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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An aerial view of the mobile launcher (ML) prior to it being rolled back to its construction site near the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on November 30, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

BACK TO ITS CONSTRUCTION SITE... After two weeks being berthed atop Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, the mobile launcher (ML) that will be used for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) as soon as 2017 was brought back to the site where it was originally built near KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building. The rollback occurred earlier today. For the next year or so, modification plans will be drawn by NASA and an engineering firm the agency will hire to begin outfitting the ML and make it compatible with the SLS. The effort will take an additional two years and $100 million to complete.

An aerial view of the ML prior to it being rolled back to its construction site near the VAB at KSC in Florida, on November 30, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

A crawler-transporter prepares to berth with the ML and roll it back to its construction site near the VAB at KSC in Florida, on November 30, 2011.
NASA / Frankie Martin

A low-angle shot of the ML prior to it being rolled back to its construction site near the VAB at KSC in Florida, on November 30, 2011.
NASA / Frankie Martin

Sunday, November 27, 2011

YESTERDAY, music artist will.i.am, who’s a member of the hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas, was on-hand at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to watch the launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission to the Red Planet. MSL lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station near KSC on Saturday morning, and will arrive at Mars sometime in early August of next year. Will.i.am was at KSC as a member of the latest NASA Tweetup...which is a special get-together in which the space agency invites a maximum of 150 Twitter users to a launch and/or a NASA-sponsored event. (I personally was able to attend a NASA Tweetup at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California last June. It was awesome.) In the image below, will.i.am is taking a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) in the KSC Industrial Area. The O&C will be the site where Lockheed Martin conducts final assembly on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle before launch.

And who said space exploration was uncool?

As part of a NASA Tweetup, music artist will.i.am takes a tour inside the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center's Industrial Area, on November 26, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Thursday, November 24, 2011

PHOTO OF THE DAY... On display inside Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-3 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is a pressurized vessel of Boeing’s Crew Transportation System—also known as the CST-100. The commercial spacecraft will eventually be built inside the former shuttle hangar...which was once the home of the orbiter Discovery before her final flight into space earlier this year.

The pressurized vessel of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft is displayed inside OPF-3 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 22, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Monday, November 21, 2011

Robonaut 2 strikes a pose inside the International Space Station’s (ISS) Destiny module, on November 4, 2011.
Satoshi Furukawa

ROBONAUT 2... Earlier this month, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum and his Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency crewmember Satoshi Furukawa (who both returned to Earth—along with fellow Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov—onboard a Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft today) spent several hours onboard the International Space Station (ISS) checking out and operating Robonaut 2...also known as R2. As shown in the photos posted with this entry, R2 does not have legs yet. NASA is planning to eventually have the robot fully-limbed so that it can conduct tasks such as performing maintenance throughout the interior of the ISS’ various modules, and even assisting astronauts during spacewalks outside of the orbiting laboratory. In the meantime, R2 will continue being tested to make sure it properly functions as the very first dexterous humanoid robot in space.

Robonaut 2 strikes a pose inside the ISS’ Destiny module, on November 4, 2011.
Satoshi Furukawa

Robonaut 2 strikes a pose inside the ISS’ Destiny module, on November 4, 2011.
Satoshi Furukawa

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum strikes a pose with Robonaut 2 inside the ISS’ Destiny module, on November 4, 2011.
Satoshi Furukawa

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System poised for liftoff at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

A MILESTONE AT THE PAD... Earlier today, the mobile launcher (ML) that NASA will use for the Space Launch System (SLS) was successfully berthed at Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Over the next two weeks, tests will be conducted on the ML to evaluate its structural integrity after being transported 4.2 miles from a parking site near the Vehicle Assembly Building to LC-39B (which is now a 'clean pad') atop a crawler-transporter. After the tests are completed, NASA will select an engineering firm that will conduct modifications to the ML to make it compatible with the SLS. The planning phase should last about a year or so. After that, modifications will begin on the ML itself—which should take another two years to implement at a cost of around $100 million. The changes to the ML should be finished in time for the SLS’ inaugural flight in 2017.

A crawler-transporter is about to be mated with the mobile launcher prior to being rolled over to LC-39B, on November 15, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

The mobiler launcher rolls down the crawlerway towards LC-39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 16, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

The mobiler launcher arrives at LC-39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 16, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Night falls on the mobile launcher and LC-39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 16, 2011.
Stephen Clark - Spaceflight Now

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 14, 2011.
Roscosmos

MILESTONES OF THE DAY... Earlier today, a Russian Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft soared into the snow-filled sky above Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The successful launch—which brought Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov, as well as NASA astronaut Dan Burbank into low-Earth orbit (LEO)—commenced the first manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) since the shuttle Atlantis flew to the research laboratory for the final time on STS-135 last July. The Soyuz will dock with the ISS this Wednesday.

Also occurring today was a successful undocking and re-docking of China’s Shenzhou-8 spacecraft (whose design is borrowed from the Soyuz vehicle) to the Tiangong-1 module in LEO. The first docking of the two craft took place earlier this month. Shenzhou-8 will stay attached to Tiangong-1 for two more days before Shenzhou re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands on November 17.

The Shenzhou-8 spacecraft undocks and re-docks with the Tiangong-1 module in low-Earth orbit on November 14, 2011.
CCTV

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A 3-D image of a tugboat about to push the Pegasus barge away from Kennedy Space Center's Turn Basin onto the Banana River, on November 10, 2011.
NASA / Frankie Martin

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Check out these 3-D images of the Pegasus barge as it was being readied for transport from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi earlier this week. Onboard the Pegasus is Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) ground support equipment that has been used to install the engines onto the orbiters at KSC throughout the years...before the space shuttle program was retired last July. The SSMEs themselves will be sent back to Stennis separately—where the engines will be placed in storage until they’re called back into action for use on NASA’s Space Launch System as early as 2017.

A 3-D image of another tugboat pulling the Pegasus barge (not visible) onto the Banana River, on November 10, 2011.
NASA / Frankie Martin

Since 1999, the Pegasus barge has been used by NASA to transport 31 shuttle external fuel tanks from the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana to KSC. The Pegasus itself has sailed a total of 41 times. It remains to be seen when this barge will be used again once it delivers the SSME equipment to Mississippi.

A 3-D image of a tugboat about to push the Pegasus barge away from Kennedy Space Center's Turn Basin onto the Banana River, on November 10, 2011.
NASA / Frankie Martin

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smoke billows from the A-2 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...where the J-2X engine was successfully test-fired on November 9, 2011.
NASA TV

SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM Update... Yesterday, NASA successfully test-fired the J-2X engine that will power the Space Launch System’s upper stage motor once the heavy-lift rocket becomes flight-worthy as early as 2017. The test-fire, which took place at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, lasted for exactly 499.97 seconds.

Click on the video below to watch a replay of the 8-minute-long ground test. The J-2X is an updated version of the J-2 liquid-fueled engine that powered the second stage of the Saturn V rocket during the Apollo and Skylab programs almost 50 years ago.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An artist's concept of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle soaring in Earth orbit atop a Delta IV upper stage motor.
NASA

ORION Update: The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is set to make its spaceflight debut three years from now...

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NASA Proposes Orion Spacecraft Test Flight In 2014 (Press Release)

WASHINGTON -- NASA plans to add an unmanned flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014 to its contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems for the multi-purpose crew vehicle's design, development, test and evaluation. This test supports the new Space Launch System (SLS) that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before, create U.S. jobs, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human spaceflight efforts.

"President Obama and Congress have laid out an ambitious space exploration plan, and NASA is moving out quickly to implement it," NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver said. "This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon."

This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, SLS, and 21st Century Ground Systems programs. The agency has posted a synopsis explaining its intention on NASA's procurement website.

"The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit," Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier said. "This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive." NASA also intends to release several competitive solicitations to industry in the near future. One solicitation will request proposals for the design, development, test and evaluation of a new advanced liquid or solid booster capability for the SLS. Another future contract NASA intends to compete will be for the development of spacecraft, and payload adaptors and fairings for crew and cargo missions. The competition and award dates for these will be determined as missions are identified.

NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft to launch astronauts to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations atop SLS, the agency's new heavy launch vehicle. An early orbital flight test such as EFT-1 will provide data needed to influence design decisions and serve as a pathfinder to validate innovative new approaches to space systems development. The goal is to reduce the cost and schedule risks of exploration missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 - 2014 from NASA MPCV on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Forward Reaction Control System is re-installed onto space shuttle Discovery on November 3, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

DISCOVERY ALMOST WHOLE AGAIN... Last Thursday, the Forward Reaction Control System (FRCS) pod was re-installed onto the orbiter Discovery after spending several months at White Sands, New Mexico being cleaned and decommissioned prior to being displayed at the Smithsonian next year. The FRCS' re-installation comes about a week after the last of two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods was re-attached to Discovery inside an Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The only major items that need to be done now is installing three Replica Shuttle Main Engines (the real Space Shuttle Main Engines are being reserved for future use on NASA’s Space Launch System) and the two main OMS thruster nozzles onto Discovery before the end of this year...

Discovery is on-track to being transported to her final retirement home at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia on April 12, 2012.

The starboard Orbital Maneuvering System pod is being re-attached to space shuttle Discovery on October 27, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The starboard Orbital Maneuvering System pod is re-attached to space shuttle Discovery on October 28, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Thursday, November 3, 2011

STS-135 astronauts Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, Chris Ferguson and Rex Walheim meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on November 1, 2011.
The White House / Pete Souza

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Last Tuesday, the four astronauts of flight STS-135 met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House. Joining the crew of space shuttle Atlantis’ final mission was Janet Kavandi, Director of Flight Crew Operations at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Just to make a quick and obvious observation, I do believe that the blue NASA jacket Obama was given below looks to be a bit too tight. Of course, there’s another jacket visible near Kavandi’s left leg. I assume that one is the right fit.

The STS-135 crew and Janet Kavandi, JSC Director of Flight Operations, look on as President Obama tries on a blue NASA jacket at the White House on November 1, 2011.
The White House / Pete Souza

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Long March 2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft launches from China on October 31, 2011 (U.S. Time).
CCTV

NEXT STOP: TIANGONG-1... At 2:58 PM, Pacific Daylight Time yesterday, an unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft launched onboard a Long March 2F rocket from northwestern China. After it docks with Tiangong-1 tomorrow (U.S. Time), the Shenzhou-8 vehicle will stay attached to the prototype space station for 12 days—after which Shenzhou-8 will undock from the module and conduct another docking maneuver with it before autonomously returning to Earth several days later.

Tiangong-1 is a prototype to a manned space station that China hopes to launch by the end of this decade...around the time the International Space Station is scheduled to be de-orbited no sooner than 2020, after being in low-Earth orbit for 22 years.

A computer simulation showing the Tiangong-1 module and Shenzhou spacecraft docking in low-Earth orbit.
China Manned Space Engineering Office