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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ISS Snapshot of the Day...

A snapshot of three of the International Space Station's massive solar array wings...as seen by Expedition 43 crew member Samantha Cristoforetti on February 12, 2015.
ESA / NASA

Solar Arrays on the International Space Station (Press Release - April 14)

Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) photographed the giant solar arrays on the International Space Station on Feb. 12, 2015.

The space station's solar arrays contain a total of 262,400 solar cells and cover an area of about 27,000 square feet (2,500 square meters) -- more than half the area of a football field. A solar array's wingspan of 240 feet (73 meters) is longer than a Boeing 777's wingspan, which is 212 feet (65 meters). Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity -- enough to provide power to more than 40 homes. The solar arrays produce more power than the station needs at one time for station systems and experiments. When the station is in sunlight, about 60 percent of the electricity that the solar arrays generate is used to charge the station's batteries. At times, some or all of the solar arrays are in the shadow of Earth or the shadow part of the station. This means that those arrays are not collecting sunlight. The batteries power the station when it is not in the sun.

Source: NASA

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mission CRS-6: The Dragon Takes Off...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015...beginning the CRS-6 mission.
NASA / SpaceX

Research for One-Year Space Station Mission Among NASA Cargo Launched Aboard SpaceX Resupply Flight (Press Release)

Research that will help prepare NASA astronauts and robotic explorers for future missions to Mars is among the two tons of cargo now on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:10 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 14 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Five years ago this week, President Obama toured the same SpaceX launch pad used today to send supplies, research and technology development to the ISS,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Back then, SpaceX hadn’t even made its first orbital flight. Today, it’s making regular flights to the space station and is one of two American companies, along with The Boeing Company, that will return the ability to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil and land then back in the United States. That’s a lot of progress in the last five years, with even more to come in the next five.”

The mission is the company's sixth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support approximately 40 of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will be performed during Expeditions 43 and 44, including numerous human research investigations for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly's one-year mission in space.

Science payloads will support experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science -- research that improves life on Earth and drives progress for future space exploration. Investigations include:

A study of potential methods for counteracting cell damage that occurs in a microgravity environment

The Cell Shape and Expression research program will provide for the first time a reliable experimental model able to highlight the relationships between microgravity, cell shape and gene expression, which may also inform pharmacological ways to counteract microgravity-induced cell damages.

Research to improve understanding of bone cells, which could lead to treatments for osteoporosis and muscle wasting conditions

Osteo-4 studies the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, which are the most common cells in bone. These cells reside within the mineralized bone and can sense mechanical forces, or the lack of them, but researchers do not know how. Osteo-4 allows scientists to analyze changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells in microgravity.

Continued studies into astronaut vision changes

Dragon also will deliver hardware to support an ongoing one-year crew study known as Fluid Shifts. More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and alterations to parts of their eyes during and after long-duration spaceflight. The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head and changes in vision and eye structures.

Tests on a new material that could one day be used as a synthetic muscle for robotics explorers of the future

Robots can perform tasks too repetitive, difficult or dangerous for humans. Robots built with synthetic muscle would have more human-like capabilities, but the material would have to withstand the rigors of space. This investigation tests the radiation resistance of an electroactivepolymer called Synthetic Muscle, developed by RasLabs, which can contract and expand like real muscles.

The spacecraft also will deliver hardware needed for the installation of two International Docking Adapters scheduled for delivery on future SpaceX missions. Once installed, these adapters will enable commercial crew spacecraft to dock to the space station.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the space station's robotic arm to grapple Dragon to the station at 7 a.m. Friday, April 17. Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA will assist.

After about five weeks, Dragon will depart the space station for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. The capsule will return more than 3,000 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The ISS remains the springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Aerial footage of the Falcon 9's first stage booster about to make a hard landing on the deck of SpaceX's unmanned drone ship out in the Atlantic Ocean...on April 14, 2015.
SpaceX

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back in the Day: Remembering Apollo 13...

Apollo 13 astronaut Fred W. Haise Jr. is seen on a large monitor inside the Mission Control Center at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as the Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas...on April 13, 1970.
NASA

Mission Control, Houston, April 13, 1970 (Press Release)

Apollo 13, NASA's third crewed mission to the moon, launched on April 11, 1970. Two days later, on April 13, while the mission was en route to the moon, a fault in the electrical system of one of the Service Module's oxygen tanks produced an explosion that caused both oxygen tanks to fail and also led to a loss of electrical power. The Command Module remained functional on its own batteries and oxygen tank, but these were usable only during the last hours of the mission. The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a "lifeboat" during the return trip to Earth. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, and a shortage of potable water, the crew returned to Earth, and the mission was termed a "successful failure."

This photograph of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center), Houston, was taken on April 13, 1970, during the fourth television transmission from the Apollo 13 mission. Eugene F. Kranz (foreground, back to camera), one of four Apollo 13 flight directors, views the large screen at front as astronaut Fred W. Haise Jr., Lunar Module pilot, is seen on the screen.

Source: NASA

Monday, April 6, 2015

SLS Update: Assembly Soon to be Finished on Key Test Component...

At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, fabrication is completed on the core stage simulator test article for the Space Launch System (SLS).
NASA / MSFC

Fabrication Complete on SLS Core Stage Simulator Test Article (Press Release)

Engineers recently completed fabrication of the core stage simulator structural test article for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars.

The structural test article is a replica of the top of the core stage and is approximately 10 feet tall and 27 feet in diameter. The rocket's core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall, will house the vehicle’s avionics and flight computer. It also will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. When combined with two five-segment solid rocket boosters, the rocket will produce 8.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff to carry 154,000 pounds.

The full configuration at launch includes several parts that are stacked on top of the core stage to reach a total height of 322 feet. When the test versions of all the parts are completed, engineers will stack the 56-foot tall structure at a Marshall test stand for testing to verify the integrity of the hardware and ensure it can withstand the loads it may experience during flight. They include:

Orion spacecraft – designed to carry the crew to distant planetary bodies; provide emergency abort capability; sustain the crew during space travel; and provide safe re-entry from deep space

Multi-purpose crew vehicle stage adapter – connects the Orion spacecraft to the SLS

Interim cryogenic propulsion stage – gives the Orion spacecraft the big push needed to fly beyond the moon before the spacecraft returns to Earth for the first flight test of SLS

Launch vehicle stage adapter – used to connect the core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stages

"Our engineering work force has the expertise to produce large test articles, such as the core stage simulator," said Keith Higginbotham, integrated structural test lead in the Spacecraft/Payload Integration & Evolution (SPIE) Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the work is being conducted, and the SLS Program is managed for the agency. "We've made a tremendous amount of progress and look forward to testing."

After inspections and final machining, the core stage simulator test article is scheduled to be completed by mid-April. Engineers have already completed structural test articles of the multi-purpose crew vehicle stage adapter and Orion spacecraft simulator, and test articles for the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and launch vehicle stage adapter are currently in production.

"Our skilled, talented engineering and technician team members, manufacturing capabilities and robotic welding facilities allow us to build these critical large space structures for Space Launch System testing at the Marshall Center," said Tim Vaughn, chief of the Metals Engineering Division in Marshall’s Materials and Processes Laboratory. "The lessons we learned building the core stage simulator has helped us hone processes that we will use to produce other SLS test hardware."

At the same time, the SPIE Office kicked off its critical design review March 19, which is a major milestone for the program and proves the hardware is mature enough for production. This is the last rocket element to undergo a critical design review before the SLS Program begins its integrated critical design review this summer.

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 evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of how the SLS core stage test articles will be stacked in the test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA / MSFC

Thursday, April 2, 2015

EM-1 Update: CubeSats To Hitch A Ride Into Deep Space Aboard The SLS...

An artist's concept of the NEA Scout solar sail studying an asteroid.
NASA

NASA’s Space Launch System to Boost Science with Secondary Payloads (Press Release)

When NASA's new Space Launch System (SLS) launches on its first flight, it will be doing some serious multi-tasking. Not only will Exploration Mission-1 test the performance of SLS and its integration with the Orion spacecraft – the agency plans to use its massive lift capability to carry nearly a dozen nano-satellites to conduct science experiments beyond low Earth orbit.

NASA’s newest rocket will launch Orion on an uncrewed test flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Tucked inside the stage adapter -- the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS -- will be 11 self-contained small satellites, each about the size of a large shoebox.

"NASA is taking advantage of a great opportunity to conduct more science beyond our primary focus of this mission," said Jody Singer manager of the Flight Programs and Partnerships Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "While this new vehicle will enable missions beyond Earth orbit, we're taking steps to increase the scientific and exploration capability of SLS by accommodating small, CubeSat-class payloads."

About 10 minutes after Orion and its service module escape the pull of Earth’s gravity, the two will disconnect and Orion will proceed toward the moon. Once Orion is a safe distance away, the small payloads will begin to be deployed, all at various times during the flight depending on the particular missions.

These CubeSats are small nano-satellites designed to be efficient and versatile. The masses of these secondary payloads are light -- no heavier than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) -- and will not require any extra power from the vehicle to function. They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space.

"We are expanding the capabilities of this particular SLS test flight," said Joseph Pelfrey, deputy manager of the Exploration and Space Transportation Development Office at Marshall. "The rocket will be the strongest ever built by NASA and we want to take advantage of that design. Flying secondary payloads is something we plan to do for missions to come and provide the science community an opportunity they haven't had before."

The dispensers on the adapter ring will be built with commercially available materials. No pyrotechnic devices will be a part of the payloads and each will be ejected with a spring mechanism – similar to opening a lid on a toy jack-in-the-box.

The principal investigators and engineers for the payloads will work with the secondary payload integration team to develop mission-specific requirements and verify interfacing and safety requirements are met. Multiple organizations at NASA Headquarters in Washington are soliciting inputs for the available EM-1 secondary payload slots, and three have already been selected for further development: Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, Lunar Flashlight and BioSentinel.

Both NEA Scout and Lunar Flashlight involve Marshall engineering and science teams, while BioSentinel is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

NEA Scout, using solar sail propulsion, will fly by a small asteroid, taking pictures and making observations that will enhance the current understanding of an the asteroid environment and will yield key information for future astronauts exploring an asteroid.

"A solar sail works best when deployed in deep space and SLS will get us there," said Les Johnson, principal investigator for NEA Scout at Marshall. "It will take us out of Earth orbit and to interplanetary space -- where we need to be to deploy the solar sail. It's a perfect ride to begin our mission."

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight will scout for locations on the lunar surface that are rich in resources that, once broken down into their component molecules, could be used in future exploration, such as building materials, propellant, oxygen and water. Lunar Flashlight will use a large solar sail, similar to the NEA Scout sail, to reflect sunlight and illuminate the moon’s permanently shadowed craters and then the science instruments will measure the surface water ice.

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure, and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations beyond Low-Earth Orbit, which will help us understand the effects of the deep space environment on biological systems as we plan to send humans farther into space than ever before. The BioSentinel mission will be the first time living organisms have traveled to deep space in over 40 years and the spacecraft will operate in the deep space radiation environment throughout its 18-month mission.

Exploration Mission-1 will serve as a proving ground for the integrated Orion spacecraft and SLS, allowing designers to steadily move forward with development of the vehicle and prove the systems' ability to carry and deploy experiments yielding invaluable science results.

Source: NASA.Gov

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