Saturday, May 31, 2014

SpaceX: The Dragon V2 Capsule Is Unveiled!

The Dragon V2 capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

Two days ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled to the public the company's next-generation Dragon capsule...which is designed to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as 2016. Known as Dragon V2, this spacecraft is capable of transporting a total of seven crew members (just like the space shuttle) to orbit and would be able to land on the ground (like Russia's Soyuz capsule) using a set of powerful SuperDraco thrusters—which are the first rocket engines to ever be fabricated using 3-D printers. Dragon V2 also comes with standard parachutes if any of the thrusters stop functioning during the descent towards the surface after the capsule re-entered Earth's atmosphere. Dragon V2 is set to conduct its first unmanned test flight by the end of next year...most likely from Launch Complex 39A (where Apollo 11 lifted off from in 1969, and the first and final space shuttle missions began in 1981 and 2011, respectively) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX officially leased LC-39A from NASA last month.

The Dragon V2 capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveils the Dragon V2 capsule to the public at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

The side hatch is opened on the Dragon V2 capsule during its unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

A glimpse of Dragon V2's cabin during the capsule's unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

A close-up of the 3-D-printed SuperDraco thrusters that will allow SpaceX's Dragon V2 capsule to touch down on land following a mission to the International Space Station and other orbital destinations.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Another EFT-1 Update...

Orion's heat shield is now installed onto the spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Orion Heat Shield Attached (Press Release)

The world’s largest heat shield, measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, has been successfully attached to the Orion spacecraft. The heat shield is made from a single seamless piece of Avcoat ablator. It will be tested on Orion’s first flight in December 2014 as it protects the spacecraft from temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The uncrewed flight, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), will test the spacecraft for eventual missions that will send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually Mars. EFT-1 will launch an uncrewed Orion capsule 3,600 miles into space for a four-hour mission to test several of its most critical systems. After making two orbits, Orion will return to Earth at almost 20,000 miles per hour, before its parachutes slow it down for a landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Orion EFT-1 Capsule Moves One Step Closer To Completion...

In preparation for its heat shield installation, technicians hoist the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft into the air at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Orion Crew Module Set for Connection to Heat Shield (Press Release)

At the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the Orion crew module and heat shield are being moved into position for the mating operation. The heat shield will be tested on Orion's first flight in December, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), an uncrewed flight that will put to the test the spacecraft that will send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually Mars on future missions.

EFT-1 will launch an uncrewed Orion capsule 3,600 miles into space for a four-hour mission to test several of its most critical systems. After making two orbits, Orion will return to Earth at almost 20,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before its parachutes slow it down for a landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ISS Update...

A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 29, 2014 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Joel Kowsky

New Crew Launches to Space Station to Continue Scientific Research (Press Release)

Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Germany are on their six-hour journey to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:57 p.m. EDT Wednesday (1:57 a.m. Thursday in Baikonur).

The Soyuz capsule carrying Reid Wiseman of NASA, Soyuz Commander Maxim Suraev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, is scheduled to dock with the space station at 9:48 p.m.

The arrival of Wiseman, Suraev and Gerst returns the station's crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA and Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since March.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev will return home in September, at which time, Suraev will become commander of the station for Expedition 41. Wiseman, Suraev and Gerst will return to Earth in November 2014.

The crew members will conduct hundreds of scientific investigations and technology demonstrations during their six-month sojourn on the orbiting laboratory. These include Earth remote sensing, an assessment of human behavior and performance, and studies of bone and muscle physiology.

The Comm Delay Assessment study will evaluate the effects of delayed communications on interplanetary crews during medical and other emergencies in deep space. In addition to time delays experienced as they travel farther away from Earth, uncertainty in performing a crucial task can affect crew performance and interaction. Three crew members will perform eight tasks, with and without 50-second delays added. These tasks will vary in their level of stress and familiarity. This type of research may help refine procedures for Earth-based teams that operate in extreme or remote environments with intermittent or no contact with its Earth-base experts.

A new engineering investigation will help NASA collect data for studying the loads, or force, placed on a crew member’s body during exercise on the space station. The Force Shoes investigation is an evaluation of the XSENS ForceShoe system as a potential method for making these measurements. Initially, researchers will be validating the XSENS ForceShoe system technology. The ultimate goal of using ForceShoe is to provide researchers with data they will use to calculate the force felt at specific joints, such as the ankle, knee and hip. Enhancing researchers’ understanding of exercise form and the forces applied to the human body while using spaceflight exercise hardware will help them recommend the best exercise regimens for astronauts to maintain their bone mass and muscle strength while in microgravity. This data also will be applied to populations on Earth restricted from exercise by injury, age, lifestyle or confined work and living space.

The new crew members will perform several other experiments that cover human health and safety, biological and physical sciences, technology development, and Earth observations, as well as engage in educational activities. The crew will conduct a pair of Russian spacewalks and as many as three U.S. spacewalks. They also will greet two Russian Progress spacecraft resupply flights, the final European ATV cargo spacecraft, Orbital Science's second commercial resupply flight, and the fourth supply delivery for SpaceX. Among the cargo the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will deliver is a new instrument to monitor ocean winds from the station. That information will be useful for weather forecasting, hurricane monitoring and climate studies. From its vantage point on the orbital outpost, the ISS-Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat) will calculate ocean surface wind speeds and directions using radar pulses reflected off the ocean’s surface.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. Humans have continuously inhabited the space station since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 visitors have conducted more than 1,500 experiments, and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have docked to the station. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration.

Source: NASA.Gov


A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 29, 2014 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Joel Kowsky

Friday, May 23, 2014

Orion Update...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft with a European Space Agency-built Service Module attached to it.

European Orion Milestone Leads To Detailed Design (Press Release)

ESA is a step closer to building the future of human spaceflight and exploration in Europe by completing the preliminary design review of Europe’s Service Module for NASA’s Orion vehicle to send astronauts beyond low orbit.

Europe is contributing the Service Module and expertise to the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle with flight-proven technology used on ESA’s series of Automated Transfer Vehicle supply spacecraft.

Orion consists of a crew capsule with the European module providing power, thermal control, consumables and propulsion to the vehicle.

The cooperation highlights the major involvement of ESA, NASA and European industry on this important project, based on a long-standing partnership of the agencies across many areas of human and robotic spaceflight.

A Preliminary Design Review is one of a series of checkpoints in complex engineering projects. Having passed this review, the next step is to start the detailed design and procuring the subsystems.

As the review process continues, the spacecraft design will be assessed again to ensure the safety and reliability of the overall system and its compliance with Orion requirements.

The teams developing the Service Module reviewed the documentation in April and May before meeting for a week in Bremen, Germany. Reviewers from ESA, NASA and the US prime contractor Lockheed Martin evaluated documents delivered by Airbus Defence & Space and European contractors.

The Preliminary Design Review concluded with a formal board on 15 May that provided the go-ahead for the next phase.

The next major review milestone is the Critical Design Review at the end of 2015, aiming for Orion’s uncrewed first flight with Europe’s Service Module in 2017.

Source: European Space Agency


Another art concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft with a European Space Agency-built Service Module attached to it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

EFT-1 Preps Entering The Home-Stretch...

In preparation for its heat shield installation, technicians hoist the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft into the air at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Lockheed Martin / NASA

Orion In Final Assembly At Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)

DENVER – Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers have started the process of installing the largest heat shield ever built onto the Orion spacecraft’s crew module. The heat shield installation marks one of the final steps in the spacecraft’s assembly leading up to its first test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), later this year.

EFT-1 will provide engineers data about the heat shield’s ability to protect the crew module from the extreme 4000-degree heat of reentry and an ocean splashdown following Orion’s 20,000 mph reentry from space. In addition, key systems such as avionics, separation events, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment, and ground operations will be evaluated.

Comprehensive data from the test flight will influence design decisions most critical to crew safety to lower risks and safely carry humans on future missions to deep space.

The team remains on schedule to complete the following milestones for the Dec. 4, 2014 launch date:

- The crew module and service module will mate together and will undergo functional testing

- The backshell tiles and forward bay cover will be installed onto the crew module

- The crew module and service module will mate to the Delta IV Heavy second stage adapter

- The spacecraft will be fueled and serviced at the Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility

- The launch abort system will be stacked on top of the spacecraft

- The spacecraft will be prepped and transported to Launch Pad 37 where Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance will perform pad integration and launch operations

“This team has done a great job keeping us on track for Orion’s first test flight,” said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. “That’s no easy task when you’re designing and building a unique vehicle for human exploration of deep space.”

Source: Lockheed Martin

Monday, May 19, 2014

Commercial Crew Update...

An artist's concept of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft docked to the International Space Station.
NASA / Sierra Nevada Corporation

From Wind Tunnel Tests to Software Reviews, NASA's Commercial Crew Partners Continue to Advance (Press Release)

Working in wind tunnels, software laboratories and work stations across America, NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners continue to make strides in advancing the designs of the American spacecraft and rockets that will carry humans safely and reliably into low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil by 2017.

Blue Origin, The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) are accomplishing milestones established through Space Act Agreements as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 and Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiatives.

CCP's engineering team is working closely with its partners as they develop the next generation of crewed spacecraft and work toward challenging evaluations and tests this year. Ultimately, NASA intends to certify and use American-made commercial systems to fly astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station, and back, ending our sole reliance on Russia to get to space.

"What we have seen from our industry partners is a determination to make their components and systems work reliably, and in turn they've been able to demonstrate the complex machinery that makes spaceflight possible will also work as planned," said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager. "These next few months will continue to raise the bar for achievement by our partners.”

Boeing completed its most in-depth evaluation in April of the software planned to operate the CST-100 spacecraft. Called a critical design review, or CDR, the evaluation confirmed the computer coding can be used in flight tests. Spacecraft are increasingly dependent on computers that automate systems and perform split-second commands, making the software one of the most crucial elements of the spacecraft.

SNC put models of its Dream Chaser spacecraft through rigorous wind tunnel tests at facilities across America as it refined the design by studying its reaction to subsonic, transonic and supersonic conditions it will encounter during ascent into space and re-entry from low-Earth orbit. Several Dream Chaser scale model spacecraft were subjected to multiple wind tunnel tests in various configurations, including the integrated launch stack of Dream Chaser on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

SpaceX conducted an integrated critical design review in April of major hardware and software elements of the company's Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. The critical design review took into account a host of previous reviews of the design of the vehicles along with the testing involved in verifying the systems.

As in building a house or other complex structure, these advancements set the stage for upcoming accomplishments on the path to a completed space transportation system. Blue Origin is closing in on an interim design review for the subsystems of its Space Vehicle design, a biconic spacecraft the company is developing to carry humans into low-Earth orbit.

Boeing will complete a critical design review that will cover all elements of the crewed spacecraft, rocket, as well as ground and mission operations in the coming months.

SNC is preparing to share its results from a series of tests of the reaction control system motors for the Dream Chaser spacecraft at a subcontractor facility, and main engine motor tests at SNC’s Poway, California, facility.

SpaceX continues to develop hardware for a series of flight tests later this year that will put the Dragon's launch abort system through simulated emergencies to make sure it will perform for astronauts in the unlikely event of a mishap during launch or ascent into orbit.

Milestones achieved by CCP’s partners continue to advance commercial spacecraft and transportation systems from design to reality. The successes of NASA and American aerospace companies are ushering in a new generation of space transportation capabilities, which will enable new opportunities for humans to live and work in space.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Welcome Home, Dragon!

SpaceX's Dragon capsule is about to touch down in the Pacific Ocean after completing the CRS-3 mission at the International Space Station, on May 18, 2014.

SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft Returns Critical NASA Science from Space Station (Press Release)

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down at 3:05 p.m. EDT Sunday, in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 300 miles west of Baja California, returning more than 3,500 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from the International Space Station.

A boat will carry the Dragon spacecraft to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Some cargo, including a freezer packed with research samples collected aboard the space station, will be removed at the port in California and returned to NASA within 48 hours.

"The space station is our springboard to deep space and the science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations. "Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration or provide direct benefits to people on Earth."

Investigations included among the returned cargo could aid in better understanding the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight while also improving antibiotic development on Earth. Others could lead to the development of plants better suited for space and improvements in sustainable agriculture.

The T-Cell Activation in Aging experiment, which also launched to space aboard Dragon, seeks the cause of a depression in the human immune system while in microgravity. The research could help researchers develop better protective measures to prevent disease in astronauts.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft capable of returning large amounts of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida April 18, carrying approximately 5,000 pounds of supplies and science investigations to the space station. The mission was the third of at least 12 cargo resupply trips SpaceX plans to make to the space station through 2016 under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Source: NASA.Gov


SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashes down in the Pacific Ocean after completing the CRS-3 mission at the International Space Station, on May 18, 2014.

Monday, May 12, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Unpacking the DCSS...

Last week, engineers at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida removed from its crate the second stage motor that the Orion spacecraft will use to reach an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1...scheduled for launch this December. Known as the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage, or DCSS, the motor is a substitute for the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that will be used to boost Orion out of Earth's gravity once the capsule finally heads towards deep space via NASA's Space Launch System in 2017. The DCSS arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station about a week ago, aboard a barge that also carried the port-side core booster and an adapter which will connect Orion to its Delta IV Heavy rocket for EFT-1.

The Delta IV's second stage motor that will be used on EFT-1 is about to be removed from its crate at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on May 6, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, May 8, 2014

EFT-1 Update...

The Delta IV's port-side booster and second stage motor that will be used on EFT-1 are about to be unloaded from a barge at Port Canaveral, Florida, on May 6, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Two days ago, a barge carrying the last of three core boosters that will comprise the Delta IV Heavy rocket used on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 arrived at Port Canaveral in Florida. Also transported aboard the barge were the second stage motor that will help send the Orion spacecraft 3,600 miles above the Earth during its maiden voyage and the adapter that will connect Orion to the Delta IV for EFT-1. With all of the components for this flight now at Kennedy Space Center and the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, EFT-1 is on-track for its December launch that will hopefully bring NASA's human spaceflight program back into gear (the various space station cargo missions flown by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences over the last two years notwithstanding).

The Delta IV's second stage motor that will be used on EFT-1 is unloaded from a barge at Port Canaveral, Florida, on May 6, 2014.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Paving The Way for SLS...

An art concept of Marshall Space Flight Center's Test Stand 4693...which will be used for structural loads testing on the liquid hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System's core stage.

Breaking Ground: Making History: Space Launch System Structural Test Stands to be Built at Marshall Space Flight Center (Press Release)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) will have the largest cryogenic fuel tanks ever used on a rocket. Stands to test the tanks and other hardware to ensure that these huge structures can withstand the incredible stresses of launch will be built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

NASA is contracting for the construction of the test stands through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has awarded a $45.3 million contract to Brasfield & Gorrie of Birmingham, Alabama.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history and the launch vehicle that will send astronauts in NASA's Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit into the solar system on missions to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

The test stands will be used for the SLS core stage, which will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The core stage is made up of the engine section, liquid hydrogen tank, intertank, liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt. As the five parts of the core stage are manufactured, they will be shipped by barge from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Marshall for testing.

"These stands are necessary to accommodate the sheer size of the core stage components, and the extreme loads we are putting on them -- some up to 9 million pounds," said Tim Gautney, element discipline lead engineer for SLS core stage testing. "We will use hydraulic cylinders to push, pull, twist and bend these pieces to make sure they can withstand the loads and environments they may experience on the launch pad and upon ascent. The tests also will verify the models already in place that predict the amount of loads the core stage can endure."

The 215-foot stand, Test Stand 4693, with a twin-tower configuration, will be made with 2,150 tons of steel. It will be used for testing the liquid hydrogen tank, which will be 185 feet when completed. The tank will be placed in the stand vertically, and be loaded with liquid nitrogen for stress testing. It is being built on the foundation of the stand where the Saturn V F-1 engine was tested.

The second test stand, Test Stand 4697, is a 692-ton steel structure about nine stories high, or 85 feet. It will be used to test the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt in Marshall's West Test Area. "Within the foundation of this stand, we have 1.75 miles of embedded anchor rods -- that gives you an idea of the type of stability we need to test these parts with such high-level force," said Byron Williams, project manager for the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt test stand.

The estimated year-long construction is expected to begin in late May.

NASA and the Corps entered into an agreement for construction of the test facilities and NASA transferred funds to the Corps for this purpose. The facilities were designed by a joint venture team of the architecture and engineering firms Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, of Montgomery, Alabama, and Merrick & Company of Greenwood Village, Colorado.

Source: NASA.Gov


An art concept of Marshall Space Flight Center's Test Stand 4697...which will be used for structural loads testing on the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt of the Space Launch System's core stage.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Back in the Day...

25 years ago today, the shuttle Atlantis launched towards the heavens with the Venus-bound Magellan space probe inside of the orbiter's payload bay. I was 9-years-old when I watched this launch on television at home—excited that the news broadcast showed a computer graphic (which looked pretty primitive by today's standards) of Atlantis soaring into Earth orbit after her solid rocket boosters were jettisoned following lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. More than a year later, I was enthralled when Magellan finally entered orbit around Venus on August 10, 1990...conducting a successful mapping mission (which ended in 1994 when the spacecraft was intentionally sent into the Venusian atmosphere to burn up and perish) that was the first of many interplanetary successes that started with a space shuttle launch. Atlantis roared into space five months later with the Jupiter-bound Galileo orbiter...which arrived at the Jovian world in December of 1995 and explored the gas giant and its many satellites (it was data by Galileo which revealed that Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede harbored subsurface water oceans) till 2003. Space shuttle Discovery sent her own interplanetary emissary into the cosmos, with the Ulysses probe leaving Earth in 1990 to study the Sun (and even Jupiter, plus a few comets such as Hyakutake and McNaught-Hartley) till this mission came to an end in 2009.

Along with the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, these three interplanetary explorers added to the rich legacy that the shuttles enjoyed since the program got back in track after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

The Venus-bound Magellan spacecraft is about to be deployed from the payload bay of the orbiter Atlantis...six hours after launch on May 4, 1989.