Monday, December 31, 2012

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

Paving The Way for the Future... Just thought I'd end 2012 by posting these photos showing the future home of Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 vehicle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Formerly known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (which was space shuttle Discovery's final home before her decommissioning and transport to the Smithsonian back in April), this hangar is now known as the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility...or C3PF. The CST-100, once operational, will join SpaceX's Dragon capsule in sending cargo and potentially crew to the International Space Station, as well as ferrying passengers to orbital habitats proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. Exciting times lie ahead...

An exterior view of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), taken on December 20, 2012.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

A glimpse inside the C3PF, taken on December 20, 2012.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

A glimpse inside the C3PF, taken on December 20, 2012.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

A glimpse inside the C3PF, taken on December 20, 2012.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Atlantis: Retirement Update... To view live screenshots of construction being done both inside and outside of Atlantis' new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (during daylight hours, that is; activity probably won't pick up again till right after the New Year), visit the KSCVC's webcam feed on With the second oldest orbiter in NASA's retired shuttle fleet pretty much fully enclosed within the 90,000-square-foot museum exhibit, the complex is on track to open to the public this July.

Screenshots from a live camera feed showing progress being made on space shuttle Atlantis' new museum exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. (The clock is in Eastern Standard Time.)
Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A faux cowboy is placed above one of the Grasshopper's landing legs to convey the size of the test vehicle.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Just thought I'd share these great photos (and the official video) of SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket as it was being prepped for a flight demonstration that saw it soaring around 131 feet (40 meters) above the ground in McGregor, Texas on December 17. Known as the vertical takeoff and landing test vehicle (VTVL), the Grasshopper is intended to validate the feasibility of a Falcon 9's first stage motor safely returning to Earth and touching back down on the surface following a launch into space. The first stage motor, like those of other rockets such as the Atlas V, is usually discarded in low-Earth orbit more than 8 minutes after lift-off...becoming space junk. The Grasshopper conducted its first demonstration on September 28.

The Grasshopper is prepped for another test at SpaceX's Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas...on November 7, 2012.

The Falcon 9's first stage motor hovers 131 feet (40 meters) above the ground in McGregor, Texas...on December 17, 2012.

Check out the official video:

Friday, December 21, 2012

The three main parachutes on the Orion test article successfully deploy above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on December 20, 2012.

Orion And Space Launch System Updates... While another parachute test was successfully conducted for the Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona yesterday, NASA has announced today that the core stage for its Space Launch System, scheduled to make its first flight sending an Orion capsule to the Moon in 2017, is ready for construction. More details below.


NASA's Space Launch System Core Stage Passes Major Milestone, Ready to Start Construction (Press Release)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The team designing America's new flagship rocket has completed successfully a major technical review of the vehicle's core stage. NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will take the agency's Orion spacecraft and other payloads beyond low-Earth orbit, providing a new capability for human exploration.

The core stage preliminary design review (PDR) was held Thursday at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and included representatives from the agency and The Boeing Co. Boeing's Exploration Launch Systems in Huntsville is the prime contractor for the core stage and its avionics. Marshall manages the SLS Program.

"Passing a preliminary design review within 12 months of bringing Boeing on contract shows we are on track toward meeting a 2017 launch date," said Tony Lavoie, manager of the SLS Stages Element at Marshall. "We can now allow those time-critical areas of design to move forward with initial fabrication and proceed toward the final design phase -- culminating in a critical design review in 2014 -- with confidence."

The first flight test of the SLS, which will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the Moon, is scheduled for 2017. As the SLS evolves, a two-stage launch vehicle using the core stage will provide a lift capability of 130 metric tons to enable missions beyond low-Earth orbit and to support deep space exploration.

The purpose of the PDR was to ensure the design met system requirements within acceptable risk and fell within schedule and budget constraints. An important part of the PDR was to prove the core stage could integrate safely with other elements of the rocket's main engines and solid rocket boosters, the crew capsule and the launch facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Core stage designers provided an in-depth assessment to a board of engineers comprised of propulsion and design experts from across the agency and the aerospace industry.

"Each individual element of this program has to be at the same level of maturity before we can move the program as a whole to the next step," SLS Program Manager Todd May said. "The core stage is the rocket's central propulsion element and will be an optimized blend of new and existing hardware design. We're building it with longer tanks, longer feed lines and advanced manufacturing processes. We are running ahead of schedule and will leverage that schedule margin to ensure a safe and affordable rocket for our first flight in 2017."

The core stage will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans using state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. The plant continues modifying its facilities and ordering materials for construction of the rocket. Michoud has built components for NASA's spacecraft for decades, most recently the space shuttle's external tanks.

Source: NASA.Gov


A technician stands on the first test panel for the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank at AMRO Fabricating Corporation in South El Monte, California.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Apollo 17: 40 Years Ago Today... At 2:25 PM, Eastern Standard Time on December 19, 1972, the Apollo 17 command module America safely splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after successfully completing NASA's sixth and final sojourn (excluding Apollo 13) to the surface of the Moon. What would follow a year later would be the launch of the United States' first manned space station, Skylab, to LEO (Low-Earth Orbit)—and the continued development of the space shuttle...which was formally approved several months before the liftoff of Apollo 17 by President Nixon, on January 5, 1972.

With the Apollo and space shuttle programs now a thing of the past, it is up to NASA receiving proper funding by Congress to support the development of commercial spacecraft such as Dream Chaser and the CST-100 (SpaceX's Dragon has already proved its mettle...twice) that will continue performing the orbiters' duties in LEO, and finally bringing Apollo's official BEO (Beyond Earth Orbit) successor, the Space Launch System, to fruition.

The USS Ticonderoga waits in the background as recovery operations are conducted on Apollo 17's America command module in the Pacific Ocean, on December 19, 1972.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Technicians practice launch processing procedures on the Orion EFT-1 vehicle inside the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Operations and Checkout Facility, on December 6, 2012.
Tim Jacobs

Orion Update...


NASA Progressing Toward First Launch of Orion Spacecraft (Press Release - December 13)

WASHINGTON -- Recent engineering advances by NASA and its industry partners across the country show important progress toward Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), the next step to launching humans to deep space. The uncrewed EFT-1 mission, launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2014, will test the re-entry performance of the agency's Orion capsule, the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, which will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before.

"These recent milestones are laying the foundation for our first flight test of Orion in 2014," said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The work being done to prepare for the flight test is really a nationwide effort and we have a dedicated team committed to our goal of expanding the frontier of space."

A tool that will allow the titanium skeleton of the Orion heat shield to be bolted to its carbon fiber skin is at the Denver facility of the spacecraft's prime contractor Lockheed Martin. This will enable workers to begin assembling the two pieces of the heat shield. Almost 3,000 bolts are needed to hold the skeleton to the skin. A special stand was built to align the skin on the skeleton as holes for the bolts are drilled. Work to bolt the skeleton to the skin will be completed in January. The heat shield then will be shipped to Textron Defense Systems near Boston where the final layer, an ablative material very similar to that used on the Apollo spacecraft, will be added. The completed heat shield is scheduled to be ready for installation onto the Orion crew module at Kennedy next summer.

To test the heat shield during EFT-1's re-entry, Orion will travel more than 3,600 miles above Earth's surface, 15 times farther than the International Space Station's orbital position. This is farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. Orion will return home at a speed almost 5,000 mph faster than any current human spacecraft.

This week, engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., received materials to begin manufacturing the adapter that will connect the Orion capsule to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy-lift rocket for EFT-1. Two forward and two aft rings will be welded to barrel panels to form two adapters. This adapter design will be tested during EFT-1 for use during the first launch of NASA's next heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), in 2017. SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads beyond low Earth orbit, providing an entirely new capability for human exploration.

Data from the adapter on the flight test will provide Marshall engineers with invaluable experience developing hardware early in the design process. Designing the adapter once for multiple flights also provides a cost savings.

Of the two adapters welded at Marshall, one will attach Orion to the Delta IV heavy-lift rocket used for EFT-1. The other adapter will be a structural test article to gain knowledge on the design.

NASA's Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program also has passed a major agency review that lays the groundwork at Kennedy to support future Orion and SLS launches. The GSDO Program completed a combined system requirements review and system definition review, in which an independent board of technical experts from across NASA evaluated the program's infrastructure specifications, budget and schedule. The board confirmed GSDO is ready to move from concept development to preliminary design. The combination of the two assessments represents a fundamentally different way of conducting NASA program reviews. The team is streamlining processes to provide the nation with a safe, affordable and sustainable launch facility.

The GSDO program last week also led the third Stationary Recovery Test Working Group session in Norfolk, Va. The team presented to the U.S. Navy detachment that will recover the capsule during EFT-1 a complete list of tasks required to accomplish stationary recovery test objectives. The working group outlined the plan for roles and responsibilities to accomplish required test procedures. Included in these presentations were the commanding officer of the USS Mesa Verde and the fleet forces command director of operations, who both expressed complete support for the test.

Source: NASA.Gov


A special fixture that will be used for launch processing stands in place around the Orion EFT-1 vehicle inside KSC's Operations and Checkout Facility, on December 6, 2012.
Tim Jacobs

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Apollo 17: 40 Years Ago Today... Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, having been on the Moon's surface since December 11, 1972, poses for the camera during what would be the last lunar Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) for the Apollo program. Cernan and fellow crewmember Harrison H. Schmitt collected 243.7 pounds (110.52 kilograms) of lunar samples during their 7-hour, 15-minute excursion at Taurus-Littrow Valley on the Moon.

Eugene A. Cernan poses for the camera during Apollo 17's final EVA on the Moon...on December 13, 1972.
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt

Friday, December 7, 2012

Apollo 17: 40 Years Ago Today... At 12:33 AM, Eastern Standard Time on December 7, 1972, a giant Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a 4-day voyage to the Moon. While this was the first nighttime launch of the Saturn V vehicle since its first manned flight (on Apollo 8) on December 21, 1968, this is the last time over the next four decades that humans would be sent to Earth's nearest celestial neighbor.

A Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 17 spacecraft launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 7, 1972.