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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

EM-1 Update #2: SLS' Solid Rocket Booster Fires One Last Time Before 2018...

A five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA's Space Launch System successfully fires during the Qualification Motor (QM-2) test at the Orbital ATK facility in Utah, on June 28, 2016.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA's Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Milestone on Journey to Mars (Press Release)

A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK's test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”

The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.

When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power SLS on deep space missions. The solid rocket boosters, built by NASA contractor Orbital ATK, operate in parallel with SLS’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight. They will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket and Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.

"Today's test is the pinnacle of years of hard work by the NASA team, Orbital ATK and commercial partners across the country," said John Honeycutt, SLS Program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “SLS hardware is currently in production for every part of the rocket. NASA also is making progress every day on Orion and the ground systems to support a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We're on track to launch SLS on its first flight test with Orion and pave the way for a human presence in deep space."

The first full-scale booster qualification ground test was successfully completed in March 2015 and demonstrated acceptable performance of the booster design at 90 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range. Testing at the thermal extremes experienced by the booster on the launch pad is important to understand the effect of temperature on how the propellant burns.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions, with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

EM-1 Update #1: Testing Continues on Duplicate of Orion's Service Module...

A replica of the European Service Module undergoes testing at NASA's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio...as blue cables connected to the module transfers data from 1,000 sensors to monitoring stations inside the facility.
ESA – J. Harrod

Sensing Orion (Press Release)

Shown above is a test version of the European Service Module at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, USA. ESA’s module will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon and beyond, providing propulsion, electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen and thermal control.

This test article has the same structure and weight as the real thing but does not include the electronics and engines. It is being used to confirm the design before starting to build the flight version.

From a design perspective, the launch is one of the most demanding moments in a mission. Orion will sit atop the Space Launch System and more than 2500 tonnes of propellant. The vibrations and forces are intense until they reach the relative calm of space.

To ensure the service module can withstand these forces, it is placed on a large table that shakes and moves to recreate the vibrations of launch. Almost 1,000 sensors monitor how the 35 tonne spacecraft flexes and withstands the stress. The blue wires carry the data during the tests for later analysis.

The tests are running smoothly and the first flight model is already being built in Bremen, Germany. It will be shipped to the USA next year for more testing and final integration ahead of launch at the end of 2018.

Source: European Space Agency

Saturday, June 18, 2016

It's Homecoming Day for Expedition 47 Astronauts...

A Soyuz capsule carrying three Expedition 47 crew members descends toward the ground in Kazakhstan...on June 18, 2016.
NASA / ESA / Roscosmos

Three Space Station Crew Members Return to Earth, Land Safely in Kazakhstan (Press Release)

Three crew members from the International Space Station returned to Earth at 5:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 p.m. Kazakhstan time) Saturday after wrapping up 186 days in space and several NASA research studies in human health.

Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA, flight engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

The crew completed the in-flight portion of NASA human research studies in ocular health, cognition, salivary markers and microbiome. From the potential development of vaccines, to data that could be relevant in the treatment of patients suffering from ocular diseases, such as glaucoma, the research will help NASA prepare for human long-duration exploration while also benefiting people on Earth.

The three crew members also welcomed four cargo spacecraft, including one that delivered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an expandable habitat technology demonstration. The BEAM, which arrived in April on the eighth SpaceX commercial resupply mission, was attached to the space station and expanded to its full size for analysis over the next two years. The BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of commercial space, and is co-sponsored by the agency’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

Two Russian Progress cargo craft docked to the station in December and April, bringing tons of supplies. Kopra and Peake also led the grapple of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station in March, the company's fourth commercial resupply mission, and the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in April.

During his time on the orbital complex, Kopra ventured outside for two spacewalks. The objective of the first spacewalk was to move the station’s mobile transporter rail car to a secure position. On the second spacewalk, Kopra and Peake replaced a failed voltage regulator to restore power to one of the station’s eight power channels. Kopra now has 244 days in space on two flights, while Peake spent 186 days in space on this, his first, mission.

Having completed his sixth mission, Malenchenko now has spent 828 cumulative days in space, making him second on the all-time list behind Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

Expedition 48 continues on the station, with NASA astronaut Jeff Williams in command, with crewmates Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The three-person crew will operate the station for three weeks until the arrival of three new crew members.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are scheduled to launch July 6 (Eastern time) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Happy Flag Day!

A front view of space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took of Endeavour at the California Science Center almost four years ago to commemorate today's holiday. No, I'm not having a barbecue later!

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Honoring the Victims of Orlando...

The U.S. flag is lowered to half-staff at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting on June 12, 2016.
NASA

The U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to honor the victims of yesterday's tragedy in Orlando. 49 people lost their lives (excluding the gunman) and 53 others wounded in a nightclub shooting 50-plus miles west of Cape Canaveral. My condolences to those who lost loved ones in this horrific event.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Boeing and SpaceX Are One Step Closer to Launching Astronauts from American Soil...

The Crew Access Tower is about to complete assembly at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41...from where Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will launch on manned missions to the International Space Station no later than early 2018.
NASA / Charles Baker

Commercial Crew Manufacturing Gains Momentum Coast to Coast (Press Release)

Manufacturing facilities are in operation on the east and west coasts to build the next generation of spacecraft to return human launch capability to American soil. Over the past six months, Boeing and SpaceX – the companies partnered with NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station – each have begun producing the first in a series of spacecraft.

Rather than building one Boeing CST-100 Starliner or SpaceX Crew Dragon at a time, each company set out to produce several spacecraft in an assembly-line fashion while maintaining the careful attention to detail and inspections required of any spacecraft, particularly those that will carry astronauts into orbit.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners are building and testing components across the United States as prototype spacecraft and flight test vehicles are carefully assembled. Subsystems for the operational missions are coming together, as spacecraft and rocket assembly lines gear up for production.

In Florida, where Boeing is constructing Starliners, engineers have assembled the crew module of the Structural Test Article that will be shipped to Huntington Beach, California, where it will join the previously delivered service module for extensive testing under a host of exhaustive conditions. The two main elements of the first flight-like Starliner - the upper and lower pressure domes - inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are undergoing early check outs and assembly before they are joined together for environmental qualification tests and the pad abort test.

SpaceX is welding the pressure vessels for four Crew Dragons, two test articles and two flight vehicles in the company's Hawthorne, California, factory. The next six months are expected to see each of the pressure vessels built up to different stages for structural and subsystem testing followed by uncrewed and crew flight tests known as Demo 1 and Demo 2 for "Demonstration Mission."

The launch facilities for both companies are deep into their modifications and construction. The Crew Access Tower on Space Launch Complex 41, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, is in place and the Crew Access Arm astronauts will use to cross from the tower to the Starliner hatch will be transported to the pad for placement on the tower this summer. Additionally, about 25,000 lines of software code have been written for the rocket and launch site to communicate with all the new crew-specific hardware. All the work has been completed while still allowing launches of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V from the launch pad.

At historic Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy, where Apollo and space shuttle missions began, SpaceX is taking down the rotating service structure designed to handle shuttle payloads. They've also removed more than 500,000 pounds of steel from the fixed service structure and are building shielding around the tower to protect from the blast of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Its Crew Access Arm also is under construction and is slated to be installed on the tower later this year.

Numerous readiness reviews, which assemble engineers from NASA and the respective company, will be held throughout development before the launch sites are used for the first time to launch astronauts.

Source: NASA.Gov

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SpaceX continues modifications to Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...from where the Crew Dragon capsule will launch on manned flights to the International Space Station sometime next year.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Thursday, June 9, 2016

SLS Update: Making Final Preparations for June 28's Qualification Motor Test...

An Orbital ATK engineer inspects the solid rocket booster that will be fired during the qualification motor test in Utah on June 28, 2016.
Orbital ATK

SLS Booster 'Chills Out' Ahead of Super-Hot Ground Test (Press Release)

The Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting a hotter-than-normal summer for Utah, but at Orbital ATK's test facility in Promontory, crews are bundling up to chill down the booster for the world's most powerful rocket, NASA's Space Launch System.

The booster is being cooled to approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit ahead of its second qualification ground test June 28. Testing at the thermal extremes experienced by the booster on the launch pad is important to understanding the effects of temperature on the performance of how the propellant burns. Data and analysis from past human-rated space programs have set the temperature limits for boosters between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The booster was heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first successful booster qualification test in March 2015.

"In the winter or summer, you expect your car to start – regardless of what the temperature is outside," said Mat Bevill, deputy chief engineer in the SLS Boosters Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS program is managed for the agency. "That car had to be tested to ensure it performed as it was designed to do, even in wide temperature ranges. That's pretty much what we're doing -- except with a huge rocket booster."

The massive size of the booster means it will take more than a month to reach the cold temperature target for the booster inside the test stand. Three large air-conditioning units – similar to those used for outdoor ice skating rinks – have been placed around the test facility, and are continually pumping air at 25 degrees Fahrenheit into the test stand house surrounding the booster. Sensors inside and outside the booster measure the propellant temperature, and analytical models predict the time it takes for the booster to be conditioned to 40 degrees.

"Propellant temperature shouldn't be mistaken for the temperature of the booster when it's fired," Bevill added. "It may be conditioned to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but once it fires, it is extremely hot – about 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot enough to boil steel."

The day of the static fire, the test stand house will be rolled out of the way. "Cold conditioning in the summer isn't exactly optimal, but that's just one of the challenges with staying on schedule. We have to keep marching forward to be ready for flight," Bevill said. "But just like it takes a long time to cool the booster, it also takes a long time for it to warm back up. Testing early in the morning before it gets too hot helps, and we chill to a few degrees cooler than the target of 40 degrees to account for the summer heat on test day."

The two-minute, full-duration firing of the 177-foot booster will be the last full-scale test to support qualification of the hardware for the first two flights of SLS. Some 82 design objectives will be measured through more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster. Along with measuring the ballistic performance at the lower end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range, the test also integrates SLS flight-like command and control for motor ignition and nozzle steering.

After this test, the next time a SLS booster will be fired up will be on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two five-segment solid rocket boosters, along with four RS-25 engines, will propel SLS with the Orion spacecraft on its first mission in 2018.

"We’re working with Orbital ATK as they get ready to fire this booster in June," said Bruce Tiller, deputy manager of the SLS Boosters Office at Marshall. "In conjunction with testing, booster flight hardware is currently in production. NASA is preparing for the first flight of SLS, and each of these programmatic milestones provide crucial data to enable human missions to deep-space destinations, including Mars."

While the boosters for the space shuttle had four booster segments, the SLS boosters will have five segments. The added booster segment for SLS contains more solid propellant that allows SLS to lift more weight and reach a higher altitude before the boosters separate from the core stage within the first two minutes of flight. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. A later configuration will replace the five-segment solid rocket boosters with a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 130-metric-ton (143-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An Orbital ATK engineer checks the temperature of the propellant inside the solid rocket booster that will be fired during the qualification motor test in Utah...on June 28, 2016.
Orbital ATK

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Photos of the Day: BEAM's Interior and Exterior in High-Res...

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams enters the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time...on June 6, 2016.
NASA

Earlier today, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installed sensors inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) after entering the experimental habitat for the first time yesterday. Sensors were placed inside the module that will study air pressure and collect other data while BEAM is attached to the International Space Station for the next two years. The hatch on BEAM will then be closed again by tomorrow...and not re-opened till August.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installs sensors inside BEAM...on June 7, 2016.
NASA TV

A shot of BEAM (center) attached to the Tranquility node aboard the International Space Station...on May 28, 2016.
NASA

A close-up of BEAM during its successful expansion aboard the International Space Station...on May 28, 2016.
NASA

Sunday, June 5, 2016

ET-94 Is Now Ready To Be Worked On...

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

Earlier today, I drove down to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles again to check out ET-94 after it was placed at the location where it will be for the next two years. The unflown space shuttle fuel tank is now on display outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, Endeavour's current home. Work will soon begin to refurbish the flight article before it is mated with Endeavour and her twin Solid Rocket Boosters in 2018...prior to going on public display at the soon-to-be-built Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center the following year.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

After viewing ET-94, I also watched a free screening of the new IMAX documentary film A Beautiful Planet, which chronicles life aboard the International Space Station and is narrated by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence. It is produced and directed by Toni Meyers...whose last film was 2010's Hubble 3D. Both are truly amazing documentaries that need to be seen (Hubble is now available on DVD)!

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 as seen from inside the California Science Center's main building...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 as seen from inside the California Science Center's main building...on June 5, 2016.

ET-94 at its temporary location outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...on June 5, 2016.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Another Flown Falcon 9 Returns to Port Canaveral in Florida...

A Falcon 9 booster that launched the THAICOM 8 telecommunications satellite to geosynchronous orbit is about to touch down on a drone ship out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 27, 2016.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd share these photos of another Falcon 9 booster as it successfully landed on a drone ship out in the Atlantic Ocean following a flawless launch that sent a telecommunications satellite known as THAICOM 8 to geosynchronous orbit on May 27. The Falcon 9 is leaning in the last two images below because of the angle of approach it took (shown above and directly below) as the rocket descended towards the unmanned barge...causing the so-called crush core (which was also utilized by the Apollo lunar landers more than 40 years ago) to be used up on the landing legs upon touchdown. This Falcon 9 will become the fourth flown booster to make its way to SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Elon Musk should be delighted that the storage facility is running out of room due to the ever-increasing number of recovered boosters filling up space inside the building...

The Falcon 9 booster that launched the THAICOM 8 telecommunications satellite to geosynchronous orbit is about to touch down on the drone ship out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 27, 2016.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9 booster that launched the THAICOM 8 telecommunications satellite to geosynchronous orbit sits atop the drone ship out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 27, 2016.
SpaceX

The drone ship carrying the Falcon 9 booster that launched the THAICOM 8 telecommunications satellite to geosynchronous orbit on May 27 arrives at Port Canaveral in Florida...on June 2, 2016.
SpaceX