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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