Friday, April 13, 2018

Photo of the Day: Work Continues on a Major Space Launch System Component...

The liquid hydrogen fuel tank for NASA's Space Launch System makes a move for its next step in processing at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Jude Guidry

SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Readied to be Primed for Thermal Protection (News Release)

The liquid hydrogen tank for NASA’s deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, makes a move for its next step in processing. Technicians at the agency’s rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, place the tank into Cell P to be primed before its thermal protection systems application. The hardware requires protection due to extreme temperatures it will face during launch.

The liquid hydrogen tank measures more than 130 feet tall, comprises almost two-thirds of the core stage and holds 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Propellant will flow from the tank to four RS-25 engines that will power the massive rocket on its first integrated flight with the Orion spacecraft: Exploration Mission-1.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Orion Update: An Exploration Mission-1 Component for the Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral...

The Orion Stage Adapter that will fly aboard NASA's Space Launch System on 2020's Exploration Mission-1 is transported to Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 3, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Space Launch System Flight Hardware Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (News Release)

The second piece of flight-hardware for NASA’s new exploration-class rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on April 3. The Orion Stage Adapter (OSA) traveled to Kennedy aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft from the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where it was built.

The stage adapter will connect the Orion spacecraft to the upper part of the SLS rocket known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, or ICPS. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based upper space stage that will give the spacecraft the push needed to go to deep space.

On its first launch, the OSA will double as a secondary payload carrier, delivering 13 mini ships on as many deep space missions. These small but mighty scientific investigations include 10 satellites from U.S. industry, government, and commercial partners, as well as the three CubeSats being built by international partners.

Both the OSA and ICPS are being stored for processing in Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility in preparation for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated launch of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov


Saturday, April 7, 2018

CST-100 Update: NASA May Have 3 Astronauts Launch on the Boeing Capsule's First Crewed Flight...

An artist's concept of an Atlas V rocket launching Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule into space.

NASA, Boeing May Evolve Flight Test Strategy (News Release - April 5)

NASA has updated its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with Boeing, which provides flexibility in its commercial flight tests. Boeing, one of the agency’s two commercial crew partners, approached NASA last year and proposed adding a third crew member on its Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station.

The change includes the ability to extend Boeing’s CFT from roughly two weeks to up to six months as well as the training and mission support for a third crew member. Cargo capabilities for the uncrewed and crewed flight tests were also identified.

Exact details of how to best take advantage of the contract modification are under evaluation, but the changes could allow for additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while Starliner is docked to station. Adding a third crew member on Boeing’s flight test could offer NASA an additional opportunity to ensure continued U.S. access to the orbital laboratory.

“This contract modification provides NASA with additional schedule margin if needed,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts. Commercial space transportation to low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil is critical for the agency and the nation.”

The current commercial crew flight schedules provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before NASA’s contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.

“Turning a test flight into more of an operational mission needs careful review by the technical community,” said Gerstenmaier. “For example, the spacecraft capability to support the additional time still needs to be reviewed. Modifying the contract now allows NASA and Boeing an opportunity to tailor the duration to balance the mission needs with vehicle and crew capabilities.”

This would not be the first time NASA has expanded the scope of test flights. NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial cargo demonstration flight to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. As part of its normal operations planning, NASA has assessed multiple scenarios to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. The agency is working closely with its commercial partners and is preparing for potential schedule adjustments normally experienced during spacecraft development.

“Our partners have made significant progress on the development of their spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground systems,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Their rigorous testing and analysis are verifying each system performs and reacts as planned as they prepare to safely carry our astronauts to and from the station.”

Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station this year prior to test flights with a crew onboard. After each company’s test flights, NASA will evaluate the in-flight performance in order to certify the systems and begin regular post-certification crew rotation missions.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule preparing to dock with the International Space Station.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

SpaceShipTwo Update: The VSS Unity Finally Lights Her Engine in Flight!

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the first time on April 5, 2018.

Today was a memorable day for Virgin Galactic as the VSS Unity finally lit her rocket motor during a flight above the Mojave Desert in California today. Unity separated from her mothership White Knight II 46,500 feet above the desert before igniting the engine that brought SpaceShipTwo (SS2) to an altitude of 84,271 feet before shutting down as planned. Unity reached a speed of Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds that her engine was fired—and activated her tail boom (a.k.a. "feather system") before descending back to her landing site at the Mojave Air & Space Port. The tail boom was brought back to its landing configuration 50,000 feet above the ground as Unity began her final glide back to the runway.

VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's twelfth test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

With today's momentous flight, the VSS Unity is that much closer to finally ferrying paying passengers to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Boeing and SpaceX will soon make manned commercial spaceflight a reality with the impending launches of the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively; it's time for Virgin Galactic to do so as well with SS2. This would obviously be the latest way to honor the memory of the VSS Enterprise and Michael Alsbury, the co-pilot who tragically lost his life in the spacecraft's crash on October 31, 2014. Ad astra.

The VSS Unity begins her glide back to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity is about to touch down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Monday, April 2, 2018

SpaceX Update: Another Dragon Heads to the ISS...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 2, 2018...beginning the CRS-14 mission.

New Research Heading to Space Station Aboard 14th SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station soon will receive a delivery of experiments dealing with how the human body, plants and materials behave in space following the 4:30 p.m. EDT launch Monday of a SpaceX commercial resupply mission.

A SpaceX Dragon lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai and NASA astronaut Scott Tingle will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station Wednesday, April 4. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 5:30 a.m. April 4. Installation coverage is set to begin at 8:30 a.m.

Among the research arriving on Dragon is a new facility to test materials, coatings and components, or other large experiments, in the harsh environment of space. Designed by Alpha Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) provides a platform for testing how materials react to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen, ionizing radiation, ultrahigh vacuum, charged particles, thermal cycles, electromagnetic radiation, and micro-meteoroids in the low-Earth orbit environment.

The Canadian Space Agency’s study Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White (MARROW) will look at the effects of microgravity on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces – an effect likened to that of long-term bed rest on Earth. The extent of this effect, and bone marrow’s ability to recover when back on Earth, are of interest to space researchers and healthcare providers alike.

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity also is important for future long-duration space missions and the crews that will need to grow their own food. The Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) arriving on Dragon uses a newly-developed passive nutrient delivery system and the Veggie plant growth facility currently aboard the space station to cultivate leafy greens. These greens will be harvested and eaten by the crew, with samples also being returned to Earth for analysis.

Dragon also is carrying an Earth observatory that will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, as well as upgrade equipment for the station’s carbon dioxide removal system, external high-definition camera components, and a new printer for the station’s crew.

This is SpaceX’s 14th cargo mission to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in May and return to Earth with more than 3,500 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

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 2,300 research investigations from researchers in more than 100 countries.


The Dragon spacecraft moments after separating from its Falcon 9 second stage motor...following launch on April 2, 2018.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Major Milestone Achieved for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule...

Three main parachutes that will be used on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner successfully deploy from a dart module above Yuma, Arizona last month.

Parachute Testing Lands Partners Closer to Crewed Flight Tests (News Release)

Crew safety is paramount in the return of human spaceflight launches from Florida’s Space Coast, and the latest round of parachute testing is providing valuable data to help industry partners Boeing and SpaceX meet NASA’s requirements for certification.

On March 4, SpaceX performed its 14th overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development. This exercise was the first of several planned parachute system qualification tests ahead of the spacecraft’s first crewed flight and resulted in the successful touchdown of Crew Dragon’s parachute system.

During this test, a C-130 aircraft transported the parachute test vehicle, designed to achieve the maximum speeds that Crew Dragon could experience on reentry, over the Mojave Desert in Southern California and dropped the spacecraft from an altitude of 25,000 feet. The test demonstrated an off-nominal, or abnormal, situation, deploying only one of the two drogue chutes and intentionally skipping a deployment stage on one of the four main parachutes, proving a safe landing in such a contingency scenario.

In February, the first in a series of reliability tests of the Boeing flight drogue and main parachute system was conducted by releasing a long, dart-shaped test vehicle from a C-17 aircraft over Yuma, Arizona. Two more tests are planned using the dart module, as well as three similar reliability tests using a high fidelity capsule simulator designed to simulate the CST-100 Starliner capsule’s exact shape and mass. These three tests involve a giant helium-filled balloon that lifts the capsule over the desert before releasing it at altitudes above 30,000 feet to test parachute deployments and overall system performance.

In both the dart and capsule simulator tests, the test spacecraft are released at various altitudes to test the parachute system at different deployment speeds, aerodynamic loads, and or weight demands. Data collected from each test is fed into computer models to more accurately predict parachute performance and to verify consistency from test to test.

Mark Biesack, a lead NASA engineer at Kennedy Space Center overseeing parachute testing for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program said, “We test the parachutes at many different conditions for nominal entry, ascent abort conditions including a pad abort, and for contingencies, so that we know the chutes can safely deploy in flight and handle the loads.”

SpaceX will conduct its next parachute system test in the coming weeks in the California desert, again using a C-130 to drop the parachute test vehicle from about 25,000 feet. The test will be similar to the one conducted earlier this month, but with a different deployment configuration. The test will intentionally skip deployment of one drogue parachute and one main parachute to further demonstrate SpaceX’s ability to safely land the vehicle in an off-nominal situation. The ongoing testing verifies the safety of the parachute system for our astronauts.

Boeing is scheduled for its third of five planned qualification tests of its parachute system in May, using the same type of helium-filled balloon that will be used in the reliability tests. For the qualification test, the balloon lifts a full-size version of the Starliner spacecraft over the desert in New Mexico before releasing it. The balloon lifts the spacecraft at more than 1,000 feet per minute before it is dropped from an altitude of about 40,000 feet. A choreographed parachute deployment sequence initiates, involving three pilot, two drogue and three main chutes that slow the spacecraft’s descent permitting a safe touchdown.

Both Boeing and SpaceX’s parachute system qualification testing is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. The partners are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast this year, and are currently scheduled to begin flight tests late this summer.

“The partners are making great strides in testing their respective parachute systems, and the data they are collecting during every test is critical to demonstrating that their systems work as designed,” said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program Manager at Kennedy Space Center. “NASA is proud of their commitment to safely fly our crew members to the International Space Station and return them home safely.”

NASA’s Orion Program, which is nearing completion of its parachute tests to qualify the exploration-class spacecraft for missions with crew, has provided Commercial Crew Program partners with data and insight from its tests. NASA has matured computer modeling of how the system works in various scenarios and helped partner companies understand certain elements of parachute systems, such as seams and joints, for example. In some cases, NASA’s work has provided enough information for the partners to reduce the need for some developmental parachute tests.

The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station from the United States through a public-private approach.

Source: NASA.Gov


Three main parachutes that will be used on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule successfully deploy from a test vehicle above the Mojave Desert in Southern California...on March 4, 2018.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Photo of the Day: The Interior of an SLS Rocket Component...

A snapshot of the interior of the launch vehicle stage adaptor that will be used on the Space Launch System rocket flying on Exploration Mission-1 in 2020.
NASA / MSFC - Amy Buck

Look Inside NASA's Exploration Mission-1 Rocket (News Release)

While the outside of NASA’s new deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) often gets all the glory, the inside works hard too. NASA is busy outfitting the rocket with what it needs for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated mission of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. Engineers installed two sets of work platforms inside the rocket’s launch vehicle stage adapter. The adapter connects the rocket’s core stage with the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, which will fire its engine to send Orion into lunar orbit.

SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion with its crew to the Moon. Future upgrades to SLS will enable the rocket to launch both Orion with its crew and a large amount of cargo to lunar orbits on a single mission. This picture shows platforms inside the launch vehicle stage adaptor that will allow technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida access to the stage while the rocket is on the launch pad. The cone-shaped adapter, which measures 28 feet tall and tapers from about 27.5 feet at the bottom to 16.5 feet at the top, was built by SLS prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering in an advanced manufacturing facility at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the adapter to Kennedy for launch where it will join the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, which was delivered in 2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

NASA Continues to Seek Ideas for Its Proposed Lunar Space Station...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.

Scientists Share Ideas for Gateway Activities Near the Moon (News Release)

NASA is looking at how the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway can create value for both robotic and human exploration in deep space.

In late 2017, the agency asked the global science community to submit ideas leveraging the gateway in lunar orbit to advance scientific discoveries in a wide range of fields. NASA received more than 190 abstracts covering topics human health and performance, Earth observation, astrophysics, heliophysics, and lunar and planetary sciences, as well as infrastructure suggestions to support breakthrough science.

Although it is too early to select specific research for the gateway, the workshop marks the first time in more than a decade the agency’s human spaceflight program brought scientists from a variety of disciplines together to discuss future exploration.

“We are in the early design and development stages for the gateway, and we were curious about the level of interest in using this platform for science including the scale and scope of instrumentation scientists might want to see onboard,” said Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We were impressed by the breadth of the abstract responses and invited scientists and engineers to a workshop to learn more.”

Gateway assembly is targeted to begin in 2022, with the launch of the power and propulsion element. Habitation, logistics, and airlock capabilities would follow incrementally and establish the gateway’s core functionalities. Initially, NASA will send crew to the gateway once per year, so most investigations will require high levels of autonomy, and/or teleoperations.

Most concepts were based on the gateway’s location in lunar orbit, outside of Earth’s magnetosphere. This locale permits interesting observations, not possible in Earth orbit, in the fields of astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science. At the same time, exposure to the deep space environment introduces risk to astronauts, electronics, and hardware, due to high-energy radiation and space debris exposure. Understanding and mitigating these risks was a topic often discussed across scientific domains.

Science Opportunities Abound

“Science investigations are a critical element of our agency-wide exploration initiatives to the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We’ve studied our Earth companion for decades with robotic spacecraft and we’re eager for new innovative lunar research opportunities that also will help us learn more about our solar system and beyond.”

Scientists identified a broad range of instruments that could be used inside the gateway, as well as attached to the outside of the spacecraft, or free-flying nearby. Inside, the gateway could be outfitted with instruments to evaluate radiation effects on electronics and other susceptible materials. Monitors could be activated during crew visits, to evaluate behavioral health, neurocognitive functions, and radiation and microgravity effects. Robotic helpers were discussed to support visiting crews, and also maintain operations when the gateway is uncrewed.

Outside the gateway, scientists suggested materials research platforms as permanent, fixed panels that could host interchangeable experiments with standardized attachments. Earth observation experts saw opportunities to use Earth as proxy for exoplanet detection, and noted the capability for “full disk” imaging of Earth, as well as regular views of polar regions. With a view to the Sun, advanced solar activity characterizations are possible, and could improve our understanding of solar cycles and their effects on Earth as well as the possible risks to astronauts and spacecraft systems.

The gateway also could be used to deploy increasingly more capable CubeSats to conduct a multitude of experiments. The gateway’s infrastructure could support nearby spacecraft servicing, wide-aperture telescope assembly, and serve as a communications relay for large data returns to Earth from small probes or satellites in the lunar environment.

Other ideas included robotically collecting lunar samples to investigate aboard the gateway or preserve for return to Earth, and astronauts aboard the gateway could remotely operate rovers on the surface to characterize resources, or venture to the never-before explored lunar far side.

All-in-all, the workshop provided NASA’s human spaceflight team what they needed: a basic understanding of the science that could be conducted from the vantage point of lunar orbit, and the potential spacecraft resources that would be required to do so.

“The gateway will help us return humans to the lunar surface, and expand human presence into the solar system. We now see the endless opportunities for it to play an important role for science in cislunar space as well,” said Crusan. “The enthusiasm from this workshop was awesome, and we look forward to keeping the conversation going.”

Source: NASA.Gov


Another art concept of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

EM-1 Update: A Major Milestone at Kennedy Space Center for the Space Launch System's Maiden Flight...

The crew access arm for the Orion capsule is about to be installed onto the mobile launcher for NASA's Space Launch System Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Bill White

Orion Crew Access Arm Installed on Mobile Launcher (News Release)

As astronauts prepare for trips to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, their last steps before boarding an Orion spacecraft will be across a crew access arm on the mobile launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This week, the agency reached an important milestone on the path to Exploration Mission-1 with the installation of the crew access arm at about the 274-foot level on the mobile launcher tower.

The Exploration Ground Systems team at Kennedy has been overseeing installation of umbilicals and other launch accessories on the 380-foot-tall mobile launcher in preparation for stacking the first launch of the Space Launch System rocket, called the SLS, with an Orion spacecraft. The SLS will be the largest launch vehicle in the world, designed for missions beyond low-Earth orbit carrying crew and cargo to the Moon or beyond. The initial configuration for what SLS can carry past low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon is more than 26 metric tons, with a final configuration of at least 45 metric tons.

The crew access arm installation marks the completion of 17 of the 20 major launch accessories and umbilicals that provide access, power, communication, coolant, fuel and other services to the launch vehicle and spacecraft. The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Umbilical and a pair of Tail Service Mast Umbilicals are slated for installation in the spring/summer timeframe.

The crew access arm is made up of two major components — the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, known as "white room." It is given that name not only because it is painted white, but also because it is kept clean to avoid contaminants entering the spacecraft prior to flight. The crew access arm is designed to rotate from its retracted position and line up with Orion's crew hatch. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into and out of the Orion spacecraft.

Although there will be no crew on the first flight, the crew access arm provides a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft and allows the ground crew access for processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and at Launch Pad 39B.

After technicians check out the crew access arm and complete the many other ground support equipment installations, the crawler-transporter will move the mobile launcher out to Launch Pad 39B for a fit-check and then inside the VAB for validation and verification tests.

The mobile launcher’s massive steel tower is engineered to withstand the loads of the umbilicals that will connect to the SLS rocket, as well as to endure the natural forces such as wind, temperature, and vibration. Similar to skyscrapers and other large structures, engineers designed the mobile launcher to withstand the movements associated with predicted loads and compensate for anticipated forces. As each piece of hardware is installed, teams precisely measure the structure to ensure the required alignment of the swing arms and umbilicals with the vehicle interface are within the design tolerances.

Source: NASA.Gov


The crew access arm for the Orion capsule is installed onto the mobile launcher for NASA's Space Launch System Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Image of the Day: The Components of the Space Launch System...

While SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is now the most powerful heavy-lift launch vehicle in the U.S. inventory as of February 6, that title will soon be bestowed upon another behemoth—NASA's own Space Launch System (SLS)—as early as late 2019. Just as the infographic below shows, the SLS will be comprised of various components that, on their own, are of immense size compared to a human being. Look at the very bottom of this illustration...where a person is placed near one of the rocket's twin Solid Rocket Boosters for scale. Along with the Falcon Heavy, having the SLS at America's disposal should obviously bring its space program that much closer to making a manned flight to Mars a reality. Or at least bring a lunar space station to fruition.

An infographic showing all of the components that comprise the Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.