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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Faculty members of the International Space University pose with their 1/60th scale model of the Space Launch System (SLS) during a rocket launch competition at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on July 14, 2012.
NASA / Charisse Nahsser

Hoping for the future... More than two weeks ago, a rocket launch competition was held at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Among the contestants was a model rocket based on the Space Launch System (SLS). Built by the faculty of the International Space University, which is located in France, this rocket is a 1/60th scale version of the 400-foot-tall 'Block II' variant of the SLS that NASA hopes will become operational by 2025. Checking out the photo above, one can only use his or her imagination and picture that toy rocket to be much, much bigger...and sitting majestically on the launch pad that now lies vacant behind the space aficionados posing in this picture.

A composite image of the 'Block II' cargo version of the SLS, with the Moon looming high above, lifting off from its pad at KSC in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

Friday, July 27, 2012

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photo of the HTV-3 freighter as it flew under the orbital outpost prior to berthing on July 27, 2012.
NASA / JAXA

Photos of the Day... Here are a couple of images showing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) docking with the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today. Nicknamed Kounotori 3, this HTV—which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on July 21 (Japan Standard Time)—is the third of seven unmanned freighters that JAXA currently plans to send to the ISS by 2015. HTV-3 will remain docked to the orbital complex till September 6...when Kounotori will be unberthed from the station prior to re-entering and burning up in Earth's atmosphere that same day.

An astronaut aboard the ISS took this photo of the HTV-3 freighter as it flew under the orbital outpost prior to berthing on July 27, 2012.
NASA / JAXA

The ISS' robotic arm grapples HTV-3 prior to it berthing at the outpost on July 27, 2012.
NASA / JAXA

The HTV-3 is berthed to the ISS on July 27, 2012.
NASA / JAXA

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride (1951-2012)... The physicist became the first American woman to fly into space when she launched into Earth orbit aboard the shuttle Challenger in 1983, on mission STS-7. She again soared into the skies aboard Challenger a year later, on STS-41-G. I remember attending a presentation given by Ms. Ride in San Diego back in 1993...when I was in 7th grade. At the age of 61, she sadly passed away today due to pancreatic cancer. May Ride rest in peace.

Sally Ride... America's first female astronaut.
NASA

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Technicians do fit checks prior to installing windows into the Orion capsule inside the Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
NASA

Photos of the Day... While work continues on prepping the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for its first voyage into space on 2014's Exploration Flight Test-1 mission, today marks the one-year anniversary since Atlantis brought STS-135 and the space shuttle program to a successful end with Atlantis' safe landing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The image above shows fit checks being done on Orion prior to its windows being attached inside the Operations and Checkout Facility at KSC. The last two pics of this entry show the engraved marker (which was installed on June 28) that commemorates where Atlantis came to a stop at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility last summer. Similar markers for the final missions of Discovery (on STS-133) and Endeavour (on STS-134) are also placed on the 3-mile-long runway.

Space shuttle Atlantis lands at KSC for the final time, on July 21, 2011.
NASA / Frank Michaux

A marker commemorating where Atlantis came to a stop on KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on July 21, 2011 is installed within the concrete of the 3-mile-long runway (on June 28, 2012).
NASA / Charisse Nahser

A marker commemorating where Atlantis came to a stop on KSC's SLF on July 21, 2011 is installed within the concrete of the 3-mile-long runway (on June 28, 2012).
NASA

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Orion test article prior to being deployed from a C-17 cargo plane for a parachute test on July 18, 2012.
NASA

Orion Update... Earlier today, another parachute test was conducted for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The test, which was done in preparation for the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission that will launch into space from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2014, was performed to see how the vehicle would react if one of its three main parachutes inflated too quickly after deployment. Orion safely touched down in the Arizona desert minutes after being dropped from a C-17 cargo plane that brought the spacecraft airborne, successfully concluding the demonstration.

The Orion test article is about to be deployed from a C-17 cargo plane for a parachute test on July 18, 2012.
NASA

The three main parachutes on the Orion test article successfully deploy above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on July 18, 2012.
NASA

The Orion test article successfully lands at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on July 18, 2012.
NASA

Engineers tend to the Orion test article after it successfully landed at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on July 18, 2012.
NASA

The Orion test article is brought back into a hangar after successfully performing another parachute test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on July 18, 2012.
NASA

Monday, July 16, 2012

Inside Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-2 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, technicians gather underneath Endeavour's three Replica Shuttle Main Engines (RSME)...on July 13, 2012.
NASA / David Lee

Endeavour is almost whole again... Last Friday, the last of three Reusable Shuttle Main Engines (RSME) was attached to the youngest orbiter in NASA's retired space shuttle fleet. With her trio of RSMEs now installed, thus bringing her transition and retirement (T&R) operation close to completion, Endeavour will remain inside Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-2 till next month...when she'll switch places with Atlantis in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Atlantis has been in temporary storage inside the VAB since June 29 (the reason being that NASA is handing over OPF-1—where Atlantis was undergoing her final decommissioning process prior to last month's move to the VAB—to a private aerospace company, whose identity remains undisclosed), and will undergo final T&R activities at OPF-2 while Endeavour is prepped for her cross-country ferry flight to Los Angeles two months from now. Endeavour is scheduled to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on September 21, while her final transport through the streets of downtown L.A. to the California Science Center has yet to be announced. Atlantis' roadside trip to the KSC Visitor Complex, her final home, is targeted for November 2...while the orbiter will officially go on public display in July of next year.

The last two major items to be installed onto Endeavour for her to be complete again are her twin Orbital Maneuvering System thruster nozzles, which will be reattached to the vehicle after she arrives at the California Science Center.

RSME #2 is transported to OPF-2 for final installation onto space shuttle Endeavour at the KSC in Florida, on July 13, 2012.
NASA / David Lee

Space shuttle Endeavour prior to RSME #2 being installed on her inside OPF-2 at the KSC in Florida, on July 13, 2012.
NASA / David Lee

Inside OPF-2 at the KSC in Florida, technicians pose for a group photo underneath Endeavour's three RSMEs...on July 13, 2012.
NASA / David Lee

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The official logo for Orion's EFT-1 mission...which is scheduled to launch in 2014.
NASA

Orion And Space Launch System Updates... While Orion received an official logo (above) for its Exploration Flight Test-1 mission in 2014, NASA continues to make progress on developing its newest heavy lift-launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS). The first test flight of SLS—which will be unmanned—will take place in 2017, while 2021 is the targeted year in which the vehicle will send Orion and its first astronaut crew on a flyby mission to the Moon.

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NASA Selects Space Launch System Advanced Booster Proposals (Press Release - July 13)

NASA has selected six proposals to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS). The awardees will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for SLS, a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

"The initial SLS heavy-lift rocket begins with the proven hardware, technology and capabilities we have today and will evolve over time to a more capable launch vehicle through competitive opportunities," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "While the SLS team is making swift progress on the initial configuration and building a solid baseline, we also are looking ahead to enhance and upgrade future configurations of the heavy lift vehicle. We want to build a system that will be upgradable and used for decades."

Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft, including NASA's Orion multipurpose vehicle, for crew and cargo missions SLS will enable NASA to meet the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. The initial SLS configuration will use two five-segment solid rocket boosters similar to the solid rocket boosters that helped power the space shuttle to orbit. The evolved SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with significant increase in thrust from any existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters.

Individual awards will vary with a total NASA investment of as much as $200 million.

Proposals selected for contract negotiations are:
-- "Subscale Composite Tank Set," Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation Aerospace Systems
-- "Full-Scale Combustion Stability Demonstration," Aerojet General Corp.
-- "F-1 Engine Risk Reduction Task," Dynetics Inc.
-- "Main Propulsion System Risk Reduction Task," Dynetics Inc.
-- "Structures Risk Reduction Task," Dynetics Inc.
-- "Integrated Booster Static Test," ATK Launch Systems Inc.

"We are building a new national capability to carry astronauts and science experiments beyond Earth orbit to new destinations in space," said Todd May, SLS program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Our industry partners have presented a variety of options for reducing risk while increasing performance and affordability, and we're looking forward to seeing their innovative ideas come to life."

The proposal selections are the first step in the NASA Research Announcement procurement process. The second step, the formal contract award, will follow after further negotiations between NASA and selected organizations. All funded efforts will demonstrate and examine advanced booster concepts and hardware demonstrations during a 30-month period. This risk mitigation acquisition precedes the follow-on design, development, testing and evaluation competition for the SLS advanced booster currently planned for 2015.

All proposals will be valid for 12 months to allow for a later award should the opportunity become available, unless withdrawn by the offeror prior to award. Successful offerors to this NRA are not guaranteed an award for any future advanced booster acquisition.

The first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System, which will feature a configuration for a 77-ton (70-metric-ton) lift capacity, is scheduled for 2017. As SLS evolves, a two-stage launch vehicle configuration will provide a lift capability of 143 tons (130 metric tons).

Source: NASA.Gov

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An infographic showing all the components that make up the Space Launch System.
NASA

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A full-scale test version of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft soars in the air during a captive-carry test on May 29, 2012.
Sierra Nevada Corp.

Dream Chaser Update...

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NASA's Commercial Crew Partner Sierra Nevada Completes Dream Chaser Nose Landing Gear Test (Press Release - July 11)

LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has completed a successful test of the nose landing gear for its full-scale Dream Chaser engineering flight test vehicle. The completed test and an upcoming flight test are part of SNC's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

The gear test is an important milestone to prepare for the upcoming approach and landing test of the Dream Chaser Space System later this year. It evaluated the impact the nose landing gear will experience on touchdown in order to ensure a safe runway landing.

SNC is one of seven companies developing commercial crew transportation capabilities to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser is the only spacecraft under CCDev2 that is winged and designed to land on a conventional runway. It is designed to carry as many as seven astronauts to space.

"The landing gear system must perform flawlessly, just like the space shuttle orbiter's did, for the safe return of the crew," CCP program manager Ed Mango said. "It's great to see that SNC is building on that experience while developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft."

SNC tested the spacecraft's main landing gear in February. This nose landing gear test completes the milestones leading up to the upcoming approach and landing test, which will complete the CCDev2 partnership.

"This test marks a significant point in the development of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. As the last milestone before free flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, we are now preparing for the approach and landing tests to be flown later this year," said Jim Voss, SNC vice president of space exploration systems and program manager for the Dream Chaser.

All of NASA's industry partners, including SNC, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities under CCDev2.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft docked to the International Space Station.
NASA / Sierra Nevada Corporation

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A full-scale replica of SpaceShipTwo is on display at the 2012 Farnborough International Airshow in England.
Photo courtesy of Raytheon - Facebook.com

Photo of the Day... On display at the Farnborough International Airshow in England this week is a full-scale replica of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) vehicle. In terms of the actual spacecraft, SS2 is still undergoing flight tests above the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Test firing of the engine that will take SS2 into space, RocketMotorTwo (RM2) has also been taking place for the last month or so. However, the results of RM2's hot-fires have led to modifications on SS2 itself. Because the engine and the propulsion system in general have become heavier than expected since the flight tests begun, SS2's landing gear and brake system needed to be upgraded because of the increased weight caused by RM2. On the plus side though, the Federal Aviation Administration granted an experimental launch permit to Virgin Galactic last May...thus allowing the company to conduct flight tests of SS2 and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), at a more rapid rate.

Scaled Composites, which built SS2 and WK2, is on track to begin powered flights of SS2 beyond Earth's atmosphere by the end of this year.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Atlantis launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the space shuttle program's final mission ever, on July 8, 2011.
NASA / Fletcher Hildreth

One year ago today, the orbiter Atlantis launched on the very last space shuttle flight as she embarked on mission STS-135 to the International Space Station (ISS). One year later, Atlantis is safely stored inside the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Vehicle Assembly Building while awaiting final decommissioning activities and transport to her future home at the KSC Visitor Complex...which will take place later this year or early 2013. With sister ships Discovery now on public display at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia and Endeavour only two months away from being sent to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles to become a museum piece, KSC will soon bid farewell to the iconic vehicles that called the Florida spaceport their home for more than 30 years.

Check out the video below to see what America's premiere spaceport is doing to prepare for the future. KSC will not only welcome privately-made vehicles such as Boeing's CST-100 that will be launched to low-Earth orbital destinations such as the ISS, but it will also be the site of origin for missions that will venture into deep space once more...hopefully.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Saturn V rocket carrying NASA's Apollo 11 spacecraft launches to the Moon on July 16, 1969.
NASA

Quote of the Day... "A high priority program should be undertaken to place a manned expedition on the moon in this decade."

- The United States Congress — House Committee on Science and Astronautics (July 5, 1960)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin sets up a lunar experiment after he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to set foot on the Moon, on July 20, 1969.
NASA

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Inside the Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), audience members attend an unveiling ceremony for the first space-bound Orion vehicle, on July 2, 2012.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Orion gets its moment to shine... Yesterday morning, NASA unveiled the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to the media and other audience members who gathered inside the Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. This Orion capsule, which arrived at KSC last Thursday after being transported from the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, will fly on the Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 mission...which is slated for launch in 2014. KSC engineers will now begin the process of completing assembly on Orion over the remainder of this year and 2013, before beginning launch preparations that will see the MPCV becoming NASA's first manned spacecraft (even though it will be uncrewed on EFT-1) to fly thousands of miles beyond low-Earth orbit in over 40 years. The last flight to do so was Apollo 17 in 1972.

Engineers place the Orion EFT-1 vehicle on a workstand after it arrived at KSC's Operations and Checkout Facility on June 28, 2012.
NASA / Gianni Woods

NASA KSC Director Robert Cabana addresses the audience attending Orion's unveiling ceremony inside the Operations and Checkout Facility, on July 2, 2012.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

From left, Robert Cabana, Orion program manager Mark Geyer, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and NASA Deputy Director Lori Garver pose in front of NASA's first space-bound Orion capsule, on July 2, 2012.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Sunday, July 1, 2012

An aerial view of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

50 Years Ago Today, NASA's Kennedy Space Center came into existence at Cape Canaveral in Florida. I visited America's gateway to space back in February of 2009, and would totally go there again. I'm sure I didn't need to tell you that...considering this blog is obviously dedicated to the many human spaceflight missions that have originated from Spaceport USA since the days of Apollo...

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NASA'S Kennedy Space Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary July 1 (Press Release - June 29)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- On Sunday, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida celebrates 50 years of launching humans and machines to other planets and into low Earth orbit.

Since its inception as the Launch Operations Center on July 1, 1962, Kennedy has supported a variety of launch vehicles and payloads. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs carried astronauts on space missions that culminated in moon landings. Planetary probes lifted off on journeys that expanded our knowledge. The space shuttles launched 135 times and helped build the International Space Station.

Kennedy Director Bob Cabana said, "In 50 years, less than a lifetime, Americans first pioneered paths into orbit, then made confident strides onto the surface of another world and sent instrument-laden machines into the perilous reaches of space beyond the solar system. All those voyages began here, made possible in large measure by the professionalism, determination and boldness of the Kennedy team."

A 50th Anniversary website charts the five-decade history of Kennedy Space Center and includes a video that chronicles some of the center's most impressive milestones:

http://go.nasa.gov/y0VdRi

As it turns 50, Kennedy is transitioning to the launch complex of the future, revamping existing infrastructure and facilities to provide the flexibility to host a variety of vehicles. "We have learned so much about exploring new horizons," Cabana said. "In our endeavors, we've also come to realize that there is so much out there for us to discover. Kennedy is the linchpin to NASA's new undertakings because we are, and always have been, the nation's premier launch site."

In partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Commercial Crew Program at Kennedy is spurring the innovation and development of commercial spacecraft and launch vehicles to transport our astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

Kennedy also will be the starting point for NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, which will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Kennedy's Launch Services Program is preparing for at least 25 missions to various destinations, including Mars, Pluto and our sun.

For more information about Kennedy, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kennedy

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Posing in front of space shuttle Discovery on its pad at Launch Complex 39A, on February 9, 2009.