Sunday, March 31, 2013
A Milestone for SpaceShipTwo... On February 28 of this year, Virgin Galactic's suborbital spacecraft entered a new phase in its test program when its RocketMotorTwo (RM2) engine was successfully fired at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. The test-fire (above)—which resulted in a 50-foot-long flame shooting out from RM2 that created a trail of smoke extending about a mile behind the booster—took place at night. The second test (below), which occurred more than two weeks ago on March 13, was also successful. A few more qualification tests will be conducted on RM2 before it is inevitably attached to SpaceShipTwo itself and finally sends the vehicle on a 60-plus-mile journey above the Earth. The goal to send commercial passengers into space will soon be in sight.
Scaled Composites / Tom Nault
Friday, March 29, 2013
NASA / Carla Cioffi
The Soyuz Express... At 2:43 AM, Kazakh Time yesterday, a Soyuz TMA-08M rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to ferry the second half of the Expedition 35 crew to the International Space Station (ISS). What made this particular flight unique was that it took the Soyuz 34S capsule only six hours to reach and dock with the ISS. Previous Soyuz and unmanned Progress vehicles, as well as SpaceX's Dragon capsules and even the now-retired space shuttles, took at least two days to rendezvous with the orbital outpost. The new flight profile for Soyuz was first tested on the Progress M-16M and M-17M freighters...which flew to the station last year. Aboard Soyuz 34S were Russian Federal Space Agency (RSA) Commander Pavel Vinogradov, RSA Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin and NASA Flight Engineer Christopher Cassidy, respectively.
NASA / Carla Cioffi
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
NASA / MSFC
Orion And Space Launch System Updates...
NASA Turns Up the Heat on Construction of the Space Launch System (Press Release)
Welding engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have had an extremely busy winter assembling adapters that will connect the Orion spacecraft to a Delta IV rocket for the initial test flight of Orion in 2014. The adapter later will attach Orion to NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a new heavy-lift rocket managed and in development at the Marshall Center that will enable missions farther into space than ever before. The 2014 Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) will provide engineers with important data about the adapter's performance before it is flown on SLS beginning in 2017.
In a high bay of Marshall's Building 4755, expert welders using state-of-the-art friction stir welding machines worked on two separate adapters. For each adapter, a vertical welding machine stitched panels together to form a conical cylinder, then a circumferential welding machine attached a thicker, structural support ring at the top and the bottom.
"While the adapters are identical and are considered flight articles, only one will actually be used for EFT-1," said Brent Gaddes, Spacecraft & Payload Integration Subsystem manager. "The other will undergo strenuous structural testing to ensure quality, while its twin will make the trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration into the rest of the test vehicle for launch."
United Launch Alliance (ULA), which makes the Delta IV rocket in nearby Decatur, Ala., will deliver a full-size section of the rocket later this spring for engineers to test the fit of the adapter.
"You really don't have the tools and the resources in one place anywhere else in the world," said Justin Littell, a mechanical engineer with the welding group at the Marshall Center. "The work that we do here is exciting and I get to work with a great team. It's amazing."
NASA / MSFC
Textron Defense Systems
Friday, March 22, 2013
Images of the Day... Check out the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory (SESL) at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The SESL was built in 1965, and is still the largest vacuum chamber in the world...consisting of two compartments (A and B; A is the larger of the two) that were used to test Apollo spacecraft above and experimental space hardware such as the TransHab module below. (The TransHab module would have been a replacement for the long-cancelled Habitation Module aboard the International Space Station; even though it never flew, TransHab formed the basis for Bigelow Aerospace's two successful Genesis modules.)
While it is likely that the next man-rated spacecraft that NASA will place inside the SESL would be the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (and probably future spacesuits that astronauts will wear during EVAs from the capsule), the chamber is officially scheduled to test what will be the largest robotic observatory to launch from Earth: The James Webb Space Telescope—set to lift off in 2018.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Falcon 9 Update... SpaceX's workhorse rocket, which now has five successful launches under its belt, will soon become more powerful than ever with this new upgrade...
SpaceX's Merlin 1D Engine Achieves Flight Qualification (Press Release)
Hawthorne, CA – Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Merlin 1D engine has achieved flight qualification, a major milestone for the next generation Merlin engine. Through a 28 test qualification program, the Merlin 1D accumulated 1,970 seconds of total test time, the equivalent run time of over 10 full mission durations, and is now fully qualified to fly on the Falcon 9 rocket.
The program included four tests at or above the power (147,000 pounds of thrust) and duration (185 seconds) required for a Falcon 9 rocket launch. The Merlin 1D engine was also tested at propellant inlet and operating conditions that were well outside the bounds of expected flight conditions.
SpaceX's testing program demonstrated a ratio of 4:1 for critical engine life parameters such as firing duration and restart capacity to the engine's expected flight requirements. The industry standard is 2:1.
"The Merlin 1D successfully performed every test throughout this extremely rigorous qualification program," said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. "With flight qualification now complete, we look forward to flying the first Merlin 1D engines on Falcon 9's Flight 6 this year."
The Merlin 1D builds on the technology of the Merlin engines used on the first five flights of Falcon 9. With nine Merlin 1Ds on the first stage, the Falcon 9 rocket will produce nearly 1.5 million pounds of thrust in a vacuum. The Merlin 1D has a vacuum thrust-to-weight ratio exceeding 150, the best of any liquid rocket engine in history. This enhanced design makes the Merlin 1D the most efficient booster engine ever built, while still maintaining the structural and thermal safety margins needed to carry astronauts. Additionally, the new engine is designed for improved manufacturability by using higher efficiency processes, increased robotic construction and reduced parts count.
Testing took place at SpaceX's Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Monday, March 11, 2013
Photo and Video of the Day... SpaceX's Grasshopper test vehicle rises again—this time to a height of 24 stories (262.8 feet, or 80.1 meters) above its launch pad at the Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. Consisting of a Falcon 9 first stage motor that is 110 feet (33.5 meters)-tall, the Grasshopper doubled its previous altitude in this demonstration...which took place last Thursday.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
NASA / Jim Grossmann
Paving The Way (Literally) for the Future... Over the last several months, work has been conducted to upgrade the crawlerway that the Space Launch System (SLS) and even commercial rockets will use to reach their pads at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Complex (LC)-39. The photo above shows the newly-modified crawler-transporter that will be used to send the SLS to LC-39B (which has been dormant since late 2009), while the images below show the crawlerway itself being regraded to support the massive weight of NASA's new heavy-lift rocket (which will be as tall as 400 feet in its later incarnation). Although this effort to modernize Spaceport U.S.A. won't truly pay off till 2017—when the SLS is rolled out to LC-39B to embark on Exploration Mission 1—it's nice to know that KSC is preparing for the day that it resumes launching astronauts from American soil by the end of this decade.
NASA / Jim Grossmann
NASA / Frankie Martin
NASA / Jim Grossmann
NASA / Jim Grossmann
NASA / Jim Grossmann
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Dragon CRS-2 Images of the Day... Check out these awesome high-resolution photos taken during Dragon's arrival and berthing at the International Space Station (ISS) last Sunday. These pics were taken from the Cupola node on the ISS' Tranquility module...courtesy of Expedition 34 crew members aboard.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
The Dragon Reaches Its Quarry... Two days after a dramatic launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, SpaceX's Dragon capsule experienced smooth sailing when it successfully reached and berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:56 AM, Pacific Standard Time today. Docked to the ISS' Harmony node, Dragon will stay at the outpost for 22 days...with the 6-member crew of Expedition 34 unloading 2,300 pounds worth of cargo from the spacecraft over the next three weeks. CRS-2 is also the first Dragon mission to ferry exterior payloads—located underneath the vehicle's unpressurized service module, or trunk—to the orbiting laboratory. The station's robotic arm will be used to extract the payload later this week and attach it to the ISS.
On March 25, Dragon will be unberthed from the space station and begin its descent back to Earth. The spacecraft, like the previous Dragons before it, will splash down hundreds of miles off the coast of Baja California in the Pacific Ocean...where it will be recovered and then brought back to the Port of Los Angeles for post-flight processing.
Friday, March 1, 2013
NASA / Rusty Backer
An Eventful Start to Dragon's Fourth Flight... At 7:10 AM, Pacific Standard Time (PST) today, the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon CRS-2 vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch and ascent to low-Earth orbit went flawlessly...up until Dragon separated from Falcon 9 and was about to deploy its twin solar arrays. The deployment was put on hold after the spacecraft went into safe mode when low pressure in the capsule's oxidizer tanks was detected by its flight computers. This led to only one of Dragon's four Draco thruster pods being operational (all four need to be working in order for the craft to dock with the International Space Station, or ISS)...with SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, scrambling to find a way to get the pods up and running again and put the mission back on-track. Eventually, the blockage in the helium pressurization lines leading to the oxidizers was removed, and ground controllers were able to revive all of the thrusters—allowing the Dragon to deploy its solar arrays and then resume its journey to the ISS. However, Dragon will not reach the orbital outpost tomorrow as planned. Instead, it will be berthed at the space station this Sunday, March 3, at 3:01 AM, PST. Dragon is ferrying 2,300 pounds worth of cargo to the laboratory on this mission.
SpaceX / NASA TV