MAIN / INDEX / GAMES / JOURNAL ENTRIES & UPDATES / ASK PARMAN! / VIDEOS / FRIENDS' GALLERY / GALLERY 2 / FAVORITES / FICTION / DRAWINGS / LINKS / AUTOGRAPHS / FILM NOTES / NAME IN SPACE / HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT BLOG / CREDITS


Monday, December 22, 2014

Private Spaceflight: The Year in Review...

The side hatch is opened on the Dragon V2 capsule during its unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

NASA Commercial Crew Partners Complete 23 Milestones in 2014, Look Ahead to 2015 (Press Release)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and the agency’s industry partners completed 23 agreement and contract milestones in 2014 and participated in thousands of hours of technical review sessions. The sessions focused on creating a new generation of safe, reliable and cost-effective crew space transportation systems to low-Earth orbit destinations.

“To say we’ve been busy would truly be an understatement,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the Commercial Crew Program. “Our partners at Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX have made tremendous strides in their respective systems throughout the year and we’re happy to have supported them along their way. My team and I are excited to continue to work with our partners in the coming year.”

Blue Origin continued the development of its Space Vehicle spacecraft designed to carry people into low-Earth orbit. The company also continued work on its subscale propellant tank assembly through an unfunded Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA, which was recently extended until April 2016. In the coming year, Blue Origin will further test its propellant tank and BE-3 engine.

Both Boeing and SpaceX began work on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts to develop systems to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

In 2014 Boeing closed out its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement and Certification Products Contract (CPC) with NASA. The company also completed its first two CCtCap milestones. Boeing worked with the agency to set an operating rhythm and path toward certification of the CST-100 spacecraft and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. NASA evaluated the designs of the company’s ground-based systems that will be used to carry crews to the station, including the launch complex, crew training, countdown operations mission control facilities, landing locations and post-landing operations.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) performed incremental tests of its reaction control system that will help maneuver its Dream Chaser spacecraft in space. SNC achieved its CCiCap milestone in November and built on previous propulsion system development efforts by implementing a compact prototype thruster operating in a vacuum chamber to simulate an on-orbit environment. This year, the company also performed wind tunnel and risk-reduction testing under its CCiCap agreement and closed out its Certification Products Contract with NASA. In 2015, the company will perform the second free-flight of its Dream Chaser test article at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

SpaceX performed two milestones, its Dragon Primary Structure Qualification and Delta Crew Vehicle Critical Design Review, in November as part of its CCiCap agreement. Under that agreement, SpaceX also performed other critical design reviews of its systems and operations this year. The company continued to provide NASA with data in preparation for the company’s Certification Baseline Review under its CCtCap contract, which was approved this month. SpaceX also closed out its CPC contract with NASA in 2014. Next year, SpaceX will perform two abort tests for its Crew Dragon spacecraft under its CCiCap agreement.

"Our partners and providers are working on real hardware and will be doing exciting tests next year,” Lueders said. “Pad infrastructures, processing facilities, hardware and crew training mock-ups, which are all key elements crucial to flying crew safely in just a few years, will take a more cohesive shape next year.”

NASA's goal for the Commercial Crew Program is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. With the CCtCap contracts announced Sept. 16, NASA’s goal is to certify crew transportation systems in 2017 that will return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

A full-scale mockup of Boeing's CST-100 vehicle...unveiled at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas on July 22, 2013.
NASA / Robert Markowitz

Friday, December 19, 2014

SpaceX Update: A Major Achievement for Dragon V2...

The Dragon V2 capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
SpaceX

SpaceX Completes First Milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System (Press Release)

NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency.

During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station.

“This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development.”

On Sept. 16, the agency unveiled its selection of SpaceX and Boeing to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their Crew Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, respectively. These contracts will end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia and allow the station’s current crew of six to increase, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

Under the CCtCap contracts, the companies will complete NASA certification of their human space transportation systems, including a crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard, to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch from the United States, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, and validate its systems perform as expected.

Throughout the next few years, SpaceX will test its systems, materials and concept of operations to the limits to prove they are safe to transport astronauts to the station. Once certified, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket will be processed and integrated inside a new hangar before being rolled out for launch. This will all take place at the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Crew Dragon is expected to be able to dock to the station for up to 210 days and serve as a 24-hour safe haven during an emergency in space.

“SpaceX designed the Dragon spacecraft with the ultimate goal of transporting people to space,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer. “Successful completion of the Certification Baseline Review represents a critical step in that effort—we applaud our team’s hard work to date and look forward to helping NASA return the transport of U.S. astronauts to American soil.”

By expanding the station crew size and enabling private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit -- a region NASA has been visiting since 1962 -- the nation's space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America's investment in ISS. NASA also can expand its focus to develop the Space Launch System and Orion capsule for missions in the proving ground of deep space beyond the moon to advance the skills and techniques that will enable humans to explore Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

A glimpse of Dragon V2's cabin during the capsule's unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
EPA

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SLS Update: Preparing Its Engine for Testing...

The electronic controller that will be tested on the Space Launch System's RS-25 engine at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center.
NASA / MSFC

New "Brain" for RS-25 Engine is No Technological Flashback to the '80s (Press Release)

Take a look at your current devices. Can you imagine swapping that smartphone for a gigantic cellphone from the 1980s? Surfing the Internet with dial-up speed? Working out to your favorite music with a cassette player?

Today's technology is better, faster and more innovative. People have to keep up with the rapidly changing times, and so does the "brain" for the RS-25 rocket engine.

The engine controller unit on the RS-25 -- formerly known as the space shuttle main engine -- helped propel all of the space shuttle missions to space. It allows communication between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine's health and status.

Just like the ever-evolving computer, the engine controller unit needed a "refresh" to provide the capability necessary for four RS-25 engines to power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to deep space missions. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.

"You can't put yesterday's hardware on today's engine, especially since many parts of the shuttle-era engine controller unit aren't even made anymore," said Russ Abrams, avionics subsystem manager in the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Marshall manages the SLS Program for the agency. "We need the most updated control systems for this engine to meet SLS specifications and take us to places we've never been before in space."

Controller development is based heavily on the recent development experience with the J-2X engine controller. An engineering model RS-25 controller is being tweaked and tested at Marshall. At one of the center's test facilities, engineers are simulating the RS-25 in flight, using real engine actuators, sensors, connectors and harnesses.

A second engineering model controller and RS-25 engine also recently were installed on the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Pending final preparation and activation work, the engine test series is anticipated to begin in 2015.

"NASA and its partners have been working very hard to evolve this crucial piece of hardware and software for the RS-25, and we look forward to seeing it tested on the A-1 stand very soon," said Johnny Heflin, deputy manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at Marshall. "This is an exciting time for everyone involved with this project."

The RS-25 and controller work are a collaborative effort between NASA and prime contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California.

The first flight test of the SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built and provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System lifting off from LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

EFT-Update: Orion is Back on Terra Firma!

After arriving in Naval Base San Diego, California, the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is brought out of the well deck of the USS Anchorage via forklift...on December 8, 2014.
NASA / Amber Philman

Yesterday afternoon, the USS Anchorage arrived at Naval Base San Diego after completing a 3-day trip that began once the U.S. warship retrieved the Orion spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean last Friday. Having traveled 60,000 miles in space during Exploration Flight Test 1 and 600 miles from its splashdown zone to Southern California, Orion will now make a 2,500-mile roadside trip back to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This Orion capsule will be refurbished and reused during the Ascent Abort 2 test at Cape Canaveral in 2018. The next Orion to fly into space (on Exploration Mission 1) is now in production by Lockheed Martin...at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

With the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft aboard, the USS Anchorage arrives at Naval Base San Diego, California, after a 3-day trip from Orion's splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean...on December 8, 2014.
NASA

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is about to be placed inside a makeshift structure at Naval Base San Diego's Mole Pier for temporary storage, on December 9, 2014.
NASA / Cory Huston

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is about to be placed inside a makeshift structure at Naval Base San Diego's Mole Pier for temporary storage, on December 9, 2014.
NASA / Cory Huston

Sunday, December 7, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion's Recovery Effort...

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage hours after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Two days after successfully soaring into space aboard Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, Orion is on the verge of arriving at the U.S. mainland after safely being recovered from its splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean. The USS Anchorage, with NASA's newest human-rated spacecraft onboard, is set to arrive at Naval Base San Diego tomorrow. From there, Orion will be transported via roadside back to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida...where all of the sensors and cargo placed inside the capsule will be removed and processed. The Orion EFT-1 vehicle will be reused for the Ascent Abort 2 test in 2018...the same year that another Orion will fly aboard the Space Launch System during its maiden flight from KSC's Launch Complex 39B. That Orion, which will make an unmanned flyby of the Moon on Exploration Mission 1, will harbor the changes made to it in response to all of the data that Lockheed Martin (the prime contractor for Orion) obtained from last Friday's flawless demonstration. Stay tuned.

With the USS Anchorage waiting in the distance, a U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter flies over the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to assess its condition after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean...on December 5, 2014.
NASA

U.S. Navy recovery teams begin securing the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for it being towed back to the USS Anchorage, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

The USS Anchorage approaches the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for the capsule being towed back to the ship for securing aboard the vessel, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

U.S. Navy recovery team members watch as the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is towed into the USS Anchorage's well deck, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage hours after the capsule safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Friday, December 5, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion's Inaugural Flight Is A Success!

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...beginning Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 on December 5, 2014.
NASA / Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

NASA’s New Orion Spacecraft Completes First Spaceflight Test (Press Release)

NASA marked a major milestone Friday on its journey to Mars as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

Orion blazed into the morning sky at 7:05 a.m. EST, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

During the uncrewed test, Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt where it experienced high periods of radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth. Orion also hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Orion will open the space between Earth and Mars for exploration by astronauts. This proving ground will be invaluable for testing capabilities future human Mars missions will need. The spacecraft was tested in space to allow engineers to collect critical data to evaluate its performance and improve its design. The flight tested Orion’s heat shield, avionics, parachutes, computers and key spacecraft separation events, exercising many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.

On future missions, Orion will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket currently being developed at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. A 70 metric-ton (77 ton) SLS will send Orion to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on Exploration Mission-1 in the first test of the fully integrated Orion and SLS system.

“We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion’s design going forward,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “In the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at that invaluable information and applying lessons learned to the next Orion spacecraft already in production for the first mission atop the Space Launch System rocket.”

A team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel aboard the USS Anchorage are in the process of recovering Orion and will return it to U.S. Naval Base San Diego in the coming days. Orion will then be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be processed. The crew module will be refurbished for use in Ascent Abort-2 in 2018, a test of Orion’s launch abort system.

Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, began manufacturing the Orion crew module in 2011 and delivered it in July 2012 to the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Facility at Kennedy where final assembly, integration and testing were completed. More than 1,000 companies across the country manufactured or contributed elements to Orion.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

My 'boarding pass' for the Orion EFT-1 mission.

A microchip bearing the names of about 1.4 million people (including myself) was one of many special cargo items that flew aboard Orion during the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Earth as seen from a camera aboard the Orion spacecraft during the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA TV

As seen from the recovery ship USS Anchorage, the Orion spacecraft is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean to successfully conclude the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA / U.S. Navy / Lockheed Martin

As seen from a U.S. Navy aircraft flying overhead, the Orion spacecraft floats quietly in the water after successfully concluding the EFT-1 mission...on December 5, 2014.
NASA TV

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Better Luck Tomorrow!

A security helicopter hovers near SLC-37 as a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft stands poised for launch (which was scrubbed) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on December 4, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thanks to a stray boat, pesky ground winds and stubborn fuel valves that wouldn't close properly, today's launch of Orion was scrubbed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The next attempt will be tomorrow (at 7:05 AM, Eastern Standard Time...same as today's 'T-0')—with a 40% chance of acceptable weather conditions at lift-off. Here's hoping that 40% chance increases to 100% on Friday, with no technical issues preventing America's next manned space vehicle from soaring 3,600 miles beyond the Earth during its maiden voyage. In the meantime, check out these photos of an Orion paper model kit that I received at a NASA Social event I attended for Exploration Flight Test 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California yesterday. It took me only a few hours to assemble it. Pretty cool...if I may say so, myself.

An upper view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

A lower view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

A rear view of a paper model kit for the Orion spacecraft...which I received during a NASA Social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on December 3, 2014.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Boeing Update: A Major Achievement for the CST-100...

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule and the Atlas V rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Boeing

Boeing Completes First Milestone for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Systems (Press Release - December 1)

NASA has approved the completion of Boeing’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station from the United States under a groundbreaking Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract.

The Certification Baseline Review is the first of many more milestones, including flight tests from Florida’s Space Coast that will establish the basis for certifying Boeing’s human space transportation system to carry NASA astronauts to the space station. The review established a baseline design of the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and associated ground and mission operations systems.

“The work done now is crucial to each of the future steps in the path to certification, including a flight test to the International Space Station,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “This first milestone establishes an expected operating rhythm for NASA and Boeing to meet our certification goal.”

On Sept. 16, the agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. These contracts will provide U.S. missions to the station, ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia and allowing the station’s current crew of six to grow, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

The CCtCap contracts are designed for the companies to complete NASA certification of their human space transportation systems, including a crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch from the United States, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once the test program has been completed successfully and the systems achieve NASA certification, the contractors will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. The spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station.

During the review, Boeing provided NASA with a roadmap toward certification, including its baseline design, concept of operations and management and insight plans. The Boeing team also detailed how the CST-100 would connect with the station and how it plans to train NASA astronauts to fly the CST-100 in orbit.

“It’s important for us to set a robust plan for achieving certification upfront,” said Boeing Commercial Crew Program Manager John Mulholland. “It’s crucial for us to achieve our 2017 goal, and the plan we’ve put in place will get us there.”

By expanding the crew size and enabling private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit -- a region NASA has been visiting since 1962 -- the nation's space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America's investment in the International Space Station. NASA also can expand its focus to develop the Space Launch System and Orion capsule for missions in the proving ground of deep space beyond the moon to advance the skills and techniques that will enable humans to explore Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule approaching the International Space Station.
Boeing

Monday, December 1, 2014

T-Minus Three Days and Counting...

NASA's Orion Spacecraft at the Launch Pad (Press Release)

With access doors at Space Launch Complex 37 opened on Nov. 24, 2014, the Orion spacecraft and Delta IV Heavy stack is visible in its entirety inside the Mobile Service Tower where the vehicle is undergoing launch preparations. Orion will make its first flight test on Dec. 4 with a morning launch atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion’s crew module is underneath the Launch Abort System and nose fairing, both of which will jettison about six minutes, 20 seconds after launch. The tower will be rolled away from the rocket and spacecraft 8 hours, 15 minutes before launch to allow the rocket to be fueled and for other launch operations to proceed.

The spacecraft will orbit the Earth twice, including one loop that will reach 3,600 miles above Earth. No one will be aboard Orion for this flight test, but the spacecraft is being designed and built to carry astronauts on exploration missions into deep space. Launch is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7:05 a.m. EST, the opening of a 2 hour, 39-minute window for the day.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Inside Space Launch Complex 37's Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, engineers conduct final launch preparations on the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft...on November 24, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, November 27, 2014

T-Minus One Week and Counting...

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!! Just thought I'd mark this occasion by sharing this photo of the Delta IV Heavy rocket—complete with the Orion spacecraft now sitting atop the vehicle—as it stands visible inside of its Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 is exactly 7 days away!

The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft stands poised for launch inside of its Mobile Service Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on November 24, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett