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Sunday, June 28, 2015

SpaceX's CRS-7 Mission Ends in Failure...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket disintegrates more than two minutes into its flight after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 28, 2015.
NASA TV

NASA Administrator Statement on the Loss of SpaceX CRS-7 (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission.

“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system.

“A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

SLS Update: Another Successful Test-Firing for the RS-25...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on June 25, 2015.
NASA

Longest SLS Engine Test Yet Heats Up Summer Sky (Press Release)

South Mississippi was hotter than usual on June 25 when the fire and heat produced by the longest test firing yet of a Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center combined with already climbing summer temperatures. Engineers conducted a 650-second test of a RS-25 developmental engine as part of its preparation for a return to deep-space missions aboard the new Space Launch System rocket.

NASA is designing the SLS to carry humans deeper into space than ever before, to such destinations as an asteroid and Mars. The core stage of the new vehicle will be powered by four RS-25 engines, former space shuttles main engines operated at slightly higher power levels to provide the additional thrust needed to power the SLS. The main goal of the series is to test the engine under simulated temperature, pressure and other changes required by the SLS design. The series also supports the development of a new controller, or “brain,” for the engine. The controller monitors the engine status and communicates the programmed performance needs. The first test in the series was in January.

Testing resumed in May after scheduled work was completed on the high-pressure industrial water system that provides the tens of thousands of gallons of water needed during an engine test. Today’s test firing, the fourth in the series, expands on the performance objectives of the first two firings, allowing engineers to better understand the engine under a range of operating conditions. Three additional tests are scheduled in July and August before the initial series is completed. Each test moves NASA a step closer to a new national era of space exploration.

As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions farther into our solar system to places like Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Earth's Turbulent Weather As Seen from the ISS...

Tropical Storm Bill as seen by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station...on June 15, 2015.
NASA

Tropical Storm Bill From the International Space Station (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly), currently on a one-year mission to the International Space Station, took this photograph of Tropical Storm Bill in the Gulf of Mexico as it approached the coast of Texas, on June 15, 2015. Kelly wrote, "Concerned for all in its path including family, friends & colleagues."

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Belated Flag Day!

A U.S. flag is displayed inside the Cupola aboard the International Space Station...on June 14, 2015.
NASA

Stars and Stripes From the International Space Station (Press Release)

Celebrating Flag Day on June 14, 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this photograph in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "Stars and stripes from @Space_Station. Happy #NationalFlagDay! #YearInSpace"

Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched to the International Space Station on March 27, 2015, beginning their one-year mission in space. Most expeditions to the space station last four to six months. By doubling the length of this mission, researchers hope to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight. This knowledge is critical as NASA looks toward human journeys deeper into the solar system, including to and from Mars, which could last 500 days or longer.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Great Day for SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule...

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule roars away from Space Launch Complex 40 during a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Achieves Pad Abort Milestone Approval (Press Release)

NASA has approved a $30 million milestone payment to SpaceX under the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with the company following a recent and successful pad abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Data gathered during the test are critical to understanding the safety and performance of the Crew Dragon spacecraft as the company continues on the path to certification for crew missions to the International Space Station, and helping return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States.

The Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines fired at 9 a.m. EDT on May 6 for about six seconds, each instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust and lifting the spacecraft off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The spacecraft traveled 3,561 feet (1,187 meters) up before jettisoning its trunk and safely splashing down under three main parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean, 3,606 feet (1,202 meters) from the launch pad.

“This test was highly visible and provided volumes of important information, which serves as tangible proof that our team is making significant progress toward launching crews on American rockets from America soon,” said Jon Cowart, partner manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The reams of data collected provide designers with a real benchmark of how accurate their analyses and models are at predicting reality. As great as our modern computational methods are, they still can’t beat a flight test, like this, for finding out what is going on with the hardware.”

The successful test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch escape capabilities demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to save astronauts in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.

“This is the first major flight test for a vehicle that will bring astronauts to space for the entire Commercial Crew Program," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. "The successful test validated key predictions as it relates to the transport of astronauts to the space station. With NASA’s support, SpaceX continues to make excellent and rapid progress in making the Crew Dragon spacecraft the safest and most reliable vehicle ever flown.”

The approval of the pad abort test milestone payment follows NASA’s authorization for Boeing to begin work toward its first post-certification mission. These steps ensure continued progress in the agency’s effort to return to U.S. soil American crew launches to the International Space Station. SpaceX is expected to receive its authorization to proceed with work on a post-certification mission later this year. The determination of which company will fly the first mission to station will be made at a later time.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Recovery boats wait offshore as SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule splashes down into the water near Space Launch Complex 40 after a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Back in the Day: The Florida Straits As Seen from Space 50 Years Ago...

The Florida Straits and Grand Bahama Bank as seen from aboard the Gemini IV spacecraft...on June 4, 1965.
NASA

June 4, 1965, Earth Observations From Gemini IV (Press Release)

This photograph of the Florida Straits and Grand Bahama Bank was taken during the Gemini IV mission during orbit no. 19, on June 4, 1965, with a Hasselblad camera and a 70mm lens. The Gemini IV crew -- astronauts Jim McDivitt and Ed White -- conducted scientific experiments, including photography of Earth's weather and terrain, for the remainder of their four-day mission following White's historic first American spacewalk on June 3.

Astronauts have been photographing Earth from space since the early Mercury missions beginning in 1961. Today, they observe the Earth from their unique point of view aboard the International Space Station, providing researchers with key data and recording changes over time from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Marking A Milestone: Five Decades of Extravehicular Activities...

STS-41B astronaut Bruce McCandless guides his Manned Maneuvering Unit hundreds of feet away from the space shuttle Challenger (not visible)...on February 7, 1984.
NASA

NASA Celebrates 50 Years of Spacewalking (Press Release)

In this Feb. 7, 1984 photograph taken by his fellow crewmembers aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-41B mission, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II approaches his maximum distance from the vehicle. McCandless became the first astronaut to maneuver about in space untethered, during this first "field" tryout of a nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled backpack device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).

For 50 years, NASA has been "suiting up" for spacewalking. The first American to conduct a spacewalk, astronaut Edward H. White II, floated into the vastness of space on the Gemini IV mission on June 3, 1965. For more than 20 minutes, White maneuvered himself around the Gemini spacecraft as it traveled from over Hawaii to the Gulf of Mexico--making his orbital stroll 6,500 miles long. At the end of the 20-minute spacewalk, White was exuberant. "This is the greatest experience," he said. "It's just tremendous."

Since this historic first, NASA astronauts have performed spacewalks, or extravehicular activity (EVA) in NASA-speak, on the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Astronauts have explored the lunar surface, completed 82 spacewalks outside of the space shuttle, and 187 spacewalks, to date, outside the International Space Station. A total of 166 hours of spacewalks were carried out to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, NASA is developing new advanced spacesuits for use by astronauts as they travel to new deep-space locations on the journey to Mars. The next-generation suit will incorporate a number of technology advances to shorten preparation time, improve safety and boost astronaut capabilities during spacewalks and surface activities.

Source: NASA.Gov

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NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (center frame) and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide (seen as a silhouette to the right of Williams) participate in a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station, on August 30, 2012.
NASA

Friday, May 29, 2015

SLS Update: Resuming Testing on a Monster Rocket's Engine...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on May 28, 2015.
NASA

Steamy Summer Begins for SLS with RS-25 Test (Press Release - May 28)

A billowing plume of steam signals a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28 at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The hotfire test was conducted on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket stages and Space Shuttle Program main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is being developed to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.

The heavy-lift SLS will be more powerful than any current rocket and will be the centerpiece of the nation's next era of space exploration, carrying humans to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. Four RS-25 engines will power the SLS vehicle at launch, firing simultaneously to generate more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust. RS-25 engines are modified Space Shuttle Main Engines, which powered 135 successful low-Earth orbit missions.

One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or "brain." The RS-25 is unique among many engines in that it automatically runs through its cycles and programs. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. The performance specifications, such as what percentage of thrust is needed and when, are programmed into the controller before the engines are fired. For example, if the engine is required to cycle up to 90 percent thrust, the controller monitors the fuel mixture ratio and regulates the thrust accordingly. It is essential that the controller communicates clearly with the engine; the SLS will be bigger than previous rockets and fly unprecedented missions, and its engines will have to perform in new ways.

Tests at Stennis will ensure the new controller and engine are in sync and can deliver the required performance to meet the SLS requirements. NASA engineers conducted an initial RS-25 engine test on the A-1 stand Jan. 9. Testing then was put on hold for scheduled work on the Stennis facility high-pressure industrial water system that provides the tens of thousands of gallons of water needed to cool the stand during an engine test. RS-25 testing now is set to continue through the summer.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Endeavour Update... Paving The Way for ET-94!

Space shuttle Endeavour launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station, on May 16, 2011.
NASA

California Science Center Foundation Announces Another Historic Space Artifact Journey Through Los Angeles City Streets (Press Release)

Los Angeles – Today the California Science Center Foundation announced the continuation of “Mission 26” with the acquisition and planned move of the only flight-qualified External Tank (ET-94) in existence from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the Science Center in Los Angeles. The donation of this never-used artifact from NASA is significant, and allows the Science Center to fulfill its vision of building a full stack for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final display in the launch position in the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. This will mark the only time an ET has traveled through urban streets and will evoke memories of when Endeavour traveled 12-miles from the Los Angeles International Airport to the Science Center and was cheered on by a crowd of 1.5 million in 2012. The ET-94 move is expected to take place sometime from the end of 2015 to early 2016, depending on weather conditions and the progress of cosmetic restorations.

The ET’s journey to the California Science Center and its subsequent attachment to the Orbiter will be historic. Following NASA’s customary transport methods for an External Tank, ET-94 will be shipped by barge. It will travel from the Michoud Assembly Facility through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles, then on through city streets to its final destination at the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Pavilion. The entire journey will take six to eight weeks.

Larger and longer than Endeavour, the ET was the Orbiter’s massive “gas tank” and contained the propellants used by the Space Shuttle Main Engines (though ET-94 is empty). The tank, the only major, non-reusable part of the space shuttle, is neither as wide as Endeavour (32 feet versus 78 feet) nor as high (35 feet versus 56 feet). Because of this, fewer utilities will be impacted and no trees will be removed along ET’s route from the coast to Exposition Park, though some trimming may be necessary. The path it will take through the streets is currently being planned with city officials, utilities and community groups.

“With this gift from NASA, we will have the ability to preserve and display an entire stack of flight hardware, making the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center an even more compelling educational experience. It will allow future generations to experience and understand the science and engineering of the space shuttle,” notes California Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti adds that, “We are thrilled that NASA has gifted the California Science Center and the city of Los Angeles with the last surviving flight-qualified space shuttle external tank (ET) in the world. The city plans to work with the Science Center to make this a great welcome and celebration as it did with Endeavour two and a half years ago. As it makes its journey, from the coast to the Science Center, it will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, contributing to LA’s trajectory of becoming a hub of technological innovation and the Science Center’s mission as a leader in science learning.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price adds that, “This is just the beginning of increased economic vitality and interest in science learning in this district, sparked by the California Science Center’s Mission 26. The Science Center has experienced a major increase in tourism since the arrival of Endeavour. We now expect to attract even more visitors from across the nation and around the world as the Science Center continues to build the full stack with the ET and later the Solid Rocket Boosters for the final launch display at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. I am thrilled that another historic journey through the streets of Los Angeles will unite our community again in a welcoming celebration.”

Source: California Science Center

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Space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 is placed in horizontal position at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana...on September 15, 2012.
NASA / MAF / Steven Seipel

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CST-100 Update: Boeing Officially On Tap to Send a Crew to the ISS in 2017...

NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
NASA

Commercial Crew Milestones Met; Partners on Track for Missions in 2017 (Press Release)

NASA has taken another step toward returning America’s ability to launch crew missions to the International Space Station from the United States in 2017.

The Commercial Crew Program ordered its first crew rotation mission from The Boeing Company. SpaceX, which successfully performed a pad abort test of its flight vehicle earlier this month, is expected to receive its first order later this year. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contract calls for the orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for the first mission in late 2017, provided the contractors meet certain readiness conditions.

Missions flown to the station on Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of scientific research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory.

"Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the commercial crew and station programs," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions."

Boeing’s crew transportation system, including the CST-100 spacecraft, has advanced through various commercial crew development and certification phases. The company recently completed the fourth milestone in the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the program, the delta integrated critical design review. This milestone demonstrates the transportation system has reached design maturity appropriate to proceed with assembly, integration and test activities.

"We’re on track to fly in 2017, and this critical milestone moves us another step closer in fully maturing the CST-100 design," said John Mulholland, Boeing’s vice president of Commercial Programs. "Our integrated and measured approach to spacecraft design ensures quality performance, technical excellence and early risk mitigation."

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to the missions to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. In addition, each company must successfully complete the certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. If NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, NASA will have to delay future milestones for both partners proportionally and extend sole reliance on Russia for crew access to the station.

A standard mission to the station will carry four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

“Commercial Crew launches are critical to the International Space Station Program because it ensures multiple ways of getting crews to orbit,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “It also will give us crew return capability so we can increase the crew to seven, letting us complete a backlog of hands-on critical research that has been building up due to heavy demand for the National Laboratory.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Source: NASA.Gov

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