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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Final Post of the Year...

Just thought I'd end 2013 by sharing this cool illustration of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) soaring away from its pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Hopefully, this will become a reality in 2017...with NASA trying to make this the case when the agency plans to accomplish these trio of milestones in 2014: The RS-25 engine (three of which were used on the space shuttle, and five of these will now help send the SLS on its way out of Earth's atmosphere) will be placed on Stennis Space Center's A-1 stand for testing, the Orion capsule will finally see flight next September on Exploration Flight Test-1, and manufacturing on the SLS' core stage will begin after the Vertical Assembly Center at the Michoud facility (where the core stage for all SLS vehicles will be built) near New Orleans, Louisiana finishes construction. Exciting times lay ahead for America's manned spaceflight program next year.

An illustration depicting the Space Launch System soaring away from Launch Complex 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

The Earth rises above the Moon's landscape...as seen from the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24, 1968.
NASA / Bill Anders

Yesterday marked the 45-year anniversary since the Apollo 8 astronauts took this historic photo of the Earth rising above the Moon's horizon. NASA was able to recreate the iconic 'Earthrise' image (below) using data from the still-active Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter...also pinpointing the exact spot that the Apollo 8 spacecraft was above the surface when crew members Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders worked together to achieve the photo. Click on the video at the bottom of this entry to find out more details about this memorable moment in manned spaceflight.

In 2021, NASA is planning to launch a 4-person crew aboard the Space Launch System to conduct a flyby of the Moon (or head to a Near-Earth Object if the Asteroid Initiative is actually funded); it would be great to see the Earth rising above the lunar landscape from a human vantage point once again... Or above an asteroid landscape for the very first time.

Data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is still operating at the Moon, was used to re-create the Earthrise photo.
Ernie Wright - NASA Scientific Visualization Studio


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cygnus' Next Flight Is Delayed to Early 2014...

This Antares rocket will have to wait till early next year to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to begin Cygnus' Orb-D2 mission.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA Postpones Orbital Launch, Sets Spacewalks to Repair Faulty Station Pump Module (Press Release)

NASA managers are postponing the upcoming Orbital Sciences commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to proceed with a series of spacewalks to replace a faulty pump module on the space station.

NASA Television will air a news briefing at 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 18 to preview the spacewalks.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft, atop its Antares rocket, now will launch no earlier than January. The postponement of the Antares launch will allow ample time for the station crew to focus on repairing a faulty pump module that stopped working properly on Dec. 11.

NASA currently plans for two Expedition 38 astronauts to venture outside the space station Dec. 21, 23 and 25. NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins will remove a pump module that has a failed valve. They will replace it with an existing spare that is stored on an external stowage platform. The pump is associated with one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. Each of the three spacewalks will begin at 7:10 a.m. and is scheduled to last six and a half hours. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:15 a.m.

Wednesday's spacewalks preview briefing will take place from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Reporters may attend the 3 p.m. briefing at Johnson and other participating NASA centers, or ask questions by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 2:45 p.m. Briefers will include:

-- Michael Suffredini, International Space Station program manager

-- Dina Contella, International Space Station flight director

-- Allison Bolinger, lead spacewalk officer

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Source: NASA.Gov

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Backdropped over Andros Island and other parts of the Bahamas, Sunita Williams and Aki Hoshide participate in an EVA outside of the International Space Station on August 30, 2012.
NASA

Friday, December 13, 2013

SpaceX To Make A Bigger Mark on America's Spaceport?

Space shuttle Endeavour stands poised for liftoff at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida, on February 6, 2010.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA Selects SpaceX to Begin Negotiations for Use of Historic Launch Pad (Press Release)

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to begin negotiations on a lease to use and operate historic Launch Complex (LC) 39A at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.

The reuse of LC-39A is part of NASA’s work to transform the Kennedy Space Center into a 21st century launch complex capable of supporting both government and commercial users. Kennedy is having success attracting significant private sector interest in its unique facilities. The center is hard at work assembling NASA’s Orion spacecraft and preparing its infrastructure for the Space Launch System rocket, which will launch from LC-39B and take American astronauts into deep space, including to an asteroid and Mars.

NASA made the selection decision Thursday after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed against the Agency by Blue Origin LLC on Sept. 13. In its protest, Blue Origin raised concerns about the competitive process NASA was using to try to secure a potential commercial partner or partners to lease and use LC-39A. Blue Origin had argued the language in the Announcement for Proposals (AFP) favored one proposed use of LC-39A over others. The GAO disagreed.

While the GAO protest was underway, NASA was prohibited from selecting a commercial partner for LC-39A from among the proposals submitted in response to the agency's AFP that had been issued on May 23. However, while the GAO considered the protest, NASA continued evaluating the proposals in order to be prepared to make a selection when permitted to do so. After the GAO rendered its decision Thursday in NASA’s favor, the agency completed its evaluation and selection process.

NASA notified all proposers on Friday of its selection decision concerning LC-39A. Further details about NASA’s decision will be provided to each proposer when NASA furnishes the source selection statement to the proposers. In addition, NASA will offer each the opportunity to meet to discuss NASA’s findings related to the proposer’s individual proposal. NASA will release the source selection statement to the public once each proposer has been consulted to ensure that any proprietary information has been appropriately redacted.

NASA will begin working with SpaceX to negotiate the terms of its lease for LC-39A. During those ongoing negotiations, NASA will not be able to discuss details of the pending lease agreement. Since the late 1960s, Kennedy's launch pads 39 A and B have served as the starting point for America's most significant human spaceflight endeavors -- Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and all 135 space shuttle missions. LC-39A is the pad where Apollo 11 lifted off from on the first manned moon landing in 1969, as well as launching the first space shuttle mission in 1981 and the last in 2011.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Dragon CRS-2 spacecraft is berthed to the International Space Station, on March 3, 2013.
NASA

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SpaceShipTwo Sports A New Set of Wings...

Just thought I'd share this great photo of an upgraded SpaceShipTwo (SS2) after it completed another successful glide test above California's Mojave Desert today. The demonstration took place at 9 AM, Pacific Standard Time...at an altitude of 50,000 feet and a descent that lasted 11 minutes before landing. Another powered flight is set to take place soon—though it remains to be seen when SS2 will finally reach the edge of space like its predecessor did almost ten years ago.

SpaceShipTwo lands at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California after successfully completing another glide test on December 11, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Virgin Galactic

Monday, December 9, 2013

R2 To Get New Limbs in Space...

NASA’s Robonaut 2 is shown with newly-developed climbing legs, which are designed to give the robot mobility in zero gravity. R2's new limbs are ready to head to space early next year.
NASA

NASA Developing Legs for Space Station's Robonaut 2 (Press Release)

NASA engineers are developing climbing legs for the International Space Station's robotic crewmember Robonaut 2 (R2), marking another milestone in space humanoid robotics.

The legless R2, currently attached to a support post, is undergoing experimental trials with astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. Since its arrival at the station in February 2011, R2 has performed a series of tasks to demonstrate its functionality in microgravity.

These new legs, funded by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will provide R2 the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station. The goal is to free up the crew for more critical work, including scientific research.

"NASA has explored with robots for more than a decade, from the stalwart rovers on Mars to R2 on the station," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "Our investment in robotic technology development is helping us to bolster productivity by applying robotics technology and devices to fortify and enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety in space."

Once the legs are attached to the R2 torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of 9 feet, giving it great flexibility for movement around the space station. Each leg has seven joints and a device on what would be the feet called an end effector, which allow the robot to take advantage of handrails and sockets inside and outside the station. A vision system for the end effectors also will be used to verify and eventually automate each limb's approach and grasp.

NASA engineers have built the legs and R2 will be receiving them early next year. The new legs are designed for work both inside and outside the station, but upgrades to R2's upper body will be necessary before it can begin work outside the space station.

Technologies developed for Robonaut have led to new robotic devices for future spaceflight that also have direct applications here on Earth. For example, NASA is developing a robotic exoskeleton that could help astronauts stay healthier in space and also aid people with physical disabilities.

R5, next in NASA's Robonaut series of robots, will debut later this month when it competes in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. During the challenge, robots will demonstrate capabilities to execute complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. Competing teams are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.

The International Space Station serves as a test bed for future technologies that will be vital to human exploration as NASA explores asteroids and Mars. NASA's Space Technology Program is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Robonaut 2 works on a task board inside the International Space Station's Destiny laboratory, on January 2, 2013.
NASA

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Orion Receives An Early Christmas Gift in Florida...

Orion's heat shield is loaded onto the Super Guppy aircraft in Manchester, New Hampshire, for transport to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on December 4, 2013.
NASA

Heat Shield for NASA's Orion Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)

NASA's Orion spacecraft is just about ready to turn up the heat. The spacecraft's heat shield arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night aboard the agency's Super Guppy aircraft.

The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, is to be unloaded Thursday and is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March, in preparation for Orion's first flight test in September 2014.

"The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being prepared, is a major step toward Exploration Flight Test-1 next year," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "Sending Orion into space for the first time is going to give us crucial data to improve our design decisions and develop Orion to send humans on future missions to an asteroid and Mars."

The heat shield began its journey in January 2012 in Colorado, at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver. That was the manufacturing site for a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin that give the heat shield its shape and provide structural support during landing. They were shipped in March to Textron Defense Systems near Boston, where they were used in construction of the heat shield itself.

Textron installed a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb's 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, then X-rayed and sanded each cell to match Orion's design specifications. The Avcoat-treated shell will shield Orion from the extreme heat it will experience as it returns to Earth. The ablative material will wear away as it heats up during Orion's re-entry into the atmosphere, preventing heat from being transferred to the rest of the capsule.

"Many people across the country have poured a tremendous amount of hard work into building this heat shield," said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. "Their efforts are a critical part of helping us understand what it takes to bring a human-rated spacecraft back safely from deep space."

Before and during its manufacture, the heat shield material was subjected to arc-jet testing NASA's Ames Research Center in California and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Arc jets heat and expand gasses to very high temperatures and supersonic and hypersonic speeds, thus simulating the heating conditions that a returning spacecraft will experience.

The heat shield delivered to Kennedy will be used during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. The returning capsule is expected to encounter temperatures of almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels through Earth's atmosphere at up to 20,000 mph, faster than any spacecraft in the last 40 years.

Data gathered during the flight will influence decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to space systems and development. It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for future Orion missions, which include exploring an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Textron technicians put finishing touches on Orion's heat shield prior to its delivery to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...which took place on December 4, 2013.
NASA / Textron Defense Systems

Monday, December 2, 2013

Back in the Day: Shuttle Flight STS-61

Space shuttle Endeavour launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on flight STS-61, on December 2, 1993.
NASA

Today marks 20 years since space shuttle Endeavour launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to embark on the very first Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission. The almost-11-day flight was an astounding success...with HST not only receiving new science instruments such as Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, but also had its blurred vision (due to Hubble's flawed primary mirror) fixed with the installation of the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement device, or COSTAR. Many more servicing flights to HST would come along (the last being STS-125 in 2009), but it was STS-61 that was the most crucial in making Hubble the 'Great Observatory' (and one of NASA's most iconic spacecraft) that it is today.

Astronauts Story Musgrave (on the robotic arm) and Jeffrey Hoffman conduct the last of five spacewalks at the Hubble Space Telescope during shuttle flight STS-61, on December 9, 1993.
NASA

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Birth of Kennedy Space Center...

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

Almost a week after the United States marked the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, NASA today marked a half century since President Lyndon B. Johnson (sworn into office six days earlier) renamed Cape Canaveral (then called NASA's Launch Operations Center) to Kennedy Space Center. One of this nation's greatest presidents now had America's spaceport bearing his moniker...which would also be complemented by the fact that the U.S. would fulfill Kennedy's pledge of sending a man to the Moon almost six years later. JFK's legacy lives on.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, ISS!

Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk that combined the first components of the International Space Station (ISS) during the STS-88 shuttle mission, which flew in December of 1998.
NASA

Celebrating Fifteen Years of the International Space Station (Press Release)

Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk preparing for release of the first combined elements of the International Space Station. The Russian-built Zarya module, with its solar array panel visible here, was launched into orbit fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998. Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA's space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex. Endeavour's forward section is reflected in Newman's helmet visor in this image. During three spacewalks on the STS-88 mission, the two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were joined together in space, making the space station truly international.

Since that first meeting of Zarya and Unity, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the international partners built across three continents and leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed. The space station, now four times larger than Mir and five times larger than Skylab, represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.

In support of station assembly and maintenance, station and shuttle crews have conducted 174 spacewalks totaling almost 1,100 hours – the equivalent to nearly 46 days of spacewalks to build and maintain the complex. The station, with a mass of almost a million pounds and the size of a football field, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky. Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on the space laboratory, which has already yielded tremendous results toward various fields. The science of the space station has provided benefits to humankind in areas such as human health, Earth observation and education. Many more results and benefits for both space exploration and life on Earth are expected in the coming years.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The ISS with space shuttle Endeavour docked to it, as seen from a Russian Soyuz vehicle after it undocked from the orbital outpost on May 23, 2011.
Roscosmos / ESA / NASA

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Space Launch System Update...

Above California's Mojave Desert, an F/A-18 research jet simulates various flight conditions that NASA's Space Launch System may experience as it makes its way from the launch pad to space.
NASA / Dryden

NASA Tests Space Launch System Autopilot Technology on F/A-18 Jet (Press Release)

NASA has completed the first tests with an F/A-18 research jet to evaluate the autonomous flight control system for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The system, called the Adaptive Augmenting Controller, will allow SLS to respond to vehicle and environmental variations such as winds or vehicle flexibility after it blasts off the launch pad and heads toward space. This is the first time a flight control system for a NASA rocket is being designed to adjust autonomously to unexpected conditions during actual flight rather than pre-flight predictions. This ability to make real-time adjustments to the autopilot provides enhanced performance and increased safety for the crew.

The tests were flown Nov. 14-15 out of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During the flights, more than 40 tests were conducted using SLS-like trajectories. The system was evaluated in different scenarios for up to 70 seconds at a time to match the rocket's dynamics for the majority of its flight from liftoff to solid rocket booster separation.

"By flying a high-performance F/A-18 jet in a manner similar to our rocket, we're able to simulate SLS's flight conditions and improve our software," said Tannen VanZwieten, SLS flight controls working group lead. "The innovative system that we are testing at Dryden is advancing flight control technology by adding an adaptive element which is new for launch vehicles. We're using this technology to expand the capabilities of the SLS a bit more than what is possible with a traditional design."

During the flight, NASA simulated both normal and abnormal flight conditions, such as sloshing propellant, and identified key aircraft vibrational characteristics. The flight test data will be used to refine software for SLS and plans for future F/A-18 flights, which will run through the end of the year.

"This is an example of how advanced rocket technology can be checked out in flight without having to be launched into space," said John Carter, project manager for the flight tests at Dryden. "Doing this work on the F/A-18 test bed allows for low-cost, quick-schedule tests that can be repeated many times in order to gain confidence in the advanced controls technology, providing some unique testing advantages for this type of control system validation."

This flight control system will be ready for the first flight test of the SLS, scheduled for 2017. That flight will feature a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity configuration and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130-metric-tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system to places such as an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A computer-generated image depicting the Space Launch System soaring in the air as it begins Exploration Mission 1...scheduled for December 17, 2017.
NASA

Friday, November 15, 2013

SpaceX update...

Future Dragon capsules undergo construction at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX

NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Achieves Milestone in Safety Review (Press Release)

Engineers and safety specialists from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) met in late October to review the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket being developed to launch humans into low-Earth orbit later this decade.

The detailed overview of safety practices the company is implementing was a major milestone for SpaceX under a funded Space Act Agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

SpaceX is one of NASA's commercial partners working to develop a new generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil. NASA intends to use new commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station within the next four years.

A team of NASA engineers went to SpaceX headquarters for two days of detailed presentations and question-and-answer sessions that reviewed the company's safety practices.

"The milestone is not the end of the safety discussion, it's really the beginning," said Jon Cowart, deputy manager of the NASA Partnership Integration Team for CCP. "Because we've been doing this for so long, we all have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't and how safety processes can be strengthened to increase our confidence in the system."

Teams from NASA and SpaceX are working closely together to make sure the innovative technologies employed meet the rigorous requirements that come with flying crews in space.

"We greatly appreciate NASA’s support and feedback throughout this process," said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX and a former astronaut. "Together we are taking all the necessary steps to make Dragon the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown."

SpaceX already has flown several cargo missions to the space station using its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, but those spacecraft have not yet transported astronauts. Through NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, the company is deep into the design process of the integrated crew-capable Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX plans to test its launch abort system next year at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Two flight tests will demonstrate the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated emergency.

The first test will simulate an abort from the pad prior to launch in the second quarter of 2014. The second test, targeted for the third quarter of 2014, calls for the spacecraft to separate from a Falcon 9 booster in flight and parachute safely into the Atlantic Ocean. The company is building the spacecraft for the flight tests, and manufacturing of the rocket is expected to begin shortly.

This safety review was the ninth milestone for SpaceX under CCiCap. The company is on track to complete all 15 of its CCiCap milestones by the third quarter of 2014. All of NASA's industry partners, including SpaceX, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

For more information about NASA's Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

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The Dragon CRS-2 spacecraft floats underneath the International Space Station prior to the SpaceX vehicle being berthed to the orbital outpost on March 3, 2013.
NASA

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More Updates On Orion and EFT-1...

At the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the service module for the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is mated to the adapter that will connect the capsule to its Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle in September of 2014.
NASA

Preparing for Exploration Flight Test-1: Spacecraft Adapter Added to Orion Service Module (Press Release)

Kennedy Space Center - Operations and Checkout Building. The spacecraft adapter is moved into position under the service module for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) for alignment prior to final assembly operations. An air bearing palette, which rides on a cushion of air, was used to allow four technicians to move the spacecraft adapter into position. The spacecraft adapter is used to attach the Orion service module to the United Launch Alliance Delta IV upper stage which will provide propulsion for the EFT-1 flight.

Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations in deep space, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. EFT-1 will be Orion's first mission and send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth's orbit. As part of the test flight, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The flight test is scheduled for September 2014.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Launch Abort System shroud that will protect Orion atop the Space Launch System is assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 7, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Orion's Processing For EFT-1 is Heating Up...

At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, a technician sprays special paint onto the adapter that will connect the Orion vehicle to its Delta IV rocket during the launch of Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 next year.
NASA / MSFC / Michael Alldredge

It's Prime Time for Orion Flight Test Hardware (Press Release - November 6)

A technician at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., applies the finishing touches on the stage adapter that will connect NASA’s Orion spacecraft to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in September 2014. The top coat for the adapter is a special paint that protects the hardware and its components, like sensors, from electrical discharge on ascent.

During EFT-1, Orion will travel to an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any spacecraft built for humans has gone in more than 40 years. It will provide engineers with early flight-performance data before Orion is flown on NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) beginning in 2017. Together, Orion and SLS will allow future explorers to travel farther into our solar system than ever before.

A test article twin of this adapter soon will be attached to the diaphragm -- which keeps gases away from the spacecraft -- to undergo pressurized testing in mid-November at Marshall. The tests will certify the hardware for flight conditions.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Launch Abort System motor that will be used for Orion's EFT-1 mission next year undergoes processing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on October 24, 2013.
NASA / Daniel Casper

The faux Service Module that will be used for Orion's EFT-1 mission next year undergoes processing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on November 5, 2013.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Three massive panels successfully separate from a test structure during the demonstration of a system that will protect Orion's Service Module on EFT-1 next year.
NASA

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The End of Albert Einstein (The ATV-4, That Is)...

After undocking from the International Space Station (ISS) on October 28 following a successful mission that started with the freighter arriving at the orbital outpost on June 15, the Albert Einstein Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) burned up in Earth's atmosphere and was destroyed as expected yesterday. The European Space Agency plans to launch a fifth and final ATV, the Georges LemaĆ®tre, to the ISS sometime next year...before shifting gears and beginning development on the Service Module that will fly with NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle—which is set to soar into space for the very first time next September. ESA's Service Module will see flight when Orion partakes in the Space Launch System's maiden journey towards the Moon in 2017.

As seen from aboard the International Space Station, the Albert Einstein Automated Transfer Vehicle burns up upon re-entering Earth's atmosphere on November 2, 2013.
ESA / NASA

Monday, October 28, 2013

Orion Has Been Activated!

Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida activate the Orion EFT-1 vehicle for the first time.
NASA

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Comes to Life (Press Release)

NASA's first-ever deep spacecraft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans.

The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Orion ground test article undergoes processing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on October 22, 2013.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preparing For Orion's Future at Kennedy Space Center...

The Orion ground test article undergoes processing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on October 22, 2013.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

Pathfinding Operations for Orion Spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center (Press Release - October 24)

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion ground test vehicle has been lifted high in the air by crane in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The ground test vehicle is being used for pathfinding operations, including simulated manufacturing, assembly and stacking procedures.

Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first unpiloted test flight of Orion, Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 is scheduled to launch in 2014. EFT-1 will be Orion's first mission, which will send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth's orbit. As part of the test flight, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Orion ground test article undergoes processing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on October 22, 2013.
Dimitri Gerondidakis

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cygnus Completes Its Mission at the ISS...

The International Space Station's (ISS) robotic arm grapples the Cygnus Orb-D1 spacecraft prior to its unberthing from the outpost on October 22, 2013.
NASA / Karen Nyberg

Cygnus Releases from International Space Station (Press Release - October 22)

Expedition 37 crew members aboard the International Space Station released Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft from the station's robotic arm at 7:31 a.m. EDT on Oct. 22. Orbital Sciences engineers now will conduct a series of planned burns and maneuvers to move Cygnus toward a destructive re-entry in Earth's atmosphere Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Cygnus had been attached to the space station's Harmony module for 23 days. The spacecraft delivered about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing and student experiments, on a demonstration cargo resupply mission to the station.

Cygnus was launched on Orbital's Antares rocket on Sept. 18 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The ISS' robotic arm grapples Cygnus Orb-D1 prior to its unberthing from the outpost on October 22, 2013.
NASA / Karen Nyberg

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Grasshopper Climbs Higher and Higher...

As an unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle soars toward an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd share these screenshots from SpaceX's newest video showing its Grasshopper test vehicle soaring to an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7. This remarkable footage was taken by an unmanned Hexacopter that hovered near the experimental Falcon 9 rocket stage during its flight. Good stuff.

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers above, the Grasshopper test vehicle lifts off from its pad in McGregor, Texas, to fly to an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle soars toward an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle soars toward an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle begins to descend after reaching an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle begins to descend after reaching an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle descends after reaching an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX

As the unmanned Hexacopter hovers nearby, the Grasshopper test vehicle is about to touch down on its pad after reaching an altitude of 744 meters (2,441 feet) above McGregor, Texas, on October 7, 2013.
SpaceX


Monday, October 14, 2013

Endeavour Fest...

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on October 13, 2013.

Yesterday, I went back to the California Science Center in Los Angeles to commemorate the one-year anniversary of space shuttle Endeavour's arrival at her permanent museum home. Along with once again seeing the orbiter in person, the SpaceX Dragon capsule that was on display in downtown L.A. four months ago was also shown at the science center. And so was the Red Bull Stratos capsule as well as the pressure suit worn by Felix Baumgartner during his space jump above New Mexico one year ago today (which is also the exact date that Endeavour rolled into the Samuel Oschin Pavilion after a three-day trip from Los Angeles International Airport). Click here to view images of the Red Bull Stratos exhibit. Needless to say, L.A. was the place to be this weekend to see displays showing off the past, present and future of aerospace and human spaceflight... That is all.

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on October 13, 2013.

Posing with SpaceX's Dragon C1 vehicle at the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 13, 2013.

SpaceX's Dragon C1 vehicle on display outside of the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 13, 2013.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cygnus In All Its Beauty...

The International Space Station's (ISS) robotic arm grapples the Cygnus Orb-D1 spacecraft prior to it berthing at the outpost on September 29, 2013.
NASA

It's always great to see high-resolution photos of a new craft docking with the International Space Station (ISS) that were taken by the station crew members themselves. Check out these pics of Cygnus as it berthed with the ISS for the very first time yesterday.

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

ISS crew member Luca Parmitano observes Cygnus Orb-D1 as it floats near the ISS prior to berthing on September 29, 2013.
NASA

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

The ISS' robotic arm grapples Cygnus Orb-D1 prior to it berthing at the outpost on September 29, 2013.
NASA