Monday, February 11, 2019

Photo of the Day: Another Image of the SLS Core Stage's "Forward Join" at the Michoud Assembly Facility...

The forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank and innertank are combined to form the forward join of the Space Launch System's core stage booster...at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Jude Guidry

NASA Joins Structures to Form Top of Space Launch System Core Stage (News Release - February 7)

Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have completed the “forward join,” connecting structures to form the top part of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s core stage. This first core stage will send Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft, out beyond the Moon.

The forward join mated three structures shown above: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank and the intertank. This milestone marks the beginning of integration and assembly of the massive, 212-foot-tall SLS core stage, which will include the rocket’s four RS-25 rocket engines, propellant tanks, and flight computers.

Now, NASA and Boeing, the SLS prime contractor, will continue to integrate various systems inside the forward part of the core stage and prepare for structural joining of the liquid hydrogen tank and engine section to form the bottom of the stage. These two parts of the core stage will then be assembled to form the largest stage NASA has ever built.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Two SpaceShipTwo Pilots Get Their Wings...

Sir Richard Branson poses with SpaceShipTwo pilots Mark 'Forger' Stucky and Frederick 'CJ' Sturckow after the VSS Unity safely returned to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first powered flight to the edge of space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Pilots Awarded Commercial Astronaut Wings (News Release - February 7)

In another historic moment for the commercial spaceflight industry, Virgin Galactic was proud today to see its pilots Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky and ‘CJ’ Sturckow, awarded Commercial Astronaut Wings by the U.S. Department of Transportation in recognition of the company’s ground-breaking first spaceflight from Mojave Air and Space Port CA, on December 13th last year.

The ceremony was held at the U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters in Washington D.C., hosted by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The awards of the Commercial Astronaut Wings, which have been earned on only two previous occasions in 2004, carried the additional significance of marking the first crewed spaceflight from American soil since the Space Shuttle’s final mission in 2011.

Virgin Galactic’s December 13th test flight saw Forger become the 568th human in space and, along with CJ, the first humans to reach space in a vehicle built for commercial passenger service.

CJ now also becomes the first astronaut to hold both commercial space and Naval Aviator Wings, having flown as a pilot on four NASA Space Shuttle missions to the ISS.

Receiving the wings, Forger commented: “Receiving commercial astronaut wings is an honor for me as it is acknowledgment of a personal achievement. But it goes beyond that, it’s really an acknowledgment of a company achievement of Sir Richard Branson’s vision which was made possible by the conceptual design genius of Burt Rutan, the detailed design of Jim Tighe, Bob Morgan, and numerous other extremely bright and hard-working engineers at Scaled Composites, and then ultimately improved upon, built, and flight tested by the men and women of The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic. And these wings are really dedicated to them.”

CJ added: “It was a great flight and I can’t wait to do it again.”

Sir Richard Branson, who accompanied the pilots to the ceremony said: “The U.S. leads the world both in the exploration of space and in creating the conditions for a new space age, where it will operate alongside and in partnership with the private sector. While today’s awards ceremony is, of course, a proud moment for our wonderful pilots and the whole Virgin Galactic team, it is also symbolic of an enabling regulatory framework that allows for innovation while prioritizing safety. It is this which has allowed us to pursue our dreams and which will ultimately underpin our commercial success as we seek to democratise space for the benefit of humankind.”

December’s spaceflight was the latest and most significant achievement in the Virgin Galactic flight test program. The company is now preparing for further test flights as it moves steadily towards a full commercial passenger service from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

Source: Virgin Galactic

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao pins a Commercial Astronaut Wing to Mark 'Forger' Stucky's Virgin Galactic uniform as Sir Richard Branson watches...on February 7, 2019.
Virgin Galactic

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao is about to pin a Commercial Astronaut Wing to CJ Sturckow's Virgin Galactic uniform as Sir Richard Branson watches...on February 7, 2019.
Virgin Galactic

Saturday, February 9, 2019

SLS Update: The Core Stage Booster Is Finally Starting to Take Shape...

The forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank and innertank are combined to form the forward join of the Space Launch System's core stage booster...at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Boeing

Yesterday, Boeing released the video below revealing that the forward join was completed on the top three components of the Space Launch System's (SLS) first core stage booster at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. The forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank and innertank were combined to form the top half of the 212-foot-tall rocket stage. What remains to be done is the aft join...which involves combining the liquid hydrogen tank with the engine section that will house four space shuttle-era RS-25 engines. The aft and forward sections will then be attached to form the giant booster of the SLS.

Once construction is done, the core stage booster will be transported via barge to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to conduct a series of "green run" tests to ensure that everything on the mammoth rocket is functioning properly. It is after the completion of the green run campaign that the core stage will be refurbished before being sent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to undergo launch preps for next year's Exploration Mission-1. The inaugural flight of SLS, which will send the Orion capsule on an unmanned journey to the Moon, is targeted for no earlier than June of 2020.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Photos of the Day: Remembering My Trip to Kennedy Space Center!

Enshrouded by the Rotating Service Structure (which has since been removed), space shuttle Discovery stands poised for launch atop Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Just thought I'd share these pictures that I took during my trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida...which occurred 10 years ago today! I flew to Orlando on February 7, 2009, and made the 11-mile trip from my hotel to Cape Canaveral the next day (and the day after that) to finally see the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Launch Complex 39 in person. Needless to say, I totally geeked out when I saw the VAB's imposing structure in the distance, as I drove across the bridge that spanned the Indian River and led to the KSC Visitor Complex a few miles away. And I geeked out even more when I saw space shuttle Discovery sitting quietly on the pad (and enshrouded by the Rotating Service Structure, which no longer exists at the site) at Launch Complex 39A—ready to embark on flight STS-119 a month later.

Posing with space shuttle Discovery behind me at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 9, 2009.

I look forward to visiting KSC again next year (hopefully)...to visit the space shuttle Atlantis exhibit and of course, seeing the Space Launch System standing tall at Launch Complex 39B as it gears up for Exploration Mission-1. Happy Friday!

LINK: Additional photos I took during my 2009 trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center

Enshrouded by the Rotating Service Structure, space shuttle Discovery stands poised for launch atop Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 9, 2009.

Posing with the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) behind me at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Posing with the VAB behind me at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 9, 2009.

A snapshot of the VAB and two Orbiter Processing Facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 9, 2009.

A Lunar Excursion Module on display inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Apollo and Saturn V flight hardware on display inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Posing underneath the Saturn V rocket inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

A snapshot of the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

SpaceShipTwo Update: VSS Unity's Legacy Is Now Protected by the Smithsonian...

The rocket motor that sent the VSS Unity to the edge of space on December 13, 2018, will go on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
Virgin Galactic

Spaceflight Rocket Motor donated to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (News Release)

Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) staff and guests today at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., to announce that the hybrid rocket motor which powered SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to space for the first time on December 13th last year, has been donated to the museum. The rocket motor was unveiled during the ceremony and will be exhibited in the museum’s planned, new commercial space flight gallery to be called ‘Future of Spaceflight.’

Designed and built by TSC, Virgin Galactic’s sister manufacturing organisation, the motor has been confirmed by Guinness World Records as the Most powerful hybrid rocket to be used in manned flight – a title which will be shared by both companies.

“The SpaceShipTwo rocket motor is a fitting addition to the National Air and Space Museum’s collection,” said Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum. “It does not just represent technical achievement. It is sure to also inspire our visitors by demonstrating what can be achieved through entrepreneurial innovation.”

Weighing in at approximately 3,000 pounds, with 320kN of thrust and a burn duration of around 60 seconds, the motor created sufficient energy to propel VSS Unity to space at almost three times the speed of sound.

TSC, based in Mojave, CA, will be supplying Virgin Galactic with all rocket motors required to meet its test and commercial flight requirements, both for VSS Unity and for the SpaceShipTwo fleet which will follow – those vehicles also built by TSC for Virgin Galactic.

The donated rocket motor, or more accurately, the Case-Throat-Nozzle (CTN) assembly, is an integral part of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid propulsion system – a design which seeks to combine the simplicity of a solid rocket motor with the controllability of a liquid engine – meaning SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor can be shut down quickly and safely at any point during flight. The hybrid propulsion system has very few moving parts, resulting in a simple, robust design for human spaceflight application.

Announcing the donation, Richard Branson said: “We’re proud to be making history as we work towards launching the world’s first commercial space line, and today we could not be more delighted to donate a piece of that history to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for its wonderful new exhibition. The desire to explore space has been an inspiration since time began and, in recent decades, an incredible catalyst for innovation. I hope our donation will also play a small part in inspiring the thousands of visitors as they pass through the new gallery in years to come.”

George Whitesides, CEO of The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic, said: “To see this rocket go from concept, to production, through ground test, and finally into space, and then be accepted to the world’s most respected aerospace museum is a well-deserved recognition for the spaceship propulsion team.”

Enrico Palermo, President of The Spaceship Company said: “This motor and its development process is a perfect example of what can be achieved when talented people come together to work on their dreams. TSC looks forward to building more rocket motors and the fleet of SpaceShipTwo’s, watching them provide the power to open space and change the world for good.”

Source: Virgin Galactic

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A view of Earth's curvature as seen from inside the VSS Unity's cockpit during the vehicle's flight to space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The Sierra Nevada Mountains are visible in this screenshot taken from a video of VSS Unity soaring to the edge of space on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity touches down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after successfully completing her first powered flight to the edge of space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Saturday, January 26, 2019

SpaceX Update: Crew Dragon Moves One Step Closer to Launching on Its Maiden Flight Next Month (Hopefully)...

The Falcon 9 booster carrying SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule stands tall on the pad at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX

Last Thursday, SpaceX successfully conducted the static test-fire of the Falcon 9 booster that will launch Crew Dragon on its maiden flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The engine test took place at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...paving the way for Crew Dragon to lift off on an unmanned mission to the ISS next month. SpaceX is currently aiming for February 23 to launch Crew Dragon on Demonstration-1—even though this date is very uncertain as another U.S. government shutdown could begin on February 16. The previous one, the longest government closure in U.S. history, ended yesterday.

It remains to be seen what will happen next month...but one thing is certain: On its end, SpaceX is ready to fly its human-rated orbital vehicle that will hopefully begin sending astronauts to the ISS sometime later this year. Stay tuned.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is ready to be rolled out to the pad from its Horizontal Integration Facility at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.
SpaceX

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule as seen from inside the Crew Access Arm at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.
SpaceX

Astronauts heading to the International Space Station will hopefully walk through the Crew Access Arm into SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule sometime this year.
SpaceX

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Photo of the Day #2: Testing Continues on Components for NASA's Next Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle...

The structural test article for the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank is placed on a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama...on January 14, 2019.
NASA / Tyler Martin

SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Test Article Loaded into Test Stand (News Release)

The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama Jan. 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.

The liquid hydrogen tank test article is structurally identical to the flight version of the tank that will comprise two-thirds of the core stage and hold 537,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Dozens of hydraulic cylinders in the 215-foot-tall test stand will push and pull the tank, subjecting it to the same stresses and loads it will endure during liftoff and flight.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Photo of the Day: SpaceX's Starship Prototype Stands Tall in Texas...

SpaceX's hopper booster, a prototype of the Starship rocket that will take flight sometime next decade, stands tall at the SpaceX launch site in Boca Chica, Texas...as of January 10, 2019.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

Earlier today, Elon Musk posted this great pic of the SpaceX hopper—the test version of its Starship rocket—after assembly on it was recently completed at his company's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Just like the hopper here, the actual Starship (which will launch on the Super Heavy...formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket) will be comprised of stainless steel instead of composite materials. The reason for this being that stainless steel can withstand much higher temperatures during atmospheric re-entry than composites could. Also, stainless steel is much cheaper to produce.

The SpaceX hopper—a successor to the Grasshopper booster that paved the way for Falcon 9's 33 successful landing attempts since late 2015—should begin flights (to an initial altitude of around 16,000 feet) no earlier than this Spring. The hopper will soar into the air using three methane-fueled Raptor engines...which will also power Starship and its Super Heavy booster to Mars and beyond.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Photo of the Day #2: Crew Dragon Is Ready for Her First Flight into Space!

The Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 booster that will launch her into space next month (hopefully) are on display inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on December 18, 2018.
SpaceX

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Just thought I'd share these two pics of Crew Dragon and her Falcon 9 booster as they lie inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crew Dragon is set to embark on an unmanned flight to the International Space Station on January 17, 2019 (assuming that the U.S. government shutdown had concluded by then)...on the Demo-1 mission. Can't wait!

The Crew Dragon capsule is on display inside SpaceX's HIF at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on December 18, 2018.
SpaceX

Monday, December 24, 2018

Photo of the Day: Celebrating the 'Earthrise' 50 Years Later...

Today marks 5 decades since Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders took this Christmas Eve snapshot of the Earth rising above the Moon. This marked the first time that humanity glimpsed its home planet from orbit above another world—forever changing the way mankind viewed the fragile beauty of Earth.

Hopefully, astronauts will be able to photograph Earth from lunar orbit again less than 5 years from now (on Exploration Mission-2 in early 2023)...or via remote cameras aboard Orion in less than two years, when the capsule is set to head to the Moon during the Space Launch System's maiden flight on Exploration Mission-1 in mid-2020. Happy Holidays!

A snapshot of Earth rising above the Moon...as seen by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968.
NASA / Bill Anders