Sunday, August 31, 2014

ISS Update: Florida and the Caribbean from Above...

This obviously isn't human spaceflight news, but just thought I'd post this photo that Expedition 40 crew member Gregory R. Wiseman took from aboard the International Space Station earlier today. It is of Florda and The Bahamas, which I traveled to six years ago this month. How time flies... I'd definitely go back to the Sunshine State again—though hopefully my vacation won't be thwarted by a tropical storm like it did in 2008 (which is why I ended up visiting Kennedy Space Center on a second trip to Florida in 2009). Carry on.

An image of Florida and The seen by Expedition 40 crew member Gregory R. Wiseman aboard the International Space Station, on August 31, 2014.
NASA / Gregory R. Wiseman

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SLS Update: First Launch Pushed to 2018 Despite Achieving New Milestone...

An artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System rocket soaring past the clouds as it heads toward space.

NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars (Press Release)

NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) -- the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars -- and approved the program's progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.

"We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey."

For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.

This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program's control.

“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who oversaw the review process. “After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment.”

"The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”

The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.

"We are keeping each part of the program -- the rocket, ground systems, and Orion -- moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA. "We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day."

“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”

The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.

Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.

SLS will be the world's most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require its use and can’t be flown on commercial rockets.

The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency's confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.

Source: NASA.Gov


At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, welding is completed on several barrels and domes that will form the fuels tanks inside the Space Launch System's core stage.

Monday, August 18, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion Gets Its Back Shell...

Engineers inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently installed the black back shell to the Orion capsule that will fly in this December's Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 demonstration. Reminiscent of the thousands of thermal tiles that enshrouded the retired space shuttle orbiters, the back shell is one of the last few items that need to be installed onto Orion (the Launch Abort Motor should be attached to the spacecraft soon) prior to it being transported to the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for mating onto a Delta IV Heavy rocket that will send Orion into space for its maiden journey. EFT-1 is currently scheduled to launch at 8:03 AM, Eastern Standard Time (5:03 AM, Pacific Standard Time), on December 4.

Engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida attach the black back shell onto the Orion spacecraft that will fly on Exploration Flight Test-1 this December.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Georges Lemaître Arrives at the ISS...

ESA's ATV-5 cargo vessel at the moment of docking at the International Space Station (ISS) on August 12, 2014.

ATV Completes Final Automated Docking (Press Release)

In a flawless demonstration of technology and skill, ESA’s fifth and final ATV, Georges Lemaître, docked with the International Space Station today, fixing itself firmly for a six-month resupply and reboost mission.

The fully automated docking came at 13:30 GMT (15:30 CEST), just a few moments after the cargo vessel’s extended probe made contact with the cone on the aft of Russia’s Zvezda module.

After contact, a series of hooks latched and closed, making a firm mechanical connection with the Station. Later, data and electrical connections were created, allowing ATV to draw power from the orbital outpost and for the Station computers to talk directly to ATV.

The sequence came at the end of several hours of automated manoeuvres, during which ATV powered itself through a series of waypoints starting some 40 km behind and just below the Station.

ATV Navigates Itself

“From 39 km to just 250 m from the Station, ATV navigated itself using relative satnav signals, in which both the Station and ATV compare their positions using GPS,” says Jean-Michel Bois, leading the ESA operations team at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France. Mission operations are run jointly with France’s CNES space agency.

“For the final 250 m, ATV navigated using a ‘videometer’ and ‘telegoniometer’, which use laser pulses to calculate the distance and orientation to the Station.”

The entire process was completed flawlessly, carefully monitored by the ground team and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and cosmonaut Sasha Skvortsov on the Station.

"European cargo spaceship Georges Lemaître has successfully docked to the ISS and the crew sends their congratulations to all the brilliant engineering teams on the ground and in ATV Control Center in Toulouse and in Moscow and to those who have contributed over the last 20 years to the development of one of the most advanced resupply vessels that circles our planet," said ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on board the ISS.

"While this is the last of the ATV flights, the know-how and technology will soon fly again as early as 2017. NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the European Service Module are paving the way for the next generation of space exploration."

The crew will open the hatch and enter briefly over the next day, installing a fan to freshen the internal air before ATV is made ready for daily use.

One of ATV’s most crucial capabilities – using its thrusters to reboost the Station’s altitude – will be tested in just two days, with a test burn scheduled for 14 August.

Teams Perform Magnificently

“The final arrival of Europe’s ATV space freighter was almost anticlimactic, as the vessel’s made-in-Europe docking technology performed perfectly for the fifth and final time,” said Massimo Cislaghi, ATV-5 mission manager.

“Most importantly, the crew in space and the ESA, CNES and industry teams on ground performed magnificently, and it is thanks to their dedication over the life of this project that ATVs have won a reputation for being some of the most reliable and dependable space vessels ever flown.”

Named after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, ATV Georges Lemaître lifted off at 23:47 GMT on 29 July (01:47 CEST 30 July) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The vehicle is carrying 6602 kg of freight, including 2680 kg of dry cargo and 3921 kg of water, propellants and gases.

The cargo includes complex scientific hardware, such as the electromagnetic levitator for experiments to improve industrial casting processes. The unit will allow finer metal castings and more precise measurements than can be obtained on Earth, where readings are affected by gravity.

Source: European Space Agency


As seen on NASA TV, ESA's ATV-5 cargo vessel approaches the ISS prior to docking on August 12, 2014.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Orion Update: Retrieving the Capsule from the Pacific...

A U.S. Navy recovery team from the USS Anchorage approach a mock-up of NASA's Orion capsule during an underway recovery test in the Pacific Ocean, on August 2, 2014.
U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Corey Green

Underway Recovery Tests for NASA's Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft floats inside the well deck of the U.S.S. Anchorage on Aug. 2, 2014, during recovery tests off the coast of California. A combined NASA and U.S. Navy team practiced recovery techniques over the weekend, in preparation for Orion's first trip to (and return from) space in Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December.

Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, 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. After traveling 3,600 miles into space on the uncrewed EFT-1, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of 20,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov


The mock-up of NASA's Orion capsule is about to be secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage during an underway recovery test in the Pacific Ocean, on August 2, 2014.
U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Keen

Thursday, July 31, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Assessing Orion's Flight Readiness...

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Rex Walheim inspect the Orion EFT-1 capsule and a section of the black back shell that will soon be attached onto the spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Orion Tests Set Stage for Mission (Press Release - July 29)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is not quite ready for liftoff, but the spacecraft thinks it’s already flown six missions.

Since Orion’s crew module was stacked on top of its service module in June, the vehicle has been put through a series of tests designed to verify all the individual systems work on their own in the new configuration and that they’ll work together as a functional unit during flight.

And the best way to do that is to trick the vehicle into thinking that it’s flying, so that it will perform exactly the same functions it will be called upon to perform in December, when Orion launches into space for the first time.

For that flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth – farther than any spacecraft built to carry people has traveled in more than 40 years – and return home at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour, while enduring temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be literally a trial by fire, intended to prove that Orion can carry humans into deep space and safely return them home. But to ensure that Orion comes through it successfully, the team here on the ground wants to shake out any bugs now.

“We have ground simulation units that make the vehicle think it’s somewhere it’s not,” said Scott Wilson, manager of production operations for Orion. “We give the GPS and inertial measurement units vehicle commands and data that simulate flight. For example, we simulate the jettison of the launch abort system, and air pressure on the measurement probes. We make the vehicle think it’s experiencing all those things it sees in flight.”

In doing so, the engineers and technicians who have been building Orion at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are able to verify that when the vehicle sees the events that it’s expected to encounter in flight, it will respond appropriately. The simulations are not a substitute for flying in space, but it’s as close as possible to get before launch.

“This is our first opportunity to see the real spacecraft perform,” Flight Director Mike Sarafin said. “You can design something on paper or in a lab, but until you put it all together and see how it works, you only have an idea of what it might look like. When you test the real system, you know what it will do.”

As the lead flight director for Exploration Flight Test-1, Sarafin has been following the tests with special interest. Along with his flight control team, which will oversee the flight from the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, he’s also used the testing as an opportunity to test his skills.

They started with the simulation of problem-free flight for Orion, and then they began adding in problems to deal with. As the first flight of a brand-new spacecraft, the flight controllers have to be prepared for things to go wrong. If Orion fails to separate automatically from the launch vehicle’s upper stage before reentry, what happens? If the high radiation Orion will see as it travels through the Van Allen Radiation Belts knocks out some of the avionics, what will Orion do, and how will the flight control team respond? To that end, they tested dozens of failure scenarios.

“These scenarios have helped us understand not only the spacecraft itself, but also the ground component,” Sarafin said. “The two have to work together, and with these tests, we’ve built a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to do that.”

In all, the vehicle and its engineers, technicians and flight control team have now gone through six simulated missions together – one without challenges and five with various simulated failures. Through them all, Sarafin and Wilson agreed, both Orion and the team performed well, which gives them the confidence to move on to the next step in Orion’s construction: the back shell.

The black thermal protection tiles that make up Orion’s back shell are some of the last elements that remain to be added before the crew module is complete. The make up the outer layer on the top section of Orion, and their installation would have blocked access to systems that might have needed repairs during the past weeks of testing. The team will now add the back shell and the forward bay cover that protects it until the end of the mission, before starting the next series of tests.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Georges Lemaître Heads Into Space...

An Ariane 5 ES rocket carrying the European Space Agency's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5 Georges Lemaître) launches from Kourou, French Guiana towards the International Space Station...on July 29, 2014.
ESA – S. Corvaja, 2014

Last ATV Lifts Off to Supply the Space Station (Press Release)

The fifth and final mission of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle got off to a flying start today with its launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, heading for the International Space Station.

Georges Lemaître is the fifth ATV built and launched by ESA as part of Europe’s contribution to cover the operational costs for using the Space Station.

“The ATV programme is one of the most remarkable space and industrial projects ever made in Europe,” notes Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“ESA, thanks to its Member States and European industry, has provided a series of advanced spaceships, launched at regular intervals of about one year. Six years after its maiden flight, the ATV is still a unique vehicle demonstrating what ESA and European industry can do in serving European cooperation and innovation. This demonstration has convinced NASA to use the service module of ATV for their future crew transportation system.”

Named after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, ATV Georges Lemaître lifted off at 23:47 GMT on 29 July (01:47 CEST 30 July, 20:47 local time 29 July) on an Ariane 5 ES rocket.

Once in its circular orbit 260 km above Earth, ATV-5 opened its solar wings and antenna.

“It is with great pride that we saw the fifth successful launch of this beautiful spacecraft,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“But the adventure doesn’t end here. ATV knowhow and technology will fly again to space as early as 2017 powering NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the European Service Module, ushering in the next generation of space exploration.”

The freighter will complete its initial operations about 10 hours after launch. Georges Lemaître will take about two weeks in order to test equipment and perform experiments.

The journey will include flying around the Station to test the LIRIS laser infrared imaging sensor, which could form the basis of future guidance, navigation and control systems for rendezvous with targets without purpose-built docking ports or space debris.

During the flyaround, the LIRIS infrared cameras will turn on some 30 km from the orbiting laboratory. For the rendezvous, both the cameras and laser sensor will be activated around 3.5 km to generate a virtual 3D model of the Station. Recorders in ATV’s cargo bay will store the data for download and analysis.

ATV Georges Lemaître is due to dock with the Station on 12 August and will remain attached for up to six months before leaving with waste material for destruction along with the spaceship during atmospheric reentry.

Operations will be monitored from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, jointly run by ESA and France’s CNES space agency.

The vehicle will deliver 6602 kg of freight, including 2681 kg of dry cargo and 3921 kg of water, propellants and gases.

The cargo includes complex scientific hardware, such as the electromagnetic levitator for experiments to improve industrial casting processes. The unit will allow finer metal castings and more precise measurements than can be obtained on Earth, where readings are affected by gravity.

ATV-5 will also deliver a sophisticated joystick to test the use of force feedback in weightless environments. Force feedback could greatly improve remote control of robots in orbit.

The ATV mission also includes pioneering art: a piece of the Campo del Cielo meteorite that fell to Earth over 4000 years ago will be sent back to space on ATV. It will recreate its original voyage when it burns up in the atmosphere.

ATV’s approach will be monitored by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, who has been living on the Station since 29 May. During his six months in space Alexander will perform over 70 experiments as well as setting up the electromagnetic levitator.

Source: European Space Agency


ATV-5 Georges Lemaître moments after separating from its Ariane 5 ES second stage motor (also known as the Storable Propellant Stage)...following launch on July 29, 2014.

Friday, July 25, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Preparing the LAS for Liftoff...

The Launch Abort System is lifted into vertical position to begin preps for mating to the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft...on July 25, 2014.
Lockheed Martin

Orion Launch Abort System Rotated to Vertical Position (Press Release)

The completed launch abort system for Orion's first launch in December was rotated into a vertical position on July 25, making room in the facility for the scaffolding that will allow it to be stacked on top of Orion's crew and service modules this fall. Almost 53 feet tall on its own, when stacked on top of the crew and service module, the vehicle reaches more than 80 feet into the air, and the scaffolding is necessary to allow engineers and technicians access for the final touches to be put on the vehicle before its rolled out to the launch pad and installed on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space.

The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the crew module away from a failing rocket. It can activate within milliseconds to pull the vehicle to safety and position the module for a safe landing. Because there will be no crew on this first mission, only the jettison motor will be active in December. The tower structure will detach itself from the crew module as it would during a normal ascent. This flight test will provide information on the abort system’s performance during the vehicle’s trip to space.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, July 24, 2014

45 Years Ago Today: Home Sweet Home...

Aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, President Nixon greets the Apollo 11 astronauts—who were placed inside a temporary quarantine facility—after their return from the Moon on July 24, 1969.

President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts (Press Release)

The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying the astronauts into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles. An estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong's televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took " small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" on July 20, 1969.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Georges Lemaître: Preparing for the ATV's 5th and Final Flight...

The ATV-5 'Georges Lemaître' is placed on its Ariane 5 launch vehicle in the Final Assembly Building at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana...on July 11, 2014.
ESA – M. Pedoussaut, 2014

ATV-5: Loaded and Locked (Press Release)

ESA’s fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle is now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station at 23:44 GMT on 29 July (01:44 CEST 30 July) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

ATV-5 will deliver more than six tonnes of cargo to the Station, again breaking the record for the heaviest spacecraft launched on Ariane. Everything has been loaded and the ferry is now sealed until it reaches the orbital outpost.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will be the first to open the hatch of ATV Georges Lemaître in space when he takes responsibility for the cargo as ‘loadmaster’.

Alexander will manage the unloading of 6.6 tonnes of experiments, spare parts, clothing, food, fuel, air, oxygen and water for the six astronauts living in the weightless laboratory.

Cargo for Science

The star of the manifest is ESA’s Electromagnetic Levitator, which will study metals suspended in weightlessness as it heats them to 1600°C and then allows them to cool. The 400 kg unit was carefully loaded into ATV-5 in Kourou before the vessel’s propulsion module was attached.

ATV’s two main sections were then mated, leaving access to the cargo hold only through the forward hatch used by the astronauts. A special lift allowed technicians to enter the hold from above through this hatch, weeks before final closing time. Fifty-seven bags were loaded this way, including last-minute spare parts such as a pump to help recycle water on the Station.

Since the Station does not have a washing machine, cargo ships often bring fresh changes of clothes for the crews. This time, ATV-5 is also carrying high-tech ESA Spacetex t-shirts that promise to stay fresher for longer.

Also aboard is the Haptics-1 touchy-feely joystick, which will investigate how people feel tactile feedback in space, preparing for remote robotic operations from orbit.

Cargo for Life

Georges Lemaître is carrying many more experiments from Station partners in Japan and USA, from Zebrafish muscles to body-motion analysers, and even the mundane equipment any self-respecting laboratory stocks such as gloves, wipes, blood tubes and sample kits.

ATV-5 will also deliver more drinking water than ever before, as well as replenishing the astronauts’ food store.

Alexander and his crewmates will spend many hours unloading the cargo, but there is no rush – Georges Lemaître will stay attached to the Station for around six months.

Source: European Space Agency


The ATV-5 Georges Lemaître is placed on its Ariane 5 launch vehicle in the Final Assembly Building at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana...on July 11, 2014.
ESA – M. Pedoussaut, 2014