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Friday, February 27, 2015

NASA Remembers Leonard Nimoy...

The original cast members of STAR TREK pose in front of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise at her Palmdale manufacturing facility in California...in 1976.
NASA

The Shuttle Enterprise (Press Release)

In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the Star Trek television series.

From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; U.S. Rep. Don Fuqua (D.-Fla.); and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

NASA is mourning the passing today, Feb. 27, 2015, of actor Leonard Nimoy, most famous for his role as Star Trek's Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock. The sci-fi classic served as an inspiration for many at NASA over the years, and Nimoy joined other cast members at special NASA events and worked to promote NASA missions, as in this 2007 video he narrated before the launch of the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. Nimoy also was there for the 1976 rollout of the shuttle Enterprise, named for the show's iconic spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back in the Day: Preparing for the Moon...

A Saturn IB rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida to embark on the AS-201 test flight...on February 26, 1966.
NASA

Feb. 26, 1966: Launch of Apollo-Saturn 201 (Press Release)

Apollo-Saturn 201 (AS-201), the first Saturn IB launch vehicle developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:12 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1966. The AS-201 mission was an unmanned suborbital flight to test the Saturn 1B launch vehicle and the Apollo Command and Service Modules. This was the first flight of the S-IB and S-IVB stages, including the first flight test of the liquid-hydrogen/liquid oxygen-propelled J-2 engine in the S-IVB stage. During the thirty-seven minute flight, the vehicle reached an altitude of 303 miles and traveled 5,264 miles downrange.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Selfie Above Earth...

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore poses for the camera during a spacewalk held outside the International Space Station...on February 21, 2015.
NASA

Astronaut Barry Wilmore on the First of Three Spacewalks (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore works outside the International Space Station on the first of three spacewalks preparing the station for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. Fellow spacewalker Terry Virts, seen reflected in the visor, shared this photograph on social media.

The spacewalks are designed to lay cables along the forward end of the U.S. segment to bring power and communication to two International Docking Adapters slated to arrive later this year. The new docking ports will welcome U.S. commercial spacecraft launching from Florida beginning in 2017, permitting the standard station crew size to grow from six to seven and potentially double the amount of crew time devoted to research.

The second and third spacewalks are planned for Wednesday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, March 1, with Wilmore and Virts participating in all three.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, February 20, 2015

CST-100 Update: Breaking Soil For Its Maiden Launch in 2017...

An artist's concept of the crew access tower that astronauts will use to board Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft at the Atlas V launch pad...at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
United Launch Alliance

Ceremony Kicks Off Crew Access Tower Construction (Press Release)

Boeing and United Launch Alliance teams held a ceremonial groundbreaking Feb. 20 to begin construction on the first new crew access structure at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in decades. The preparations will enable Space Launch Complex 41 to host astronauts and their support personnel for flight tests and missions to the International Space Station.

The tower will be used for launches of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket. Boeing was selected to finalize the design of its integrated crew transportation system and work with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify it for crew launches to the station by 2017.

"Fifty-three years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, launching on an Atlas just a few miles from here,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president of ULA’s Atlas and Delta programs. “The ULA team is very proud to be collaborating with Boeing and NASA on the Commercial Crew Program to continue that legacy and to return America to launching astronauts to the station.”

Boeing and ULA finished the design for the 200-foot-tall, metal latticework crew access structure in the summer of 2013. The design was made modular so crews could build large sections of the structure away from the pad then truck them in and stack them up to complete the work in between Atlas V launches. It will take about 18 months to build the tower.

“This is truly an integrated effort by a lot of partners and that’s really represented here today by the guests celebrating this groundbreaking with us,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Vice President of Commercial Programs. “This is the first construction of its type on the Cape since the 1960s, so building this crew tower, returning of the human launch capability to the United States, is very significant.”

Construction crews will face all the usual challenges of building a 20-story-high tower beside the ocean, plus the fact that one of the busiest launchers in the American catalog is not going to take time off during the construction phase.

The crew access structure will visually stand out at SLC-41, largely because the launch complex is a "clean pad" design with only the reinforced concrete hard stand and four lightning towers in place. About 1,800 feet to the south is a building called the Vertical Integration Facility, which houses the cranes and work platforms to assemble an Atlas V.

"Besides the VIF and the lightning towers, the crew access tower will be the tallest structure at the launch site," Biegler said.

The Atlas V launch pad has been used only for non-crewed spacecraft to this point, hosting Titan rockets beginning in 1965 and then the Atlas V since 2002. NASA missions launched from SLC-41 include the Viking robots that landed on Mars, the Voyager spacecraft that toured the outer planets, the New Horizons probe now headed to Pluto, and the Curiosity rover currently traversing Mars.

Although the pad has proved adept at servicing those extremely complex spacecraft and probes, the demands for handling a capsule that will carry humans are far greater. For instance, the rocket cannot be rolled to the pad and fueled while astronauts are aboard. Safety considerations also require a way to get away from the rocket quickly in case of an emergency before the rocket lifts off.

Missions flown on commercial crew spacecraft are vital to the national goal of restoring to America the ability to launch astronauts to the station so the unique orbiting laboratory can continue to fulfill its promise of achieving cutting-edge research for the benefit of all on Earth. With the new spacecraft, the station's crew can expand by one, which will enable research time on the station to double from its current 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week.

“This is a shining example of the progress we’ll see along the Space Coast as industry works toward safely flying our astronauts to and from the station,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Once this crew access tower is complete, this historical launch complex will be an integral part of a new era in human spaceflight.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

(Post-)EFT-1 Update: Lessons Learned From the Historic Flight...

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...beginning Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 on December 5, 2014.
NASA / Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

NASA’s Orion Flight Test Yields Critical Data as Engineers Improve Spacecraft for Next Mission (Press Release)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues on the agency’s journey to Mars as engineers analyze data from the spacecraft’s December flight test and make progress developing and building the spacecraft for its first mission atop NASA Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. On future missions, Orion will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward toward the Red Planet.

At machine houses across the country, elements of the primary structure for the next Orion to fly in space are coming together. Avionics components are being built and simulators for the ESA (European Space Agency)-built service module that will house the spacecraft’s propulsion and solar arrays are being delivered. By the end of the year, engineers hope to have the primary structure for Orion’s next mission to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for processing. Meanwhile, every piece of data and each element of the spacecraft flown in the December test is being analyzed and compared to pre-flight models to improve Orion’s design.

“Orion’s flight test was a big success and what we learned is informing how we design, develop and build future Orions that will help us pioneer deep space destinations,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion Program manager. “Taking a look at all the flight test data is a huge part of the development process and a key part off in why we flew a test flight. We have critical work happening this year, both on the data analysis and development side, to keep us moving toward our first mission with SLS.”

Engineers and technicians at Kennedy, where Orion was assembled and returned after its flight test, recently took off the back shell and heat shield that protected Orion during its reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, to unload unused propellants and allow for a close-up analysis of the spacecraft’s systems.

One of the main objectives of Orion’s flight, which sent the vehicle 3,600 miles into space during a two-orbit, 4.5-hour test, was to test how the spacecraft would fare returning to Earth at high speeds and temperatures.

“The heat shield looks in great shape,” said Michael Hawes, Orion Program manager for Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for the spacecraft. “The char on the shield is consistent. If you look at it now, you’d see a few big holes because we’ve taken core samples. We’ve also done a total laser scan of the surface of the heat shield. That’ll give us a very detailed engineering base of knowledge of what the heat shield did.”

In March, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the ablative material on the heat shield will be taken off. From there, the heat shield structure will be shipped to the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be reused on a test capsule for water impact testing. NASA and Lockheed Martin also are taking a look at potential modifications to the heat shield’s design to make it even stronger.

Evaluating how the thermal protection system fared during Orion’s reentry wasn’t the only critical objective of the flight. The test also provided important insight into key separation events, including whether the Launch Abort System and protective fairings came off at the right times, how the parachutes assisting Orion during its descent fared and how the operations to recovery Orion from the Pacific Ocean progressed.

According to Hawes, all of the spacecraft separation events happened within fractions of a second of when predictive models said they would occur; Orion’s 11 parachutes worked to allow the spacecraft to touchdown in the Ocean relatively gently; and the recovery team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel recovered it within about six hours.

The flight also examined the performance of a 3-D printed vent. It performed well, so teams will be looking at other hardware that could be made using the additive manufacturing process.

Engineers are taking a closer look at the crew module uprighting system airbags on top of the crew module, which help keep Orion stable in the water after splashdown. Only two of five of the bags properly inflated during the December flight test. Initial analysis of the gas and plumbing system for the bags came up clean, and engineers suspect a possible issue with the bags themselves.

“We’re in the midst of troubleshooting that now,” Hawes said.

Orion’s flight test yielded millions of elements of data, every piece of which is providing unique insight into how to improve the spacecraft’s design so that it can safely send astronauts on their way to Mars and return them home.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The USS Anchorage approaches the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for the capsule being towed back to the ship for securing aboard the vessel, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Sunday, February 15, 2015

ESA Update: Farewell Georges Lemaître, Hellooo Orion...

The Georges Lemaître Automated Transfer Vehicle reenters Earth's atmosphere...as seen from aboard the International Space Station on February 15, 2015.
ESA / NASA

Last ATV Reentry Leaves Legacy for Future Space Exploration (Press Release)

ESA’s fifth automated cargo ferry completed its mission to the International Space Station today when it reentered the atmosphere and burned up safely over an uninhabited area of the southern Pacific Ocean.

The end of the mission as the craft broke up as planned at about 18:04 GMT (19:04 CET) marks the end of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) programme. The programme has served the Station with the most complex space vehicle ever developed in Europe, achieving five launches in six years following its 2008 debut.

ATVs delivered more than 31,500 kg of supplies over the course of their five missions. They boosted the Station to raise its orbit numerous times and similarly moved it out of the way of space debris.

The vehicles demonstrated European mastering of automated docking, a technology that is vital for further space exploration.

This last ATV, Georges Lemaître, set the record for the heaviest Ariane 5 launch when it climbed into space from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 29 July 2014.

Before undocking, the Station crew loaded it with waste material, freeing up space on the weightless research centre.

The European cargo ship undocked on 14 February at 13:40 GMT (14:40 CET) and manoeuvred itself into a safe descent trajectory.

Europe's Investment in Human Spaceflight

ATV was conceived in 1987, when ideas for an international space station to succeed Russia’s Mir complex were beginning to surface. In 1994, ESA and Russia discussed the possibility of using the vehicle for a new station. The decision to build it was taken in October 1995 and development began the following year.

The ATV programme was part of a barter arrangement between ESA and its international partners through which ESA pays its share of the running costs of the International Space Station by supplying vital equipment and systems.

The spacecraft formed part of the Station’s supply fleet, alongside Russia’s Progress and Soyuz, Japan’s HII Transfer Vehicle and America’s Dragon and Cygnus commercial ferries.

The knowledge gained by ESA and European industry from designing, building and operating the complex ATV missions has been instrumental for ESA’s participation in NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will fly astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

ESA’s industrial partners are already building the European Service Module, ATV’s technical successor, a critical module for Orion that will supply power, air and propulsion during the test flight in 2017 2018.

“It is with a feeling of pride that we look back at our accomplishments on the ATV programme,” says Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“We look forward to applying the experience and knowledge we gained from designing, building and operating five ATV spacecraft with excellent results to future exploration missions using the successor European Service Module of the Orion vehicle.”

Source: European Space Agency

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A computer-generated image depicting the Orion spacecraft separating from its European-built service module prior to re-entering Earth's atmosphere...following a flyby of the Moon during Exploration Mission 1 in 2018.
NASA