Base San Diego's Mole Pier for temporary storage, on December 9, 2014.
NASA / Cory Huston

Sunday, December 7, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion's Recovery Effort...

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage hours after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Two days after successfully soaring into space aboard Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, Orion is on the verge of arriving at the U.S. mainland after safely being recovered from its splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean. The USS Anchorage, with NASA's newest human-rated spacecraft onboard, is set to arrive at Naval Base San Diego tomorrow. From there, Orion will be transported via roadside back to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida...where all of the sensors and cargo placed inside the capsule will be removed and processed. The Orion EFT-1 vehicle will be reused for the Ascent Abort 2 test in 2018...the same year that another Orion will fly aboard the Space Launch System during its maiden flight from KSC's Launch Complex 39B. That Orion, which will make an unmanned flyby of the Moon on Exploration Mission 1, will harbor the changes made to it in response to all of the data that Lockheed Martin (the prime contractor for Orion) obtained from last Friday's flawless demonstration. Stay tuned.

With the USS Anchorage waiting in the distance, a U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter flies over the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to assess its condition after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean...on December 5, 2014.
NASA

U.S. Navy recovery teams begin securing the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for it being towed back to the USS Anchorage, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

The USS Anchorage approaches the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for the capsule being towed back to the ship for securing aboard the vessel, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

U.S. Navy recovery team members watch as the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is towed into the USS Anchorage's well deck, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage hours after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Friday, December 5, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion's Inaugural Flight Is A Success!

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...beginning Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 on December 5, 2014.
NASA / Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

NASA’s New Orion Spacecraft Completes First Spaceflight Test (Press Release)

NASA marked a major milestone Friday on its journey to Mars as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

Orion blazed into the morning sky at 7:05 a.m. EST, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

During the uncrewed test, Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt where it experienced high periods of radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth. Orion also hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Orion will open the space between Earth and Mars for exploration by astronauts. This proving ground will be invaluable for testing capabilities future human Mars missions will need. The spacecraft was tested in space to allow engineers to collect critical data to evaluate its performance and improve its design. The flight tested Orion’s heat shield, avionics, parachutes, computers and key spacecraft separation events, exercising many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.

On future missions, Orion will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket currently being developed at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. A 70 metric-ton (77 ton) SLS will send Orion to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on Exploration Mission-1 in the first test of the fully integrated Orion and SLS system.

“We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion’s design going forward,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “In the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at that invaluable information and applying lessons learned to the next Orion spacecraft already in production for the first mission atop the Space Launch System rocket.”

A team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel aboard the USS Anchorage are in the process of recovering Orion and will return it to U.S. Naval Base San Diego in the coming days. Orion will then be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be processed. The crew module will be refurbished for use in Ascent Abort-2 in 2018, a test of Orion’s launch abort system.

Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, began manufacturing the Orion crew module in 2011 and delivered it in July 2012 to the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Facility at Kennedy where final assembly, integration and testing were completed. More than 1,000 companies across the country manufactured or contributed elements to Orion.

Source: NASA.Gov

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My 'boarding pass' for the Orion EFT-1 mission.

A microchip bearing the names of about 1.4 million people (including myself) was one of many special cargo items that flew aboard Orion during the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Earth as seen from a camera aboard the Orion spacecraft during the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA TV

As seen from the recovery ship USS Anchorage, the Orion spacecraft is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean to successfully conclude the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA / U.S. Navy / Lockheed Martin

As seen from a U.S. Navy aircraft flying overhead, the Orion spacecraft floats quietly in the water after successfully concluding the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA TV

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Better Luck Tomorrow!

A security helicopter hovers near SLC-37 as a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft stands poised for launch (which was scrubbed) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on December 4, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thanks to a stray boat, pesky ground winds and stubborn fuel valves that wouldn't close properly, today's launch of Orion was scrubbed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The next attempt will be tomorrow (at 7:05 AM, Eastern Standard Time...same as today's 'T-0')—with a 40% chance of acceptable weather conditions at lift-off. Here's hoping that 40% chance increases to 100% on Friday, with no technical issues preventing America's next manned space vehicle from soaring 3,600 miles beyond the Earth during its maiden voyage. In the meantime, check out these photos of an Orion paper model kit that I received at a NASA Social event I attended for Exploration Flight Test 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California yesterday. It took me only a few hours to assemble it. Pretty cool...if I may say so, myself.

An upper view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

A lower view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

A rear view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

Monday, December 1, 2014

T-Minus Three Days and Counting...

NASA's Orion Spacecraft at the Launch Pad (Press Release)

With access doors at Space Launch Complex 37 opened on Nov. 24, 2014, the Orion spacecraft and Delta IV Heavy stack is visible in its entirety inside the Mobile Service Tower where the vehicle is undergoing launch preparations. Orion will make its first flight test on Dec. 4 with a morning launch atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion’s crew module is underneath the Launch Abort System and nose fairing, both of which will jettison about six minutes, 20 seconds after launch. The tower will be rolled away from the rocket and spacecraft 8 hours, 15 minutes before launch to allow the rocket to be fueled and for other launch operations to proceed.

The spacecraft will orbit the Earth twice, including one loop that will reach 3,600 miles above Earth. No one will be aboard Orion for this flight test, but the spacecraft is being designed and built to carry astronauts on exploration missions into deep space. Launch is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7:05 a.m. EST, the opening of a 2 hour, 39-minute window for the day.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Inside Space Launch Complex 37's Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, engineers conduct final launch preparations on the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft...on November 24, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, November 27, 2014

T-Minus One Week and Counting...

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!! Just thought I'd mark this occasion by sharing this photo of the Delta IV Heavy rocket—complete with the Orion spacecraft now sitting atop the vehicle—as it stands visible inside of its Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 is exactly 7 days away!

The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft stands poised for launch inside of its Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 24, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cool Stuff Made on the ISS...

A 3-D printer that was tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center prior to being launched to the International Space Station (ISS) last September...aboard a SpaceX Dragon vehicle.
NASA / Emmett Given

International Space Station’s 3-D Printer (Press Release)

The International Space Station’s 3-D printer has manufactured the first 3-D printed object in space, paving the way to future long-term space expeditions. The object, a printhead faceplate, is engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer.

This image of the printer, with the Microgravity Science Glovebox Engineering Unit in the background, was taken in April 2014 during flight certification and acceptance testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, prior to its launch to the station aboard a SpaceX commercial resupply mission. The first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to the identical ground control samples made on the flight printer prior to launch. The goal of this analysis is to verify that the 3-D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth.

The printer works by extruding heated plastic, which then builds layer upon layer to create three-dimensional objects. Testing this on the station is the first step toward creating a working "machine shop" in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth and will create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts. Long-term missions would benefit greatly from onboard manufacturing capabilities. Data and experience gathered in this demonstration will improve future 3-D manufacturing technology and equipment for the space program, allowing a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility for astronauts.

Source: NASA.Gov

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ISS commander Barry Wilmore shows off the first 3-D printed part made in space. The piece was manufactured on November 24, 2014.
NASA

Saturday, November 15, 2014

SLS Update: Construction Begins on the Mammoth Vehicle...

At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, welding is completed on a barrel that will house the four RS-25 engines of the first Space Launch System rocket...currently set to take flight in late 2018.
NASA

At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, engineers recently completed welding on the first barrel that will comprise the first stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This barrel is the bottom-most segment of the giant booster—which is where four former Space Shuttle Main Engines (known as RS-25s) will be attached to during the SLS' inaugural flight beyond low-Earth orbit...currently set to take place in late 2018 with Exploration Mission 1.

An infographic showing all of the barrels that will comprise NASA's Space Launch System rocket...currently set to take flight in late 2018.
NASA

Thursday, November 13, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion Is Now Poised for Launch Atop Its Delta IV!

Engineers inspect the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft after it is mated to its Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 12, 2014.
NASA

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Arrives at Launch Pad, Hoisted onto Rocket Ahead of its First Spaceflight (Press Release - November 12)

NASA’s new Orion spacecraft now is at its launch pad after completing its penultimate journey in the early hours Wednesday. It arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:07 a.m. EST, where the spacecraft then was lifted onto a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in preparation for its first trip to space.

Orion will travel almost 60,000 miles into space Thursday, Dec. 4 during an uncrewed flight designed to test many of the spacecraft’s systems before it begins carrying astronauts on missions to deep space destinations.

The spacecraft, which includes the crew and service modules, launch abort system and the adapter that will connect it to the rocket, was completed in October and has since been awaiting its rollout inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although storms in the area delayed its move slightly, Orion completed its 22-mile journey with no issues.

“This is the next step on our journey to Mars, and it’s a big one,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “In less than a month, Orion will travel farther than any spacecraft built for humans has been in more than 40 years. That’s a huge milestone for NASA, and for all of us who want to see humans go to deep space.”

Once it arrived at Space Launch Complex 37, Orion was hoisted up about 200 feet and placed atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into orbit. Over the course of the three weeks that remain until liftoff, the spacecraft will be fully connected to the rocket and powered on for final testing and preparations.

“We’ve put a lot of work into designing, building and testing the spacecraft to get it to this point and I couldn’t be prouder of the whole team,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “Now it’s time to see how it flies. Sending Orion into space will give us data that is going to be critical to improving the spacecraft’s design before we go to an asteroid and Mars.”

Orion is scheduled to lift off at 7:05 a.m. Dec. 4. During its two-orbit, 4.5 hour flight test, Orion will travel 3,600 miles beyond Earth. From this distance, Orion will return through Earth’s atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph, generating temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on its heat shield. The flight will allow engineers to test systems critical to safety, including the heat shield, parachutes, avionics and attitude control.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Engineers prepare to lift the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft up the Space Launch Complex 37 gantry to be mated with its Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 12, 2014.
NASA

Engineers make sure that the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is properly aligned with its Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle for mating at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 12, 2014.
NASA

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is mated to its Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 12, 2014.
NASA