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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Asteroid Initiative

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle propelling the asteroid retrieval spacecraft in 2021.
NASA / Advanced Concepts Laboratory

NASA Completes First Internal Review of Concepts for Asteroid Redirect Mission (Press Release)

NASA has completed the first step toward a mission to find and capture a near-Earth asteroid, redirect it to a stable lunar orbit and send humans to study it.

In preparation for fiscal year 2014, a mission formulation review on Tuesday brought together NASA leaders from across the country to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the asteroid mission. The review assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission.

"At this meeting, we engaged in the critically important work of examining initial concepts to meet the goal of asteroid retrieval and exploration," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who chaired the review at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "The agency's science, technology and human exploration teams are working together to better understand near Earth asteroids, including ones potentially hazardous to our planet; demonstrate new technologies; and to send humans farther from home than ever before. I was extremely proud of the teams and the progress they have made so far. I look forward to integrating the inputs as we develop the mission concept further."

In addition to the internal reviews of concepts for the mission, managers also discussed the recently received more than 400 responses to a request for information in which industry, universities, and the public offered ideas for NASA’s asteroid initiative. The agency is evaluating those responses.

With the mission formulation review complete, agency officials now will begin integrating the most highly-rated concepts into an asteroid mission baseline concept to further develop in 2014.

The asteroid redirect mission is included in President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA, and leverages the agency's progress on its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and cutting-edge technology development. The mission is one step in NASA's strategy to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's asteroid retrieval spacecraft approaching a Near-Earth Object.
NASA / Advanced Concepts Laboratory

Monday, July 29, 2013

Preparing KOUNOTORI 4 For Launch...

JAXA's encapsulated KOUNOTORI 4 freighter is transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, on July 20, 2013 (Japan Standard Time).
JAXA

On July 20 (Japan Standard Time), the encapsulated H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-4, or KOUNOTORI 4) was transported from the Second Spacecraft and Fairing Assembly Building to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. Inside the VAB, HTV-4 was installed onto its H-IIB rocket...which will launch Kounotori 4 on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) fourth unmanned cargo flight to the International Space Station since 2009. Liftoff is scheduled for August 4 (JST).

The KOUNOTORI 4 is lifted to the top of the VAB prior to the freighter being mated to its H-IIB launch vehicle, on July 20, 2013 (JST).
JAXA

Inside the VAB at JAXA's Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, KOUNOTORI 4 is installed onto its H-IIB launch vehicle...on July 20, 2013 (JST).
JAXA

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Orion Update...

With only two of its three main parachutes fully deployed, an Orion test vehicle safely descends toward the ground during a parachute test conducted at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona...on July 24, 2013.
NASA

Tenth Parachute Test for NASA's Orion Adds 10,000 Feet of Success (Press Release)

WASHINGTON -- A complicated, high-altitude test Wednesday demonstrated NASA's new Orion spacecraft could land safely even if one of its parachutes failed.

The 10th in a series of evaluations to check out the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system dropped the test capsule from a C-17 aircraft at its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert. One of three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose, leaving the spacecraft to land with only two. The test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since NASA's Apollo Program.

During previous tests, a mock capsule was dropped from a height of 25,000 feet and the parachutes deployed at no higher than 22,000 feet. The extra 10,000 feet of altitude at the beginning of Wednesday's test made the demonstration the best so far of Orion's parachute flight and landing.

"The closer we can get to actual flight conditions, the more confidence we gain in the system," said Chris Johnson, project manager for the Orion capsule parachute assembly system at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "What we saw today -- other than the failures we put in on purpose -- is very similar to what Orion will look like coming back during Exploration Flight Test-1's Earth entry next year."

During its return from space, Orion's parachute system will begin to deploy 25,000 feet above the ground.

Engineers gathered data on the effects of losing a parachute during the descent. The team already proved Orion can land with just two of its three main parachutes, but this was the first opportunity to study how one parachute pulling away in mid-flight might affect the remaining two.

"We wanted to know what would happen if a cable got hooked around a sharp edge and snapped off when the parachutes deployed," said Stu McClung, Orion's landing and recovery system manager at Johnson. "We don't think that would ever happen, but if it did, would it cause other failures? We want to know everything that could possibly go wrong, so that we can fix it before it does."

The test was part of a series of parachute tests that will enable NASA to certify Orion to carry humans into space. The system already has met the necessary requirements for Orion's first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), in September 2014. During that flight, Orion will travel 3,600 miles into orbit then return to Earth at speeds as fast as 20,000 mph, putting the parachute system to the test again as it lands in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An Orion test vehicle is loaded onto a C-17 aircraft prior to the spacecraft's parachute test above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on July 24, 2013.
NASA

Monday, July 22, 2013

CST-100 Update

Photos of the Day... Boeing recently unveiled its full-scale mockup of the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 capsule, complete with an outfitted interior that astronauts will see when they board the actual vehicle...hopefully set to take place no later than 2017. The mockup was displayed at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas.

A full-scale mockup of Boeing's CST-100 vehicle...unveiled at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas on July 22, 2013.
NASA / Robert Markowitz

The interior of Boeing's full-scale CST-100 mockup...unveiled at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas on July 22, 2013.
NASA / Robert Markowitz

NASA astronaut Serena Aunon dons her flight suit prior to boarding Boeing's full-scale CST-100 mockup at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas, on July 22, 2013.
NASA / Robert Markowitz

A computer-generated illustration depicting Boeing's CST-100 vehicle...attached to the company's Atlas V rocket.
Boeing

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Expedition 36 Spacewalk

Image of the Day... NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy uses a digital still camera during a spacewalk conducted today as maintenance work was performed on the International Space Station. A little more than one hour into the excursion, fellow Expedition 36 crew member Luca Parmitano (who took this photo) reported to flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center that water was floating behind his head inside his helmet. The water posed no immediate danger to Parmitano, but Mission Control decided to end the spacewalk early. The final elapsed time for today's excursion was one hour and 32 minutes.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy exchanges snapshots with fellow crew member Luca Parmitano (not shown) during a short-lived spacewalk that was conducted outside of the International Space Station on July 16, 2013.
NASA

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Dream Chaser Begins Testing at Edwards AFB...

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft undergoes range and taxi tow tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California, in early July of 2013.
NASA

Last week, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser vehicle began ground testing at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) in Southern California. On a tarmac at Edwards Air Force Base (where Dryden is located), the Dream Chaser underwent a series of range and taxi tow tests...which is intended to validate the performance of the spacecraft's nose skid, brakes, tires and other landing components prior to captive-carry and free-flight tests, scheduled to commence at DFRC later this year.

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft undergoes range and taxi tow tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California, in early July of 2013.
NASA / Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft undergoes range and taxi tow tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California, in early July of 2013.
NASA / Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft undergoes range and taxi tow tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California, in early July of 2013.
NASA / Ken Ulbrich

Friday, July 12, 2013

Prepping for Orion's First Flight Into Space Next Year...

At a Lockheed Martin facility in Sunnyvale, California, engineers recently conducted various stress tests on the Launch Abort System (LAS) Fairing Assembly that will enshroud and protect the Orion spacecraft during the ascent to orbit on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1...scheduled for September of 2014. The LAS assembly is only one of many pieces of flight hardware that will be tested this summer as preparations pick up for the maiden voyage of Orion that will take the vehicle to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth. A few hours later, the capsule will re-enter our planet's atmosphere at a speed of over 20,000 mph—putting Orion's heat shield (which is undergoing final manufacturing at Textron Defense Systems in Boston, Massachusetts) through its paces, and thus seeing if NASA's newest spacecraft is indeed ready to take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit once more.

Orion's Launch Abort System Fairig Assembly for next year's Exploration Flight Test-1 is about to undergo testing at the Lockheed Martin facility in Sunnyvale, California.
Lockheed Martin

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Grasshopper Leaps Higher Than Ever Before...

The Falcon 9's first stage motor is about to hover 1,066 feet (325 meters) above the ground in McGregor, Texas...on June 14, 2013.
SpaceX

Check out this new video showing SpaceX's Grasshopper test vehicle soaring to new heights as it reached an altitude of 325 meters (1,066 feet—which is much higher than the Chrysler Building in New York City) above its launch pad at the Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas...on June 14 of this year. It's only a matter of time till this remarkable craft hovers to a height of up to one mile above the ground, with SpaceX not being unreasonable in launching a reusable Falcon 9 rocket (which is what the Grasshopper is without eight of its nine Merlin engines installed, and the Dragon spacecraft not mated at the top) on a normal flight to space in the not-too-distant future...with the first stage motor making the kind of precision landing that the Grasshopper has enjoyed since conducting its first test last September.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Orion and the Space Launch System

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle propelling the asteroid retrieval spacecraft in 2021.
NASA / Advanced Concepts Laboratory

Orion Destined To Fly Beyond the Moon in 2017...

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First Mission of Space Launch System with Orion Atop it to Preview Asteroid Visit (Press Release)

Managers in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate have initiated a formal request to change the mission plan for the agency's first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), Exploration Mission (EM) 1 in 2017. The flight will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a deep retrograde orbit near the moon, a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where an asteroid could be relocated as early as 2021.

The 25-day mission will send Orion more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon and allow engineers to evaluate the performance of SLS and assess the systems designed to support a crew in Orion before the capsule begins carrying astronauts. The plan will provide NASA with the opportunity to align the flight more closely with the agency's mission to send humans to a relocated asteroid.

The previous plan for the first test flight of the SLS heavy-lift launch vehicle was to send Orion on a 10 day mission to high-lunar orbit to evaluate the fully integrated Orion and SLS system.

"We sent Apollo around the moon before we landed on it and tested the space shuttle's landing performance before it ever returned from space." said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. "We've always planned for EM-1 to serve as the first test of SLS and Orion together and as a critical step in preparing for crewed flights. This change still gives us that opportunity and also gives us a chance to test operations planning ahead of our mission to a relocated asteroid."

The request will be reviewed later this summer by a range of other NASA officials.

The agency announced in April a plan to find and redirect an asteroid to a stable point near the moon where astronauts can visit and study it as early as 2021. NASA's asteroid initiative leverages human and robotic exploration activities while also accelerating efforts to improve detection and characterization of asteroids. It aligns current and future work in NASA's Science, Space Technology and Human Exploration and Operations mission directorates to achieve the space goals set by the administration.

Across the U.S., engineers at NASA and its contractors are making progress to develop and test Orion and SLS. Orion will first launch on a test flight in September 2014. A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket will send the spacecraft to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. It will reenter the atmosphere at speeds of about 20,000 mph and endure temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The test flight is designed to evaluate the performance of Orion's heatshield and other systems. The SLS program currently is undergoing an extensive review process to ensure that every element of the launch vehicle can be successfully integrated. The review process, called the Preliminary Design Review, is scheduled for completion later this summer. SLS will be NASA’s most capable rocket ever and enable missions to new destinations in the solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A composite image of the 'Block I' crew version of the Space Launch System, with the Moon looming high above, lifting off from its pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Mars: Visualizing the Future

A Red Planet Explorer... I recently stumbled upon this neat illustration depicting a lone astronaut venturing about on the surface of Mars. In the distance before him or her is Olympus Mons, which at a height of 85,000 feet (26 kilometers, or 16 miles) is the tallest mountain of any planet in our Solar System. It will be very thrilling to see how this giant shield volcano looks from the Martian surface in real life—whether through the lens of a camera held by human hands, or the robotic arm of another Curiosity or Opportunity-type rover...

An illustration depicting a lone astronaut on the surface of Mars...with Olympus Mons in the background.
Courtesy of Mr. Spaceartist - Ralf Schoofs - Space Art - Portfolio

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Seven years ago today, the birth of America was commemorated and the Space Shuttle Program brought back on-track when Discovery lifted off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. STS-121 began almost a year after the original Return to Flight mission, STS-114, had Discovery soar to the International Space Station more than two years after the Columbia disaster...only for the shuttle fleet to be grounded once more after unacceptable amounts of foam continued to fall off the external fuel tank during the ascent to orbit. Now, all of this is obviously history—with Discovery safely on display at the Smithsonian and her three sister ships also serving as inspiration to future astronauts who visit Atlantis at the KSC Visitor Complex in Florida, Endeavour inside the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Enterprise aboard the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York City, respectively. We shall see if Orion and the Space Launch System ever soar into the sky on a symbolic U.S. holiday like the 4th of July... The 30-year era of the space shuttle will be a tough one to beat.

Space shuttle Discovery launches on flight STS-121 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on July 4, 2006.
NASA / Tony Gray