Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ARM Update: Developing the Spacecraft's State-of-the-Art Engine...

A Solar Electric Propulsion engine is tested at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
NASA / Michelle M. Murphy (Wyle Information Systems, LLC)

Pushing the Boundaries of Propelling Deep Space Missions (Press Release)

Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are advancing the propulsion system that will propel the first ever mission to redirect an asteroid for astronauts to explore in the 2020s. NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission will test a number of new capabilities, like advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), needed for future astronaut expeditions into deep space, including to Mars.

The Hall thruster is part of an SEP system that uses 10 times less propellant than equivalent chemical rockets. In a recent test, engineers from Glenn and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, using a Glenn vacuum chamber to simulate the space environment, successfully tested a new, higher power Hall thruster design, which is more efficient and has longer life. “We proved that this thruster can process three times the power of previous designs and increase efficiency by 50 percent,” said Dan Herman, Electric Propulsion Subsystem lead.

Hall thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and use them to ionize the onboard propellant. The magnetic field also generates an electric field that accelerates the charged ions creating an exhaust plume of plasma that pushes the spacecraft forward. This method delivers cost-effective, safe and highly efficient in-space propulsion for long duration missions. In addition to propelling an asteroid mission, this new thruster could be used to send large amounts of cargo, habitats and other architectures in support of human missions to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission spacecraft retrieving a boulder from an asteroid.

Friday, March 27, 2015

ISS Update: Two Crew Members Are About to Spend One Year Aboard the Orbital Outpost...

A Soyuz rocket carrying Expedition 43-44 crew members Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 28, 2015 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Year in Space Starts for One American and One Russian (Press Release)

Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday (1:42 a.m., March 28 in Baikonur).

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station to help scientists better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”

Launching with Kelly and Kornienko was cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will spend a standard six-month rotation on the station. The trio is scheduled to dock with the station at 9:36 p.m., about six hours after launch. NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 8:45 p.m. Hatches are scheduled to open at about 11:15 p.m., with coverage starting at 10:45 p.m.

The arrival of Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka returns the station's crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, as well as flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November.

Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov will return home in May. At that time, Padalka will take command of Expedition 44, becoming the first person to command four station crews. Padalka will return in September, while Kelly and Kornienko will remain aboard until March 2016.

The one-year mission will focus on seven key areas of human research. Functional studies will examine crew member performance during and after the 12-month expedition. Behavioral studies will monitor sleep patterns and exercise routines. Visual impairment will be studied by measuring changes in pressure inside the human skull. Metabolic investigations will examine the immune system and effects of stress.

Physical performance will be monitored through exercise examinations. Microbial changes in the crew will be monitored, as well as the human factors associated with how the crew interacts aboard the station. Each of these key elements carries a potential benefit for populations here on Earth, from functional improvements for patients recovering from a long period of bed rest to improving the monitoring of immune functions of people on Earth with altered immunity.

Data from Kelly and Kornienko’s 342-day expedition will be used to determine whether there are ways to further reduce the risks on future long-duration missions necessary for deep space missions.

In tandem with the one-year mission, Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, will participate in a number of comparative genetic studies, including the collection of blood samples as well as psychological and physical tests. This research will compare data from the genetically identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.

The tests will track any degeneration or evolution that occurs in the human body from extended exposure to a microgravity environment. These new twin studies are a multi-faceted national cooperation between universities, corporations and government laboratory expertise.

Expedition 43 will perform scientific research in several other fields, such as astrophysics and biotechnology. Among the planned experiments are a study of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere and testing of a new synthetic material that can expand and contract like human muscle tissue. The crew members also are scheduled to greet a host of cargo spacecraft during their mission, including the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply flight and a Russian Progress resupply mission. Each flight will carry several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research. No spacewalks are planned during Expedition 43.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs that are not possible on Earth. The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In this time, it has received more than 200 visitors and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration.

Source: NASA.Gov


NASA astronaut Scott Kelly trains inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center...in preparation for his one-year stint aboard the International Space Station, which began today.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ARM Update: NASA Will Retrieve A Celestial Boulder for Astronauts to Study...

An artist's concept of NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission spacecraft retrieving a boulder from an asteroid.

NASA Announces Next Steps on Journey to Mars: Progress on Asteroid Initiative (Press Release)

NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago.

For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars.

"The Asteroid Redirect Mission will provide an initial demonstration of several spaceflight capabilities we will need to send astronauts deeper into space, and eventually, to Mars," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "The option to retrieve a boulder from an asteroid will have a direct impact on planning for future human missions to deep space and begin a new era of spaceflight."

The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft. Before an asteroid is considered a valid candidate for the mission, scientists must first determine its characteristics, in addition to size, such as rotation, shape and precise orbit. NASA has identified three valid candidates for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5. The agency expects to identify one or two additional candidates each year leading up to the mission.

Following its rendezvous with the target asteroid, the uncrewed ARM spacecraft will deploy robotic arms to capture a boulder from its surface. It then will begin a multi-year journey to redirect the boulder into orbit around the moon.

Throughout its mission, the ARM robotic spacecraft will test a number of capabilities needed for future human missions, including advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), a valuable capability that converts sunlight to electrical power through solar arrays and then uses the resulting power to propel charged atoms to move a spacecraft. This method of propulsion can move massive cargo very efficiently. While slower than conventional chemical rocket propulsion, SEP-powered spacecraft require significantly less propellant and fewer launches to support human exploration missions, which could reduce costs.

Future SEP-powered spacecraft could pre-position cargo or vehicles for future human missions into deep space, either awaiting crews at Mars or staged around the moon as a waypoint for expeditions to the Red Planet.

ARM's SEP-powered robotic spacecraft will test new trajectory and navigation techniques in deep space, working with the moon's gravity to place the asteroid in a stable lunar orbit called a distant retrograde orbit. This is a suitable staging point for astronauts to rendezvous with a deep space habitat that will carry them to Mars.

Before the piece of the asteroid is moved to lunar orbit, NASA will use the opportunity to test planetary defense techniques to help mitigate potential asteroid impact threats in the future. The experience and knowledge acquired through this operation will help NASA develop options to move an asteroid off an Earth-impacting course, if and when that becomes necessary.

In 2005, NASA's Deep Impact comet science mission tested technology that could assist in changing the course of a near-Earth object using a direct hit with a spacecraft. The ARM robotic spacecraft opens a new and second option for planetary defense using a technique called a gravity tractor. All mass exerts and experiences gravity and, in space, the gravitational attraction even between masses of modest size can significantly affect their motion. This means that by rendezvousing with the asteroid and holding a halo orbit in the appropriate direction, the ARM robotic spacecraft can slowly pull the asteroid without touching it.

The effectiveness of this maneuver is increased, moreover, if mass is moved from the asteroid to the spacecraft by the capture of a boulder.

It will take approximately six years for the ARM robotic spacecraft to move the asteroid mass into lunar orbit. In the mid-2020s, NASA's Orion spacecraft will launch on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, carrying astronauts on a mission to rendezvous with and explore the asteroid mass. The current concept for the crewed mission component of ARM is a two-astronaut, 24-25 day mission.

This crewed mission will further test many capabilities needed to advance human spaceflight for deep space missions to Mars and elsewhere, including new sensor technologies and a docking system that will connect Orion to the robotic spacecraft carrying the asteroid mass. Astronauts will conduct spacewalks outside Orion to study and collect samples of the asteroid boulder wearing new spacesuits designed for deep space missions.

Collecting these samples will help astronauts and mission managers determine how best to secure and safely return samples from future Mars missions. And, because asteroids are made of remnants from the formation of the solar system, the returned samples could provide valuable data for scientific research or commercial entities interested in asteroid mining as a future resources.

In 2012, the president's NASA budget included, and Congress authorized, $20.4 million for an expanded NASA Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, increasing the resources for this critical program from the $4 million per year it had received since the 1990s. The program was again expanded in fiscal year 2014, with a budget of $40.5 million. NASA is asking Congress for $50 million for this important work in the 2016 budget.

"Asteroids are a hot topic," said Jim Green, director of NASA Planetary Science. "Not just because they could pose a threat to Earth, but also for their scientific value and NASA's planned mission to one as a stepping stone to Mars."

NASA has identified more than 12,000 NEOs to date, including 96 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in size. NASA has not detected any objects of this size that pose an impact hazard to Earth in the next 100 years. Smaller asteroids do pass near Earth, however, and some could pose an impact threat. In 2011, 893 near-Earth asteroids were found. In 2014, that number was increased to 1,472.

In addition to NASA's ongoing work detecting and cataloging asteroids, the agency has engaged the public in the hunt for these space rocks through the agency's Asteroid Grand Challenge activities, including prize competitions. During the recent South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, the agency announced the release of a software application based on an algorithm created by a NASA challenge that has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, March 23, 2015

Back in the Day: Gemini III Takes Off...

The Gemini III rocket carrying the Molly Brown spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida on March 23, 1965.

March 23, 1965: Launch of First Crewed Gemini Flight (Press Release)

In a span of 20 months from March 1965 to November 1966, NASA developed, tested and flew transformative capabilities and cutting-edge technologies in the Gemini program that paved the way for not only Apollo, but the achievements of the space shuttle, building the International Space Station and setting the stage for human exploration of Mars.

The first crewed Gemini flight, Gemini III, lifted off Launch Pad 19 at 9:24 a.m. EST on March 23, 1965. The spacecraft "Molly Brown" carried astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, command pilot, and John W. Young, pilot, on three orbits of Earth.

NASA's two-man Gemini spaceflights demonstrated that astronauts could change their capsule's orbit, remain in space for at least two weeks and work outside their spacecraft. They also pioneered rendezvous and docking with other spacecraft. All were essential skills to land on the moon and return safely to Earth.

Veteran Mercury astronaut Grissom was selected as command pilot of Gemini III, making him the first person traveling into space twice. Joining Grissom was Young, the first member of the second group of NASA pilots to fly in space. Young would go on to become the first person to make six spaceflights, including commanding Apollo 16 during which he walked on the moon. He also commanded STS-1, the first shuttle mission.

Gemini III's primary goal was to test the new, maneuverable spacecraft. In space, the crew members fired thrusters to change the shape of their orbit, shift their orbital plane slightly, and drop to a lower altitude. The revolutionary orbital maneuvering technology paved the way for rendezvous missions later in the Gemini Program and proved it was possible for a lunar module to lift off the moon and dock with the lunar orbiting command module for the trip home to Earth. It also meant spacecraft could be launched to rendezvous and dock with an orbiting space station.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, March 20, 2015

Paving The Way for the Future: CST-100's First Launch Vehicles Begin Fabrication...

Former astronaut and current Boeing director Chris Ferguson—who commanded Atlantis on the final space shuttle flight, STS-135, in July of 2011—poses in front of an Atlas V booster at the United Launch Alliance factory in Decatur, Alabama.

Rockets for Commercial Crew Launches Begin to Come Together (Press Release)

The codes AV-073 and AV-080 may not mean much to many, but they mean a whole lot to former astronaut Chris Ferguson and the team of engineers and technicians who will assemble the first Atlas V rocket to launch a crew to the International Space Station. That test and a precursor flight without crew are part of the final development work Boeing is completing with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify a new crew transportation system for low-Earth orbit.

On its factory floor in Decatur, Alabama, United Launch Alliance, or ULA, is beginning to fabricate parts for the two rockets that are to launch Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft in 2017.

As Boeing's director of Crew and Mission Systems for the company's commercial crew division, Ferguson toured ULA’s assembly factory this week to watch the rockets begin to take shape. Ferguson's last spacecraft, NASA's space shuttle Atlantis, already was built and had achieved veteran spaceflight status years before "Fergie," as he is known, climbed into the commander's seat for the last of the shuttle missions in 2011. Beginning later this year, the CST-100 spacecraft that will launch atop the Atlases will be assembled at another place familiar to Ferguson, a former space shuttle hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

"The last time we were at this stage of development for a human spacecraft was in the 1970s when we were building the shuttle," Ferguson said. "I have Apollo manuals on my desk -- not to copy designs but to understand how they did it and to validate the decisions we've made with regard to provisions for the crew, what kind of spacesuits they wear, what kind of seats they sit in, and why they sit that way. Engineers put an enormous amount of thought into many low-level designs decades ago, but now we're trying to recreate the “why” behind all that. It's a little intimidating, but it's fun. You learn why the space program took the shape it is today over five decades ago."

Just like airplanes, rockets have unique tail numbers, or codes, that distinguish them from one another. AV-073 is the 73rd Atlas V that will be built, and AV-080 is the 80th in the line of boosters. Both have another distinguishing characteristic from other Atlas V launch vehicles, as well – since no previous Atlas V has carried people into space, these will be the first to be certified to launch humans. Up until this point, the rockets have been used to lift more than 60 critical missions without people: satellites, robotic probes and even the Mars rovers.

"To have Chris come in and talk to the team really put a face to the program," said Fred Hernandez, production operations chief engineer for ULA. "We're so used to launching things, and so to get to see the people involved in the launching of humans means we're that much closer to our goal."

The factory is building pieces of the rocket unique to the CST-100/Atlas V stack that will be used in the testing regimen. The adapter connecting the top of the rocket’s upper stage to the spacecraft, for example, is a new piece that has been meticulously designed and must be built with equal care.

"There are a lot of different major structures for the flight test vehicles that are going through the factory now," Hernandez said.

Manufacturing also has begun for the fuel and oxygen tanks of the Centaur upper stage that will provide the final push to get the CST-100 and its crews into Earth obit.

"They begin constructing the rocket about 18 months in advance, so it's still a little early, but a lot of the parts that will go into our first vehicle are here," Ferguson said. "So component-level assembly's going on. We don't have a parking spot out here yet, but it comes very soon. And by the end of the year we will have an actual slot. It'll become very, very real when that happens."

NASA's Commercial Crew Program relied on years of human spaceflight experience to develop the requirements needed to ensure transportation systems are qualified to fly astronauts. Through a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, or CCtCap, contract, NASA will work with Boeing to ensure its rocket, spacecraft and associated ground and mission systems are safe and reliable.

For starters, each Atlas V will carry an extensive suite of sensors and fly with a robust computer that together will be able to detect a problem in the booster as it launches and ascends into space. Although unlikely to occur, a problem severe enough to risk the mission would trigger an abort sequence for the rocket that would automatically eject the spacecraft and carry its astronaut crew back to Earth safely. Additionally, the boosters for the CST-100 flights will use a Centaur upper stage fitted with two RL10 engines, instead of the usual single engine, to provide added performance.

"We fortunately don't see a lot of surprises in manufacturing," Hernandez said. "The Atlas line builds 10 or 11 rockets a year, and that rhythm alone helps to minimize a lot of the issues that we could have."

AV-073 will be outfitted as though it is carrying a crew but will fly the CST-100 without astronauts in an orbital flight test, a significant step on Boeing’s path to certification.

AV-080 is the rocket that will carry the first people inside a CST-100 for a flight into space. Still a flight test, the objective is to launch the Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and place the CST-100 on a path to the station. Crew members will fly to the orbiting laboratory and stay there for a few days while the spacecraft’s systems are evaluated for their performance. The flight test crew would then use the vehicle to return home to the United States, completing the test.

Although still about two years away, the flight tests are close enough to prompt excitement and ramp up anticipation almost daily at the Atlas V assembly hall.

"We're obviously very proud of our success rate, and we're sort of taking the approach that we have a recipe for mission success, and we have to continue to execute on that," Hernandez said. "If we keep that focus, that will transition over into the crew vehicles as well."

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule and the Atlas V rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Orion Update: Donning the Suit That Crew Members Will Someday Wear to an Asteroid and Mars...

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, two technicians test out a spacesuit that astronauts will wear aboard the Orion vehicle beyond Earth orbit.
NASA / Bill Stafford

Astronaut Spacesuit Testing for Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are testing the spacesuit astronauts will wear in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on trips to deep space. On March 17, members of the Johnson team participated in a Vacuum Pressure Integrated Suit Test to verify enhancements to the suit will meet test and design standards for the Orion spacecraft. During this test, the suit is connected to life support systems and then air is removed from Johnson’s 11-foot thermal vacuum chamber to evaluate the performance of the suits in conditions similar to a spacecraft. The suit, known as the Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit, is a closed-loop version of the launch and entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts. The suit will contain all the necessary functions to support life and is being designed to enable spacewalks and sustain the crew in the unlikely event the spacecraft loses pressure.

This is the first in a series of four tests with people in the suits to evaluate the performance of the spacesuit systems in an environment similar to a spacecraft. Learn more about where the suits are tested or track all of the latest news at www.nasa.gov/orion.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, March 14, 2015

ISS Update #2: Studying Crew Health Aboard the Orbital Outpost...

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti works on the Airway Monitoring experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Testing Astronauts’ Lungs in Space Station Airlock (Press Release - March 9)

Air was pumped out of the International Space Station’s air lock for the first time in the name of science last week. Inside the cylindrical Quest airlock, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA’s Terry Virts monitored their breathing for researchers back on Earth.

With each lungful of air, our bodies absorb oxygen and exhale waste-product molecules such as carbon dioxide and the important ‘signalling’ molecule nitric oxide. The Airway Monitoring experiment looks at the amount of nitric oxide the astronauts expelled by the astronauts in the airlock.

Nitric oxide is a gas found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust, for example, and it is produced in our bodies to regulate blood vessels and act as an antibacterial agent.

Doctors measure the amount of nitric oxide exhaled by patients to help diagnose inflamed lungs and asthma.

Airway Monitoring for Space and Earth

On Earth, dust drifts to the floor where vacuum cleaners or a damp cloth remove it easily. In weightlessness, dust circulates freely and often irritates and inflames eyes and lungs.

In addition, dust on the Moon and probably Mars sticks to astronauts through static electricity and has sharp edges – all making it more likely that dust will enter astronauts’ lungs and do harm.

The Airway Monitoring experiment will test the use of nitric oxide as a tool to monitor lung inflammation as well as charting lung health in astronauts.

Four sessions will see the pair exhale into the equipment. Samantha and Terry made their first contributions before flight at NASA and ran their first space session in space in January.

On Friday, they entered the Station’s Quest airlock for their last run and reduced the pressure by 30% – equivalent to being on a mountain at 3000 m altitude.

They are the first of eight astronauts to collect data on their lungs for this experiment. It is also the first time that Quest is used for scientific purposes – the module was installed to allow astronauts to venture outside on spacewalks.

A Complete View of Lung Health

Testing the nitric oxide diagnostic technique in space adds to the data for use on Earth. More than 300 million people suffer from asthma, so a quick and simple lung test would be of great benefit.

Lars Karlsson, lead investigator for this experiment from the Karolinska Institutet of Sweden, is hopeful that the experiment in the airlock will open up new fields of research in reduced pressure in space: “In the future, it is quite likely that drugs could be designed based on exhaled nitric oxide measurements, to find the most effective molecules to treat inflamed airways and lungs. This type of research is a first step down this road.”

Source: European Space Agency


Inside the Quest airlock, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti assists fellow crew members Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore for a spacewalk aboard the ISS about two weeks ago.

Friday, March 13, 2015

ISS Update: The Outpost Is About to Get a New Module...

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is put on display at Bigelow's manufacturing facility in Las Vegas, Nevada...on March 12, 2015.
Stephanie Schierholz

New Expandable Addition on Space Station to Gather Critical Data for Future Space Habitat Systems (Press Release - March 12)

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are preparing to launch an expandable habitat module to the International Space Station this year. The agency joined Bigelow Thursday at its Las Vegas facility to mark completion of the company’s major milestones.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, leverages key innovations in lightweight and compact materials, departing from a traditional rigid metallic structure. In its packed configuration aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket, the module will measure approximately 8 feet in diameter. Once attached to the space station’s Tranquility Node and after undergoing a series of hardware validations, the module will be deployed, resulting in an additional 565 cubic feet of volume — about the size of a large family camping tent — accessible by astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Expandable habitats could be a new way to dramatically increase the amount of volume available to astronauts while also enhancing protection against radiation and physical debris. Innovative advances in efficiency provided by expandable habitats may give the nation new options for extending human presence farther into the solar system, both in transit and on the surface of other worlds, while also supporting the development of innovative platforms for commercial use in low-Earth orbit.

In the next decade, NASA plans to extend human spaceflight from low-Earth orbit operations to “proving ground” operations in cis-lunar space orbiting the moon. In the proving ground, NASA and its partners will validate vital hardware, including deep space habitats, as well as operations and capabilities necessary to send humans on long-duration missions to Mars or other deep-space destinations in which they must operate independently from Earth. The International Space Station serves as the world's leading laboratory for conducting cutting-edge research and is the primary platform for technology development and testing in space to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars.

“We’re fortunate to have the space station to demonstrate potential habitation capabilities like BEAM,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Station provides us with a long-duration microgravity platform with constant crew access to evaluate systems and technologies we are considering for future missions farther into deep space.”

Once BEAM is attached to the Tranquility Node, the space station crew will perform initial systems checks before deploying the habitat. During the BEAM’s minimum two-year test period, crews will routinely enter to take measurements and monitor its performance to help inform designs for future habitat systems. Learning how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeroids, and orbital debris will provide information to address key concerns about living in the harsh environment of space.

The BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. Bigelow Aerospace is building on technology NASA conceived in the 1990s and licensed to the company. NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are each benefitting from the sharing of expertise, costs, and risks to pursue mutual goals.

The module is scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s eighth cargo resupply mission to the space station later this year.

Source: NASA.Gov


n artist's concept of BEAM (left of upper center) after it is fully inflated at the International Space Station.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Expedition 42 Crew Members Arrive on Earth Safe and Sound...

With the Moon in the backdrop, the Russian Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft carrying Expedition 42 crew members is about to touch down in Kazakhstan...on March 12, 2015 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Space Station Crew Returns to Earth, Lands Safely in Kazakhstan (Press Release - March 11)

Three crew members returned to Earth Wednesday after a 167-day mission on the International Space Station (ISS) that included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks to prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft.

Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA and flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) touched down at approximately 10:07 p.m. EDT (8:07 a.m. March 12, Kazakh time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

During their time on station, the crew members participated in a variety of research focusing on the effects of microgravity on cells, Earth observation, physical science and biological and molecular science. One of several key research focus areas during Expedition 42 was human health management for long-duration space travel, as NASA and Roscosmos prepare for two crew members to spend one year aboard the space station.

The space station also serves as a test bed to demonstrate new technology. The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) arrived and was installed during Expedition 42, and already is providing data to improve scientists’ understanding of the structure and evolution of Earth's atmosphere. This may lead to enhancements to spacecraft launches, landings and communications systems; help guide future atmospheric investigations of Mars, Jupiter or other worlds; and help researchers model and predict climate changes on Earth.

The newly installed Electromagnetic Levitator will allow scientists to observe fundamental physical processes as liquid metals cool, potentially leading to lighter, higher-performing alloy, mixtures of two or more metals or a metal and another material, for use on Earth and in space.

The station crew also welcomed three cargo spacecraft with several tons of scientific investigations, food, fuel and other supplies. In January, the trio helped grapple and connect a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on the company's fifth contracted commercial resupply mission to the station. The Dragon returned to Earth in February with critical science samples. Two Russian ISS Progress cargo craft docked to the station in October and February. The fifth and final European Automated Transfer Vehicle, bearing the name of Belgian physicist Georges LemaƮtre, considered the father of the big-bang theory, departed the station in February.

During his time on the orbital complex, Wilmore ventured outside the space station with NASA astronaut Terry Virts on three spacewalks to prepare for new international docking adapters and future U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. Wilmore also completed a spacewalk in October with fellow NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman to replace a failed voltage regulator. Samokutyaev conducted one spacewalk during his time in space.

Having completed his second space station mission, Samokutyaev now has spent 331 days in space. Wilmore, having previously flown as a shuttle pilot on STS-129, has spent 178 days in space. Serova spent 167 days in space on her first flight.

Expedition 43 currently is operating the station, with Virts in command. Flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency), are continuing station research and operations until three new crewmates arrive in two weeks. NASA’s Scott Kelly and Roscosmos’ Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan March 27, Eastern time. Kelly and Kornienko will embark on the first joint U.S.-Russian one-year mission, an important stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


With the rising Sun in the backdrop, the Russian Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft carrying Expedition 42 crew members is about to touch down in Kazakhstan...on March 12, 2015 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

SLS Update #2: The QM-1 Test Is A Roaring Success!

A five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA's Space Launch System successfully fires during the Qualification Motor (QM-1) test at the Orbital ATK facility in Utah,  on March 11, 2015.
Orbital ATK

NASA's Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Ground Test (Press Release)

The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars.

The booster fired for two minutes, the same amount of time it will fire when it lifts the SLS off the launch pad, and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The test was conducted at the Promontory, Utah test facility of commercial partner Orbital ATK, and is one of two tests planned to qualify the booster for flight. Once qualified, the flight booster hardware will be ready for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first SLS flight.

"The work being done around the country today to build SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. "The teams are doing tremendous work to develop what will be a national asset for human exploration and potential science missions."

It took months to heat the 1.6 million pound booster to 90 degrees Fahrenheit to verify its performance at the highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range. A cold-temperature test, at a target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the low end of the propellant temperature range, is planned for early 2016. These two tests will provide a full range of data for analytical models that inform how the booster performs. During the test, temperatures inside the booster reached more than 5,600 degrees.

"This test is a significant milestone for SLS and follows years of development," said Todd May, SLS program manager. "Our partnership with Orbital ATK and more than 500 suppliers across the country is keeping us on the path to building the most powerful rocket in the world."

During the test, more than 531 instrumentation channels on the booster were measured to help assess some 102 design objectives. The test also demonstrated the booster meets applicable ballistic performance requirements, such as thrust and pressure. Other objectives included data gathering on vital motor upgrades, such as the new internal motor insulation and liner and an improved nozzle design.

When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS on deep space missions. The 177-feet-long solid rocket boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight. They provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth.

The first flight test of SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. The SLS will later be configured to provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions farther into our solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov


A five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA's Space Launch System successfully fires during the QM-1 test at the Orbital ATK facility in Utah,  on March 11, 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SLS Update: Gearing Up for Tomorrow's QM-1 Test...

At the Orbital ATK facility in Utah, technicians prepare a five-segment solid rocket booster for its first qualification test-fire (on QM-1)...scheduled to take place on March 11, 2015.
Orbital ATK

Preparing to Test the Booster for NASA's New Rocket (Press Release)

Engineers at Orbital ATK prepare to test the largest, most powerful booster ever built for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will fire up for a ground test at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 11, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems’ test facilities in Promontory, Utah.

The two-minute static test is a significant milestone for the SLS as part of NASA’s journey to Mars, and follows years of development. It is one of two ground tests to qualify the booster for flight. A second test is planned for early 2016. Once qualification is complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, on its first flight test. When completed, two five-segment, solid-rocket boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS as it begins its deep space missions. The boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight, providing more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS is updated, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

Live coverage of the test on NASA TV begins on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. EDT.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, March 9, 2015

(Post-)EFT-1 Update: Deconstructing Orion...

Inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers inspect the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft after its heat shield (visible in the background) was removed...on February 13, 2015.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Taking a Closer Look at Orion After Successful Flight Test (Press Release)

Engineers across the country have been busy taking a closer look at NASA's Orion spacecraft and the data it produced during its successful flight test in December 2014. Inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Orion was lifted using a special crane for removal of its heat shield on Feb. 13, 2015. In the background, technicians move the heat shield on a work stand. The spacecraft’s heat shield protected Orion as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere at searing temperatures. Removing the back shell allows the team to get a closer look at Orion’s systems to see how they fared during the trip to space. The heat shield was removed in preparation for shipment to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where special equipment will be used to remove its ablative material. From there, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be outfitted on a test article for water impact testing.

Meanwhile, NASA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, continue to take a look at the data the flight test produced to validate pre-flight models and improve the spacecraft’s design. Analysis of data obtained during its two-orbit, four-and-a-half hour mission Dec. 5 will provide engineers detailed information on how the spacecraft fared.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, March 5, 2015

ISS Update #2: Preparing for a Historic Flight to the Space Station...

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly trains inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center...in preparation for his one-year stint aboard the International Space Station, which begins later this month.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Astronaut Scott Kelly Preparing for Launch on One-Year Mission (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, March 4, 2015 in Star City, Russia. Kelly, along with Expedition 43 Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos were at GCTC for the second day of qualification exams in preparation for their launch to the International Space Station onboard a Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EST, March 27 (March 28, Kazakh time). As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

ISS Update: The Aloha State From 200+ Miles Above...

The Big Island of Hawaii as seen by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard the International Space Station...on February 28, 2015.
NASA / ESA / Samantha Cristoforetti

Island of Hawaii From the International Space Station (Press Release)

From the International Space Station, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) took this photograph of the island of Hawaii and posted it to social media on Feb. 28, 2015. Cristoforetti wrote, "And suddenly as we flew over the Pacific... the island of #Hawaii with its volcanoes! #HelloEarth"

Crewmembers on the space station photograph the Earth from their unique point of view located 200 miles above the surface as part of the Crew Earth Observations program. Photographs record how the planet is changing over time, from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. Astronauts have used hand-held cameras to photograph the Earth for more than 40 years, beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s. The ISS maintains an altitude between 220 - 286 miles (354 - 460 km) above the Earth, and an orbital inclination of 51.6˚, providing an excellent stage for observing most populated areas of the world.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, March 2, 2015

EVAs Complete: Paving the Way for Crew Dragon and the CST-100...

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore conducts the third of three extravehicular activities, or EVAs (in eight days), outside the International Space Station...on March 1, 2015.
NASA / Terry Virts

Astronauts Complete Series of Three Spacewalks (Press Release)

On Sunday, March 1, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Terry Virts and Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore ventured outside the International Space Station for their third spacewalk in eight days. Virts and Wilmore completed installing 400 feet of cable and several antennas associated with the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles system known as C2V2. Boeing’s Crew Transportation System (CST)-100 and the SpaceX Crew Dragon will use the system in the coming years to rendezvous with the orbital laboratory and deliver crews to the space station.

Virts (@AstroTerry) tweeted this photograph and wrote, "Out on the P3 truss. #AstroButch handing me his cable to install on the new antenna. #spacewalk"

Source: NASA.Gov