Wednesday, November 25, 2020
SLS Update #2: NASA Will Soon Begin Assembling the Most Powerful Launch Vehicle Since the Saturn 5 Rocket...
NASA Lines Up Artemis I Rocket Booster Motors for Stacking (News Release)
Eight rocket motor segments for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) are lined up in preparation for stacking at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As each segment completed processing, workers moved them to the surge bay at Kennedy’s Rotation, Processing, and Surge Facility. Each of the fully assembled, 177-foot-tall solid rocket boosters on SLS produce more than 3.6 million pounds of thrust and together provide more than 75% of the total thrust during the first two minutes of launch and flight.
The booster segments will help power the first Artemis mission of NASA’s Artemis program with the SLS rocket. NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems team transported the motor segments to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and will use a crane to lift the booster segments and stack them one by one on the mobile launcher. The bottom section of the boosters, known as the aft assemblies, were completed in November and moved to the VAB, and the first of the two pieces was placed on the mobile launcher Nov. 21.
The boosters are the first elements of SLS to be installed on the mobile launcher ahead of the Artemis I launch. After booster stacking is complete, the core stage, which is undergoing final Green Run testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, will be delivered to Kennedy and moved to the VAB to continue rocket construction.
NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. SLS and Orion, along with the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
SLS Update: The First Solid Rocket Booster Segment Is Placed Atop the Mobile Launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...
NASA / Kim Shiflett
Artemis I Launch Preparations Are Stacking Up (News Release)
NASA has stacked the first piece of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the mobile launcher in preparation for the Artemis I launch next year. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers lowered the first of 10 segments into place Nov. 21 for the twin solid rocket boosters that will power the first flight of the agency’s new deep space rocket. Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon with the Artemis program.
The booster segments arrived by train at the Florida spaceport in June from Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility in Utah to undergo final launch preparations. Stacking operations began Nov. 19 with engineers transporting a booster segment from the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility to the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
Each booster consists of five segments and will provide 7 million pounds of thrust for the liftoff from Launch Pad 39B. When assembled, each booster will be about half the length of a football field, and together they will generate more thrust than 14 four-engine jumbo commercial airliners. Once stacked, the SLS rocket will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty and have about 15% more thrust at liftoff than the Apollo program Saturn V rocket, making it the most powerful rocket ever built.
“Stacking the first piece of the SLS rocket on the mobile launcher marks a major milestone for the Artemis Program,” said Andrew Shroble, an integrated operations flow manager with Jacobs. “It shows the mission is truly taking shape and will soon head to the launch pad.”
The solid rocket boosters are the first components of the SLS rocket to be stacked and will help support the remaining rocket pieces and the Orion spacecraft. Over the next several weeks, workers will use an overhead crane that can hold up to 325 tons (the weight of about 50 elephants), to lift the remaining segments one by one and place them carefully onto the 380-foot-tall mobile launcher, the structure used to process, assemble, and launch the SLS rocket. The cranes are precise enough to lower an object onto an egg without cracking it.
The first booster segments to be stacked are the bottom sections known as the aft assemblies. These house the system that controls 70% of the steering during initial ascent of the rocket. This section includes the aft motor segment and skirt, and the nozzle that directs the hot gas leaving the motor. After stacking the other four segments, the final pieces of the boosters are the forward assemblies, which include the nose cone that serves as the aerodynamic leading edge of the boosters. The forward assemblies will attach to the core stage when it arrives next year.
Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade. SLS and Orion, along with the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.
NASA / Cory Huston
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Lunar Gateway Instruments to Improve Weather Forecasting for Artemis Astronauts (News Release)
One of the first things people want to know before taking a trip is what the weather will be like wherever they are headed. For Artemis astronauts traveling on missions to the Moon, two space weather instrument suites, NASA’s HERMES and ESA’s ERSA, will provide an early forecast. Weather in this case means energized, subatomic particles and electromagnetic fields hurtling through the solar system.
The instrument suites, named after two of Artemis’s half-siblings in Greek Mythology – Ersa, the goddess of dew, and Hermes, the messenger of the Olympian gods – will be pre-loaded on the Gateway before the first two components are launched: the Power and Propulsion Element and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost. The two instrument suites will begin monitoring the lunar radiation environment and return data before crews begin to arrive.
Reinforcing decades of agency collaboration in space, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are each building one of the instruments suites to monitor deep space weather and report data back to Earth. Each agency was able to take advantage of this early opportunity to conduct science from Gateway – first realized in late 2019 – by capitalizing on technologies that were mature enough to be delivered by mid-2022. The two complementary mini weather stations will split up the work, with ERSA monitoring space radiation at higher energies with a focus on astronaut protection, while HERMES monitors lower energies critical to scientific investigations.
Swimming in a solar sea
The night sky may appear dark and empty, but we are swimming through an open sea of high energy particles writhing with electric and magnetic fields. Electrons and ions zoom by at over one million miles per hour, with occasional blasts from solar storms pushing them to near light-speed. This stream of particles, or tiny bits of Sun, is the solar wind.
Earth’s magnetic field, which extends approximately 60,000 miles into space, protects us and our astronaut crew closer to home aboard the International Space Station. As the Moon orbits Earth, it passes in and out of Earth’s long magnetotail, the part of Earth’s magnetic field blown back by the solar wind like a windsock. Gateway, however, will spend only a quarter of its time within this magnetic field, so it provides a research opportunity to directly measure the solar wind and radiation from the Sun.
HERMES, short for Heliophysics Environmental and Radiation Measurement Experiment Suite, will glimpse what’s happening deep in the magnetotail, allowing NASA to compare its observations to two of the five THEMIS spacecraft, a pair of Moon-orbiters that carry some similar instruments as HERMES. The ability to collect data simultaneously from the three instrument suites in different locations will provide a rare opportunity to reconstruct solar wind behavior as it changes over time.
HERMES will measure lower energy radiation that will be considered for astronaut safety where applicable, but its primary goal is scientific.
“The deep space environment is harsh, but by understanding space weather and solar activity we can properly mitigate risks to our astronauts and hardware,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. “HERMES and ERSA are a perfect example of the synergy between science and exploration.”
HERMES is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. It consists of four instruments mounted together on a platform: A magnetometer, which measures the magnetic fields around Gateway, the Miniaturized Electron pRoton Telescope, or MERiT, which measures ions and electrons; the Electron Electrostatic Analyzer, or EEA, which measures the lower energy electrons that make up most of the solar wind, and the Solar Probe Analyzer for Ions, or SPAN-I, which measures protons and ions including oxygen. The magnetometer, MERiT and EEA are provided by Goddard; SPAN-I is built at the University of California, Berkeley.
ERSA, or European Radiation Sensors Array, will study the solar wind’s effects on astronauts and their equipment. Equipped with five instruments, ERSA measures energetic particles from the Sun, galactic cosmic rays, neutrons, ions, and magnetic fields around the Gateway. Measuring these particles can tell us about the physics of radiation in the solar system, and understand the risks posed by radiation to human spacefarers and their hardware.
“Understanding the changing radiation environment around the Moon and at the Gateway is important if we are to understand the potential dangers astronauts will face and how to address them. It also helps us to understand and predict space weather across the Earth-Moon system,” said James Carpenter, ESA’s Exploration Science Coordinator.
Included in the suite is the Influence sur les Composants Avancés des Radiations de l'Espace, or ICARE-NG instrument, which measures ionizing radiation that can create brief spikes in voltage that can make electronics short-circuit. Another instrument, the European Active Dosimeter, measures the energy that would be deposited by radiation in living tissue to understand human radiation exposure.
The measurements from both HERMES and ERSA are made at time of impact, once the radiation has already arrived. But in the long term, the measurements will help NASA and ESA improve their models of space weather to better predict when such radiation could be on its way from the Sun, enabling better advanced warnings in the future.
Gateway is a vital part of the Artemis program. Through Artemis, NASA and its partners will learn to live, work, and conduct science on and around the Moon, creating a sustained human-robotic presence at Earth’s nearest neighbor. At the Moon, we will learn how to thrive on other worlds, preparing humanity for the next great voyage to Mars.
Monday, November 16, 2020
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 Astronauts Arrive at Space Station, NASA Leaders and Crew to Discuss Mission (Press Release)
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience successfully docked to the International Space Station at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday, transporting NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
When the hatches open about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Crew-1 astronauts will join Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA, and station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos, who arrived to the station Oct. 14.
NASA TV will continue to provide live coverage through the welcoming ceremony with NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders joining to greet the crew from the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa joining from the Tsukuba Space Center in Japan. The welcome ceremony is targeted to begin about 1:40 a.m.
About 2 a.m., NASA will host a news conference following the welcome ceremony with the following participants:
- Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations, NASA Headquarters
- Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer
- Ven Feng, deputy manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
- Joel Montalbano, program manager, International Space Station
All media participation will be remote; no media will be accommodated at any NASA site due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Media may ask questions by phone in the post-docking news conference Nov. 17 by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 1:50 a.m.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, the four astronauts who are beginning the first crew rotation mission on the space station will join Rubins to answer questions in a news conference from the space station that will air live at 9:55 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
The crew will discuss its upcoming expedition, which increases the regular space station crew size from six to seven astronauts – adding to the crew time available for research – as well as their launch, rendezvous, and docking.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission lifted off Sunday, Nov. 15, at 7:27 p.m. on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission is the first of six certified, crew missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Media may ask questions for the crew news conference Nov. 19 by phone by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. Questions also may be submitted in advance using #askNASA. Reporters must dial into the news conference no later than 9 a.m. Thursday.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 Astronauts Headed to International Space Station (Press Release)
An international crew of astronauts is en route to the International Space Station following a successful launch on the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission lifted off at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), into orbit to begin a six-month science mission aboard the space station.
“NASA is delivering on its commitment to the American people and our international partners to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective missions to the International Space Station using American private industry,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is an important mission for NASA, SpaceX and our partners at JAXA, and we look forward to watching this crew arrive at station to carry on our partnership for all of humanity.”
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module about 11 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16. NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbiting laboratory.
"I could not be more proud of the work we've done here today,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “Falcon 9 looked great, Dragon was dropped off into a beautiful orbit about 12 minutes into the mission, and we'll get more data as we go.”
The Crew-1 mission is the first of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:
- The first flight of the NASA-certified commercial system designed for crew transportation, which moves the system from development into regular flights;
- The first international crew of four to launch on an American commercial spacecraft;
- The first time the space station’s long duration expedition crew size will increase from six to seven crew members, which will add to the crew time available for research; and
- The first time the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed a human orbital spaceflight launch.
- The astronauts named the Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience, highlighting the dedication teams involved with the mission have displayed and to demonstrate that when we work together, there is no limit to what we can achieve. They named it in honor of their families, colleagues, and fellow citizens.
“Watching this mission launch is a special moment for NASA and our SpaceX team,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “We are looking forward to getting this crew to station to continue our important work, and I want to thank the teams for the amazing effort to make the next generation of human space transportation possible.”
During flight, SpaceX commands the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California, and NASA teams monitor space station operations throughout the flight from the Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will join the Expedition 64 crew of Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.
“It is an honor to have our Japanese astronaut launch on this Crew-1 Dragon as the first astronaut of the International Partner participating in the ISS program,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, JAXA vice president. “We look forward to having him conduct lots of science and demonstrate the technology, for here on Earth and for the future. I would also like to thank NASA and SpaceX for their tremendous effort to make this happen.”
Rubins, Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will participate in a live crew news conference from orbit at 9:55 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, on NASA TV and the agency’s website.
Michael Hopkins is commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-1 mission. Hopkins is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the station. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009, Hopkins spent 166 days in space as a long-duration crew member of Expeditions 37 and 38 and completed two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes. Born in Lebanon, Missouri, Hopkins grew up on a farm outside Richland, Missouri. He has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Illinois, and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Stanford University. Before joining NASA, Hopkins was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force. Follow Hopkins on Twitter.
Victor Glover is the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command for the mission. Glover is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. He also will be a long-duration space station crew member. Selected as an astronaut in 2013, this is his first spaceflight.
The California native holds a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering from California Polytechnic State University, a Master of Science degree in flight test engineering and a master’s degree military operational art and science from Air University, and a Master of Science degree in systems engineering from Naval Postgraduate School. Glover is a naval aviator and was a test pilot in the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet, and EA‐18G Growler aircraft. Follow Glover on Twitter and Instagram.
Shannon Walker is a mission specialist for Crew-1. As a mission specialist, she works closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. She also is responsible for monitoring timelines, telemetry, and consumables. Once aboard the station, Walker will become a flight engineer for Expedition 64. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004, Walker launched to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft as the co-pilot, and spent 161 days aboard the orbiting laboratory. More than 130 microgravity experiments were conducted during her stay in areas such as human research, biology, and materials science. A Houston native, Walker received a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from Rice University, as well as a Master of Science degree and a doctorate in space physics, both from Rice University, in 1992 and 1993, respectively.
Soichi Noguchi also is a mission specialist for Crew-1, working with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight, and keeping watch on timelines, telemetry and consumables. Noguchi also will become a long-duration crew member aboard the space station. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA, currently the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in May 1996. Noguchi is a veteran of two spaceflights. During STS-114 in 2005, Noguchi became the first Japanese astronaut to perform a spacewalk outside the space station. He performed a total of three spacewalks during the mission, accumulating 20 hours and 5 minutes of spacewalking time. He launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in 2009, to return to the station as a long-duration crew member. The Crew Dragon will be the third spacecraft Noguchi has flown to the orbiting laboratory. Follow Noguchi on Twitter and Instagram.
The crew will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory and will return in spring 2021. It is scheduled to be the longest human space mission launched from the United States. The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days, as a NASA requirement.
Crew Dragon also is delivering more than 500 pounds of cargo, new science hardware and experiments inside, including Food Physiology, a study of the effects of an optimized diet on crew health and, Genes in Space-7, a student-designed experiment that aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.
Among the science and research investigations the crew will support during its six-month mission are a study using chips with tissue that mimics the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth, growing radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and testing a new system to remove heat from NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).
During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-1 astronauts expect to see a range of uncrewed spacecraft including the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its uncrewed flight test to the station. They also will conduct a variety of spacewalks and welcome crews of the Russian Soyuz vehicle and the next SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2021.
At the conclusion of the mission, the Crew-1 astronauts will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Crew Dragon also will return to Earth important and time-sensitive research. NASA and SpaceX are capable of supporting seven splashdown sites located off Florida's east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Upon splashdown, the SpaceX recovery ship will pick up the crew and return to shore.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is delivering on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a partnership with American private industry. This partnership is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities.
The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars. For more than 20 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. As a global endeavor, 242 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.
NASA / Joel Kowsky
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Orion is ‘Fairing’ Well and Moving Ahead Toward Artemis I (News Release)
Three spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels have now been fitted onto Orion’s European Service Module as production accelerates inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams from across the globe recently completed work to install the four solar array wings, which are housed inside the protective covering of the fairings. The panels were inspected and moved into place for installation by technicians with Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor for Orion. Once secured, they encapsulate the service module to protect it from harsh environments such as heat, wind, and acoustics as the spacecraft is propelled out of Earth’s atmosphere atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket during NASA’s Artemis I mission.
The fairing panels, each 14 feet high and 13 feet wide, are individually about the size of a one-car garage. The jettison panels will separate from the service module using a series of timed pyrotechnics, or firings, which will allow the solar array wings to unfurl and provide energy to propel and power the spacecraft for the duration of its mission.
The final assembly activities for the spacecraft include installation of the forward bay cover, which protects the upper part of Orion including its parachutes throughout its mission, final adjustments of the main parachutes, securing and testing of electrical connections, along with closure and latching of the side hatch. As each area of the vehicle is closed out, it will undergo final inspections to complete production. The spacecraft will then begin its path to the pad, including stops along the way to be fueled and integrated with its launch abort system and, ultimately, the SLS rocket for launch from Launch Pad 39B.
Artemis I will test the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.
Monday, October 26, 2020
NASA’s SOFIA Discovers Water on Sunlit Surface of Moon (Press Release)
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.
SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.
“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”
As a comparison, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA detected in the lunar soil. Despite the small amounts, the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.
Water is a precious resource in deep space and a key ingredient of life as we know it. Whether the water SOFIA found is easily accessible for use as a resource remains to be determined. Under NASA’s Artemis program, the agency is eager to learn all it can about the presence of water on the Moon in advance of sending the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.
SOFIA’s results build on years of previous research examining the presence of water on the Moon. When the Apollo astronauts first returned from the Moon in 1969, it was thought to be completely dry. Orbital and impactor missions over the past 20 years, such as NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, confirmed ice in permanently shadowed craters around the Moon’s poles. Meanwhile, several spacecraft – including the Cassini mission and Deep Impact comet mission, as well as the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission – and NASA’s ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility, looked broadly across the lunar surface and found evidence of hydration in sunnier regions. Yet those missions were unable to definitively distinguish the form in which it was present – either H2O or OH.
“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said Casey Honniball, the lead author who published the results from her graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in Honolulu. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner.”
SOFIA offered a new means of looking at the Moon. Flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet, this modified Boeing 747SP jetliner with a 106-inch diameter telescope reaches above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere to get a clearer view of the infrared universe. Using its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), SOFIA was able to pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a relatively surprising concentration in sunny Clavius Crater.
“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Honniball, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”
Several forces could be at play in the delivery or creation of this water. Micrometeorites raining down on the lunar surface, carrying small amounts of water, could deposit the water on the lunar surface upon impact. Another possibility is there could be a two-step process whereby the Sun’s solar wind delivers hydrogen to the lunar surface and causes a chemical reaction with oxygen-bearing minerals in the soil to create hydroxyl. Meanwhile, radiation from the bombardment of micrometeorites could be transforming that hydroxyl into water.
How the water then gets stored – making it possible to accumulate – also raises some intriguing questions. The water could be trapped into tiny beadlike structures in the soil that form out of the high heat created by micrometeorite impacts. Another possibility is that the water could be hidden between grains of lunar soil and sheltered from the sunlight – potentially making it a bit more accessible than water trapped in beadlike structures.
For a mission designed to look at distant, dim objects such as black holes, star clusters, and galaxies, SOFIA’s spotlight on Earth’s nearest and brightest neighbor was a departure from business as usual. The telescope operators typically use a guide camera to track stars, keeping the telescope locked steadily on its observing target. But the Moon is so close and bright that it fills the guide camera’s entire field of view. With no stars visible, it was unclear if the telescope could reliably track the Moon. To determine this, in August 2018, the operators decided to try a test observation.
“It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the Moon, and we weren’t even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the Moon’s water compelled us to try,” said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. “It’s incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we’re planning more flights to do more observations.”
SOFIA’s follow-up flights will look for water in additional sunlit locations and during different lunar phases to learn more about how the water is produced, stored, and moved across the Moon. The data will add to the work of future Moon missions, such as NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to create the first water resource maps of the Moon for future human space exploration.
In the same issue of Nature Astronomy, scientists have published a paper using theoretical models and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data, pointing out that water could be trapped in small shadows, where temperatures stay below freezing, across more of the Moon than currently expected. The results can be found here.
“Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries.”
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. Ames manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California.
Monday, October 5, 2020
SLS Update: Only Two More Tests Remain in the Green Run Campaign Before Launch Preps Begin on Next Year's Artemis 1 Mission...
NASA Moon Rocket Stage Passes Simulated Countdown Test (News Release)
Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, completed a simulated launch countdown sequence on Oct. 5 for the sixth test of the eight-part core stage Green Run test series for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The SLS core stage being tested is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever produced and will be the stage that helps deliver the Artemis I mission to space. The 212-foot-tall core stage has two huge propellant tanks that collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of propellant to fuel four RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage. The rocket stage also has three flight computers and avionics systems to help launch and guide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon.
During the simulated countdown, NASA engineers and technicians, along with prime contractors Boeing, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, monitored the stage to validate the timeline and sequence of events leading up to the test, which is similar to the countdown for the Artemis I launch. The countdown sequence for an actual Artemis launch begins roughly two days prior to liftoff. In addition to all the procedures leading up to the ignition of the four RS-25 engines, the SLS core stage requires about six hours to fully load fuel into the two liquid propellant tanks. The simulated countdown sequence test at Stennis began at the 48-hour mark as if the stage was first powered up before liftoff. Engineers then skipped ahead in the sequence to monitor the stage and procedures of the stage 10 minutes before the hot fire.
The simulated countdown sequence is one of the final tests of the SLS Green Run campaign. The series of tests is designed to gradually bring the rocket stage and all its systems to life for the first time. The Green Run test campaign will validate the SLS core stage design and ensure it’s ready for the first and future Artemis missions beyond Earth’s orbit to the Moon through the agency’s Artemis program.
NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. SLS and Orion, along with the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Artemis Update: A Classic NASA Logo Will Fly on Orion and the Space Launch System Starting Next Year...
Artemis I Rocket and Spacecraft Receive “Worm” Welcome (News Release)
NASA is headed back to the Moon as part of the Artemis program – and the agency’s “worm” logo will be along for the ride on the first integrated mission of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have applied the historic logo in bright red on visible parts of the Artemis I rocket and spacecraft.
“After almost three decades, our famous logotype is back in action, and it is thrilling for all of us that worked on the original design to have it return in such an impressive way.” said Richard Danne, of the design team at Danne & Blackburn who originally created the logo. “It is particularly exciting to be involved with the Artemis program, so full of potential beginning with this promising first mission.”
The bold, sleek design of the “worm” logo was officially introduced in 1975 and was incorporated into many of the agency’s next-generation programs. It was retired in 1992, but made a comeback in 2020 as the agency ushers in a new, modern era of human spaceflight.
The worm began making an appearance on the SLS twin solid rocket boosters in late August when workers with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and their contractor Jacobs started painting the iconic design across two of the booster segments. The team used a laser projector to mask off the logo with tape, then painted the first coat of the logo inside the center’s Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility. The job was completed by adding a second coat of paint, followed by multiple clear coats on the booster.
“The most technically challenging task was identifying the correct sizing and location of where the logo was to go,” said William Richards, an engineer with Jacobs, the lead contractor supporting booster stacking operations. “New laser technology helped us lay it out in the correct position to mask off for the painting and correctly shape the letters, especially the curve of the ‘S’.”
After the boosters are transferred to the Vehicle Assembly Building for stacking, technicians will secure an access panel across the middle section of the boosters and paint it to complete the insignia. The worm will be visible as the boosters are stacked on top of the mobile launcher, while the rocket is on the launch pad, and as it soars through Earth’s atmosphere during launch.
The worm and ESA (European Space Agency) logo were recently applied to the Orion spacecraft as well. Technicians cut the emblems into flight-proof decals and adhered them to the underside of Orion’s crew module adapter (CMA). ESA is providing Orion’s service module, which is the powerhouse that fuels and propels the spacecraft. These bold images will be seen from cameras at the end of Orion’s solar arrays as the spacecraft travels toward the Moon and back.
The decals were affixed to the spacecraft by Frank Pelkey, a technician who previously painted the U.S. flag on the spacecraft that flew on NASA’s Exploration Flight Test-1. “I felt a great sense of pride when painting the U.S. flag on Orion’s first flight,” said Pelkey. “It was that same feeling of gratitude to be selected to apply the NASA and ESA logos to the vehicle for the first Artemis mission.”
Later this year, teams will apply an American flag and the primary NASA logo with the blue sphere, known as the “meatball,” to the crew module, in addition to a decal of the worm on the outer band of the CMA. These logos will also be seen during the mission while Orion is in space, and the worm on the CMA band will be visible while on the launch pad as well.
Also to be applied early next year and visible from the launch pad, the meatball and an ESA logo will be shown on the fairings that cover the service module, and the American flag will appear on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, as well as the launch abort system along with the words “United States.”
In June, Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for the boosters, delivered the Artemis I rocket motors to Kennedy where assembly of the entire five-segment booster has started. The twin boosters will help propel the SLS rocket on its first flight in 2021. Shortly after launch from Pad 39B, the boosters will separate from the rocket as the core stage continues to send Orion to space. After the core stage’s job is complete, the rocket’s upper stage sends Orion toward the Moon, and then Orion continues the rest of its journey around the Moon and back powered by the European-provided service module. Artemis II in 2023 will be the first flight test with crew. In 2024, NASA will send the first woman and next man to surface of the Moon on the Artemis III mission, and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
SLS Update: The Artemis 1 Core Stage Booster Is Set to Ignite Its Four RS-25 Engines During the Green Run Hot Fire Test in Early November...
NASA / SSC
NASA Invites Media to Hot Fire Test for Mega Rocket to Support Moon Missions (Press Release)
Media accreditation is now open for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Green Run hot fire test – the test of the rocket’s core stage and all of its integrated systems before its flight on the Artemis I lunar mission, scheduled for 2021. NASA is targeting early November for the test in the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The hot fire is the final in a series of eight tests that ensure the stage’s systems are functioning and ready for operation. The test replicates the launch by loading the propellants and allowing them to flow throughout the system as the four RS-25 engines fire simultaneously to demonstrate that the engines, tanks, fuel lines, valves, pressurization system, and software can all perform together just as they will on launch day.
Following the test, NASA will ship the core stage to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be assembled with the other parts of the Artemis I rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
Media accreditation deadlines for SLS Core Stage Green Run test are as follows:
- International media without U.S. citizenship must apply by 4p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 2.
- U.S. media must apply by 4p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 16.
All accreditation requests should be submitted online at:
NASA continues to monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and will credential a limited number of media for access to Stennis Space Center in order to protect the health and safety of media and employees. International media based in the U.S. may apply. Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions at Stennis, all attendees will need to follow quarantine requirements.
NASA will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the agency’s chief health and medical officer, and will immediately communicate any updates that may impact media access for the test.
For questions about media accreditation, email email@example.com.
For other questions, contact the Stennis Office of Communications at 228-688-3333.
Reporters with special accommodations requests should contact Valerie Buckingham at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, Oct. 16.
The core stage was built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans with contributions from suppliers across the country. Boeing is the lead contractor for the core stage, with the RS-25 engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, and the test is being conducted by engineers from Stennis, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and SLS contractors.
NASA / SSC