Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paving The Way for the Future...

A 'Block II' cargo version of the Space Launch System lifts off into the night sky from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in illustrated by Misho Katulic.
Image courtesy of Misho Katulic and NASA's Space Launch System -

Work is now underway to begin modifications on the Mobile Launcher (shown below) from which NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will lift off from as early as 2017. While the maiden flight of the mammoth vehicle that will hopefully take astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond is only three years away, it may be another decade till we see SLS' 'Block II' cargo configuration (shown above in this terrific illustration by Misho Katulic) take off from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Patience is a virtue...

Modification work begins on the Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 4, 2014.
NASA / Cory Huston

Modification work continues on the Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 22, 2014.
NASA / Daniel Casper

Modification work continues on the Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 22, 2014.
NASA / Daniel Casper

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Another Year In Space For Hubble...

The Hubble Space Telescope is about to be deployed from the orbiter Discovery during shuttle flight STS-31, on April 25, 1990.

Hubble Space Telescope Reaches Orbit (Press Release)

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-31 mission. The mission featured the deployment of Hubble, the first of NASA's Great Observatories to reach orbit. STS-31 was the tenth launch of the shuttle Discovery. On board were astronauts Charles F. Bolden (pilot, now NASA Administrator), Steven A. Hawley (mission specialist), Loren J. Shriver (commander), Bruce McCandless (mission specialist) and Kathryn D. Sullivan (mission specialist, now NOAA Administrator).

In this April 25, 1990 photograph (above) taken with a handheld Hasselblad camera, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space by Discovery's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) following the deployment of part of its solar panels and antennae. This was among the first photos NASA released on April 30 from the five-day STS-31 mission.

Source: NASA.Gov


Space shuttle Discovery launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope...on April 24, 1990.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Orion Update...

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft is about to undergo a vibration test inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Daniel Casper

As of today, substantial progress is being made on the Orion vehicle that will fly on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 later this well as future Orion capsules that will soar into deep space with astronauts aboard less than a decade from now. As shown above, Orion EFT-1 is about to undergo a vibration test inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Also being prepped for lift-off at KSC are the ogive panels (first two photos below) of the Launch Abort System that will enshroud and protect Orion during its ascent into space this December. And last but not least, another parachute test took place in Arizona today which successfully demonstrated that Orion's main chutes will properly inflate without the use of drogue chutes in a low-altitude launch abort well as validating new risers that will be used on the parachute lines for all Orion capsules that fly after the EFT-1 mission. A new era for NASA's human spaceflight program is heating up.

The ogive panels that will comprise the Launch Abort System for Orion EFT-1 are about to be prepped for flight at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Daniel Casper

The ogive panels that will comprise the Launch Abort System for Orion EFT-1 are about to be prepped for flight at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Daniel Casper

The three main parachutes on the Orion test article successfully deploy above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on April 23, 2014.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Dragon Takes Perch at the Space Station...

The Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft is berthed to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 20, 2014.

Here are NASA TV screenshots of the Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft after it successfully berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning. Dragon will remain at the orbital outpost till May 18...when the capsule will depart from the ISS and splash down in the Pacific Ocean upon its return to Earth.

The Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft floats in the darkness of space as the ISS' robotic arm (not shown) waits to grapple the SpaceX vehicle on April 20, 2014.

The Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft floats underneath the ISS as its robotic arm, in the foreground, waits to grapple the SpaceX vehicle on April 20, 2014.

The Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft is about to be grappled by the ISS' robotic arm on April 20, 2014.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Dragon Takes Flight Once More...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014...beginning the CRS-3 mission.
NASA / George Roberts

NASA Cargo Launches to Space Station aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

Nearly 2.5 tons of NASA science investigations and cargo are on the way to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:25 p.m. EDT Friday, April 18.

The mission is the company's third cargo delivery flight to the station through a $1.6 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support more than 150 experiments to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

"SpaceX is delivering important research experiments and cargo to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. "The diversity and number of new experiments is phenomenal. The investigations aboard Dragon will help us improve our understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for long periods of time and help us develop technologies that will enable deep space exploration."

The scientific payloads on Dragon include investigations into efficient plant growth in space, human immune system function in microgravity, Earth observation, and a demonstration of laser optics communication. Also being delivered is a set of high-tech legs for Robonaut 2, which will provide the humanoid robot torso already aboard the orbiting laboratory the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside the space station.

Dragon also will deliver a second set of investigations sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the portion of the space station that is designated a U.S. National Laboratory. The investigations include research into plant biology and protein crystal growth, a field of study experts believe may lead to beneficial advancements in drug development through protein mapping.

On its way to the ISS, SpaceX's Falcon rocket jettisoned five small research satellites known as CubeSats that will perform a variety of technology demonstrations. The small satellites are part of NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite, or ElaNa, mission, and involved more than 120 students in their design, development and construction. One of the satellites, PhoneSat 2.5, is the third in a series of CubeSat missions designed to use commercially available smartphone technology as part of a low-cost development effort to provide basic spacecraft capabilities. Another of the small satellites, SporeSat, is designed to help scientists study the mechanisms by which plant cells sense gravity -- valuable research in the larger effort to grow plants in space.

Dragon will be grappled at 7:14 a.m. on Sunday, April 20, by Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, using the space station's robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. NASA's Rick Mastracchio will support Wakata in a backup position. Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station May 18 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, bringing from the space station nearly 3,500 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools.

The ISS is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, it has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


The Dragon spacecraft moments after separating from its Falcon 9 second stage motor...following launch on April 18, 2014.
SpaceX / NASA TV

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SpaceX and Spaceport USA...

The launch of space shuttle Atlantis from Launch Complex 39A, as seen from a Shuttle Training Aircraft flying over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, 2011.
NASA / Dick Clark

NASA Signs Agreement with SpaceX for Use of Historic Launch Pad (Press Release)

NASA Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39A, the site from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site.

NASA signed a property agreement with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., on Monday for use and occupancy of the seaside complex along Florida's central east coast. It will serve as a platform for SpaceX to support their commercial launch activities.

"It's exciting that this storied NASA launch pad is opening a new chapter for space exploration and the commercial aerospace industry," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "While SpaceX will use pad 39A at Kennedy, about a mile away on pad 39B, we're preparing for our deep space missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The parallel pads at Kennedy perfectly exemplify NASA's parallel path for human spaceflight exploration -- U.S. commercial companies providing access to low-Earth orbit and NASA deep space exploration missions at the same time."

Under a 20-year agreement, SpaceX will operate and maintain the facility at its own expense. "SpaceX is the world’s fastest growing launch services provider," said Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX. "With nearly 50 missions on manifest, SpaceX will maximize the use of pad 39A to the benefit of both the commercial launch industry as well as the American taxpayer."

The reuse of pad 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. At the same time, NASA and Lockheed Martin are assembling the agency’s first Orion spacecraft in the Operations and Checkout building while preparing Kennedy's infrastructure for the Space Launch System rocket, which will lift off from the center's Launch Complex 39B and send American astronauts into deep space, including to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

"Kennedy Space Center is excited to welcome SpaceX to our growing list of partners," Center Director Bob Cabana said. "As we continue to reconfigure and repurpose these tremendous facilities, it is gratifying to see our plan for a multi-user spaceport shared by government and commercial partners coming to fruition."

Launch Complex 39A originally was designed to support NASA’s Apollo Program and later modified to support the Space Shuttle Program. Because of the transition from the shuttle program to NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion programs, the agency does not have a need for the complex to support future missions.

Pad 39A was first used to launch Apollo 4 on Nov. 9, 1967; it is the site where Apollo 11 lifted off from on the first manned moon landing in 1969; and the pad was last used for space shuttle Atlantis' launch to the International Space Station on July 11, 2011 for the STS-135 mission, the final shuttle flight. This agreement with SpaceX ensures the pad will be used for the purpose it was built -- launching spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket soaring into the sky.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SpaceX and R2 Update...

NOTE: Due to a helium leak inside its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, SpaceX has delayed today's lift-off for its Dragon CRS-3 spacecraft to no earlier than this Friday, April 18.

With its legs installed, Robonaut 2 is tested by a NASA engineer.

Climbing Legs for Robonaut 2 Headed to International Space Station (Press Release)

NASA has built and is sending a set of high-tech legs up to the International Space Station for Robonaut 2 (R2), the station's robotic crewmember. The new legs are scheduled to launch on the SpaceX-3 commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station, scheduled to launch Monday, April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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.

Once the legs are attached to the R2 torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of nine feet, giving it great flexibility for movement around the space station. Each leg has seven joints and a device on what would be the foot, called an "end effector," which allows 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.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ISS Update...

NASA's 'Veggie' experiment for the International Space Station on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

'Veggie' Experiment Launching to Station Aboard SpaceX Cargo Craft (Press Release)

The International Space Station's Vegetable Production System ("Veggie") experiment is on display in the News Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Veggie is a new investigation with "edible results" heading to the space station. Veggie is a deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew with appetizing, nutritious and safe fresh food and support crew relaxation and recreation. It will serve as a new space station facility as well and will provide a venue for future plant growth research.

To the right of the Veggie experiment is a model of the Space Launch System (SLS), the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle. NASA is developing the SLS and Orion spacecraft to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, with the flexibility to launch spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, including to an asteroid and Mars.

The Veggie experiment is aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft, scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. at 4:58 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 14, 2014. The SpaceX-3 mission is carrying almost 2.5 tons of supplies, technology and science experiments and is the third of 12 flights contracted by NASA to resupply the orbiting laboratory.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, April 12, 2014

EFT-1: More On Orion's Power-Up...

Technicians test the avionics system aboard the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Lockheed Martin / NASA

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Powers through First Integrated System Testing (Press Release - April 11)

NASA's Orion spacecraft has proven its mettle in a test designed to determine the spacecraft's readiness for its first flight test -- Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) -- later this year. EFT-1 will send the spacecraft more than 3,600 miles from Earth and return it safely.

The spacecraft ran for 26 uninterrupted hours during the final phase of a major test series completed April 8 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test verified the crew module can route power and send commands that enable the spacecraft to manage its computer system, software and data loads, propulsion valves, temperature sensors and other instrumentation.

"This has been the most significant integrated testing of the Orion spacecraft yet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's human exploration and operations at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "The work done to test the avionics with the crew module isn't just preparing us for Orion's first trip to space in a few months. It's also getting us ready to send crews far into the solar system."

In October 2013, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers powered on Orion's main computer for the first time. Since then, they have installed harnessing, wiring and electronics. This was the first time engineers ran the crew module through its paces to verify all system actuators respond correctly to commands and all sensors report back as planned. More than 20 miles of wire are required to connect the different systems being powered.

"Getting all the wiring right, integrating every element of the avionics together, and then testing it continuously for this many hours is a big step toward getting to deep space destinations," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager.

Engineers now are preparing the crew module for vibration testing, scheduled for the week of April 14. In May, the heat shield will be installed and, shortly thereafter, the crew module will be attached with the service module.

During EFT-1, an uncrewed Orion spacecraft will take a four-hour trip into space, traveling 15 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station. During its reentry into Earth's atmosphere, Orion will be traveling at 20,000 mph, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans, and endure temperatures of approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions to improve the spacecraft that will one day carry humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars. EFT-1 is targeted for launch in December.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, April 11, 2014

Paving The Way for the Future...

Mission Operations Director Paul Hill addresses the media as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa visit the newly-renovated Flight Control Room.

Visiting the Renovated Flight Control Room for NASA's Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

Mission Operations Director Paul Hill talks to the media as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa visit Mission Control in the newly renovated and historic White Flight Control Room, which will be used to support NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The mission patches that adorn the walls reflect the control room's previous use in the Space Shuttle Program.

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. Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), planned for December 2014, will be Orion's first mission. EFT-1 will send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles above the Earth for a two-orbit flight that will give engineers the chance to verify its design and test some of the systems most critical for the safety of the astronauts who will fly on it in the future. After traveling 15 times farther into space than the International Space Station, Orion will return to Earth at speeds near 20,000 mph, generating temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Orion Update...

Technicians test the avionics system aboard the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Lockheed Martin / NASA

Orion Avionics System Ready for First Test Flight (Press Release - April 7)

DENVER – Testing of the Orion spacecraft’s avionics system has concluded at the Lockheed Martin Operations & Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After powering on and sending commands to more than 20 different critical systems installed on the spacecraft’s crew module, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers have verified the avionics for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) are ready to support a successful flight and re-entry of the spacecraft.

Following the initial power on of the Vehicle Main Computer in October, engineers have since methodically installed additional harnessing, wiring and electronics onto the crew module—completing the avionics system that serves as the eyes, ears and brains of the spacecraft. During these tests, engineers one-by-one activated and sent commands to the pyrotechnics, batteries, thermal control, cameras, guidance and navigation, propulsion, and environmental control life support systems, all while evaluating signal quality, on-board system responses, and data production.

“Each and every one of these systems is critical to mission success and they must perform flawlessly to ensure the safety of future crews,” said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin Orion program manager. “Now that we’ve finished functional testing, the team will conduct performance testing and turn on all the systems at once, simulating the spacecraft’s operations during EFT-1.”

During Orion’s test flight, the uncrewed spacecraft will launch on the Delta IV Heavy and will travel 3,600 miles beyond low Earth orbit. That same day, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. EFT-1 will provide engineers with critical data about Orion's heat shield, flight systems, and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in deep space.

Source: Lockheed Martin

Monday, April 7, 2014

Developing the Space Launch System...

A scale model of the Space Launch System's core stage undergoes acoustic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA / MSFC / David Olive

Space Launch System Core Stage Model 'Sounds' Off for Testing (Press Release)

A 5-percent scale model of the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage fires up for another round of acoustic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. SLS, NASA's new rocket, will be the largest, most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions. The SLS core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. The acoustic tests, which began in January, will show how powerful noise from the engines and boosters can impact the rocket and crew, especially at liftoff. Data from the tests will help verify the rocket's design and help develop an effective suppression system to stifle the sound. The current test series, which began March 20, will be used to determine the noise reduction capabilities of the water suppression system at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss. The system will be used for core stage "green run" testing. "Green run" testing ensures all stage and engine parts have been exposed to flight-like environments prior to use on a mission.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Honoring The First Man On The Moon...

NASA aircraft on display at what is now called the Armstrong Flight Research Center.

NASA Armstrong Center Renaming Ceremony Set for May 13 (Press Release - March 31)

Media are invited to a formal dedication ceremony to mark the renaming of NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, formerly the Dryden Flight Research Center, on Tuesday, May 13 at the center's campus at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The renaming ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. PDT in Hangar 4802. It is expected to include comments from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Armstrong Center Director David McBride, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California and members of the Armstrong and Dryden families.

Legislation to redesignate the 68-year-old facility, NASA's center of excellence for atmospheric flight research, in honor of the late Neil A. Armstrong was passed by the House of Representatives in early 2013, by the Senate on Jan. 8, and was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 16. The name change became official March 1.

Rep. McCarthy, whose district includes the center, authored the resolution to rename the facility for Armstrong, a former research test pilot who flew at the center and the first man to step on the moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The legislation also directed the naming of the center's aeronautical test range for the late Hugh L. Dryden, the center's namesake since 1976, who had been the director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from 1949 to 1958 and NASA's first deputy administrator from 1958 until his death in 1965.

Media who wish to cover the rededication ceremony should contact the Armstrong public affairs office at 661-276-3449 or email, no later than April 3 for non-U.S. citizens and May 8 for U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens. Media must work for a legitimate, verifiable newsgathering organization. No substitutions of non-credentialed media representatives will be allowed.

U.S. citizens must furnish their full name, date of birth, place of birth, media organization, the last six digits of social security number and driver’s license number, including issuing state. Permanent resident aliens must provide their alien registration number and expiration date. In addition, foreign nationals must furnish their current citizenship, visa or passport number, country of issue and expiration date.

Source: NASA.Gov


Neil Armstrong poses in front of the X-15 aircraft at what is now called the Armstrong Flight Research Center.