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Monday, September 19, 2016

EM-1 Update: Welding Is Complete on the SLS' Massive Liquid Hydrogen Tank...

The liquid hydrogen tank for NASA's Space Launch System completes welding at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel

Piece by Piece: Building Space Launch System’s Core Stage (News Release)

The largest rocket stage in the world is coming together piece by piece at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Large elements for NASA's Space Launch System are in production and will be joined together to create the rocket's 212-foot-tall core stage, the backbone of the SLS rocket.

Why is NASA building the world’s most powerful rocket? Because SLS is ready to support both near-term missions in the proving ground around the moon starting in 2018, while at the same time being capable of carrying the very large hardware like landers, habitats and other supplies and equipment needed to explore Mars and other deep space destinations in the 2030s and beyond.

To power a Mars rocket, the core stage carries around 2.3 million pounds of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to fuel the four RS-25 engines. Engineers just completed welding the largest part of the core stage, the 130-foot-tall liquid hydrogen tank that will provide fuel for the first SLS flight in 2018, but there’s still work to ready the tank for its maiden voyage.

"Building the core stage is similar to building a house," said Joan Funk, SLS core stage lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "With the massive, welded elements coming off the Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud, we've laid the foundation, framed the walls and put up the roof. The big items are in place. Now it's time to get to work on the inside." That's where engineers will clean and prime each element before beginning the internal integration.

Michoud's Vertical Assembly Center, the largest spacecraft-welding tool in the world, is welding many of the core stage's main elements -- the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank, the liquid hydrogen tank and the engine section. The core stage's fifth element, the intertank, which is bolted, is also being built at Michoud. The Boeing Company, headquartered in Chicago, is the prime contractor building the core stage, but to build the stage, Boeing has worked with 442 businesses across America, including 297 small businesses.

“When welding is complete, these structures still have to go through more processing to turn them into functional parts of the rocket,” said Funk. “The core stage has parts with very different functions from housing the flight computer and primary avionics to holding the fuel to supporting the four RS-25 engines.”

The final manufacturing processes and outfitting for each part of the core stage varies with the section’s function. Wet structures -- elements that hold fuel, or the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks -- are put through "proof tests" to assure manufacturing quality. The liquid oxygen tank is hydrostatically tested and filled with water; and the liquid hydrogen tank is pneumatically tested.

After testing, the tanks and dry structures -- elements that don't hold fuel, or the forward skirt, intertank and engine section -- are cleaned, primed and readied for the "work on the inside." Much like a house being constructed, the core stage is outfitted with wiring, plumbing and insulation.

The dry structures house flight computers, cameras and avionics -- or the "brains" of the rocket. In a house, wiring can carry power or television and internet data from room to room. In the SLS's core stage, 45 miles of wire cabling serves a similar purpose, carrying power and data from element to element powering flight computers, cameras, sensors, avionics and other electronics housed in the dry structures.

The core stage's plumbing contains lines that deliver the propellant and oxidizer from the tanks to the engines. Each dry structure also contains purge vent lines and hazardous gas lines designed to eliminate dangerous gases building up in the dry structures prior to launch.

"The dry structures are cram-packed full of equipment and the domes of the tanks take up a lot of the room inside the dry structures," said Funk. Racks, cameras, sensors, vent lines, wire cabling, valves, shelves, couplings, and more fill the core stage's dry structures to near capacity. With every inch planned, equipment is mounted and wiring is placed methodically, accounting for time, space, accessibility and much more. When the dry structures are ready to be "stacked," or joined to the other elements, there isn't much room to spare.

Before the elements can be stacked, insulation -- which is more important to a rocket than to a house -- is applied. Not only does NASA's thermal protection system give the rocket its signature orange color, but more importantly, it protects the core stage from the extreme temperatures encountered during launch and maintains the fuels' extremely low temperatures. The liquid hydrogen is chilled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit and the liquid oxygen is chilled to minus 297 degrees.

How do those elements finally come together to form the 212-foot-long core stage? With the initial wiring, plumbing and insulation complete, the elements are divided into two sections for stacking. Each section is stacked vertically, with elements bolted to one another using segmented support rings welded to each element, providing stiffness. The liquid hydrogen tank sits atop the engine section to create the aft section, and the forward skirt and intertank are bolted to the top and bottom of the liquid oxygen tank to create the forward section.

When complete, engineers "break over" the sections, or move them to a horizontal position, for their final assembly. Final wiring, plumbing and insulation are installed after the forward section is joined to the aft to complete the core stage assembly.

Before punching its ticket to launch, the core stage will travel by barge to NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where it will undergo a free modal test to understand the structure then be mounted in the recently renovated B-2 Test Stand for propellant fill and drain testing and hot fire testing called a “green run.” A green run, or the first time the engines are assembled into a single configuration with the core stage and fired at nearly full-power, tests the compatibility and functionality of the system to ensure a safe and viable design.

Once post-test assessments and adjustments are complete, the core stage will travel again by barge to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for its first flight with Orion.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The engine section for NASA's Space Launch System completes welding at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Another ISS Expedition Comes to a Successful End...

An aerial view of the Soyuz TMA-20M capsule as it comes in for a landing at Kazakhstan...on September 6, 2016 (U.S. Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA’s Record-breaking Astronaut, Crewmates Safely Return to Earth (Press Release)

NASA astronaut and Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams returned to Earth Tuesday after his U.S. record-breaking mission aboard the International Space Station.

Williams and his Russian crewmates Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, landed in their Soyuz TMA-20M at 9:13 p.m. EDT southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan (7:13 a.m. Sept. 7, local time).

Having completed his fourth mission, Williams now has spent 534 days in space, making him first on the all-time NASA astronaut list. Skripochka now has 331 days in space on two flights, while Ovchinin spent 172 days in space on his first.

“No other U.S. astronaut has Jeff’s time and experience aboard the International Space Station. From his first flight in 2000, when the station was still under construction, to present day where the focus is science, technology development and fostering commercialization. Jeff even helped prepare the space station for future dockings of commercial spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We’re incredibly proud of what Jeff has accomplished off the Earth for the Earth.”

Williams was instrumental in preparing the station for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. The first International Docking Adapter was installed during a spacewalk by Williams and fellow NASA astronaut Kate Rubins Aug. 19. Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the adapter’s main purpose is to connect spacecraft bringing astronauts to the station in the future. Its first users are expected to be Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, now in development in partnership with NASA.

During his time on the orbital complex, Williams ventured outside the confines of the space station for a second spacewalk with Rubins to retract a spare thermal control radiator and install two new high-definition cameras.

Together, the Expedition 48 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity’s only orbiting laboratory.

The crew members also welcomed five cargo spacecraft during their stay. Williams was involved in the grapple of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft in March, the company's fourth commercial resupply mission, and SpaceX’s eighth Dragon spacecraft cargo delivery in April, and welcomed a second Dragon delivery in July. Two Russian ISS Progress cargo craft also docked to the station in April and July delivering tons of supplies.

Expedition 49 continues operating the station with Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos in command. He, Rubins, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will operate the station for more than two weeks until the arrival of three new crew members.

Shane Kimbrough of NASA and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos are scheduled to launch Sept. 23, U.S. time, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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NASA astronaut Jeff Williams completed a 534-day stay aboard the International Space Station...on September 6, 2016 (U.S. Time).
Roscosmos / NASA TV

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Today's Falcon 9 Mishap and the Effect It May Have on Dragon 2 and SpaceX's Future...

A Falcon 9 booster explodes at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40...on September 1, 2016.
USLaunchReport.com

So a few weeks ago, I read online that in its bid to send crews up to the International Space Station (ISS) beginning next year, SpaceX plans to have astronauts board its Dragon 2 vehicle before fueling operations are to commence with the Falcon 9 booster at the launch pad. The reason for this being that SpaceX has been employing a new type of cryogenic propellant for its rockets since they returned to flight last December...and the propellant needs to remain at a super-cooled temperature up until lift-off to ensure optimal performance for the Falcon's nine Merlin 1D engines. In the wake of today's explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, NASA may have an issue with having astronauts inside the Dragon capsule while a hazardous fueling operation is taking place beneath their seats.


SpaceX

While no new regulations by the government should be created in response to today's disaster (personally-speaking... There were no fatalities or injuries this morning, all of the damage occurred on SpaceX property at CCAFS, and the Israeli AMOS-6 satellite it was carrying is fully insured), NASA will no doubt set up some strict guidelines for how SpaceX preps its launch vehicles once human beings begin to hitch rides on them sometime in 2017 (assuming the delay caused by today's anomaly won't be that severe as to push the first crewed launch to 2018—the same year as NASA's Exploration Mission 1 and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner's first manned flight to the ISS). Let's cross our fingers that SpaceX will be able to fully recover from this the same way it recovered from the CRS-7 launch mishap that took place more than a year ago.

A composite image showing the Red Dragon capsule on the surface of Mars.
SpaceX

Sometime this month, SpaceX founder Elon Musk plans to reveal to the world his company's blueprint to sending humans to Mars aboard a new type of rocket (one that's much bigger than the Falcon Heavy that's supposed to make its flight debut before the end of this year). It would be unfortunate if we have to wait much longer for SpaceX to presumably unveil the so-called Mars Colonial Transporter (a.k.a. BFR, or Big F**kin' Rocket) that will either challenge or complement NASA's Space Launch System destined towards bringing crews to the Red Planet in a little over a decade. Today is no doubt a pivotal moment for SpaceX and how it will get back on its feet to continue revolutionizing manned spaceflight. That is all.

An artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket, with Red Dragon aboard, lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Huge Milestone for Orion Exactly 10 Years After Its Concept Was Revealed by Lockheed Martin and NASA...

NASA management unveils a miniature mock-up of the Orion spacecraft on August 31, 2006.
NASA

Orion Crew Module Reaches Milestone in Processing for First Test Flight with NASA’s Space Launch System (News Release)

Assembly of the Orion crew module for the first uncrewed flight test atop NASA’s Space Launch System reached a significant milestone this month in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of Orion, and its subcontractor engineers, technicians and X-ray specialists completed the first propellant system tube welds on the exterior of the Orion pressure vessel.

Orion’s propulsion lines are comprised of multiple metal tubes of varying lengths that are welded together around the vehicle. With the first tubes in place, X-ray specialists performed inspections of the welds for any imperfections. This process will be repeated as each of the remaining tube assemblies are completed along the exterior of the crew module in the clean room.

“Completion of the first Orion propulsion system welds marks an important milestone for production of the next spacecraft for flight,” said Scott Wilson, NASA manager of production operations for the Orion Program. “We are moving from assembling structure to installing the critical systems that will propel Orion farther and farther from Earth than human-capable spacecraft ever have journeyed.”

The propellant lines will provide hydrazine to the spacecraft thrusters during missions into deep space. The propellant lines complete a continuous connection from the propellant tanks in the aft bay of the crew module to the spacecraft’s thrusters, which are part of the system that helps to steer the capsule during the mission.

“These first propulsion system welds marks a significant transition during the build-up of the crew module, signifying the completion of the structures assembly and the beginning of the fluid systems integration,” said Jules Schneider, Orion KSC operations manager with Lockheed Martin.

Orion was moved from the birdcage assembly fixture and secured in the clean room for the first time in late July. The first propellant system weld was completed in the clean room. The spacecraft’s critical systems, including the Environmental Control and Life Support System and propellant lines, will be completed in this room.

Orion is the NASA spacecraft that will send astronauts to deep-space destinations, including on toward the journey to Mars. The pressure vessel will contain the atmosphere that a crew would breathe during a mission. It also will provide living and working space for the crew, and withstand the loads and forces experienced during launch and landing.

The SLS rocket with Orion atop is targeted to launch from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B in 2018. EM-1 will send Orion on a path thousands of miles beyond the moon over a course of three weeks, farther into space than human spaceflight has ever travelled before. The spacecraft will return to Earth and safely splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The mission will advance and validate capabilities required for human exploration of Mars.

“Our human journey to Mars is underway. It is milestones like these that mark our progress to deep space,” Wilson said.

Source: NASA.Gov

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At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last month, the Orion EM-1 capsule was transferred into the clean room inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to begin integration of the vehicle's propellant lines and other critical systems.
NASA

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Photos of the Day: Two Falcon 9s in Hawthorne...

Posing with the Falcon 9 booster that is now on display outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

Last Thursday, I drove down to Hawthorne to check out the Falcon 9 booster that was recently put on permanent display outside SpaceX Headquarters. This booster delivered the Orbcomm satellites to low-Earth orbit before becoming the first rocket to touch down on land following an orbital launch last December. Parked on the street around the corner of this Falcon 9's final resting spot is another flown booster that delivered the THAICOM 8 satellite to geostationary orbit last May. Unlike the Orbcomm vehicle—which could've been reused had SpaceX founder Elon Musk not decided to turn this rocket into a museum piece instead—THAICOM's Falcon 9 is presumably too damaged to fly again. (The speed and altitude at which this booster entered Earth's atmosphere and came in for a landing was much faster and higher than that of the Orbcomm launcher...seeing as how THAICOM 8 was sent to an orbit about 23,000 miles above the Earth.) Anyways, here are photos that I took of the two 162-foot-tall boosters. I wonder if SpaceX will ever donate a Falcon 9 to the California Science Center for display with space shuttle Endeavour? We'll see.

The Falcon 9 booster that is now on display outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

This Falcon 9 booster launched the Orbcomm satellites to low-Earth orbit on December 21, 2015.

A close-up of the Falcon 9's landing legs outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

A low-angle shot of the Falcon 9 booster outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

Another Falcon 9 booster that is parked out on the street near SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

This Falcon 9 booster launched the THAICOM 8 satellite to geostationary orbit on May 27, 2016.

A close-up of the grid fins at the top of the Falcon 9 booster...on August 25, 2016.

A close-up of the Merlin 1D engine replicas at the bottom of the Falcon 9 booster...on August 25, 2016.

Cars drive past SpaceX Headquarters and the Falcon 9 booster on Crenshaw Boulevard...on August 25, 2016.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SLS Update: America's Mega-Rocket Gets a New Set of Wheels...

A Space Launch System (SLS) transporter is test-driven at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Steven Seipel

Specialized Transporters Move Core Stage of NASA’s Space Launch System Rocket (News Release)

Any fitness expert will say it is important to take care of your body’s core. Any engineer will say the same about rockets.

Before NASA’s Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket in the world – can exercise its core “muscles” and climb off the launch pad, its core stage and test articles have to be moved to various NASA centers for testing, assembly with other components and eventually launch. That's where the agency’s newest transporters enter the picture.

These are no ordinary trucks. An American company designed and built the highly specialized, mobile platforms specifically to transport the 212-foot SLS core stage, the largest part of the 322-foot SLS rocket that will send humans aboard the Orion spacecraft into deep space.

“We wanted something modular and multipurpose, so that it is not only capable of carrying the massive core stage of the Space Launch System but also moving other hardware NASA will need for the journey to Mars,” said Chris Bramon, the SLS operations disciplines lead engineer in the Mission Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “This transportation system will work for many generations of rockets, safely moving valuable space hardware needed for NASA’s boldest missions.”

This summer, four transporters were delivered to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where the five sections that make up the core stage are being manufactured. The transporters were designed and built by Wheelift of Waterloo, Iowa, where they were named Elpis, Novus, Pandora and Aegis through a company-hosted contest. The transporters will carry the core stage down roads and on and off the Pegasus barge for shipping to test and launch sites.

“The delivery and testing of the transporters mark several years of hard work by engineers at Marshall and Wheelift designing transporters that can move critical spaceflight hardware,” said Greg Parrish, Marshall’s project manager for the transporters. “Right now, we are in the process of checking them out by testing them with simulated hardware to assure they work properly and safely.”

Known as self-propelled modular transporters, the haulers will carry three test articles of the core stage – the liquid hydrogen tank, liquid oxygen tank and intertank – individually for testing and as a fully integrated core stage with the engine section and forward skirt. When moving the payloads, the four transporters are arranged in pairs, with one pair supporting each end.

Each transporter is over 33 feet long and 12 feet wide and can carry 75 tons each, the equivalent to 14 fully-grown elephants. On each transporter, the 12 independent, electric wheel modules are powered by a propane-driven Chevy 350 cubic inch small block engine. The transporters can position the cargo to within 5 one-thousandths of an inch – that’s less than the size of a grain of sand. In addition to being strong and very agile, each transporter is safe; they contain systems to monitor and control the forces imparted into the delicate hardware and a fire suppression system in the event of emergencies.

A key element of the transporters is the capacity to distribute the weight of the payloads equally to each of the 48 wheel modules. The empty core stage weighs approximately 94 tons and is over 200 feet long and more than 27 feet in diameter. That is the equivalent of a three-story tall building stretching from the goal line to the opposite 30-yard line on an American football field. The transporters work together wirelessly, forming what is known as a virtual strong-back, which keeps the large, precision built payload from bending or twisting during transportation.

Before it’s time to load and go, the transporters are programmed to work together to haul the specific payload. When it’s time to go, an operator walking alongside the transporters uses a joystick and control box called a “belly pack” to move them underneath the payload. The payload is lowered to within a few inches of the hardware interface structure and pallet -- a rocket cradle system designed and developed at Marshall. Final alignment is made, and the payload is secured.

Acting as one unit, the transporters then set off down the road, precious cargo aboard. With a top speed of just over one mile per hour, the system will steadily and carefully move the rocket elements down roads and on and off the Pegasus barge. Once on the barge, the transporters can remain aboard for water transit or be removed and trucked to the destination for rendezvous with their payloads and cradle system.

During transport, the hardware interface structure and the multiple purpose carrier serve both as the interface between the payload and the transporters and allows the load to move on the transporters. Movement is allowed because the varying terrain, such as a levee, along the transport patch will require the system to ascend and descend a four percent grade and turn corners. By allowing the load to move relative to the transporters and monitoring that movement, engineers can help ensure the rocket will not be damaged during transit.

“We’re going to be able to transport an entire fully integrated core stage from Michoud to Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be assembled with the other parts of the SLS rocket,” said David Adcock, the SLS Stages Office's ground support equipment cost accounting manager at Marshall. “The transporter will drive right onto the Pegasus barge and head to Kennedy. When NASA takes possession of the core stage, they will have a fully integrated core stage, ready for flight, and that saves time and money.”

The SLS test articles will travel from Michoud to Marshall, and the flight article will travel to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The first flight-ready core stage is expected to arrive at Kennedy Space Center in 2018 when the rocket will flex its muscles for the first time, an important milestone for the journey to Mars that would not be possible without the specialized transporters to move and protect the rocket’s core.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A transporter is driven around carrying a heavy load that simulates the SLS core stage's weight at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Steven Seipel

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Setting Sights on 2018: Orion's Heat Shield Arrives at Cape Canaveral...

The container holding Orion's EM-1 heat shield is offloaded from NASA's Super Guppy aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 25, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Orion Heat Shield for Exploration Mission 1 Arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida (News Release - August 26)

The heat shield that will protect the Orion crew module during re-entry after the spacecraft’s first uncrewed flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2018 arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 25. The heat shield arrived aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility, and was offloaded and transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building high bay today.

The heat shield was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the company’s facility near Denver. Orion’s heat shield will help it endure the approximately 5,000 degrees F it will experience upon reentry. The heat shield measures 16.5 feet in diameter.

Orion is the spacecraft that will carry astronauts to deep-space destinations, including the journey to Mars. Orion will be equipped with power, communications and life support systems to sustain space travelers during their journey, and return them safely back to Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Orion's EM-1 heat shield at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
Lockheed Martin

Friday, August 26, 2016

Another Successful Mission for Dragon...


NASA TV

SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down with Crucial NASA Research Samples (Press Release)

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:47 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 26, southwest of Baja California with more than 3,000 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

When it arrived at the station July 20, Dragon delivered the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs) in its external cargo hold, or “trunk.” The IDAs will be used by commercial spacecraft now in development for transporting astronauts to the station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The initial adapter was installed during an Aug. 19 spacewalk by Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. The second adapter is being built and will be delivered on a future Dragon cargo resupply mission.

Among the experiment samples returning Friday are those from the Heart Cells study, which is looking at how microgravity affects human heart cells. The U.S. National Laboratory investigation is studying how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary between individuals. Deep space missions including the journey to Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of the heart muscle. Heart cells cultured aboard the space station for one month will be analyzed for cellular and molecular changes. Results could advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy.

Samples will also be returned from two rodent-based investigations, the Mouse Epigenetics and Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly experiments. The mouse model is useful for showing how much shorter stays by mice in the low-Earth environment can be used to infer how similar conditions may affect future human exploration.

In Mouse Epigenetics, researchers are exploring altered gene expression and DNA by tracking changes in the organs of male mice that spend one month in space, and examining changes in the DNA of their offspring. In Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly, scientists are looking at rapid loss of bone and muscle mass in the legs and spine, and comparing it to what is experienced by people with muscle wasting diseases or with limited mobility on Earth and testing an antibody known to prevent muscle wasting in mice on Earth. This U.S. National Laboratory experiment is sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

Also returning are samples from the Multi-Omics experiment. This research is analyzing the composition of microbes in the human digestive system and how they may affect the human immune system. Researchers may be able to identify bacterial or metabolic biomarkers that could be useful for astronaut health management, and therefore future human exploration of the solar system.

Dragon is currently the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida July 18 carrying almost 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s ninth commercial resupply mission to the station.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been occupied continuously since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the orbiting laboratory. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in human space exploration, including the journey to Mars.

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The Dragon capsule is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean...after completing the CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station on August 26, 2016.
SpaceX

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

EM-1 Update: Orion's Service Module Begins to Take Shape in Europe...

The European Service Module that will fly with Orion during 2018's Exploration Mission-1 begins to take shape at Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, Germany.
Airbus DS

The Real Thing (News Release)

The European Service Module that will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon and beyond is taking shape in the assembly hall at Airbus Defence and Space, Bremen, Germany. The spacecraft module will provide propulsion, electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen and thermal control.

Seen here is the primary structure that provides rigidity to the European Service Module much like the chassis of a car. It absorbs the vibrations and energy from launch while a secondary structure protects the module from micrometeoroids and space debris.

Assembly of the thousands of components needed to build the advanced spacecraft started on 19 May with the arrival of the primary structure that was shipped from Turin, Italy, by Thales Alenia Space. In 2018 this structure will be an element of the European Service Module that will be launched into space, as part of the Orion spacecraft, on its first mission to fly more than 64,000 km beyond the Moon and back.

In the background is a poster of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that was also assembled in this hall in Bremen. Five ATVs flew to the International Space Station to deliver supplies and raise its orbit. Developing ATV provided the experience necessary to develop the European Service Module in Europe.

Source: European Space Agency

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Huge Milestone Is Made at the CST-100's Launch Pad...

The Crew Access Arm is attached to the CST-100's Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 15, 2016.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Crew Access Arm Installed for Starliner Missions (News Release - August 15)

The Crew Access Arm for a new generation of spacecraft was lifted into place the morning of Aug. 15 at Space Launch Complex-41 where workers are modifying the launch pad to give astronauts access to Boeing's CST-100 Starliner on launch day.

The 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound arm will form a bridge between the newly built Crew Access Tower and the hatch of the spacecraft. Astronauts will walk across the arm to climb inside the Starliner for flight. Poised to begin a mission, the Starliner will sit on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The arm also holds the White Room, an enclosed area big enough for astronauts to make final adjustments to their suits before climbing aboard the spacecraft.

Work began around 7:30 a.m. with crews attaching cables to the arm before a crane slowly hoisted it off the launch pad surface. Another crew of workers was waiting in the tower about 160 feet above the surface as the crane maneuvered one end of the arm into a notch on the tower. They bolted and welded the apparatus to the tower to complete the process.

The addition of the arm is the latest in a rapid string of accomplishments for NASA's Commercial Crew Program and its partners. Working independently on separate contracts with NASA's program, Boeing and SpaceX are developing spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station. The additional launch capability will allow the resident crew of the station to grow by one, effectively doubling the time astronauts have in orbit to conduct science vital to spaceflight research, as well as investigations into benefits for those on Earth.

"You have to stop and celebrate these moments in the craziness of all the things we do,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s going to be so cool when our astronauts are walking out across this access arm to get on the spacecraft and go to the space station.”

The arm and tower have been constructed between Atlas V launches at SLC-41. The arm was built at a construction yard near NASA's Kennedy Space Center and trucked to the launch pad on Aug. 11. The tower was built in segments close to the launch pad and stacked together to form the nearly 200-foot-tall structure. It is the first new crew access structure at the Florida spaceport since the space shuttle's Fixed Service Structures were put in place before Columbia's first flight in 1981. It also is the first new crew access tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the Apollo Program.

"You think about when we started building this 18 months ago and now it's one of the most visible changes to the Cape's horizon since the 1960s," said Chris Ferguson, a former shuttle commander who is now Boeing's deputy program manager for the company's Commercial Crew Program. "It's a fantastic day."

The advances reminded some of the early days of human spaceflight when the first generation Atlas rockets put astronauts into orbit.

"John Glenn was the first to fly on an Atlas, now our next leap into the future will be to have astronauts launch from here on Atlas V," said Barb Egan, program manager for Commercial Crew for ULA.

Earth is not the only place work is underway to prepare for Commercial Crew missions. Astronauts on the International Space Station will perform a spacewalk Friday to install an International Docking Adapter to a station port that will allow visiting spacecraft including those on commercial crew missions to dock with the orbiting laboratory. Carried into orbit during the most recent cargo resupply mission, the IDA will become a doorway for astronauts as they cross from their spacecraft into the station. The adapters are outfitted with a network of sensors and fixtures that work with automated systems to dock the spacecraft to the port.

Source: NASA.Gov

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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