Thursday, July 31, 2014
Orion Tests Set Stage for Mission (Press Release - July 29)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is not quite ready for liftoff, but the spacecraft thinks it’s already flown six missions.
Since Orion’s crew module was stacked on top of its service module in June, the vehicle has been put through a series of tests designed to verify all the individual systems work on their own in the new configuration and that they’ll work together as a functional unit during flight.
And the best way to do that is to trick the vehicle into thinking that it’s flying, so that it will perform exactly the same functions it will be called upon to perform in December, when Orion launches into space for the first time.
For that flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth – farther than any spacecraft built to carry people has traveled in more than 40 years – and return home at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour, while enduring temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be literally a trial by fire, intended to prove that Orion can carry humans into deep space and safely return them home. But to ensure that Orion comes through it successfully, the team here on the ground wants to shake out any bugs now.
“We have ground simulation units that make the vehicle think it’s somewhere it’s not,” said Scott Wilson, manager of production operations for Orion. “We give the GPS and inertial measurement units vehicle commands and data that simulate flight. For example, we simulate the jettison of the launch abort system, and air pressure on the measurement probes. We make the vehicle think it’s experiencing all those things it sees in flight.”
In doing so, the engineers and technicians who have been building Orion at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are able to verify that when the vehicle sees the events that it’s expected to encounter in flight, it will respond appropriately. The simulations are not a substitute for flying in space, but it’s as close as possible to get before launch.
“This is our first opportunity to see the real spacecraft perform,” Flight Director Mike Sarafin said. “You can design something on paper or in a lab, but until you put it all together and see how it works, you only have an idea of what it might look like. When you test the real system, you know what it will do.”
As the lead flight director for Exploration Flight Test-1, Sarafin has been following the tests with special interest. Along with his flight control team, which will oversee the flight from the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, he’s also used the testing as an opportunity to test his skills.
They started with the simulation of problem-free flight for Orion, and then they began adding in problems to deal with. As the first flight of a brand-new spacecraft, the flight controllers have to be prepared for things to go wrong. If Orion fails to separate automatically from the launch vehicle’s upper stage before reentry, what happens? If the high radiation Orion will see as it travels through the Van Allen Radiation Belts knocks out some of the avionics, what will Orion do, and how will the flight control team respond? To that end, they tested dozens of failure scenarios.
“These scenarios have helped us understand not only the spacecraft itself, but also the ground component,” Sarafin said. “The two have to work together, and with these tests, we’ve built a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to do that.”
In all, the vehicle and its engineers, technicians and flight control team have now gone through six simulated missions together – one without challenges and five with various simulated failures. Through them all, Sarafin and Wilson agreed, both Orion and the team performed well, which gives them the confidence to move on to the next step in Orion’s construction: the back shell.
The black thermal protection tiles that make up Orion’s back shell are some of the last elements that remain to be added before the crew module is complete. The make up the outer layer on the top section of Orion, and their installation would have blocked access to systems that might have needed repairs during the past weeks of testing. The team will now add the back shell and the forward bay cover that protects it until the end of the mission, before starting the next series of tests.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
ESA – S. Corvaja, 2014
Last ATV Lifts Off to Supply the Space Station (Press Release)
The fifth and final mission of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle got off to a flying start today with its launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, heading for the International Space Station.
Georges Lemaître is the fifth ATV built and launched by ESA as part of Europe’s contribution to cover the operational costs for using the Space Station.
“The ATV programme is one of the most remarkable space and industrial projects ever made in Europe,” notes Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.
“ESA, thanks to its Member States and European industry, has provided a series of advanced spaceships, launched at regular intervals of about one year. Six years after its maiden flight, the ATV is still a unique vehicle demonstrating what ESA and European industry can do in serving European cooperation and innovation. This demonstration has convinced NASA to use the service module of ATV for their future crew transportation system.”
Named after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, ATV Georges Lemaître lifted off at 23:47 GMT on 29 July (01:47 CEST 30 July, 20:47 local time 29 July) on an Ariane 5 ES rocket.
Once in its circular orbit 260 km above Earth, ATV-5 opened its solar wings and antenna.
“It is with great pride that we saw the fifth successful launch of this beautiful spacecraft,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“But the adventure doesn’t end here. ATV knowhow and technology will fly again to space as early as 2017 powering NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the European Service Module, ushering in the next generation of space exploration.”
The freighter will complete its initial operations about 10 hours after launch. Georges Lemaître will take about two weeks in order to test equipment and perform experiments.
The journey will include flying around the Station to test the LIRIS laser infrared imaging sensor, which could form the basis of future guidance, navigation and control systems for rendezvous with targets without purpose-built docking ports or space debris.
During the flyaround, the LIRIS infrared cameras will turn on some 30 km from the orbiting laboratory. For the rendezvous, both the cameras and laser sensor will be activated around 3.5 km to generate a virtual 3D model of the Station. Recorders in ATV’s cargo bay will store the data for download and analysis.
ATV Georges Lemaître is due to dock with the Station on 12 August and will remain attached for up to six months before leaving with waste material for destruction along with the spaceship during atmospheric reentry.
Operations will be monitored from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, jointly run by ESA and France’s CNES space agency.
The vehicle will deliver 6602 kg of freight, including 2681 kg of dry cargo and 3921 kg of water, propellants and gases.
The cargo includes complex scientific hardware, such as the electromagnetic levitator for experiments to improve industrial casting processes. The unit will allow finer metal castings and more precise measurements than can be obtained on Earth, where readings are affected by gravity.
ATV-5 will also deliver a sophisticated joystick to test the use of force feedback in weightless environments. Force feedback could greatly improve remote control of robots in orbit.
The ATV mission also includes pioneering art: a piece of the Campo del Cielo meteorite that fell to Earth over 4000 years ago will be sent back to space on ATV. It will recreate its original voyage when it burns up in the atmosphere.
ATV’s approach will be monitored by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, who has been living on the Station since 29 May. During his six months in space Alexander will perform over 70 experiments as well as setting up the electromagnetic levitator.
Source: European Space Agency
Friday, July 25, 2014
Orion Launch Abort System Rotated to Vertical Position (Press Release)
The completed launch abort system for Orion's first launch in December was rotated into a vertical position on July 25, making room in the facility for the scaffolding that will allow it to be stacked on top of Orion's crew and service modules this fall. Almost 53 feet tall on its own, when stacked on top of the crew and service module, the vehicle reaches more than 80 feet into the air, and the scaffolding is necessary to allow engineers and technicians access for the final touches to be put on the vehicle before its rolled out to the launch pad and installed on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space.
The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the crew module away from a failing rocket. It can activate within milliseconds to pull the vehicle to safety and position the module for a safe landing. Because there will be no crew on this first mission, only the jettison motor will be active in December. The tower structure will detach itself from the crew module as it would during a normal ascent. This flight test will provide information on the abort system’s performance during the vehicle’s trip to space.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts (Press Release)
The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying the astronauts into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles. An estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong's televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took "...one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" on July 20, 1969.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
ESA – M. Pedoussaut, 2014
ATV-5: Loaded and Locked (Press Release)
ESA’s fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle is now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station at 23:44 GMT on 29 July (01:44 CEST 30 July) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
ATV-5 will deliver more than six tonnes of cargo to the Station, again breaking the record for the heaviest spacecraft launched on Ariane. Everything has been loaded and the ferry is now sealed until it reaches the orbital outpost.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will be the first to open the hatch of ATV Georges Lemaître in space when he takes responsibility for the cargo as ‘loadmaster’.
Alexander will manage the unloading of 6.6 tonnes of experiments, spare parts, clothing, food, fuel, air, oxygen and water for the six astronauts living in the weightless laboratory.
Cargo for Science
The star of the manifest is ESA’s Electromagnetic Levitator, which will study metals suspended in weightlessness as it heats them to 1600°C and then allows them to cool. The 400 kg unit was carefully loaded into ATV-5 in Kourou before the vessel’s propulsion module was attached.
ATV’s two main sections were then mated, leaving access to the cargo hold only through the forward hatch used by the astronauts. A special lift allowed technicians to enter the hold from above through this hatch, weeks before final closing time. Fifty-seven bags were loaded this way, including last-minute spare parts such as a pump to help recycle water on the Station.
Since the Station does not have a washing machine, cargo ships often bring fresh changes of clothes for the crews. This time, ATV-5 is also carrying high-tech ESA Spacetex t-shirts that promise to stay fresher for longer.
Also aboard is the Haptics-1 touchy-feely joystick, which will investigate how people feel tactile feedback in space, preparing for remote robotic operations from orbit.
Cargo for Life
Georges Lemaître is carrying many more experiments from Station partners in Japan and USA, from Zebrafish muscles to body-motion analysers, and even the mundane equipment any self-respecting laboratory stocks such as gloves, wipes, blood tubes and sample kits.
ATV-5 will also deliver more drinking water than ever before, as well as replenishing the astronauts’ food store.
Alexander and his crewmates will spend many hours unloading the cargo, but there is no rush – Georges Lemaître will stay attached to the Station for around six months.
Source: European Space Agency
ESA – M. Pedoussaut, 2014
Monday, July 21, 2014
Orion Crew Module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)
NASA's Orion spacecraft crew module has been stacked on the service module inside the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center -- renamed on July 21, 2014 as the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building in honor of the legendary astronaut and first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
The Operations and Checkout Building was built in 1964. The facility has played a vital role in NASA’s spaceflight history. The high bay was used during the Apollo program to process and test the command, service and lunar modules. The facility is being used today to process and assemble NASA’s Orion spacecraft as the agency prepares to embark on the next giant leap in space exploration, sending astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.
NASA / Kim Shiflett
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The Eagle Prepares to Land (Press Release)
The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
NASA Begins Engine Test Project for Space Launch System Rocket (Press Release)
Engineers have taken a crucial step in preparing to test parts of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will send humans to new destinations in the solar system. They installed on Thursday an RS-25 engine on the A-1 Test Stand at the agency's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The Stennis team will perform developmental and flight certification testing of the RS-25 engine, a modified version of the space shuttle main engine that powered missions into space from 1981 to 2011. The SLS's core stage will be powered by a configuration of four RS-25 engines, like the one recently installed on the A-1 stand.
"This test series is a major milestone because it will be our first opportunity to operate the engine with a new controller and to test propellant inlet conditions for SLS that are different than the space shuttle," said Steve Wofford, SLS Liquid Engines Element manager. "This testing will confirm the RS-25 will be successful at powering SLS."
Early tests on the engine will collect data on the performance of its new advanced engine controller and other modifications. The controller regulates valves that direct the flow of propellant to the engine, which determines the amount of thrust generated during an engine test, known as a hotfire test. In flight, propellant flow and engine thrust determine the speed and trajectory of a spacecraft. The controller also regulates the engine startup sequence, which is especially important on an engine as sophisticated as the RS-25. Likewise, the controller determines the engine shutdown sequence, ensuring it will proceed properly under both normal and emergency conditions.
"Installation of RS-25 engine No. 0525 signals the launch of another major rocket engine test project for human space exploration on the A-1 Test Stand," said Gary Benton, RS-25 rocket engine test project manager at Stennis.
The SLS is designed to carry astronauts in NASA's Orion spacecraft deeper into space than ever before, to destinations including an asteroid and Mars. NASA is using existing and in-development hardware and infrastructure, including the RS-25 engine, to the maximum extent possible to enable NASA to begin deep space missions sooner.
Testing of engine No. 0525 begins in the coming weeks on a test stand originally built in the 1960s for Apollo-era engines that helped launch the lunar missions. The stand has since been used for several major testing projects, and NASA spent almost a year modifying the structure to accommodate the RS-25 engine.
The SLS Program is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is on contract with NASA to adapt the RS-25 engines for SLS missions.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Launch of Apollo 11 (Press Release)
On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module Eagle to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules Columbia in lunar orbit.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
As tomorrow marks the 45-year anniversary since Apollo 11's launch to the Moon, just thought I'd share these two great illustrations of NASA's next manned rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS looks very much like its predecessor, the Saturn V, but the core stage of the actual vehicle will be covered in orange spray-on foam (the same type of thermal insulation that enshrouded the space shuttle's external tank since STS-3 in 1982) and not be completely white like the workhorse rocket of the Apollo program. Despite this, it will be a sight to see once this 321-foot-tall behemoth (and eventually its 400-foot-tall variant) rolls from Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39B in 2017. Can't wait.