Thursday, December 5, 2013
Heat Shield for NASA's Orion Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)
NASA's Orion spacecraft is just about ready to turn up the heat. The spacecraft's heat shield arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night aboard the agency's Super Guppy aircraft.
The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, is to be unloaded Thursday and is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March, in preparation for Orion's first flight test in September 2014.
"The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being prepared, is a major step toward Exploration Flight Test-1 next year," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "Sending Orion into space for the first time is going to give us crucial data to improve our design decisions and develop Orion to send humans on future missions to an asteroid and Mars."
The heat shield began its journey in January 2012 in Colorado, at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver. That was the manufacturing site for a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin that give the heat shield its shape and provide structural support during landing. They were shipped in March to Textron Defense Systems near Boston, where they were used in construction of the heat shield itself.
Textron installed a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb's 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, then X-rayed and sanded each cell to match Orion's design specifications. The Avcoat-treated shell will shield Orion from the extreme heat it will experience as it returns to Earth. The ablative material will wear away as it heats up during Orion's re-entry into the atmosphere, preventing heat from being transferred to the rest of the capsule.
"Many people across the country have poured a tremendous amount of hard work into building this heat shield," said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. "Their efforts are a critical part of helping us understand what it takes to bring a human-rated spacecraft back safely from deep space."
Before and during its manufacture, the heat shield material was subjected to arc-jet testing NASA's Ames Research Center in California and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Arc jets heat and expand gasses to very high temperatures and supersonic and hypersonic speeds, thus simulating the heating conditions that a returning spacecraft will experience.
The heat shield delivered to Kennedy will be used during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. The returning capsule is expected to encounter temperatures of almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels through Earth's atmosphere at up to 20,000 mph, faster than any spacecraft in the last 40 years.
Data gathered during the flight will influence decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to space systems and development. It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for future Orion missions, which include exploring an asteroid and Mars.
NASA / Textron Defense Systems
Monday, December 2, 2013
Today marks 20 years since space shuttle Endeavour launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to embark on the very first Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission. The almost-11-day flight was an astounding success...with HST not only receiving new science instruments such as Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, but also had its blurred vision (due to Hubble's flawed primary mirror) fixed with the installation of the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement device, or COSTAR. Many more servicing flights to HST would come along (the last being STS-125 in 2009), but it was STS-61 that was the most crucial in making Hubble the 'Great Observatory' (and one of NASA's most iconic spacecraft) that it is today.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Almost a week after the United States marked the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, NASA today marked a half century since President Lyndon B. Johnson (sworn into office six days earlier) renamed Cape Canaveral (then called NASA's Launch Operations Center) to Kennedy Space Center. One of this nation's greatest presidents now had America's spaceport bearing his moniker...which would also be complemented by the fact that the U.S. would fulfill Kennedy's pledge of sending a man to the Moon almost six years later. JFK's legacy lives on.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Celebrating Fifteen Years of the International Space Station (Press Release)
Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk preparing for release of the first combined elements of the International Space Station. The Russian-built Zarya module, with its solar array panel visible here, was launched into orbit fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998. Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA's space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex. Endeavour's forward section is reflected in Newman's helmet visor in this image. During three spacewalks on the STS-88 mission, the two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were joined together in space, making the space station truly international.
Since that first meeting of Zarya and Unity, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the international partners built across three continents and leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed. The space station, now four times larger than Mir and five times larger than Skylab, represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.
In support of station assembly and maintenance, station and shuttle crews have conducted 174 spacewalks totaling almost 1,100 hours – the equivalent to nearly 46 days of spacewalks to build and maintain the complex. The station, with a mass of almost a million pounds and the size of a football field, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky. Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on the space laboratory, which has already yielded tremendous results toward various fields. The science of the space station has provided benefits to humankind in areas such as human health, Earth observation and education. Many more results and benefits for both space exploration and life on Earth are expected in the coming years.
Roscosmos / ESA / NASA
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
NASA / Dryden
NASA Tests Space Launch System Autopilot Technology on F/A-18 Jet (Press Release)
NASA has completed the first tests with an F/A-18 research jet to evaluate the autonomous flight control system for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The system, called the Adaptive Augmenting Controller, will allow SLS to respond to vehicle and environmental variations such as winds or vehicle flexibility after it blasts off the launch pad and heads toward space. This is the first time a flight control system for a NASA rocket is being designed to adjust autonomously to unexpected conditions during actual flight rather than pre-flight predictions. This ability to make real-time adjustments to the autopilot provides enhanced performance and increased safety for the crew.
The tests were flown Nov. 14-15 out of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During the flights, more than 40 tests were conducted using SLS-like trajectories. The system was evaluated in different scenarios for up to 70 seconds at a time to match the rocket's dynamics for the majority of its flight from liftoff to solid rocket booster separation.
"By flying a high-performance F/A-18 jet in a manner similar to our rocket, we're able to simulate SLS's flight conditions and improve our software," said Tannen VanZwieten, SLS flight controls working group lead. "The innovative system that we are testing at Dryden is advancing flight control technology by adding an adaptive element which is new for launch vehicles. We're using this technology to expand the capabilities of the SLS a bit more than what is possible with a traditional design."
During the flight, NASA simulated both normal and abnormal flight conditions, such as sloshing propellant, and identified key aircraft vibrational characteristics. The flight test data will be used to refine software for SLS and plans for future F/A-18 flights, which will run through the end of the year.
"This is an example of how advanced rocket technology can be checked out in flight without having to be launched into space," said John Carter, project manager for the flight tests at Dryden. "Doing this work on the F/A-18 test bed allows for low-cost, quick-schedule tests that can be repeated many times in order to gain confidence in the advanced controls technology, providing some unique testing advantages for this type of control system validation." This flight control system will be ready for the first flight test of the SLS, scheduled for 2017. That flight will feature a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity configuration and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130-metric-tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system to places such as an asteroid and Mars.
Friday, November 15, 2013
NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Achieves Milestone in Safety Review (Press Release)
Engineers and safety specialists from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) met in late October to review the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket being developed to launch humans into low-Earth orbit later this decade.
The detailed overview of safety practices the company is implementing was a major milestone for SpaceX under a funded Space Act Agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
SpaceX is one of NASA's commercial partners working to develop a new generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil. NASA intends to use new commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station within the next four years.
A team of NASA engineers went to SpaceX headquarters for two days of detailed presentations and question-and-answer sessions that reviewed the company's safety practices.
"The milestone is not the end of the safety discussion, it's really the beginning," said Jon Cowart, deputy manager of the NASA Partnership Integration Team for CCP. "Because we've been doing this for so long, we all have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't and how safety processes can be strengthened to increase our confidence in the system."
Teams from NASA and SpaceX are working closely together to make sure the innovative technologies employed meet the rigorous requirements that come with flying crews in space.
"We greatly appreciate NASA’s support and feedback throughout this process," said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX and a former astronaut. "Together we are taking all the necessary steps to make Dragon the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown."
SpaceX already has flown several cargo missions to the space station using its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, but those spacecraft have not yet transported astronauts. Through NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, the company is deep into the design process of the integrated crew-capable Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX plans to test its launch abort system next year at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Two flight tests will demonstrate the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated emergency.
The first test will simulate an abort from the pad prior to launch in the second quarter of 2014. The second test, targeted for the third quarter of 2014, calls for the spacecraft to separate from a Falcon 9 booster in flight and parachute safely into the Atlantic Ocean. The company is building the spacecraft for the flight tests, and manufacturing of the rocket is expected to begin shortly.
This safety review was the ninth milestone for SpaceX under CCiCap. The company is on track to complete all 15 of its CCiCap milestones by the third quarter of 2014. All of NASA's industry partners, including SpaceX, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.
For more information about NASA's Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners, visit:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Preparing for Exploration Flight Test-1: Spacecraft Adapter Added to Orion Service Module (Press Release)
Kennedy Space Center - Operations and Checkout Building. The spacecraft adapter is moved into position under the service module for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) for alignment prior to final assembly operations. An air bearing palette, which rides on a cushion of air, was used to allow four technicians to move the spacecraft adapter into position. The spacecraft adapter is used to attach the Orion service module to the United Launch Alliance Delta IV upper stage which will provide propulsion for the EFT-1 flight.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations in deep space, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. EFT-1 will be Orion's first mission and send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth's orbit. As part of the test flight, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The flight test is scheduled for September 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett
Thursday, November 7, 2013
NASA / MSFC / Michael Alldredge
It's Prime Time for Orion Flight Test Hardware (Press Release - November 6)
A technician at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., applies the finishing touches on the stage adapter that will connect NASA’s Orion spacecraft to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in September 2014. The top coat for the adapter is a special paint that protects the hardware and its components, like sensors, from electrical discharge on ascent.
During EFT-1, Orion will travel to an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any spacecraft built for humans has gone in more than 40 years. It will provide engineers with early flight-performance data before Orion is flown on NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) beginning in 2017. Together, Orion and SLS will allow future explorers to travel farther into our solar system than ever before.
A test article twin of this adapter soon will be attached to the diaphragm -- which keeps gases away from the spacecraft -- to undergo pressurized testing in mid-November at Marshall. The tests will certify the hardware for flight conditions.
NASA / Daniel Casper
NASA / Jim Grossmann
Sunday, November 3, 2013
After undocking from the International Space Station (ISS) on October 28 following a successful mission that started with the freighter arriving at the orbital outpost on June 15, the Albert Einstein Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) burned up in Earth's atmosphere and was destroyed as expected yesterday. The European Space Agency plans to launch a fifth and final ATV, the Georges Lemaître, to the ISS sometime next year...before shifting gears and beginning development on the Service Module that will fly with NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle—which is set to soar into space for the very first time next September. ESA's Service Module will see flight when Orion partakes in the Space Launch System's maiden journey towards the Moon in 2017.
ESA / NASA
ESA / NASA
Monday, October 28, 2013
NASA's Orion Spacecraft Comes to Life (Press Release)
NASA's first-ever deep spacecraft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.
Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.
All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.
"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."
Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.
EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans.
The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.
"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."
Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.
The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.