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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Photo of the Day: Growing Veggies Aboard the ISS...

Red lettuce is grown inside the Columbus module aboard the International Space Station.
NASA

Tending Your Garden ... In Space (News Release)

If you plant it, will it grow (in space)? The answer is yes, at least for certain types of plants. The Vegetable Production System, or Veggie, was first deployed in 2013 and is capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew aboard the International Space Station with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food. Veggie provides lighting and nutrient delivery, but utilizes the cabin environment for temperature control and as a source of carbon dioxide to promote growth.

This image of a red lettuce plant was taken for the VEG-03 experiment in the Columbus module by the Expedition 53 crew.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, November 12, 2017

ISS Update: Another Cygnus Freighter Heads Up to the International Space Station on Flight OA-8...

Orbital ATK's Antares rocket carrying the company's Cygnus freighter launches toward the International Space Station from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia...on November 12, 2017.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA Space Station Cargo Launches Aboard Orbital ATK Mission (Press Release)

The International Space Station will receive about 7,400 pounds of cargo, including new science and technology investigations, following the successful launch of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Sunday.

Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo delivery flight to the station launched at 7:19 a.m. EST on an Antares rocket from Pad 0A at Wallops, and is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station Tuesday, Nov. 14.

This is the fifth flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the second using Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket. The spacecraft for this mission is named in honor of Gene Cernan, the last human to step foot on the Moon. Cernan, who passed away in January at age 82, set records for both lunar surface extravehicular activities and the longest time in lunar orbit.

Expedition 53 astronauts Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) and Randy Bresnik of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 4:50 a.m. Tuesday. Cygnus will remain at the space station until Dec. 4, when the spacecraft will depart the station and deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.

The resupply mission will support dozens of new and existing investigations as Expeditions 53 and 54 contribute to about 250 science and research studies.

Highlights from the new experiments will include studies on antibiotic resistance, high-speed data transmission, plant growth and improved power and communication technologies.

The E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) mission will investigate the effect of microgravity on the antibiotic resistance of E. coli, a bacterial pathogen responsible for urinary tract infection in humans and animals. Antibiotic resistance could pose a danger to astronauts, especially since microgravity has been shown to weaken human immune response. The experiment will expose two strains of E. coli to three different doses of antibiotics; one of these strains is deficient in the gene responsible for the increased antibiotic resistance in microgravity. Results from this investigation could help determine appropriate antibiotic dosages to protect astronaut health during long-duration missions and help us understand how antibiotic effectiveness may be increased in microgravity, as well as on Earth.

The Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) project will study high-speed optical transmission of data and small spacecraft proximity operations. It will test functionality of laser-based communications using CubeSats that provide a compact version of the technology.

Results from OCSD could lead to significantly enhanced communication speeds between space and Earth and a better understanding of laser communication between small satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The Biological Nitrogen Fixation in Microgravity via Rhizobium-Legume Symbiosis (Biological Nitrogen Fixation) investigation examines how low-gravity conditions affect the nitrogen fixation process of Microclover, a resilient and drought tolerant legume. The nitrogen fixation process, a process by which nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted into a usable form for living organisms, is a crucial element of any ecosystem necessary for most types of plant growth. This investigation could provide information on the space viability of the legume’s ability to use and recycle nutrients and give researchers a better understanding of this plant’s potential uses on Earth.

As space exploration increases, so will the need for improved power and communication technologies. The Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA), a hybrid solar power panel and communication solar antenna that can send and receive messages, tests the use of this technology in CubeSat-based environmental monitoring. ISARA may provide a solution for sending and receiving information to and from faraway destinations, both on Earth and in space.

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Photos of the Day: The Dream Chaser Soars Again...

Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft touches down at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California...on November 11, 2017.
NASA / Carla Thomas

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser Achieves Successful Free Flight at NASA Armstrong (News Release)

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft underwent a successful free-flight test on November 11, 2017 at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. The test verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight, meeting expected models for a future return from the International Space Station.

The flight test helped advance the vehicle under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program space act agreement, as well as helped prepare the vehicle for service under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 program. The testing will validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.

The Dream Chaser is preparing to deliver cargo to the International Space Station beginning in 2019. The data that SNC gathered from this test campaign will help influence and inform the final design of the cargo Dream Chaser, which will fly at least six cargo delivery missions to and from the space station by 2024.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft glides in for a landing at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California...on November 11, 2017.
NASA / Carla Thomas

Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft rolls down the runway after landing at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California...on November 11, 2017.
NASA / Carla Thomas

Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft comes to a stop on the runway after landing at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California...on November 11, 2017.
NASA

Thursday, November 9, 2017

EM-2 Update: Another Launch Abort Test Will Take Place Before Astronauts Finally Fly on Orion...

A computer-generated image of a boilerplate Orion capsule soaring in the air during Ascent Abort Test-2...which will take place in April of 2019.
NASA

NASA Moves Up Critical Crew Safety Launch Abort Test (News Release)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is scheduled to undergo a design test in April 2019 of the capsule’s launch abort system (LAS), which is a rocket-powered tower on top of the crew module built to very quickly get astronauts safely away from their launch vehicle if there is a problem during ascent.

This full-stress test of the LAS, called Ascent Abort Test-2 (AA-2), will see a booster, provided by Orbital ATK, launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying a fully functional LAS and a 22,000-pound Orion test vehicle to an altitude of 32,000 feet at Mach 1.3 (over 1,000 miles an hour). At that point, the LAS’ powerful reverse-flow abort motor will fire, carrying the Orion test vehicle away from the missile. Timing is crucial as the abort events must match the abort timing requirements of the Orion spacecraft to the millisecond in order for the flight test data to be valid.

NASA is accelerating the timeline of the test to provide engineers with critical abort test data sooner to help validate computer models of the spacecraft’s LAS performance and system functions.

“This will be the only time we test a fully active launch abort system during ascent before we fly crew, so verifying that it works as predicted, in the event of an emergency, is a critical step before we put astronauts on board,” said Don Reed, manager of the Orion Program’s Flight Test Management Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “No matter what approach you take, having to move a 22,000-pound spacecraft away quickly from a catastrophic event, like a potential rocket failure, is extremely challenging.”

The test will verify the LAS can steer the crew module and astronauts inside to safety in the event of an issue with a Space Launch System rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during a rapid climb into or beyond orbit for deep-space missions.

The LAS is divided into two parts: the fairing assembly, which is a shell composed of a lightweight composite material that protects the capsule from the heat, wind and acoustics of the launch, ascent, and abort environments; and the launch abort tower, which includes the system’s three motors. In an emergency, those three motors – the launch abort, attitude control, and jettison motors – would work together to pull Orion away from a problem on the launch pad or during SLS first stage ascent, steering and re-orienting for LAS jettison, and pulling the LAS away from the crew module. During a normal launch, only the LAS jettison motor would fire, once Orion and the Space Launch System clear most of the atmosphere, to clear the LAS from Orion and allow the spacecraft to continue with its mission.

Engineers at several NASA centers already are building the Orion test article that has many of the design features and the same mass as the capsule that will carry crew. Because the test is designed to evaluate Orion’s launch abort capabilities, the crew module used for AA-2 will not deploy parachutes after the abort system is jettisoned, nor will it have a reaction control system with thrusters needed to help orient the capsule for a parachute-assisted descent and splashdown after the LAS is jettisoned.

The AA-2 test development and execution is a partnership between Orion Program and the Advanced Exploration Systems Division, the technology advancement organization in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA Johnson is responsible for producing the fully assembled and integrated crew module and separation ring, including development of unique avionics, power, software and data collection subsystems and several elements of ground support equipment.

The agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will build the primary structure of the crew module test article and a separation ring that connects the test capsule to the booster and provides space and volume for separation mechanisms and instrumentation.

Critical sensors and instruments used to gather data during the test will be provided by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The integrated test article will be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be processed before launch.

NASA’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, is providing the fully functional Orion LAS, and the crew module to service module umbilical and flight design retention and release mechanisms.

In 2010, an earlier version of Orion’s LAS was tested to evaluate the performance of the system in during Abort Test Booster-1 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. For Exploration Mission-1, NASA’s first integrated flight test of Orion atop the powerful SLS -- the abort system will not be fully active since astronauts will not be inside the spacecraft. NASA is working toward a December 2019 launch for EM-1.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

EM-1 Update: The Space Launch System MIGHT Not Fly Till June 2020...

An artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System rocket soaring in the sky.
NASA

NASA Completes Review of First SLS, Orion Deep Space Exploration Mission (News Release)

NASA is providing an update on the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft after completing a comprehensive review of the launch schedule.

This uncrewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for the agency’s human deep space exploration goals. EM-1 lays the foundation for the first crewed flight of SLS and Orion, as well as a regular cadence of missions thereafter near the Moon and beyond.

The review follows an earlier assessment where NASA evaluated the cost, risk and technical factors of adding crew to the mission, but ultimately affirmed the original plan to fly EM-1 uncrewed. NASA initiated this review as a result of the crew study and challenges related to building the core stage of the world’s most powerful rocket for the first time, issues with manufacturing and supplying Orion’s first European Service Module, and tornado damage at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”

The majority of work on NASA’s new deep space exploration systems is on track. The agency is using lessons learned from first time builds to drive efficiencies into overall production and operations planning. To address schedule risks identified in the review, NASA established new production performance milestones for the SLS core stage to increase confidence for future hardware builds. NASA and its contractors are supporting ESA’s (European Space Agency) efforts to optimize build plans for schedule flexibility if sub-contractor deliveries for the service module are late.

NASA’s ability to meet its agency baseline commitments to EM-1 cost, which includes SLS and ground systems, currently remains within original targets. The costs for EM-1 up to a possible June 2020 launch date remain within the 15 percent limit for SLS and are slightly above for ground systems. NASA’s cost commitment for Orion is through Exploration Mission-2. With NASA’s multi-mission approach to deep space exploration, the agency has hardware in production for the first and second missions, and is gearing up for the third flight. When teams complete hardware for one flight, they’re moving on to the next.

As part of the review, NASA now plans to accelerate a test of Orion’s launch abort system ahead of EM-1, and is targeting April 2019. Known as Ascent-Abort 2, the test will validate the launch abort system’s ability to get crew to safety if needed during ascent. Moving up the test date ahead of EM-1 will reduce risk for the first flight with crew, which remains on track for 2023.

Technology Advancements

On both the rocket and spacecraft, NASA is using advanced manufacturing techniques that have helped to position the nation and U.S. companies as world leaders in this area. For example, NASA is using additive manufacturing (3-D printing) on more than 100 parts of Orion. While building the two largest core stage structures of the rocket, NASA welded the thickest structures ever joined using self-reacting friction stir welding.

SLS has completed welding on all the major structures for the mission and is on track to assemble them to form the largest rocket stage ever built and complete the EM-1 “green run,” an engine test that will fire up the core stage with all four RS-25 engines at the same time.

NASA is reusing avionics boxes from the Orion EM-1 crew module for the next flight. Avionics and electrical systems provide the “nervous system” of launch vehicles and spacecraft, linking diverse systems into a functioning whole.

For ground systems, infrastructure at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is intended to support the exploration systems including launch, flight and recovery operations. The center will be able to accommodate the evolving needs of SLS, Orion, and the rockets and spacecraft of commercial partners for more flexible, affordable, and responsive national launch capabilities.

EM-1 will demonstrate safe operations of the integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, and the agency currently is studying a deep space gateway concept with U.S. industry and space station partners for potential future missions near the Moon.

“Hardware progress continues every day for the early flights of SLS and Orion. EM-1 will mark a significant achievement for NASA, and our nation’s future of human deep space exploration,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “Our investments in SLS and Orion will take us to the Moon and beyond, advancing American leadership in space.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bidding Farewell to a Gemini and Apollo Hero...

NASA astronaut Richard Gordon studies equipment used during the Apollo 12 mission in November of 1969.
NASA

NASA Pays Tribute to Early Space Pioneer Richard Gordon (Press Release)

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the passing of former NASA astronaut Richard Gordon:

"NASA and the nation have lost one of our early space pioneers. We send our condolences to the family and loved ones of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, a hero from NASA’s third class of astronauts.

“Naval officer, aviator, chemist, test pilot, and astronaut were among the many hats of this talented and daring explorer. Dick was pilot of Gemini XI in 1966, on which he performed a spacewalk where he tethered the Gemini and Agena together for the very first attempt at creating artificial gravity by rotating spacecraft. He also was command module pilot of Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon. While his crewmates Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed in the Ocean of Storms, he remained in lunar orbit aboard the Yankee Clipper, taking photos for potential future landing sites and later performing final re-docking maneuvers.

“An accomplished naval aviator, Dick tested many new aircraft that later entered service and also won the Bendix Trophy Race from New York to Los Angeles in 1961, setting a new speed record for the time.

“Dick will be fondly remembered as one of our nation’s boldest flyers, a man who added to our own nation’s capabilities by challenging his own. He will be missed."


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NASA astronaut Richard Gordon prepares to tether his Gemini XI capsule to its Agena Target Docking Vehicle during a spacewalk on September 14, 1966.
NASA

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NASA Continues to Do Research on the Deep Space Gateway Concept...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching a deep space gateway orbiting the Moon.
NASA

NASA Selects Studies for Gateway Power and Propulsion Element (Press Release - November 1)

NASA has selected five U.S. companies to conduct four-month studies for a power and propulsion element that could be used as part of the deep space gateway concept. The agency is studying the gateway concept with U.S. industry and space station partners for potential future collaborations. These latest studies will help provide data on commercial capabilities as NASA defines objectives and requirements as well as help reduce risk for a new powerful and efficient solar electric propulsion (SEP) technology in deep space.

NASA needs a 50-kW SEP system, which is three-times more powerful than the capabilities available today, for future human missions. Earlier this year, NASA sought study proposals under Appendix C of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement. The request identified 23 topic areas including potential commercial synergies to support development of a power and propulsion element.

Combined funding awarded for the selected studies is approximately $2.4 million. The selected companies are:

Boeing of Pasadena, Texas
Lockheed Martin of Denver, Colorado
Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado
Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California


"NASA will use these studies to gain valuable insight into affordable ways to develop the power and propulsion element leveraging commercial satellite lines and plans,” said Michele Gates, director of the Power and Propulsion Element at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Advancing a high power SEP system will help drive future exploration missions and help take humans farther into deep space than ever before."

A new power and propulsion element will leverage advanced SEP technologies developed by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. An overarching objective of these studies is to understand the driving technical differences between prior SEP-powered mission concepts and potential new requirements for NASA’s deep space gateway concept.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Another art concept of the deep space gateway orbiting the Moon.
NASA

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Photo of the Day: Astronauts Learn How to Exit from the Orion Capsule in an Emergency...

Using a full-scale mockup of the capsule, NASA personnel practice how to egress from Orion in the event of an emergency at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA / James Blair

NASA Tests Ensure Astronaut, Ground Crew Safety Before Orion Launches (News Release)

NASA is performing a series of tests to evaluate how astronauts and ground crew involved in final preparations before Orion missions will quickly get out of the spacecraft if an emergency were to occur on the pad prior to launch. In the hours before astronauts launch to space in Orion from NASA’s modernized spaceport in Florida on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, they will cross the Crew Access Arm 300 feet above the ground and climb inside the crew module with the assistance of ground personnel trained to help them strap into their seats and take care of last-minute needs. The testing is helping engineers evaluate hardware designs and establish procedures that would be used to get astronauts and ground crew out of the capsule as quickly as possible. Flight and ground crew are required to get out of Orion within two minutes to protect for a variety of failure scenarios that do not require the launch abort system to be activated, such as crew incapacitation, fire or the presence of toxins in the cabin.

This testing took place the week of Oct. 30 using the Orion mockup in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. In this photo, engineers used fake smoke to imitate a scenario in which astronauts must exit the capsule when their vision is obscured. Markings on the ground indicate where the Crew Access Arm would be located and help guide the crew. This testing is a collaborative effort between the Orion and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs. Previous egress testing at Johnson and in the Gulf of Mexico has evaluated how crew will exit the spacecraft at the end of their missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bigelow Aerospace and ULA Aim for the Moon...

An artist's concept of Bigelow Aerospace's B330 expandable module orbiting the Moon.
Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance Announce Agreement to Place a B330 Habitat in Low Lunar Orbit (Press Release)

Las Vegas, NV and Centennial, Colo. – Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are working together to launch a B330 expandable module on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle. The launch would place a B330 outfitted module in Low Lunar Orbit by the end of 2022 to serve as a lunar depot.

“We are excited to work with ULA on this lunar depot project,” said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace. “Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars. It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term. This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon.

"This commercial lunar depot would provide anchorage for significant lunar business development in addition to offering NASA and other governments the Moon as a new exciting location to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training.”

The B330 would launch to Low Earth Orbit on a Vulcan 562 configuration rocket, the only commercial launch vehicle in development today with sufficient performance and a large enough payload fairing to carry the habitat. Once the B330 is in orbit, Bigelow Aerospace will outfit the habitat and demonstrate it is working properly. Once the B330 is fully operational, ULA’s industry-unique distributed lift capability would be used to send the B330 to lunar orbit. Distributed lift would also utilize two more Vulcan ACES launches, each carrying 35 tons of cryogenic propellant to low Earth orbit. In LEO, all of the cryogenic propellant would be transferred to one of the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES). The now full ACES would then rendezvous with the B330 and perform multiple maneuvers to deliver the B330 to its final position in Low Lunar Orbit.

“We are so pleased to be able to continue our relationship with Bigelow Aerospace,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “The company is doing such tremendous work in the area of habitats for visiting, living and working off our planet and we are thrilled to be the ride that enables that reality.”

Bigelow Aerospace is a destination-oriented company with a focus on expandable systems for use in a variety of space applications. These NASA heritage systems provide for greater volume, safety, opportunity and economy than the aluminum alternatives.

The B330 is a standalone commercial space station that can operate in low Earth orbit, cislunar space and beyond. A single B330 is comparable to one third of the current pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace is developing two B330 commercial space station habitats that will be ready for launch any time after 2020.

Source: United Launch Alliance

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An artist's concept of the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
United Launch Alliance

Monday, October 16, 2017

Photo of the Day: Orion EM-1 Capsule Components Are Ready for Integration at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

Components for the Orion EM-1 capsule are on display inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Orion Processing Continues for NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (News Release)

NASA's Orion crew module is being prepared for its first uncrewed integrated flight test atop the Space Launch System rocket. Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a variety of test stands, processing bays and hardware are in view. Thermal protection panels and other components for Orion are in various stages of processing.

Orion will launch on the SLS rocket from Kennedy's Launch Pad 39B on Exploration Mission-1. The spacecraft will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week period. Orion will return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov