Monday, October 15, 2018

SLS Update: Big Progress Is Made on Readying a Major Core Stage Booster Component for Flight...

Technicians work inside the intertank of the Space Launch System's core stage booster for Exploration Mission-1...at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Eric Bordelon

Space Launch System Intertank Completes Functional Testing (News Release)

The intertank that will be flown on Exploration Mission-1 as part of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, has completed its avionics functional testing, at the Michoud Assembly Center in New Orleans. The avionics, shown here inside the intertank structure, guide the vehicle and direct its power during flight. The intertank houses critical electronics that "talk to" the flight computers in the forward skirt. The intertank, forward skirt, two colossal fuel tanks and the engine section make up the massive core stage of the SLS rocket. The avionics units on the core stage work with the rocket's flight software to perform various functions during the first eight minutes of flight.

Now that the intertank and forward skirt have passed avionics testing, they are ready to be mechanically joined and tested to verify they can successfully work together. To prepare for the first mission, engineers from Boeing, the prime contractor from Huntsville, Alabama, building the SLS core stage, are currently checking out the avionics systems for the entire rocket at the systems integration laboratory at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. They are verifying that the core stage avionics can use the flight software to operate and communicate with all the parts of the rocket as well as to Orion and to ground control computers.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

EM-1 Update: Europe's Contribution to Orion's 2020 Space Mission Achieves a Major Milestone...

Engineers are about to install the last radiator panel onto the Orion EM-1 service module at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany...in September of 2018.
ESA – A. Conigli

Orion’s First Service Module Integration Complete (News Release)

Last week at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, technicians installed the last radiator on the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft marking the module’s finished integration.

ESA’s European service module will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA’s Orion exploration spacecraft that will eventually fly beyond the Moon with astronauts. The European Service Module is now complete for Orion’s first mission that will do a lunar flyby without astronauts to demonstrate the spacecraft’s capabilities.

Much like closing the bonnet on a car, with the radiators in place technicians can no longer access the internals of the European service module, symbolically ending the assembly and integration of the module that will fly further into our Solar System than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever flown before.

Technicians worked 24 hours a day in three shifts to complete the service module’s assembly which is now going through the last stages of its extensive testing. Engineers will put the module through its paces with functional tests that include checking the newly installed radiators and testing the propulsion system with its intricate pipelines that deliver fuel and oxidiser to the spacecraft’s 33 engines.

Once complete the service module will be packed and flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. Orion’s solar wings will be shipped separately, also from Bremen. In the USA the module will be stacked together with NASA’s Crew Module Adaptor and Crew Module, the first time the complete spacecraft will be on display.

More tests await the Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Plum Brook facility where it will be put in the world’s largest vacuum chamber to simulate spaceflight as well as being subjected to acoustic tests to simulate the intense vibrations Orion will endure when launched on the world’s largest rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System.

Second Module Getting Ready

Meanwhile technicians in Bremen are not resting as work on the second European Service Module is already well under way. The structure is complete and over 11 km of cables are being meticulously placed in preparation for the computers and equipment that will keep astronauts alive and well for the second Orion mission called Exploration Mission-2.

Source: European Space Agency

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Wiring has begun on the Orion EM-2 service module at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany...in September of 2018.
ESA – A. Conigli

Monday, September 17, 2018

SpaceX Has Revealed Its First Passenger to Fly Aboard the Company's Big Falcon Rocket!

An artist's concept of SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) soaring into the sky.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

Just a few hours ago, SpaceX revealed to the world that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa will fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) no earlier than 2023. Maezawa, who was originally supposed to do a lunar flyby aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket later this year (Musk cancelled the flight after deciding that the Falcon Heavy won't be human-rated, and instead launch passengers aboard the BFR instead), bought all seats aboard the spaceship so 6 to 8 fellow artists can fly 404,000 miles [the maximum distance the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) will travel as it circumnavigates the Moon during the 2023 voyage] into space with him. The down payment that Maezawa put down is supposedly substantial enough to cover most of the developmental costs for the first BFS...while as a whole, the development program for BFR is expected to have a $5 billion price tag.

Yusaku Maezawa created a project known as #dearMoon, which is meant to inspire artists such as filmmakers, painters, photographers, architects and other creative individuals to join him on BFS' 4 to 5-day journey around the Moon. Totally inspiring!

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa is set to fly with 6 to 8 fellow artists toward the Moon aboard SpaceX's first BFR as early as 2023.
SpaceX

Another artist's concept of SpaceX's BFR soaring into the sky.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of SpaceX's Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) separating from the BFR above the Earth.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of a woman playing a viola while floating inside the cabin of the BFS above Earth.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of the BFS doing a flyby of the Moon.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

A photo of a main cylinder section for the BFR.
SpaceX

A side-view infographic for the BFS.
SpaceX

A rear-view infographic for the BFS.
SpaceX

A side-view infographic for the BFR.
SpaceX

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Orion Update: The Capsule's Parachutes Are Now Qualified for Flight After Completing Their Final Drop Test Today...

The Orion test article is about to touch down on the desert floor after its three main parachutes successfully deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona...on September 12, 2018.
NASA

NASA Completes Orion Parachute Tests for Missions with Astronauts (News Release)

NASA has completed the final test to qualify Orion’s parachute system for flights with astronauts, checking off an important milestone on the path to send humans on missions to the Moon and beyond.

Over the course of eight tests at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, engineers have evaluated the performance of Orion’s parachute system during normal landing sequences as well as several failure scenarios and a variety of potential aerodynamic conditions to ensure astronauts can return safely from deep space missions.

“We’re working incredibly hard not only to make sure Orion’s ready to take our astronauts farther than we’ve been before, but to make sure they come home safely,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich. “The parachute system is complex, and evaluating the parachutes repeatedly through our test series gives us confidence that we’ll be ready for any kind of landing day situation.”

The system has 11 parachutes, a series of cannon-like mortars, pyrotechnic bolt cutters, and more than 30 miles of Kevlar lines attaching the top of the spacecraft to the 36,000 square feet of parachute canopy material. In about 10 minutes of descent through Earth’s atmosphere, everything must deploy in precise sequence to slow Orion and its crew from about 300 mph to a relatively gentle 20 mph for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The parachute system is the only system that must assemble itself in mid-air and must be able to keep the crew safe in several failure scenarios, such as mortar failures that prevent a single parachute type to deploy, or conditions that cause some of the parachute textile components to fail.

During the final test, which took place Sept. 12, a mock Orion was pulled out from the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft flying higher than 6.5 miles. The protective ring around the top of Orion that covers the parachute system was jettisoned and pulled away by the first set of Orion’s parachutes, then the remaining parachutes were deployed in precise sequence.

Additionally, Orion parachute engineers have also provided considerable insight and data to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners. The knowledge gained through the Orion program has enabled NASA to mature computer modeling of how the system works in various scenarios and help partner companies understand certain elements of parachute systems. In some cases, NASA’s work has provided enough information for the partners to reduce the need for some developmental parachute tests, and the associated expenses.

Orion will first fly with astronauts aboard during Exploration Mission-2, a mission that will venture near the Moon and farther from Earth than ever before, launching atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket—which will be the world’s most powerful rocket. The parachutes for Orion’s upcoming uncrewed flight test, Exploration Mission-1, already are installed on the vehicle at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Orion test article lies on the desert floor after its three main parachutes successfully deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona...on September 12, 2018.
NASA

Monday, September 10, 2018

SLS Update: The Mobile Launcher Is Now Inside the VAB...

The Space Launch System's (SLS) Mobile Launcher is about to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

Two days ago, the Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket made its way into the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Florida's Kennedy Space Center after being situated at Launch Complex (LC)-39B for a week. According to online sources, the launcher will remain inside the VAB for seven months of testing before heading back out to LC-39B for another four months of tests. The launcher will then head back into the VAB to have the first SLS booster and Orion stacked on this platform for 2020's Exploration Mission (EM)-1. The Mobile Launcher and its 321-foot-tall rocket payload will then head back out to Pad 39B for a Wet Dress Rehearsal. The launcher will then return to the VAB before rolling back out to the pad one month before the SLS lifts off on EM-1 in June of 2020! Things are getting more exciting for human spaceflight by the day...

The SLS Mobile Launcher is about to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

The SLS Mobile Launcher prepares to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

The SLS Mobile Launcher enters the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Photos of the Day: The SLS Mobile Launcher Ventures Out to Pad 39B...

The Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket sits atop the platform at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39B...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

A few days ago, the 380-foot-tall Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket made its way to Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. On Thursday, August 30, the Mobile Launcher began its trek from a park site near KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)...traveling at a leisurely speed of 1 MPH on the Crawlerway before it completed its 4.4-mile journey the following day (August 31). The Mobile Launcher is scheduled to stay at Pad 39B till September 7. It will then be rolled into the VAB for the first time to complete final tests and assembly for the remainder of 2018. And sometime next year, the launcher will be prepped as KSC engineers begin stacking the twin solid rocket boosters and core stage for the first SLS rocket onto the 11 million-pound platform. Late 2019 will be an exciting time for space enthusiasts as Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of SLS, starts taking shape prior to its inaugural launch in mid-2020! Stay tuned.

The SLS Mobile Launcher rolls past the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as it makes its way to LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 30, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

SpaceX's facilities at LC-39A are visible in the distance as the SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way to LC-39B (near the left side of this photo) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 30, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way toward LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way toward LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher approaches the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

With the VAB visible in the background, the SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way up the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Cory Huston

The SLS Mobile Launcher sits atop the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Image of the Day: A Great Way to Honor Apollo 11 on Its 50th Anniversary Next Year...

A composite image depicting SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules orbiting the Earth.
SpaceX / Boeing

So who else thinks that the first crewed flights of either SpaceX's Crew Dragon or Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules should launch on July 16 or July 20, 2019?

Just me? Nevermind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, Prepares for Orion's Next Flight...

Flight controllers inside Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, conduct a series of tests to ensure future compatibility with the Orion spacecraft's communications system.
NASA

Testing Verifies Communications for Orion Missions Beyond the Moon (News Release)

Engineers recently completed a series of tests of the Orion communications system to ensure the spacecraft and mission controllers in Houston can flawlessly communicate through NASA’s satellite networks in space and on the ground when Orion and its crew are far from Earth on missions to the Moon and beyond.

The most recent evaluations in the series, known as SpaceCom, took place in mid-August and involved testing between a lab at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver that replicates Orion’s computer, wiring and avionics systems configurations, and NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Spacecraft telemetry, files, commands and video were sent and received through the Deep Space Network (DSN) to and from mission control. The DSN is typically used for communications with deep space robotic spacecraft but has not been used for human spaceflight missions since the Space Shuttle Program.

The testing included communications during Exploration Mission-1 scenarios such as from the pre-launch countdown through the point at which Orion data is relayed through the DSN, operations in lunar orbit, handover between the DSN and the Space Network during Orion’s trajectory from the Moon back toward Earth, and post-splashdown operations. Previous testing as part of the SpaceCom series also verified communications through the Space Network satellites and Near Earth Network ground station at Cape Canaveral, and also included support from personnel at the Huntsville Operations Support Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to very they can receive data from the Space Launch System rocket. The testing also marked a busy time for communications tests for deep space human exploration missions – engineers at the SLS Engineering Support Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recently concluded voice tests to ensure teams across the country included flight controllers in Houston, launch controllers in Florida and engineer teams at several locations including in Huntsville can communicate by voice.

The testing was the final checkout of communications between Orion and NASA’s networks before testing with the vehicle for EM-1 is conducted in the fall at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

EM-2 Update: A Huge Milestone for the Orion Capsule That Will Fly Astronauts Towards the Moon...

The container holding the pressure vessel for the Orion EM-2 capsule is about to be moved into the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 24, 2018.
NASA / Christopher Swanson

Lockheed Martin Begins Final Assembly on NASA's Orion Spaceship That Will Take Astronauts Further Than Ever Before (Press Release)

Core of World's Only Exploration-Class Spaceship Delivered to Cape Canaveral

DENVER, Aug. 28, 2018 -- Technicians have completed construction on the spacecraft capsule structure that will return astronauts to the Moon, and have successfully shipped the capsule to Florida for final assembly into a full spacecraft. The capsule structure, or pressure vessel, for NASA's Orion Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) spacecraft was welded together over the last seven months by Lockheed Martin technicians and engineers at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans.

Orion is the world's only exploration-class spaceship, and the EM-2 mission will be its first flight with astronauts on board, taking them farther into the solar system than ever before.

"It's great to see the EM-2 capsule arrive just as we are completing the final assembly of the EM-1 crew module," said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion. "We've learned a lot building the previous pressure vessels and spacecraft and the EM-2 spacecraft will be the most capable, cost-effective and efficient one we've built."

Orion's pressure vessel is made from seven large, machined aluminum alloy pieces that are welded together to produce a strong, light-weight, air-tight capsule. It was designed specifically to withstand the harsh and demanding environment of deep space travel while keeping the crew safe and productive.

"We're all taking extra care with this build and assembly, knowing that this spaceship is going to take astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in four decades," said Matt Wallo, senior manager of Lockheed Martin Orion Production at Michoud. "It's amazing to think that, one day soon, the crew will watch the Sun rise over the lunar horizon through the windows of this pressure vessel. We're all humbled and proud to be doing our part for the future of exploration."

The capsule was shipped over the road from New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center, arriving on Friday, Aug. 24. Now in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Lockheed Martin technicians will immediately start assembly and integration on the EM-2 crew module.

Source: Lockheed Martin

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The container holding the pressure vessel for the Orion EM-2 capsule is moved into the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 24, 2018.
NASA / Christopher Swanson

Friday, August 17, 2018

SpaceX Update: Preparations for Crew Dragon's First Manned Flight to the Space Station Next Year Continue to Fall into Place...

An artist's concept of a Crew Dragon capsule about to dock with the International Space Station...with a berthed Dragon cargo freighter in the foreground.
SpaceX

NASA, SpaceX Agree on Plans for Crew Launch Day Operations (News Release)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX are finalizing plans for launch day operations as they prepare for the company’s first flight test with astronauts on board. The teams are working toward a crew test flight to the International Space Station, known as Demo-2, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in April 2019.

A key question the program and the company have been assessing is whether the astronauts will climb aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft before or after SpaceX fuels the Falcon 9 rocket. NASA has made the decision to move forward with SpaceX’s plan to fuel the rocket after the astronauts are in place. While the agreement makes this plan the baseline for operations, it is contingent upon NASA’s final certification of the operation.

“To make this decision, our teams conducted an extensive review of the SpaceX ground operations, launch vehicle design, escape systems and operational history,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Safety for our personnel was the driver for this analysis, and the team’s assessment was that this plan presents the least risk.”

Additional verification and demonstration activities, which include five crew loading demonstrations of the Falcon 9 Block 5, will be critical to final certification of this plan. These loading demonstrations will verify the flight crew configuration and crew loading timeline prior to Demo-2. After these conditions have been met, NASA will assess any remaining risk before determining that the system is certified to fly with crew.

If all goes according to plan, on launch day, the Falcon 9 composite overwrap pressure vessels, known as COPVs, will be loaded with helium and verified to be in a stable configuration prior to astronaut arrival at the launch pad. The astronauts then will board the spacecraft about two hours before launch, when the launch system is in a quiescent state. After the ground crews depart the launch pad, the launch escape systems will be activated approximately 38 minutes before liftoff, just before fueling begins. SpaceX launch controllers then will begin loading rocket grade kerosene and densified liquid oxygen approximately 35 minutes before launch. The countdown and launch preparations can be stopped automatically up to the last moment before launch. In the unlikely event of an emergency at any point up to and after launch, the launch escape systems will allow the astronauts to evacuate safely.

This timeline is consistent with the fueling procedures SpaceX uses for its commercial resupply missions and satellite launches.

The crew launches of NASA’s Commercial Crew partners SpaceX and Boeing will return the nation’s ability to launch our astronauts from the United States to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A group photo of the 9 astronauts who will fly aboard the first flights of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner capsules to the International Space Station as early as next year.
NASA