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Thursday, February 28, 2013

An artist's concept of the Inspiration Mars spacecraft flying above the Red Planet.
Inspiration Mars Foundation

Images of the Day... This week was a busy one in terms of human spaceflight-related announcements and milestones taking place within the U.S. government and non-government space sectors. On the government side, NASA made progress in the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) by mating a Launch Abort System replica to a boilerplate model of the MPCV and its service module inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This milestone gave KSC workers a taste of what it will be like to process the real SLS once the rocket becomes operational...hopefully as early as 2017. Also in Florida, SpaceX conducted a successful test fire of the Falcon 9 vehicle that will launch Dragon on mission CRS-2 tomorrow morning (you can read a brief entry about the test fire here). While SpaceX is a private company, its milestone is obviously important to the government sector because of its continuing support of logistics operations to the International Space Station (ISS).

A Launch Abort System (LAS) replica undergoes processing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 25, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

In terms of the non-government space sector, millionaire Dennis Tito—who became the first 'space tourist' to visit the ISS in 2001—announced yesterday that a foundation he set up, Inspiration Mars, will be planning to launch the first manned trip to Mars as early as January 5, 2018. It would take the spacecraft, which will carry two crew members (possibly a married couple) seven months to reach the Red Planet (on August 20, 2018)...and another nine months to return to Earth (on May 21, 2019). The mission would rely on NASA expertise as well as hardware provided by SpaceX (Dragon, no doubt) and Bigelow Aerospace (the inflatable modules used for its Genesis space stations). The trip would only involve flying by Mars instead of landing on it—thus reducing the cost and risk that NASA itself is trying to mitigate as it plans for a trip of its own to Earth's rust-colored planetary neighbor, targeted for the 2030s. It definitely remains to be seen if Tito's 501-day voyage to and from the Red Planet comes close to becoming a reality.

The LAS replica is about to be mated to an Orion boilerplate model inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 25, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

The LAS replica is mated to the Orion boilerplate model inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 25, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Space shuttle Atlantis remains under wraps inside her permanent museum exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex in Florida, on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Space Shuttle Atlantis... That's the name of the new 90,000-square-foot exhibit that will open at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 29. The last orbiter to reach her retirement home late last year is still under wraps as final construction is done on the $100 million facility that will house the spacecraft. While Atlantis was the last shuttle to be transported to a museum, two of her sister ships have yet to be put in their final displays. New York City officials are still planning to house the prototype Enterprise (which presumably was repaired following damage she sustained from Superstorm Sandy last fall) in a permanent facility adjacent to the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River, and Endeavour is years away from being placed in a vertical position (to simulate a launch configuration) inside the yet-to-be-built Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center in Los Angeles. Although the Space Shuttle Program has officially been retired for almost two years now, their new missions to inspire the public who visit the iconic craft in person are still works in progress.

VIP guests pose with the new logo for space shuttle Atlantis' permanent museum exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex in Florida, on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Construction nears completion on space shuttle Atlantis' permanent museum exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex in Florida, on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Track for This Friday... Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket that will send the Dragon CRS-2 vehicle to the International Space Station. The nine Merlin first stage engines fired for two seconds...generating 433 tons of thrust before shutting down as expected at the launch pad. Lift-off of Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled for 7:10 AM, Pacific Standard Time, on March 1.

The Falcon 9's nine Merlin first stage engines successfully fire for two seconds during a static fire test on February 25, 2013.
SpaceX

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The twin AJ26 engines ignite on the ANTARES rocket during a hotfire test at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on February 22, 2013.
NASA / Orbital Sciences

Antares Comes To Life... At 3:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time yesterday, the twin AJ26 engines of the new Antares rocket ignited for 29 seconds during a hotfire test at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Built by the Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), the Antares is designed to launch OSC's own Cygnus cargo vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS)...joining a fleet of station-supplying vessels that include Russia's Progress freighter, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle and SpaceX's Dragon capsule. Click on the video below to watch the hotfire test, which took place amidst light rain. The Antares is set to launch Cygnus on its first demonstration flight sometime in April. OSC's freighter will then make its maiden journey to the ISS this June.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Technicians prepare to pull the launch abort motor that will be used on next year's EFT-1 demonstration out from a truck inside the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

Paving The Way for 2014... Just recently, Alliant Techsystems—otherwise known as ATK—delivered the launch abort motor that will be flown on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, which is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida later next year. The abort motor will be used in a contingency event where an Orion capsule needs to jettison from an aberrant Space Launch System...either when the rocket is still on the pad or is already thousands of feet up in the air. Targeted for September of 2014, EFT-1 will be conducted using a Delta IV Heavy vehicle provided by the United Launch Alliance.

A truck carrying the launch abort motor that will be used on next year's EFT-1 demonstration pulls up at the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

The launch abort motor that will be used on next year's EFT-1 demonstration is ready to be pulled out of the truck after its arrival at the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

Technicians pull the launch abort motor that will be used on next year's EFT-1 demonstration out of the truck inside the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 21, 2013.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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

Space Launch System Artwork... Here are some cool pieces of illustration showing what will hopefully be NASA's largest rocket soaring towards the cosmos. We only have to wait about four more years to see this technological behemoth become a reality.

An artist's concept of the SLS lifting off from its pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

An artist's concept of the SLS rocketing towards the cosmos.
NASA / MSFC

An artist's concept of the SLS soaring above the Earth.
Boeing

Sunday, February 17, 2013

An art concept depicting a commercial rocket poised for launch at LC-39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

More Images of the Day... Check out these two great pieces of artwork showing how launch vehicles—both government and commercially-made—will be processed and configured for flight at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The illustration above shows a commercial rocket poised for launch at LC-39A...which was last used to send space shuttle Atlantis on her final voyage (as well as the last mission of the Space Shuttle Program), STS-135, almost two years ago. The art concept below depicts the Space Launch System and said commercial rocket coexisting side-by-side within the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC. Whether this dual op becomes a reality between NASA and a private space company inside the VAB remains to be seen.

An art concept depicting the commercial rocket and NASA's Space Launch System both undergoing processing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Friday, February 15, 2013

Image of the Day... In the wake of the meteor that struck Russia earlier today, just thought I'd post this human spaceflight-relevant meme that I found on Facebook. Will the 1998 Michael Bay flick Armageddon soon become (somewhat of) a reality? Hm.

(The full answer is: not for another decade.)

The threat of asteroids striking the Earth should make us realize the importance of space programs...both manned and unmanned.
Image courtesy of the Keep a Shuttle in Florida! - Facebook.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Only two of the Orion's three parachutes are deployed (as expected) above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

Another Orion Milestone... Yesterday, another drop test was conducted on the main parachutes that will be used on the Orion spacecraft. Unlike previous drops, however, this demonstration was rigged so that only two of the main chutes would fully inflate...to study how Orion would behave in the event of a chute deployment failure as the capsule descended towards the ground. The demo was a success; with the Orion test article safely touching down at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona after being deployed from a C-130 aircraft 25,000 feet above the desert.

The Orion test article is about to be dropped from a C-130 aircraft 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

The Orion's parachutes are about to be deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

The Orion's parachutes are deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

The Orion's parachutes are deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

The Orion test article is about to touch down at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona after a successful drop test, on February 12, 2013.
NASA

Monday, February 11, 2013

Workers at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi prepare to place the J-2X engine onto the A-2 Test Stand for a second round of testing...in early 2012.
NASA / SSC

Space Launch System Update...

****

NASA Set for New Round Of J-2X Testing at Stennis Space Center (Press Release)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- NASA's progress toward a return to deep space missions continues with a new round of upcoming tests on the next-generation J-2X rocket engine, which will help power the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) to new destinations in the solar system.

Beginning this month, engineers will conduct a series of tests on the second J-2X development engine, designated number 10002, on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Once the series is completed, the engine will be transferred to the A-1 Test Stand to undergo a series of gimbal, or pivot, tests for the first time.

"The upcoming test series is not only a critical step forward, but important to the Stennis test team, as well," said Gary Benton, manager of the J-2X test project at Stennis. "This test series will help us increase our knowledge of the J-2X and its performance capabilities. In addition, the series will help us maintain the high skill level of our team as we look ahead to continued J-2X testing and testing of the RS-25 engines that will be used to power the SLS first-stage."

The first objective of the testing is to verify and demonstrate the engine's capability. Data from what is known as hot-fire engine tests will be compared to the performance of the first engine. Engineers also will vary liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen inlet pressures and subject the engine nozzle to higher temperatures than in previous tests to see what effect they have on performance.

NASA already has conducted successful tests on engine number 10001 and on the J-2X powerpack assembly. In total, 34 tests were conducted on the J-2X engine and powerpack, with the J-2X achieving a full flight-duration firing of 500 seconds in the eighth test, earlier than any rocket engine in U.S. history.

The engine is being designed and built by NASA and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., to power the upper stage of the 130 metric-ton (143-ton) version of the SLS rocket.

The SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, providing an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Workers at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi prepare to place the J-2X engine onto the A-2 Test Stand for a second round of testing...in early 2012.
NASA / SSC

Thursday, February 7, 2013

SpaceX's Dragon CRS-2 vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...after the twin solar array fairings were attached to the spacecraft last month.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Photos of the Day... Last month, SpaceX's Dragon capsule came one step closer to embarking on flight CRS-2 when the fairings that will protect each of the spacecraft's two solar array wings during launch were attached to the service module. A hotfire test for the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used to initiate this mission is targeted for February 22, while CRS-2 is still scheduled for lift-off to the International Space Station on March 1.

A solar array fairing is about to be attached to SpaceX's Dragon CRS-2 vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on January 12, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

A solar array fairing is about to be attached to SpaceX's Dragon CRS-2 vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on January 12, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

A solar array fairing is about to be attached to SpaceX's Dragon CRS-2 vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on January 14, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Apollo 14: 42 Years Ago Today... Captain Alan B. Shepherd and Antares Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell became the latest spacewalkers to venture across the surface of the Moon...with 93.21 pounds (42.28 kilograms) of lunar material collected during two EVAs at the astronauts' landing site: The Fra Mauro formation (which was the original destination of the aborted Apollo 13 mission one year prior). Alan Shepherd also became the first person to hit a golf ball on the Moon. Shepherd, Mitchell and Kitty Hawk Command Module Pilot Stuart A. Roosa returned to Earth on February 9, 1971—with their recovery from the South Pacific Ocean performed by a helicopter deployed from the naval ship, the USS New Orleans.

Alan B. Shepherd poses with the American flag during one of Apollo 14's two EVAs on the Moon...on February 5, 1971.
NASA / Edgar D. Mitchell

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Engineers are about to mate the skeleton for the Orion spacecraft's heat shield to a carrier structure at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Orion Update... Earlier last week, the skeleton for the Orion EFT-1 vehicle's heat shield was mated to a carrier structure at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado. The skeleton will be transported to Textron Defense Systems in Wilmington, Massachusetts...where the AVCOAT thermal protection material (which was also used on the Apollo capsules) will be applied to the shield. Check out the timelapse video below showing the skeleton being processed at Lockheed Martin.

Orion Heatshield SkeletonTransport from NASA Orion Spacecraft on Vimeo.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The 7-member crew of space shuttle Columbia's final flight, STS-107.
NASA

STS-107: 10 Years Ago Today... On the morning of February 1, 2003, I remember still being asleep in my bed when one of my family members knocked on my door, woke me up, and told me that "the space shuttle exploded." I immediately got out of bed and went downstairs...watching on TV an unfolding tragic event that would obviously have major repercussions for NASA a decade later. What made this tragedy surreal was that only on the previous day was I reading about mission STS-107 and how well it was going on the website Space.com. Columbia's crew achieved many goals during their 16-day sojourn in low-Earth orbit as they conducted a multitude of scientific experiments in the orbiter's SPACEHAB module. I was looking forward to seeing this flight successfully (and safely) conclude as International Space Station assembly was briefly interrupted so Commander Rick Husband and his 6 fellow astronauts could add to the knowledge that has been gained working in the weightlessness of space since the shuttle program commenced with Columbia's inaugural flight in 1981. Little did we all know, a different type of knowledge was (painfully) achieved from STS-107: That along with Challenger's ill-fated voyage in 1986, Columbia's demise made us realize how hazardous space exploration still is...and the dangerous results that come when the powers-that-be grow complacent about making sure that humans and even interplanetary probes are as safe as possible when they are engaged in the rigors of space travel.

Located on the back of the Spirit Mars rover's high-gain antenna, this plaque pays tribute to STS-107.
NASA / JPL

Today is NASA's official Day of Remembrance for those who perished in the name of human spaceflight. Columbia... Challenger... Apollo 1... We will never forget the sacrifices 17 brave souls made so we could continue to set our eyes on venturing to the cosmos. In the case of Columbia, I posted photos with this entry commemorating that fateful winter day—and what NASA and America in general have done to remember OV-102 and her lost crew. Hail Columbia.

A helmet, believed to have come from one of space shuttle Columbia's 7 crew members, lies in a field near Lufkin, Texas...on February 2, 2003.
Christine Diamond / The Lufkin Daily News

In the RLV Hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the floor grid is dotted with pieces of space shuttle Columbia debris on March 13, 2003.
NASA

President George W. Bush bows his head in prayer with family members of the STS-107 astronauts during a memorial service at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas...on February 4, 2003.
Larry Downing / Reuters

A wreath is placed in front of the space shuttle Columbia memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
NASA / Bill Ingalls