Check out this cool YouTube clip showing the Falcon 9 booster that successfully returned to Earth after launching the JCSAT-14 spacecraft last May as its engines came back to life yesterday. The test fire occurred at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas...where the company's bid to make rockets reusable began with the Grasshopper demonstrations a few years back. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is hoping that this Falcon 9 will see flight again before the end of this year; a payload for this mission is yet to be selected.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
47 Years Since the First Moon Landing: NASA Takes One More Step Towards Exploring Deep Space Once More...
NASA Establishes Institute to Explore New Ways to Protect Astronauts (Press Release)
NASA is joining with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to operate a new institute charged with researching and developing innovative approaches to reduce risks to humans on long-duration exploration missions, including NASA’s Journey to Mars.
Work under the Translational Research Institute Cooperative Agreement, overseen by NASA’s Human Research Program, begins Oct. 1.
Translational research is an interdisciplinary model of research that focuses on translating fundamental research concepts into practice, with appreciable health outcomes. The NASA Translational Research Institute (NTRI) will implement a “bench-to-spaceflight” model, moving results or methods from laboratory experiments or clinical trials to point-of-care astronaut health and performance applications. The goal of the research is to produce promising new approaches, treatments, countermeasures or technologies that have practical application to spaceflight.
“It’s fitting on the 47th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing that we’re announcing a new human spaceflight research institute that will help reduce risks for our astronauts on the next giant leap – our Journey to Mars,” said Marshall Porterfield, NASA’s director of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications.
Translational research has the potential to move solutions into practical application much faster than traditional research approaches. To that end, the NTRI will maintain research leadership in translational human performance, biomedical, environmental, and cognitive and behavioral science, and foster greater involvement of the science community in accomplishing the agency’s human exploration goals.
The institute also will provide opportunities for scientists to gain experience in research laboratories, within and external to NASA, and apply their knowledge and expertise to reducing human exploration health and performance risks.
Major subcontractors are the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Services will be performed at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute in Houston. The agreement has a maximum potential value of $246 million for a six-year performance period with one additional six-year period that could extend work to September 2028.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
NASA / Michoud / Eric Bordelon
NASA Completes Welding on SLS Fuel Tank Test Article (Press Release)
A qualification test article for the liquid hydrogen tank on NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, is lifted off the Vertical Assembly Center after final welding at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. This giant tank isn't destined for space, but it will play a critical role in ensuring the safety of future explorers. The liquid hydrogen qualification article closely replicates flight hardware and was built using identical processing procedures. SLS will have the largest cryogenic fuel tanks ever used on a rocket.
The liquid hydrogen tank – along with a liquid oxygen tank – are part of the SLS core stage. The core stage is made up of the engine section, liquid hydrogen tank, intertank, liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt. As four qualification articles of the core stage hardware are manufactured, they will be shipped on the Pegasus barge from Michoud to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for structural loads testing.
Now that welding is finished, the liquid hydrogen tank hardware, standing at more than 130 feet tall, will be outfitted with sensors to record important data. It will be tested in a new, twin-tower test stand currently under construction for the tank at the Marshall Center. Structural loads testing ensures that these huge structures can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. When completed, SLS will have the power and payload capacity needed to carry crew and cargo on exploration missions to deep space, including Mars.
Monday, July 18, 2016
NASA Sends Trailblazing Science, Cargo to International Space Station Aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)
Instruments to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space, and the first international docking adapter for commercial spacecraft, are among the cargo scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station after Monday’s launch of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services-9 (CRS-9) mission.
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched at 12:45 a.m. EDT on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo. The spacecraft will be grappled to the space station at 7 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, supported by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins.
“Each commercial resupply flight to the space station is a significant event. Everything, from the science to the spare hardware and crew supplies, is vital for sustaining our mission,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program manager. “With equipment to enable novel experiments never attempted before in space, and an international docking adapter vital to the future of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, we’re thrilled this Dragon has successfully taken flight.”
The mission is the company's ninth cargo flight to the station under NASA’s CRS contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 48 and 49.
DNA testing aboard the space station typically requires collecting samples and returning them to Earth. The Biomolecule Sequencer seeks to demonstrate, for the first time, that DNA sequencing is feasible in microgravity using a crew-operated, miniaturized device to identify microbes, diagnose diseases, monitor crew health and possibly help detect DNA-based life off the Earth.
Maintaining safe temperatures is difficult in space where there is no atmosphere to moderate the extreme heat and cold provided by direct, unfiltered sunlight. The Phase Change Heat Exchanger, a NASA investigation to test temperature control technology for future spacecraft, uses a continual process of freezing and thawing to maintain temperatures inside a spacecraft, thereby protecting crews and equipment.
The crew also will test a new efficient, three-dimensional solar cell.
Millions of Americans experience bone loss resulting from disease or the reduced effects of gravity that can occur in immobilized patients. New ground-based studies are using magnetic levitation equipment to simulate these gravity-related changes. Research delivered under the station’s role as a U.S. National Laboratory includes OsteoOmics, a test to determine whether magnetic levitation accurately simulates the free-fall conditions of microgravity by comparing genetic expression in different types of bone cells.
Improved understanding of the mechanisms behind bone loss could lead to better ways to prevent it during space missions. This also could contribute to better prevention of, and treatments for, bone loss as a result of diseases like osteopenia and osteoporosis, or from prolonged bed rest.
Another National Lab investigation called Heart Cells studies how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary from one individual to another. Future exploration of the moon, asteroids or Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of heart muscle. Heart cells cultured aboard the space station for one month will be analyzed for cellular and molecular changes. Results could advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy.
Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station Monday, Aug. 29. After splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, more than 3,300 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools will be returned to shore.
For more than 15 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 truly 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.
SpaceX / Elon Musk
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Exercise Device for Orion to Pack Powerful Punch (News Release)
When astronauts travel far beyond Earth on the journey to Mars, keeping them healthy in space will be critically important. They’ll need to be in top physical form when they make it to their destination so they can effectively pioneer new frontiers and be able to recover relatively quickly when back on Earth.
While engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together on the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 in 2018, a group of NASA engineers and scientists have made it their objective to find answers to an important question that must be answered to make deep space missions with crew successful – how do you take what we know about the exercise equipment needed to keep astronauts healthy and fit in space and make it exponentially smaller, lighter and more robust while also offering the same benefits?
To exercise in Orion beginning on Exploration Mission-2, the first mission of the spacecraft with crew, astronauts will use the Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo (ROCKY) device, developed by Zin Technologies of Middleburg Heights, Ohio.
“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.”
On the space station, astronauts have a treadmill, resistive exercise device and a cycle ergometer that collectively weigh more than 4,000 pounds and occupy about 850 cubic feet within the space station. Astronauts workout on this equipment for more than two hours a day to stay healthy during their multi-month stays in space. ROCKY will be about the size of a large shoe box, weigh approximately 20 pounds and take up about one cubic foot of room.
“Our long-term goal is to develop a device that’s going to work for us for exploration,” said Cindy Haven, project manager for the Exploration Exercise Equipment Project. “Between now and the mission, we’ll have different phases where we’re going to evaluate it for functionality, usability and durability to refine its design.”
Astronauts will be able to use the device like a rowing machine for aerobic activity and for strength training with loads of up to 400 pounds to perform exercises such as squats, deadlifts and heel raises, as well as upper body exercises like bicep curls and upright rows. The device can be customized with specific workouts for individual astronauts. It will also incorporate the best features from a second device evaluated during the selection process called the Device for Aerobic and Resistive Training, or DART, developed by TDA Research in Denver, under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, including a servo-motor programmed to deliver a load profile that feels very similar as free weights to the exercising astronaut’s muscles.
After an Orion launch, the crew’s seats will be collapsed to provide more interior space for the astronauts inside. ROCKY will be located near the side hatch of the spacecraft that astronauts will use to get in and out.
While Orion’s early missions with crew will last only a matter of weeks, staying fit will also be important in the unlikely event astronauts need to get out of the crew module unassisted after splashdown. NASA’s plans call for recovery personnel to arrive to the landing site shortly after splashdown, but the crew will need to be prepared to exit the spacecraft on their own in sea conditions if they were ever to land off course.
Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion that dock with a habitat in the area of space around the moon known as the cis-lunar proving ground. They will be looking at ways to expand its capabilities even further while keeping mass and volume to a minimum.
The team will include engineers and scientists from Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will be responsible for building and certifying the hardware for flight on Orion and will incorporate lessons learned from the development of exercise equipment for the space station, recent Mini Exercise Device-2 demonstrations and ground-based research to optimize the device. The team also plans to fly ROCKY on the space station in the coming years.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
NASA / Kim Shiflett
Looking Up at New Work Platforms in the Vehicle Assembly Building (News Release)
In this view looking up from the floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, four levels of new work platforms are now installed on the north and south sides of High Bay 3. The G-level work platforms were most recently installed, at about the 14th floor level. Below them are the H, J and K level platforms.
The G-level work platforms are the fourth of 10 levels of work platforms that will surround and provide access to the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission 1. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3, including installation of the new work platforms, to prepare for NASA’s journey to Mars.
Friday, July 8, 2016
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel
A Peek Inside SLS: Fuel Tank For World’s Largest Rocket Nears Completion (Press Release)
While this may look like a futuristic tunnel to another world, it is really looking up inside a nearly complete fuel tank for NASA’s powerful, new rocket—the Space Launch System—that will take humans to destinations never explored by people before. At over 300-feet tall and 5.75 million pounds at liftoff, SLS needs plenty of fuel to leave Earth. Once a final dome is added to the liquid hydrogen rocket fuel tank, shown here, it will come in at 27.5-feet in diameter and over 130-feet long, making it the largest major part of the SLS core stage. The core stage forms the rocket’s backbone and has five major parts, all of which are being manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
Core stage tanks carry all the cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen combusted in four RS-25 engines to produce two million pounds of thrust. The tank holds 537,000 gallons of chilled liquid hydrogen that is completely combusted in the engines in the short 8.5 minutes it takes to send the SLS and Orion crew vehicle into orbit. The blue section, shown here, is part of the world’s largest robotic weld tool in the Vehicle Assembly Center at Michoud. Inside the tool, five barrels and one dome were welded to make the tank, shown here in silver; engineers will cap it with one more dome to complete tank welding. While the tank is smooth on the outside, the inside appears to have ridges because the cylindrical barrels that form the tank are manufactured with square patterns created by stiffening ribs machined into them to make the walls light but uniformly strong in every direction.
When it is finished, a barge will carry this tank to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While this qualification tank won’t actually fly, it will be tested at Marshall in a stand that simulates launch and ascent forces. Traveling to deep space requires a large vehicle that can carry huge payloads, and SLS will have the power and payload capacity needed to carry crew and cargo needed for exploration missions to deep space, including Mars. For the first flight of the SLS rocket, the Block I configuration can lift 70-metric-tons (77 tons). The next planned upgrade of SLS, known as Block 1B, will use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. For both configurations, SLS will use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.
The Boeing Co., headquartered in Chicago, is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, including avionics, and Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engines.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
NASA / Bill Ingalls
New Crew Members, Including NASA Biologist, Launch to Space Station (Press Release)
Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Japan are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7).
Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are traveling in an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft. They’ll spend two days -- and 34 Earth orbits – testing modified systems before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 12:12 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 9.
NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 8. Hatches are scheduled to open about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, July 9, with NASA TV coverage starting at 2:30 a.m.
The arrival of Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi returns the station's crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos. The Expedition 48 crew members will spend four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.
Rubins, who holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in cancer biology, Ivanishin and Onishi are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late October. Williams, Skripochka and Ovchinin will return to Earth in September.
Expedition 48 crew members are expected to receive and install the station’s first international docking adapter, which will accommodate future arrivals of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. Scheduled for delivery on SpaceX’s ninth commercial resupply mission (CRS-9) to the station, the new docking port features built-in systems for automated docking and uniform measurements. That means any spacecraft may use the adapters in the future – from NASA’s new crewed and uncrewed spacecraft, developed in partnership with private industry, to international spacecraft yet to be designed. The work by private companies to take on low-Earth orbit missions is expected to free up NASA's resources for future crewed missions into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars, with the Orion crew capsule launching on the Space Launch System rocket.
Investigations arriving on SpaceX CRS-9 in July will test capabilities for sequencing DNA in space, regulating temperatures aboard spacecraft, understanding bone loss, and tracking ships around the world. Other investigations will study how to protect computers from radiation in space and test an efficient, three-dimensional solar cell.
The crew members also are scheduled to receive Orbital ATK’s sixth commercial resupply mission and two Russian Progress resupply flights delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research. A Japanese cargo craft will deliver new lithium-ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on the station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays.
For more than 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the International Space Station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A truly 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.
Tuesday, 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.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Orion’s Service Module Completes Critical Design Review (Press Release)
NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) conducted a critical design review (CDR) culminating in a final review board June 16 for Orion’s European-built service module. The service module is an essential part of the spacecraft that will power, propel, and cool Orion in deep space as well as provide air and water for crew members. The CDR rounds out the latest in a series of reviews for the three human exploration systems development programs that will enable the journey to Mars.
During the review process, technical experts examined the module designs and numerous items were processed and closed out, giving engineers confidence the module design is mature enough to continue with fabrication, assembly, integration and testing.
The recently completed review focused on the overall service module design while discussing differences between Orion’s first deep space mission atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the mission to follow that will carry crew. No new major issues were identified during the review, and the teams worked together to develop a plan for work going forward in areas such as power, solar array management and propellant usage.
“The teams at NASA and ESA worked together successfully over the past few weeks to bring design decisions and required products to the CDR board,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “International collaboration is an important part of the effort NASA is leading to pioneer deep space.”
The review was conducted at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands with teams from NASA, ESA, Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defence & Space in Bremen, Germany. Lockheed Martin is NASA’s main contractor building Orion, and Airbus is ESA’s contractor for the service module.
“This was a tremendous effort on the part of the team from both sides of the Atlantic,” said James Free, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, who participated in much of the CDR. “Anytime you do something for the first time you can run into challenges, but we have been working side-by-side with ESA and Airbus to make Orion integration go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.”
The CDR identified April 2017 as the target for the service module delivery to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams will begin integrating hardware into the rocket before the service module is delivered, and NASA plans to continue to optimize processing when it arrives at Kennedy. Initial results maintain EM-1 launch date no later than November 2018.
“There is some design maturation work that will occur while the module is being manufactured,” added Free. “We will also continue to evaluate updates to the shipping plans for the service module to prioritize work and refine schedules, and we will identify the best options to integrate our overall schedule.”
Results of the service module’s review will be briefed to senior NASA and ESA officials in the coming weeks.
This milestone is the latest in a series of accomplishments critical for the agency’s deep space missions. NASA’s SLS was its first human-rated rocket in almost 40 years to complete and clear a CDR, which wrapped in October 2015. The world’s only human-rated deep space vehicle, Orion, and the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program that will provide the facilities and ground support at Kennedy to prepare SLS and Orion for the journey to Mars, completed a joint CDR in March 2016.