Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Another Successful Powered Flight for SpaceShipTwo...

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the second time on May 29, 2018.

Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight (News Release)

Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams this morning, on the Mojave Air and Space Port flight line, to witness VSS Unity’s second successful, supersonic, rocket powered test flight.

“It was great to see our beautiful spaceship back in the air and to share the moment with the talented team who are taking us, step by step, to space” Branson said. “Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking. We are getting ever closer to realizing our goals. Congratulations to the whole team!”

The focus of today’s flight was to expand our understanding of the spaceship’s supersonic handling characteristics and control system’s performance with vehicle parameters that were closer to the ultimate commercial configuration. This involved shifting the vehicle’s center of gravity rearward via the addition of passenger seats and related equipment. The rocket motor burned for the planned 31 seconds and propelled Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 ft. As will be the case for future commercial flights, Unity’s unique re-entry feathering system was deployed for the initial descent before the final glide home to a smooth runway landing.

Once in commercial service, Virgin Galactic’s spaceships are designed to be turned around and flown at a higher frequency than has traditionally been the case for human spaceflight. The flight today brought that vision a little closer, coming less than two months after Unity’s first rocket powered flight. Great credit goes to the engineering and maintenance teams for working through the first flight’s data diligently and efficiently before preparing Unity again for flight.

Richard Branson was on the runway tarmac to greet this flight’s VSS Unity pilots Dave Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky. In addition to the pilots of VSS Unity, Branson recognized CJ Sturckow and Nicola Pecile, the pilots of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.

“Today we saw VSS Unity in her natural environment, flying fast under rocket power and with a nose pointing firmly towards the black sky of space” he said. “The pathway that Unity is forging is one that many thousands of us will take over time, and will help share a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity’s toughest challenges on planet Earth.”

The teams will now conduct flight data review for this flight and continue planning preparations for the next flight.

While in Mojave, Richard Branson also toured the facilities of The Spaceship Company (TSC), Virgin’s Galactic sister company. TSC is focused on manufacturing next generation aerospace vehicles, with a primary focus on new spaceships for Virgin Galactic’s future fleet. Branson viewed the next two spaceships on the TSC’s manufacturing line, as well as the production facilities for TSC’s spaceship rocket motors.

Source: Virgin Galactic


VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's thirteenth test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the second time on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity glides back to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her second rocket-powered test flight on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity touches down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after her second rocket-powered test flight on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

As the VSS Unity continues her march towards the first commercial flight to suborbital space, two of her sister ships progress in their construction at The Spaceship Company in California's Mojave Desert.
Virgin Galactic

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Remembering Alan Bean (1932-2018)...

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean holds a soil sample container while walking on the surface of the Moon...on November 20, 1969.
NASA / Charles Conrad

NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy Record-Breaking Skylab, Apollo Astronaut (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the passing of Apollo and Skylab astronaut Alan Bean:

“Alan Bean once said ‘I have the nicest life in the world.’ It’s a comforting sentiment to recall as we mourn his passing.

“As all great explorers are, Alan was a boundary pusher. Rather than accepting the limits of technology, science, and even imagination, he sought to advance those lines -- in all his life’s endeavors. Commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1955, he chose the challenging pursuit of flight training and, after four years as a Naval pilot, decided to challenge himself further by attended the Navy Test Pilot School and becoming a test pilot.

“He joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1963 and, just six years later, was piloting the lunar module for the Apollo 12 mission. During that mission, he walked on the Moon. Yet he pushed farther. In 1973, Alan commanded the Skylab Mission II and broke a world record with a 59-day flight traversing 24.4 million miles. In all, he had a hand in breaking 11 world records in the areas of space and astronautics.

“After logging 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space, Alan passed the baton to the next generation of astronauts and changed fronts, looking to push the boundaries of his own imagination and ability as an artist. Even in this endeavor, his passion for space exploration dominated, as depicted most powerfully is his work ‘Hello Universe.’ We will remember him fondly as the great explorer who reached out to embrace the universe.”


A snapshot of Alan Bean shaving aboard the Skylab space station...on August 8, 1973.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Photo of the Day: The Space Launch System's Mobile Transporter Takes a 3-Mile Trip to LC-39B...

Crawler-transporter 2 is parked atop the pad at Launch Complex 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 22, 2018.
NASA / Nick Moss

Crawler-Transporter-2 Checked Out During Test Drive to Launch Pad 39B (News Release)

Crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) arrives on the surface of Launch Pad 39B for a fit check on May 22, 2018, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test drive to the pad confirms that all of the recent modifications to CT-2 and Pad 39B are operational to support the launch of the agency's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission-1.

In view, at right, is one of three lightning protection towers positioned around Pad 39B. Exploration Ground Systems managed the modifications and upgrades to CT-2 and Pad 39B to prepare for EM-1 and deep space exploration missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, May 21, 2018

ISS Update: A Cygnus Freighter Has Launched to the Orbital Outpost on Flight OA-9...

Orbital ATK's Antares rocket carrying the company's Cygnus freighter launches toward the International Space Station from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia...on May 21, 2018.
NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

NASA Sends New Research on Orbital ATK Mission to Space Station (Press Release)

Astronauts soon will have new experiments to conduct related to emergency navigation, DNA sequencing and ultra-cold atom research when the research arrives at the International Space Station following the 4:44 a.m. EDT Monday launch of an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft.

Cygnus lifted off on an Antares 230 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. The spacecraft is carrying about 7,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations underway on the space station.

NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus when it arrives at the station Thursday, May 24. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 3:45 a.m. Installation coverage is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Included in the cargo in the pressurized area of Cygnus is a centuries-old method of celestial navigation. The Sextant Navigation investigation will explore the use of a hand-held sextant for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans look to travel farther from Earth. The ability to sight angles between the Moon or planets and stars offers crews another option to find their way home if communications and main computers are compromised.

Monitoring crew health and the biological environment of the space station, and understanding long-term effects of space travel on both, are critical to NASA’s plans for long-duration, deep space exploration. The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) study is the agency’s next step toward advancing in-space DNA sequencing technologies that can identify microbial organisms living on the space station and understanding how the DNA of humans, plants and microbes are affected by microgravity. BEST will use a process that sequences DNA directly from a sample, with minimal preparation, rather than using the traditional technique of growing a culture from the sample.

In the realm of modern physics, the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) on Cygnus could help answer some big questions. CAL creates a temperature 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless. In the microgravity environment of the space station, CAL can observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer than possible on Earth. Results of this research could lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.

Cygnus is scheduled to depart the station in July with several tons of trash and burn up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, over the Pacific Ocean. The vehicle is named after James “J.R.” Thompson, a leader in the aerospace industry.

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,400 research investigations from researchers in 103 countries.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Photo of the Day: The First Spaceflight-Worthy Crew Dragon Capsule is Revealed!

About two hours ago, Elon Musk tweeted this image of the first spaceflight-worthy Crew Dragon capsule as it underwent Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) testing inside an echo-free chamber at SpaceX. After completing the EMI test, Crew Dragon will be shipped to NASA's Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio to be tested under spaceflight conditions inside its vacuum chamber. Crew Dragon won't be the only human-rated spacecraft to be analyzed at Plum Brook over the next year or so; NASA's Orion capsule for Exploration Mission-1 will be sent to this facility to also undergo similar tests once it is attached to its European Service Module—which is scheduled to be shipped to the United States from Airbus Defence and Space in Germany sometime this summer.

The first unmanned orbital flight of Crew Dragon is currently set to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than this August...aboard SpaceX's newest Block 5 version of its Falcon 9 rocket. Can't wait!

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule undergoes electromagnetic interference testing inside an echo-free chamber.
Elon Musk

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

NASA and Its Partners Achieve a Significant Milestone in Developing a Power Source for Manned Missions to Deep Space...

An artist's concept of a kilopower nuclear reactor on the surface of the Moon.

Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System Can Provide Space Exploration Power (Press Release)

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment,during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experiment was conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run several average households - continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

According to Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn, the pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth.

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson. “When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.”

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.

According to David Poston, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the purpose of the recent experiment in Nevada was two-fold: to demonstrate that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said Poston.

The Kilopower team conducted the experiment in four phases. The first two phases, conducted without power, confirmed that each component of the system behaved as expected. During the third phase, the team increased power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase. The experiment culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission, including reactor startup, ramp to full power, steady operation and shutdown.

Throughout the experiment, the team simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, showing that the system could continue to operate and successfully handle multiple failures.

“We put the system through its paces,” said Gibson. “We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well.”

The Kilopower project is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. The project will remain a part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020.

Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, including missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials.

The Kilopower project is led by Glenn, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama,and NNSA, including its Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and Y-12 National Security Complex.


NASA and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) engineers prepare to conduct a test of the kilopower nuclear reactor at the Nevada National Security Site.
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Friday, April 13, 2018

Photo of the Day: Work Continues on a Major Space Launch System Component...

The liquid hydrogen fuel tank for NASA's Space Launch System makes a move for its next step in processing at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Jude Guidry

SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Readied to be Primed for Thermal Protection (News Release)

The liquid hydrogen tank for NASA’s deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, makes a move for its next step in processing. Technicians at the agency’s rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, place the tank into Cell P to be primed before its thermal protection systems application. The hardware requires protection due to extreme temperatures it will face during launch.

The liquid hydrogen tank measures more than 130 feet tall, comprises almost two-thirds of the core stage and holds 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Propellant will flow from the tank to four RS-25 engines that will power the massive rocket on its first integrated flight with the Orion spacecraft: Exploration Mission-1.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Orion Update: An Exploration Mission-1 Component for the Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral...

The Orion Stage Adapter that will fly aboard NASA's Space Launch System on 2020's Exploration Mission-1 is transported to Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 3, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Space Launch System Flight Hardware Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (News Release)

The second piece of flight-hardware for NASA’s new exploration-class rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on April 3. The Orion Stage Adapter (OSA) traveled to Kennedy aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft from the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where it was built.

The stage adapter will connect the Orion spacecraft to the upper part of the SLS rocket known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, or ICPS. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based upper space stage that will give the spacecraft the push needed to go to deep space.

On its first launch, the OSA will double as a secondary payload carrier, delivering 13 mini ships on as many deep space missions. These small but mighty scientific investigations include 10 satellites from U.S. industry, government, and commercial partners, as well as the three CubeSats being built by international partners.

Both the OSA and ICPS are being stored for processing in Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility in preparation for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated launch of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov


Saturday, April 7, 2018

CST-100 Update: NASA May Have 3 Astronauts Launch on the Boeing Capsule's First Crewed Flight...

An artist's concept of an Atlas V rocket launching Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule into space.

NASA, Boeing May Evolve Flight Test Strategy (News Release - April 5)

NASA has updated its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with Boeing, which provides flexibility in its commercial flight tests. Boeing, one of the agency’s two commercial crew partners, approached NASA last year and proposed adding a third crew member on its Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station.

The change includes the ability to extend Boeing’s CFT from roughly two weeks to up to six months as well as the training and mission support for a third crew member. Cargo capabilities for the uncrewed and crewed flight tests were also identified.

Exact details of how to best take advantage of the contract modification are under evaluation, but the changes could allow for additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while Starliner is docked to station. Adding a third crew member on Boeing’s flight test could offer NASA an additional opportunity to ensure continued U.S. access to the orbital laboratory.

“This contract modification provides NASA with additional schedule margin if needed,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts. Commercial space transportation to low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil is critical for the agency and the nation.”

The current commercial crew flight schedules provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before NASA’s contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.

“Turning a test flight into more of an operational mission needs careful review by the technical community,” said Gerstenmaier. “For example, the spacecraft capability to support the additional time still needs to be reviewed. Modifying the contract now allows NASA and Boeing an opportunity to tailor the duration to balance the mission needs with vehicle and crew capabilities.”

This would not be the first time NASA has expanded the scope of test flights. NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial cargo demonstration flight to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. As part of its normal operations planning, NASA has assessed multiple scenarios to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. The agency is working closely with its commercial partners and is preparing for potential schedule adjustments normally experienced during spacecraft development.

“Our partners have made significant progress on the development of their spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground systems,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Their rigorous testing and analysis are verifying each system performs and reacts as planned as they prepare to safely carry our astronauts to and from the station.”

Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station this year prior to test flights with a crew onboard. After each company’s test flights, NASA will evaluate the in-flight performance in order to certify the systems and begin regular post-certification crew rotation missions.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule preparing to dock with the International Space Station.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

SpaceShipTwo Update: The VSS Unity Finally Lights Her Engine in Flight!

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the first time on April 5, 2018.

Today was a memorable day for Virgin Galactic as the VSS Unity finally lit her rocket motor during a flight above the Mojave Desert in California today. Unity separated from her mothership White Knight II 46,500 feet above the desert before igniting the engine that brought SpaceShipTwo (SS2) to an altitude of 84,271 feet before shutting down as planned. Unity reached a speed of Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds that her engine was fired—and activated her tail boom (a.k.a. "feather system") before descending back to her landing site at the Mojave Air & Space Port. The tail boom was brought back to its landing configuration 50,000 feet above the ground as Unity began her final glide back to the runway.

VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's twelfth test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

With today's momentous flight, the VSS Unity is that much closer to finally ferrying paying passengers to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Boeing and SpaceX will soon make manned commercial spaceflight a reality with the impending launches of the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively; it's time for Virgin Galactic to do so as well with SS2. This would obviously be the latest way to honor the memory of the VSS Enterprise and Michael Alsbury, the co-pilot who tragically lost his life in the spacecraft's crash on October 31, 2014. Ad astra.

The VSS Unity begins her glide back to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity is about to touch down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic