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Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Previously-Flown Dragon Heads to the ISS...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a reused Dragon spacecraft launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2017.
NASA TV

New NASA Experiments, Research Headed to International Space Station (Press Release)

Major experiments that will look into the human body and out into the galaxy are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following its 5:07 p.m. EDT launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The Dragon lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 6,000 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the cargo craft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the rendezvous and capture beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 5. NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture SpaceX’s Dragon when it arrives at the station.

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include an experiment studying fruit flies to better understand the effects on the heart of prolonged exposure to microgravity. Because they’re small, age rapidly, and have a well-known genetic make-up, they are good models for heart function studies. This experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system and could aid in the development of countermeasures to help astronauts.

The Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis investigation tests a new drug that can rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving crew health. When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation build on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

Three payloads inside Dragon’s unpressurized area will demonstrate new solar panel technologies, study the physics of neutron stars, and host an array of Earth-viewing instruments.

This mission is SpaceX’s eleventh cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 52 and 53.

The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station in early July, returning with more than 3,400 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 16 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 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Falcon 9's first stage booster stands quietly at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral after launching a reused Dragon capsule to the International Space Station...on June 3, 2017.
SpaceX

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Photo of the Day: Another Successful Engine Test for the Space Launch System...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on May 23, 2017.
NASA / SSC

NASA’s Space Launch System Engine Testing Heats Up (News Release - May 23)

NASA engineers successfully conducted the second in a series of RS-25 flight controller tests on May 23, 2017, stepping closer to deep-space exploration with the world’s most-powerful rocket. The test was set after a facility issue, subsequently resolved, forced rescheduling of a May 16 hot fire. The 500-second – more than eight full minutes – test on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi marked another milestone toward launch of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on its inaugural flight, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

The SLS rocket, powered by four RS-25 engines firing simultaneously, will provide 2 million pounds of thrust and work in conjunction with a pair of solid rocket boosters. The RS-25 engines for the initial flight are former space shuttle main engines, modified to perform at a higher level and with a new controller. The controller is the key modification to the engines. The component is often cited as the RS-25 “brain” that allows communication between the engine and the rocket. Prior to a flight, engine performance specifications, such as percentage of thrust needed, are programmed into the controller. The controller then communicates the specifications and ensures these are being met by monitoring and controlling such factors as propellant mixture ratio and thrust level.

Stennis performed an earlier series of tests to gather data for development of the new controller, which is a collaborative effort of NASA, RS-25 prime contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif. and subcontractor Honeywell of Clearwater, Fla. The first flight controller was tested in March at Stennis for installation on one of the four EM-1 engines. Pending data review from the May 23 test, the second flight controller will be installed on SLS for EM-1. A third flight controller is scheduled for testing in July at Stennis.

Tests are conducted by a team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services engineers and operators. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The President's 2018 Budget for NASA Is Released...

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Acting Administrator Statement on Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal released Tuesday:

“Today, President Trump released his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the federal government. At $19.1 billion, we have a very positive budget that retains the same parameters we saw in March, and which reflects the president’s confidence in our direction and the importance of everything we’ve been achieving.

“I want to reiterate how proud I am of the NASA team and its hard work. It’s making a real difference in this country and around the world. NASA missions inspire the next generation, inject innovation into the national economy, provide critical information needed to address national challenges, and support global engagement and international leadership.

“As the President has said, American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. NASA is executing programs, step by step, to make this dream a reality, as well as the broader quest to explore and understand the universe. We’ve had a horizon goal for some time now of reaching Mars, and this budget sustains that work and also provides the resources to keep exploring our solar system and look beyond it. And, it enables us to keep innovating and creating the technologies that will take us to deep space and improve the aeronautics systems on which all of us rely.

“The hard choices are still there, and we can’t do everything. But we can certainly do a lot, and each member of the NASA team, every day, is helping to create the future.

“As NASA approaches its 60th anniversary in 2018, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request will maintain NASA’s place as the global leader in space. We appreciate the bipartisan commitment to our continuity of purpose. It’s essential that our near term work be stable as we plan for the long term and look toward the next horizons, and this budget helps us do that. The NASA Transition Authorization Act and the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriation we recently received also represent important contributions to that continuity.

“Working with commercial partners, NASA will fly astronauts from American soil on the first new crew transportation systems in a generation in the next couple of years. We are continuing the development of solar electric propulsion for use on future human and robotic missions. NASA is fabricating and assembling the systems to launch humans into lunar orbit by 2023. Our budget request supports progress toward these and many other major milestones as part of the diverse portfolio of work we execute as we explore, discover, and develop on behalf of the American people.

“We are ending formulation of a mission to an asteroid, known as the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but many of the central technologies in development for that mission will continue, as they constitute vital capabilities needed for future human deep space missions.

“While this budget no longer supports the formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through its missions and the many ways that our work excites and encourages discovery by learners and educators. We are as committed to inspiring the next generation as ever. We’re going to engage the public in the compelling story of exploration by the successful and safe execution of our missions, which is where our focus has to be.

“At the same time, we’re going to take this opportunity for NASA to revisit the public engagement and outreach activities that take place on the ground at centers every day to ensure that we are leveraging the synergies between education and outreach to facilitate meaningful connections.

“All the details
(are) online, but I did want to mention some other specifics about the budget. In Science, for instance, this budget supports about 100 space missions -- 40 missions currently preparing for launch and 60 operating missions. The Solar Probe Plus (SPP), Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the InSight Mars lander, and the James Webb Space Telescope are on track to launch in 2018, and the next Mars rover is on pace for a 2020 launch.

“While we are not proposing to move forward with Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3
(OCO-3), Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder (CLARREO PF), and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), this budget still includes significant Earth Science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions.

“The budget keeps us on track for the next selection for the New Frontiers program, and includes formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. It supports research on space weather and upcoming Heliophysics missions, and continues support for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which will eventually succeed Webb. Our work in science leads the world in its size, scope and output.

“NASA’s Aeronautics research program advances U.S. global leadership by developing and transferring key technologies to make aviation safer, greener, and more efficient. This budget takes the next significant step in the New Aviation Horizons initiative -- the bold series of experimental aircraft known as X-planes -- and systems demonstrations towards revolutionary aircraft and improving the efficiency of the national air transportation system.

“Our Space Technology program enables rapid development and incorporation of transformative space technologies in NASA’s future missions, which increases our nation’s overall capabilities and helps industry, as well. The budget supports our diverse portfolio, which is creating a technology pipeline to solve the most difficult challenges in space, from solar electric propulsion to laser communications and cross-cutting technologies that benefit our work across the board.

“We have a budget that also provides the necessary resources in the coming year to support our plans to send humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s. The European service module will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for integration with Orion in 2018. Prototype ground testing of habitat modules under our broad area announcement activity will happen in 2018.

“The International Space Station, commercial crew and cargo, and the Space Launch System and Orion all continue to advance our future in space with this budget. Having an additional NASA crew member on the space station will greatly enhance the research and advancement towards exploration. The station continues to create new opportunities for collaboration with industry and supports public-private partnerships for exploration systems that will extend human presence into the solar system. So there’s a lot to look forward to.

“The program of exploration and discovery we propose with this budget should be a source of pride for all Americans. The impact of NASA’s work is immense, and we have great momentum and support to keep moving ahead.”

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NASA

Friday, May 19, 2017

Two Astronauts Officially Become Part of NASA History...

The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
NASA

Two NASA Astronauts Inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (Press Release)

Two veteran NASA astronauts joined the ranks of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Friday.

Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to travel to space and current director of the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Michael Foale, the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station and Russian space station Mir, bring the total number of space explorers honored in the hall of fame to 95.

Bob Cabana, 2008 hall of famer and current director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, presided over the ceremony at Kennedy’s visitor complex to welcome the new inductees.

Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined Johnson in 1990, when she was selected as an astronaut candidate. After completing astronaut training, she served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, conducting atmospheric studies to better understand the effect of solar activity on Earth’s climate and environment.

Ochoa has flown in space four times, including the STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110 missions, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. She is Johnson’s first Hispanic director and its second female director. She also has served as the center’s deputy director and director of Flight Crew Operations.

Foale, whose hometown is Cambridge, England, earned a doctorate in laboratory astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Foale was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1987. Before his first spaceflight, he tested shuttle flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory simulator. Foale was a crew member on six space missions, including STS-45, STS-56, STS-63, STS-84, STS-103 and Soyuz TMA-3. During STS-84, he helped reestablish the Russian Space Station Mir after it was degraded by a collision and depressurization. Foale logged more than 374 days in space, including four spacewalks totaling 22 hours and 44 minutes.

Foale also served as chief of the Astronaut Office Expedition Corps, assistant director (technical) of Johnson, and deputy associate administrator for exploration operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. His last assignment at Johnson was as chief of the Soyuz Branch, Astronaut Office, supporting Soyuz and International Space Station operations and space suit development. Foale retired from NASA in 2013.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

SLS Update: Construction Continues on the Mega-Rocket for Its 2019 Maiden Flight...

The structural test article for the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank is completed at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud - Judy Guidry

NASA Continues Testing, Manufacturing World’s Most Powerful Rocket (News Release - May 12)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch crew and massive amounts of cargo to deep space including missions to Mars. Before launching the world’s most powerful rocket the first time, each part of SLS must undergo numerous tests to ensure the rocket and its components have been designed, manufactured and integrated to withstand the stresses of launch.

The heavy-lift rocket for the first integrated flight with the agency’s Orion spacecraft is a foundation for all future SLS configurations. NASA recently completed a major test series on hardware for the upper part of the rocket. A test article of the rocket’s core stage engine section is on its way by barge to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for a qualification test series. The engine section is the first of four core stage test articles manufactured and is designed to the specifications needed for launch.

“Completing these SLS structural tests puts NASA one step closer to the launch pad,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program manager at Marshall. “Our upcoming core stage testing will continue the largest testing campaign for a NASA rocket since the space shuttle.”

Building New Hardware

In addition to shipping the completed engine structural test article this month, the liquid hydrogen tank structural test article manufacturing is also complete. It is being equipped before heading to Marshall for testing later this year. Finally, the flight intertank structural assembly is also nearly finished and will soon undergo application of thermal protection systems.

While NASA is making significant progress overall with SLS to prepare for deep space exploration, the agency is overcoming production delays at Michoud due to tornado damage and the learning curve for first time operations. As schedules are adjusted to account for tornado recovery, the processes for friction stir welding are also under evaluation to validate performance of the weld process over time. This assessment will help engineers to duplicate their process for long-term production, and will ensure flight hardware made-to-date is consistent with requirements.

During recent manufacturing of the liquid oxygen tank test article in Michoud’s Vertical Assembly Center, the rear or aft dome was inadvertently damaged during pre-weld preparations. This occurred before the dome was welded to the rest of the test article. NASA and Boeing formed independent mishap investigation teams to evaluate the incident. No personnel were injured, and assessments are ongoing to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“Small things from the tiniest screws to each weld matter,” said Honeycutt. “Our engineers are learning as we work with Boeing to tackle challenges from aligning robotic weld machines off by as little as the width of a paperclip to addressing the fact that tiny threads on welding pins affect weld strength. We’re working together to ensure critical flight hardware is handled safely in the factory and as it is moved thousands of miles by ships, trains, and planes.”

New Tools and Techniques

Making a world-class evolvable rocket for the first time is challenging, Honeycutt added. The 212-foot-tall core stage uses four RS-25 engines to power SLS, and is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever manufactured and it will power all SLS rocket configurations. The agency is using innovative tools and new techniques and processes not only to build SLS, but also to transport it inside and outside the factory at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

“We are advancing U.S. leadership in manufacturing while building and testing a powerful rocket that meets the quality and safety criteria needed to take humans farther in space than we’ve ever traveled before,” said Honeycutt.

NASA and Boeing, the agency’s prime contractor for SLS, have done extensive work to develop weld parameters and processes for making the first-of-their-kind large fuel tanks.

“Production of the fuel tank pushes the state-of-the-art for self-reacting friction stir welding of thicker materials,” said Steve Doering, the SLS stages manager at Marshall. “This is the first time robotic self-reacting friction stir weld technology has built such large rocket parts with thicker joints. We’ve learned a lot as we work through processes to get weld parameters for the large fuel tanks adjusted to produce high-quality welds that can withstand the extreme forces of launch and spaceflight.”

By establishing repeatable manufacturing processes now, NASA will evolve SLS to meet a variety of mission needs as America moves deeper into the solar system. All the work done across the country now will support for the agency’s series of planned missions beyond the moon in the future.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The intertank that will fly aboard the Space Launch System on its 2019 maiden flight will soon be completed and undergo application of thermal protection systems at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud - Judy Guidry

Friday, May 12, 2017

EM-1 Update: The Space Launch System Will NOT Have Crew Members Aboard During Its Maiden Flight in 2019...

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Affirms Plan for First Mission of SLS, Orion (News Release)

In February, NASA began an effort looking at the feasibility of putting crew aboard the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft -- Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1. After weighing the data and assessing all implications, the agency will continue pursuing the original plan for the first launch, as a rigorous flight test of the integrated systems without crew. However, engineers will apply insights gained from the effort to the first flight test and the integrated systems to strengthen the long-term push to extend human presence deeper into the solar system.

NASA determined it is technically capable of launching crew on EM-1, but after evaluating cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it would be difficult to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning. The effort confirmed that the baseline plan to fly EM-1 without crew is still the best approach to enable humans to move sustainably beyond low Earth orbit.

“We appreciate the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of this crewed flight,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “The bi-partisan support of Congress and the President for our efforts to send astronauts deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before is valued and does not go unnoticed. Presidential support for space has been strong.”

Exploration Mission-1 is the first in a broad series of exploration missions that will take humans to deep space, and eventually to Mars. It is designed to be a flight test of our entire system -- one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations and ultimately build confidence in our ability to safely send crew into deep space.

“We’re considering additional ground testing of the heat shield prior to EM-1 as well as the possibility of advancing the ascent abort test for the Orion launch abort system based on findings from the study,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Conducting these tests in advance of EM-1 would provide additional data that will advance our systems knowledge faster and possibly improve the robustness of the overall plan for sending humans into deep space.”

As part of the assessment, NASA also reviewed the schedule for EM-1, including production schedules across the enterprise, anticipated budgets and appropriations, projected delivery of the European Service Module, first time production issues related to the core stage that is at the leading edge of new manufacturing, and the ongoing impact of the February tornado that directly affected the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. As a result of these factors, NASA will adjust the target launch date for the EM-1 mission to 2019, and will execute its normal process in the coming weeks to determine an official revised launch date.

NASA continues to keep each part of the enterprise – Orion, SLS, and ground systems – moving at their best possible pace toward the first integrated test mission. While components for EM-1 are being delivered, contractors can turn to the next phase of their work for the second flight, Exploration Mission-2, which will carry crew beyond the Moon.

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is currently in production for both the first and second missions, and progress continues across the country. The SLS engine section structural test hardware is currently aboard a barge on its way to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for testing, a series of engine tests is taking place in Mississippi, and the Orion abort attitude control system was tested in Maryland. An abort motor for the launch abort system will soon be tested in Utah, and avionics systems for the Orion European Service Module have been integrated into the Orion testing laboratory near Denver. Meanwhile at the Kennedy Space Center, Orion’s heat shield is being installed, and ground systems and software continue development. In addition, deep space habitation and propulsion system development activities also are underway and life support and related technologies are being tested 250 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station now.

“We are building both systems and supporting infrastructure to ensure a sustained cadence of missions beginning with EM-1 and continuing thereafter,” said Lightfoot. “NASA will continue to work with the Administration and Congress as we move toward a crewed flight test on EM-2 and, right now, we are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test.”

NASA continues to lead the way in sending humans into deep space beyond the Moon through building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity. This infrastructure will be available for use by others both domestic and international as they want to join in the effort to advance human presence into the solar system. These systems create an incredible capability from which future generations will continue to benefit.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Russia Launches a Two-Person Soyuz Crew to the ISS...

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket carrying two Expedition 51 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 20, 2017.
NASA

Two New Crew Members Arrive at International Space Station (Press Release)

After a six-hour flight, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos arrived at the International Space Station at 9:18 a.m. EDT Thursday where they will continue important scientific research.

The two launched aboard a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the space station.

The arrival of Fischer and Yurchikhin increased the station's crew complement to five. The two join Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency). The Expedition 51 crew members will spend more than four months conducting approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

Novitskiy and Pesquet will remain aboard the station until early June. Fischer and Yurchikhin are scheduled to remain aboard the station until September, along with Whitson, whose stay aboard the station was extended into Expedition 52 by an agreement recently signed between NASA and Roscosmos.

The expanded Expedition 51 crew soon will conduct new science investigations arriving on Orbital ATK’s seventh NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission Saturday, April 22. Investigations arriving will include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space. Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world, as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.

Fischer and Whitson are scheduled to take part in the fifth spacewalk of the year on May 12. The pair’s main task will be to replace an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, a storage platform. The box houses electrical, and command and data routing equipment for science experiments and replacement hardware stored outside the station. The new avionics box is arriving aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo craft on Saturday, April 22.

The crew members also are scheduled to receive one Russian Progress resupply mission delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research.

For more than 16 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 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The S.S. John Glenn Heads Up to the International Space Station...

The Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK's Cygnus freighter, which has been dubbed the S.S. JOHN GLENN after the late American hero, launches towards the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on April 18, 2017.
NASA / KSC

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

The International Space Station will be capable of dozens of new scientific investigations from NASA and around the world when Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft delivers more than 7,600 pounds of cargo Saturday, April 22.

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the station launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Expedition 51 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Peggy Whitson of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6:05 a.m. Saturday. The spacecraft will remain at the space station until July before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.

This is the fourth flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the third using the Atlas V launch system. The spacecraft for this mission is named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. Glenn, who died in December at age 95, was one of NASA's original seven astronauts and a retired U.S. Senator from Ohio.

The mission, which is under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations as Expeditions 51 and 52 contribute to approximately 250 science and research studies.

Highlights from the new experiments will include studies on cancer-fighting drugs, crystal growth and atmospheric reentry.

In microgravity, cancer cells grow in 3-D, spheroid structures that closely resemble their form in the human body, enabling better tests for drug efficacy. The ADCs in Microgravity investigation tests drugs designed as targeted cancer therapies called antibody-drug conjugates, developed by Oncolinx. These conjugates combine an immune-activating drug with antibodies and target only cancer cells, which could potentially increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduce side-effects. Results from this investigation could help inform treatments for cancer patients and provide insight into how microgravity affects a drug’s performance.

The Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules (SUBSA) investigation originally was operated successfully aboard the station in 2002. Updated software, data acquisition, high definition video and communication interfaces will help advance understanding of the processes involved in semiconductor crystal growth. Investigations such as the CLYC Crystal Growth experiment will be conducted in the SUBSA Furnace and inserts. High-quality crystals are essential to a variety of applications, and a microgravity environment can produce better quality crystals. CLYC crystals grown aboard station can help researchers understand the exact conditions needed to produce the highest-quality, defect-free crystals.

The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) investigation studies a new type of recording device that rides alongside a spacecraft as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere, recording data about the extreme conditions it encounters. Scientists, so far, have been unable to monitor those conditions on a large scale, and a better understanding could lead to more accurate spacecraft breakup predictions, better spacecraft designs, and materials capable of better resisting the extreme heat and pressure during the return to Earth.

For more than 16 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 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Photo of the Day: Mega-Rockets at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

Just thought I'd end this month by posting this awesome composite image that I found online showing NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket poised for flight at their respective launch sites at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Seeing a Falcon Heavy at Launch Complex 39A won't be a reality till sometime this summer, while the SLS won't be ready to soar on its maiden voyage from Launch Complex 39B till 2019. But the day will hopefully come when these two vehicles, which represent America's best chance at finally sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit and to other worlds for the first time in almost 50 years, stand side-by-side (so to speak) at Cape Canaveral...

Let's share the optimism.

A composite image showing SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket (foreground) and NASA's Space Launch System atop their respective pads at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39.
NASA / SpaceX / Nathan Koga

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Orion Update: NASA Is Developing Technology That Will Revolutionize Deep-Space Communications With The Capsule...

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

NASA Laser Communications to Provide Orion Faster Connections (News Release)

NASA is working to forever change the way astronauts communicate to and from space using an advanced laser communications system called LEMNOS, which will enable exponentially faster connections than ever before.

Imagine being able to watch 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) video as humans take their first steps on another planet. Or imagine astronauts picking up a cell phone and video-conferencing their family and friends from 34 million miles away, just the same as they might on Earth. LEMNOS, Laser-Enhanced Mission and Navigation Operational Services, may make these capabilities and more a reality in the near future. The project was named for the island, Lemnos, where the mythical hero Orion regained his sight, according to Greek lore. Similarly, LEMNOS will provide sight for NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft.

“Laser communications will revolutionize data return from destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, enhance outreach opportunities from outer space and improve astronauts’ quality of life on long space missions,” said Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication and Navigation division at the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters. “As we strive to put humans on Mars for the first time, it’s imperative that we develop a communications system to support these activities at the highest level possible.”

Laser communications, also known as optical communications, is the latest space communications technology, able to provide data rates as much as a hundred times higher than current systems. This means, for example, that astronauts could send and receive ultra-high-definition video from the surface of Mars. No mission to Mars has yet had that capability. Something that basic could have wide-reaching applications, allowing the American public to “ride along” as our astronauts explore deep space while also enabling scientific discoveries with much higher resolution images and data.

The Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been tapped to build LEMNOS in collaboration with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. They worked with other NASA centers to determine specific needs the system can fulfill.

“As we started thinking about the possibility of laser communications on Orion, I spoke with the flight controllers at Johnson Space Center who are developing the communications plan for Orion’s deep space missions. They were talking about enabling communications capabilities that we take for granted, but that are so foreign in space, from streaming scientific data and video in real time, to allowing astronauts to watch the Super Bowl or keep up with an election,” said Mark Brumfield, deputy program manager of implementation for ESC. “Being able to connect with society could have great impacts to astronauts’ mental health during the mission. Right now, they wouldn’t be able to make those connections in a meaningful way, but optical communications will give us that capability.”

In the nearly 50 years between the Apollo program and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, data return vastly improved, as evidenced by the difference between Apollo 8’s and LRO’s earthrise images, which were relayed to Earth via a much higher-rate system. While Apollo’s communications system supported 51 kilobytes of data per second, LEMNOS will be able to support communications at rates of at least 80 megabytes per second.

The project just got underway at Goddard, with a goal to test LEMNOS for the first time on the second flight of Orion beyond the moon. Scheduled for one week with the option to extend for a longer mission, it will be the perfect opportunity to test the laser communications system, operating it continuously for up to an hour a day.

After the initial mission, Brumfield speculates NASA could add more laser communications terminals on future Orion exploration missions. This would increase communications capability because of the line-of-sight requirement for LEMNOS. He says it would be an evolutionary change to the way NASA does space communications.

The Space Communication and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters provides programmatic oversight to the project. The communications team at Goddard has been tapped to build and implement the system in collaboration with MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Source: NASA.Gov
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An improvement in deep-space communications has allowed better-quality images to be relayed to Earth. 'Earthrise' as seen from Apollo 8 (top photo) in 1968 and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (bottom photo) in 2015.
NASA