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Sunday, August 31, 2014

ISS Update: Florida and the Caribbean from Above...

This obviously isn't human spaceflight news, but just thought I'd post this photo that Expedition 40 crew member Gregory R. Wiseman took from aboard the International Space Station earlier today. It is of Florda and The Bahamas, which I traveled to six years ago this month. How time flies... I'd definitely go back to the Sunshine State again—though hopefully my vacation won't be thwarted by a tropical storm like it did in 2008 (which is why I ended up visiting Kennedy Space Center on a second trip to Florida in 2009). Carry on.

An image of Florida and The Bahamas...as seen by Expedition 40 crew member Gregory R. Wiseman aboard the International Space Station, on August 31, 2014.
NASA / Gregory R. Wiseman

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SLS Update: First Launch Pushed to 2018 Despite Achieving New Milestone...

An artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System rocket soaring past the clouds as it heads toward space.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars (Press Release)

NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) -- the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars -- and approved the program's progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.

"We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey."

For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.

This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program's control.

“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who oversaw the review process. “After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment.”

"The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”

The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.

"We are keeping each part of the program -- the rocket, ground systems, and Orion -- moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA. "We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day."

“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”

The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.

Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.

SLS will be the world's most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require its use and can’t be flown on commercial rockets.

The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency's confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.

Source: NASA.Gov

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At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, welding is completed on several barrels and domes that will form the fuels tanks inside the Space Launch System's core stage.
NASA

Monday, August 18, 2014

EFT-1 Update: Orion Gets Its Back Shell...

Engineers inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently installed the black back shell to the Orion capsule that will fly in this December's Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 demonstration. Reminiscent of the thousands of thermal tiles that enshrouded the retired space shuttle orbiters, the back shell is one of the last few items that need to be installed onto Orion (the Launch Abort Motor should be attached to the spacecraft soon) prior to it being transported to the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for mating onto a Delta IV Heavy rocket that will send Orion into space for its maiden journey. EFT-1 is currently scheduled to launch at 8:03 AM, Eastern Standard Time (5:03 AM, Pacific Standard Time), on December 4.

Engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida attach the black back shell onto the Orion spacecraft that will fly on Exploration Flight Test-1 this December.
NASA

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Georges Lemaître Arrives at the ISS...

ESA's ATV-5 cargo vessel at the moment of docking at the International Space Station (ISS) on August 12, 2014.
ESA / NASA

ATV Completes Final Automated Docking (Press Release)

In a flawless demonstration of technology and skill, ESA’s fifth and final ATV, Georges Lemaître, docked with the International Space Station today, fixing itself firmly for a six-month resupply and reboost mission.

The fully automated docking came at 13:30 GMT (15:30 CEST), just a few moments after the cargo vessel’s extended probe made contact with the cone on the aft of Russia’s Zvezda module.

After contact, a series of hooks latched and closed, making a firm mechanical connection with the Station. Later, data and electrical connections were created, allowing ATV to draw power from the orbital outpost and for the Station computers to talk directly to ATV.

The sequence came at the end of several hours of automated manoeuvres, during which ATV powered itself through a series of waypoints starting some 40 km behind and just below the Station.

ATV Navigates Itself

“From 39 km to just 250 m from the Station, ATV navigated itself using relative satnav signals, in which both the Station and ATV compare their positions using GPS,” says Jean-Michel Bois, leading the ESA operations team at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France. Mission operations are run jointly with France’s CNES space agency.

“For the final 250 m, ATV navigated using a ‘videometer’ and ‘telegoniometer’, which use laser pulses to calculate the distance and orientation to the Station.”

The entire process was completed flawlessly, carefully monitored by the ground team and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and cosmonaut Sasha Skvortsov on the Station.

"European cargo spaceship Georges Lemaître has successfully docked to the ISS and the crew sends their congratulations to all the brilliant engineering teams on the ground and in ATV Control Center in Toulouse and in Moscow and to those who have contributed over the last 20 years to the development of one of the most advanced resupply vessels that circles our planet," said ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on board the ISS.

"While this is the last of the ATV flights, the know-how and technology will soon fly again as early as 2017. NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the European Service Module are paving the way for the next generation of space exploration."

The crew will open the hatch and enter briefly over the next day, installing a fan to freshen the internal air before ATV is made ready for daily use.

One of ATV’s most crucial capabilities – using its thrusters to reboost the Station’s altitude – will be tested in just two days, with a test burn scheduled for 14 August.

Teams Perform Magnificently

“The final arrival of Europe’s ATV space freighter was almost anticlimactic, as the vessel’s made-in-Europe docking technology performed perfectly for the fifth and final time,” said Massimo Cislaghi, ATV-5 mission manager.

“Most importantly, the crew in space and the ESA, CNES and industry teams on ground performed magnificently, and it is thanks to their dedication over the life of this project that ATVs have won a reputation for being some of the most reliable and dependable space vessels ever flown.”

Named after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, ATV Georges Lemaître lifted off at 23:47 GMT on 29 July (01:47 CEST 30 July) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The vehicle is carrying 6602 kg of freight, including 2680 kg of dry cargo and 3921 kg of water, propellants and gases.

The cargo includes complex scientific hardware, such as the electromagnetic levitator for experiments to improve industrial casting processes. The unit will allow finer metal castings and more precise measurements than can be obtained on Earth, where readings are affected by gravity.

Source: European Space Agency

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As seen on NASA TV, ESA's ATV-5 cargo vessel approaches the ISS prior to docking on August 12, 2014.
ESA / NASA

Monday, August 4, 2014

Orion Update: Retrieving the Capsule from the Pacific...

A U.S. Navy recovery team from the USS Anchorage approach a mock-up of NASA's Orion capsule during an underway recovery test in the Pacific Ocean, on August 2, 2014.
U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Corey Green

Underway Recovery Tests for NASA's Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft floats inside the well deck of the U.S.S. Anchorage on Aug. 2, 2014, during recovery tests off the coast of California. A combined NASA and U.S. Navy team practiced recovery techniques over the weekend, in preparation for Orion's first trip to (and return from) space in Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December.

Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, 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. After traveling 3,600 miles into space on the uncrewed EFT-1, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of 20,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The mock-up of NASA's Orion capsule is about to be secured inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage during an underway recovery test in the Pacific Ocean, on August 2, 2014.
U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Keen