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Friday, May 29, 2015

SLS Update: Resuming Testing on a Monster Rocket's Engine...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on May 28, 2015.
NASA

Steamy Summer Begins for SLS with RS-25 Test (Press Release - May 28)

A billowing plume of steam signals a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28 at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The hotfire test was conducted on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket stages and Space Shuttle Program main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is being developed to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.

The heavy-lift SLS will be more powerful than any current rocket and will be the centerpiece of the nation's next era of space exploration, carrying humans to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. Four RS-25 engines will power the SLS vehicle at launch, firing simultaneously to generate more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust. RS-25 engines are modified Space Shuttle Main Engines, which powered 135 successful low-Earth orbit missions.

One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or "brain." The RS-25 is unique among many engines in that it automatically runs through its cycles and programs. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. The performance specifications, such as what percentage of thrust is needed and when, are programmed into the controller before the engines are fired. For example, if the engine is required to cycle up to 90 percent thrust, the controller monitors the fuel mixture ratio and regulates the thrust accordingly. It is essential that the controller communicates clearly with the engine; the SLS will be bigger than previous rockets and fly unprecedented missions, and its engines will have to perform in new ways.

Tests at Stennis will ensure the new controller and engine are in sync and can deliver the required performance to meet the SLS requirements. NASA engineers conducted an initial RS-25 engine test on the A-1 stand Jan. 9. Testing then was put on hold for scheduled work on the Stennis facility high-pressure industrial water system that provides the tens of thousands of gallons of water needed to cool the stand during an engine test. RS-25 testing now is set to continue through the summer.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Endeavour Update... Paving The Way for ET-94!

Space shuttle Endeavour launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station, on May 16, 2011.
NASA

California Science Center Foundation Announces Another Historic Space Artifact Journey Through Los Angeles City Streets (Press Release)

Los Angeles – Today the California Science Center Foundation announced the continuation of “Mission 26” with the acquisition and planned move of the only flight-qualified External Tank (ET-94) in existence from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the Science Center in Los Angeles. The donation of this never-used artifact from NASA is significant, and allows the Science Center to fulfill its vision of building a full stack for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final display in the launch position in the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. This will mark the only time an ET has traveled through urban streets and will evoke memories of when Endeavour traveled 12-miles from the Los Angeles International Airport to the Science Center and was cheered on by a crowd of 1.5 million in 2012. The ET-94 move is expected to take place sometime from the end of 2015 to early 2016, depending on weather conditions and the progress of cosmetic restorations.

The ET’s journey to the California Science Center and its subsequent attachment to the Orbiter will be historic. Following NASA’s customary transport methods for an External Tank, ET-94 will be shipped by barge. It will travel from the Michoud Assembly Facility through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles, then on through city streets to its final destination at the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Pavilion. The entire journey will take six to eight weeks.

Larger and longer than Endeavour, the ET was the Orbiter’s massive “gas tank” and contained the propellants used by the Space Shuttle Main Engines (though ET-94 is empty). The tank, the only major, non-reusable part of the space shuttle, is neither as wide as Endeavour (32 feet versus 78 feet) nor as high (35 feet versus 56 feet). Because of this, fewer utilities will be impacted and no trees will be removed along ET’s route from the coast to Exposition Park, though some trimming may be necessary. The path it will take through the streets is currently being planned with city officials, utilities and community groups.

“With this gift from NASA, we will have the ability to preserve and display an entire stack of flight hardware, making the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center an even more compelling educational experience. It will allow future generations to experience and understand the science and engineering of the space shuttle,” notes California Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti adds that, “We are thrilled that NASA has gifted the California Science Center and the city of Los Angeles with the last surviving flight-qualified space shuttle external tank (ET) in the world. The city plans to work with the Science Center to make this a great welcome and celebration as it did with Endeavour two and a half years ago. As it makes its journey, from the coast to the Science Center, it will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, contributing to LA’s trajectory of becoming a hub of technological innovation and the Science Center’s mission as a leader in science learning.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price adds that, “This is just the beginning of increased economic vitality and interest in science learning in this district, sparked by the California Science Center’s Mission 26. The Science Center has experienced a major increase in tourism since the arrival of Endeavour. We now expect to attract even more visitors from across the nation and around the world as the Science Center continues to build the full stack with the ET and later the Solid Rocket Boosters for the final launch display at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. I am thrilled that another historic journey through the streets of Los Angeles will unite our community again in a welcoming celebration.”

Source: California Science Center

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Space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 is placed in horizontal position at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana...on September 15, 2012.
NASA / MAF / Steven Seipel

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CST-100 Update: Boeing Officially On Tap to Send a Crew to the ISS in 2017...

NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
NASA

Commercial Crew Milestones Met; Partners on Track for Missions in 2017 (Press Release)

NASA has taken another step toward returning America’s ability to launch crew missions to the International Space Station from the United States in 2017.

The Commercial Crew Program ordered its first crew rotation mission from The Boeing Company. SpaceX, which successfully performed a pad abort test of its flight vehicle earlier this month, is expected to receive its first order later this year. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contract calls for the orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for the first mission in late 2017, provided the contractors meet certain readiness conditions.

Missions flown to the station on Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of scientific research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory.

"Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the commercial crew and station programs," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions."

Boeing’s crew transportation system, including the CST-100 spacecraft, has advanced through various commercial crew development and certification phases. The company recently completed the fourth milestone in the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the program, the delta integrated critical design review. This milestone demonstrates the transportation system has reached design maturity appropriate to proceed with assembly, integration and test activities.

"We’re on track to fly in 2017, and this critical milestone moves us another step closer in fully maturing the CST-100 design," said John Mulholland, Boeing’s vice president of Commercial Programs. "Our integrated and measured approach to spacecraft design ensures quality performance, technical excellence and early risk mitigation."

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to the missions to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. In addition, each company must successfully complete the certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. If NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, NASA will have to delay future milestones for both partners proportionally and extend sole reliance on Russia for crew access to the station.

A standard mission to the station will carry four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

“Commercial Crew launches are critical to the International Space Station Program because it ensures multiple ways of getting crews to orbit,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “It also will give us crew return capability so we can increase the crew to seven, letting us complete a backlog of hands-on critical research that has been building up due to heavy demand for the National Laboratory.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule approaching the International Space Station.
Boeing

Friday, May 22, 2015

ISS Update: Making Way for Boeing's CST-100 and Other Privately-Made Space Vehicles...

A graphic showing the current location (blue) of the 'Leonardo' Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) on the International Space Station, and the location to which it will be repositioned (green) during the move on May 27, 2015.
NASA

Space Station Module Relocation Makes Way for Commercial Crew Spacecraft (Press Release)

The International Space Station Program will take the next step in expanding a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit when work continues Wednesday, May 27, to prepare the orbiting laboratory for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew and cargo vehicles. NASA Television will provide live coverage of the activity beginning at 8 a.m. EDT.

NASA is in the process of reconfiguring the station to create primary and back up docking ports for U.S. commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by Boeing and SpaceX to once again transport astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station and back beginning in 2017. The primary and backup docking ports also will be reconfigured for U.S. commercial spacecraft delivering research, supplies and cargo for the crew.

On Wednesday, robotics flight controllers at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will detach the large Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), used as a supply depot on the orbital laboratory, from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and robotically relocate it to the forward port of the Tranquility module. This move will clear the Unity port for its conversion into the spare berthing location for U.S. cargo spacecraft; the Earth-facing port on Harmony is the primary docking location. Harmony’s space-facing port currently is the spare berthing location for cargo vehicles, so this move frees that location to be used in conjunction with Harmony’s forward port as the arrival locations for commercial crew spacecraft.

Before broadcasting the final movements and installation, NASA TV will replay the operations conducted earlier in the day to detach the PMM from Unity and move it toward Tranquility.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineer Scott Kelly of NASA will supervise the unbolting of the module from Unity and its final attachment to Tranquility. Virts and Kelly will close the hatch to the module on Tuesday, May 26, and reopen it at its new location on Thursday, May 28.

The transformation of Harmony’s space-facing and forward ports for crew arrivals will continue later this year, when a pair of International Docking Adapters (IDAs) will be delivered on the seventh and ninth NASA-contracted SpaceX cargo resupply missions. The IDAs will be attached to Pressurized Mating Adapters 2 and 3, which enable the spacecraft to equalize internal pressure with the ISS.

The PMM, originally named Leonardo by the Italian Space Agency that supervised its manufacture, was one of three cargo modules used to haul supplies back and forth from the station during space shuttle assembly missions. The PMM was launched for the last time to the station on the final flight of the shuttle Discovery on Feb. 24, 2011, and was installed on Unity five days later. The PMM is 22 feet long, 14 feet in diameter and weighs almost 11 tons. It has an internal volume of more than 2,400 cubic feet.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

SpaceX's CRS-6 Mission Comes to an End...

The Dragon CRS-6 spacecraft floats underneath the International Space Station after the SpaceX vehicle is unberthed from the orbital outpost on May 21, 2015.
NASA

Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft (Press Release)

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT Thursday with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. It is the U.S. company’s sixth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station and carried more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. NASA also has contracted with American companies SpaceX and Boeing to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100, respectively, to once again transport astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory from the United States in 2017.

The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions.

"Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts," said Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness."

Also returned on Dragon were samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Researchers with Osteo-4 will observe the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, the most common cells in bone. Understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, including the NASA’s journey to Mars. The results derived from this study also could have implications on Earth for patients suffering bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

Equipment and data from the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) investigation also made the trip back to Earth. The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite, measuring 22 inches in diameter, moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.

The Dragon will be transported by ship approximately 155 miles northeast of its splashdown location to Long Beach, California where NASA cargo will be removed and returned to the agency. The spacecraft then will be prepared for its trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

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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The Dragon CRS-6 spacecraft is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean hours after it departed from the International Space Station...on May 21, 2015.
SpaceX

Monday, May 18, 2015

ARM Update: Seeking Ideas for the Spacecraft's Design...

An artist's concept of an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle docking with NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission spacecraft.
NASA

NASA Seeks Additional Information for Asteroid Redirect Mission Spacecraft (Press Release)

NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking ideas from American companies for a spacecraft design that could be used for both the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and a robotic satellite servicing mission in low-Earth orbit.

In the early-2020s NASA plans to launch the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will use a robotic spacecraft to capture a large 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.

NASA also has been studying the "Restore-L" mission concept, during which a spacecraft would use dexterous robotic systems to grapple and refuel a government satellite in low-Earth orbit. Restore-L would bring to operational status capabilities needed for future commercial satellite servicing by demonstrating technologies and reducing risk.

"Today's call for ideas from our industry partners is another important milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, a critical capability demonstration mission that's part of our stepping stone approach for sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "As part of our acquisition strategy, we're asking for more information toward the ARM spacecraft concept and also on commonality with a notional robotic satellite servicing spacecraft."

The RFI is not a request for proposal or formal procurement and therefore is not a solicitation or commitment by the government. Deadline for submissions is 45 days after public posting of the RFI. The full RFI is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/feature/arm-spacecraft-bus-request-for-information

Following its rendezvous and touchdown with the target asteroid, the uncrewed ARM spacecraft will deploy robotic arms to capture a large 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.

This RFI seeks spacecraft designs that may include taking advantage of Xenon capacity SEP, single or multiple component architectures and cost-sharing partnerships.

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 location is a suitable staging point for astronauts to rendezvous with a deep space habitat that will carry them to Mars.

Before the large asteroid boulder is moved to lunar orbit, NASA will use the opportunity to test planetary defense techniques to inform mitigation of 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.

NASA's Near Earth Objects Program continues to implement new capabilities and upgrades to existing projects for detecting and cataloging asteroids. The agency also has engaged non-traditional partners and the public in the hunt for undetected asteroids through the NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge activities, including prize competitions. In March, the agency announced the release of a software application based on an algorithm created through a NASA challenge that has the potential to help increase the number of asteroid detections in collected sky images.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

Life Aboard the ISS...

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly (left) and Terry Virts (right) work on a Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly inside the International Space Station's 'Kibo' Japanese Experiment Module.
NASA

Astronauts at Work on the International Space Station (Press Release)

This week, the six-member Expedition 43 crew worked a variety of onboard maintenance tasks, ensuring crew safety and the upkeep of the International Space Station's hardware. In this image, NASA astronauts Scott Kelly (left) and Terry Virts (right) work on a Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly (CDRA) inside the station's Japanese Experiment Module. The CDRA system works to remove carbon dioxide from the cabin air, allowing for an environmentally safe crew cabin.

The crew also is packing the SpaceX Dragon space freighter readying the vehicle for its return home and splashdown May 21.

Source: NASA

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Back in the Day: STS-49's Finest Moment...

STS-49 astronauts Richard J. Hieb, Thomas D. Akers and Pierre J. Thuot are about to successfully capture a stranded Intelsat VI satellite before attaching it to a kick motor that boosted the spacecraft to its proper orbit...during space shuttle Endeavour's maiden flight on May 13, 1992.
NASA

May 13, 1992, Record-Setting Spacewalk on Shuttle Endeavour's First Mission (Press Release)

On May 13, 1992, following the successful capture of the Intelsat VI satellite, three astronauts continue moving the 4.5 ton communications satellite into the space shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay. A fellow crew member recorded this 70mm still frame from inside Endeavour's cabin. Left to right, astronauts Richard J. Hieb, Thomas D. Akers and Pierre J. Thuot, cooperate on the effort to attach a specially designed grapple bar underneath the satellite. Thuot stands on the end of the Remote Manipulator System's (RMS) arm while Hieb and Akers are on Portable Foot Restraints (PFR) affixed to Endeavour's portside and the Multipurpose Support Structure (MPESS), respectively. The sections of Earth which form the backdrop for the scene are blanketed with thousands of square miles of clouds.

The Intelsat satellite, stranded in an unusable orbit since its launch aboard a Titan vehicle in March 1990, was equipped with a new perigee kick motor. The satellite was subsequently released into orbit and the new motor fired to put the spacecraft into a geosynchronous orbit for operational use. The capture required three spacewalks: a planned one by astronaut Pierre J. Thuot and Richard J. Hieb who were unable to attach a capture bar to the satellite from a position on the RMS; a second unscheduled but identical attempt the following day; and finally an unscheduled but successful hand capture by Pierre J. Thuot and fellow crewmen Richard J. Hieb and Thomas D. Akers as Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein delicately maneuvered the orbiter to within a few feet of the 4.5 ton communications satellite.

The STS-49 mission, the first flight of shuttle Endeavour, set records for the first (and only, to date) spacewalk involving three astronauts; first shuttle mission to feature four spacewalks; first shuttle mission requiring three rendezvous with an orbiting spacecraft; first attachment of a live rocket motor to an orbiting satellite and first use of a drag chute during a shuttle landing.

Source: NASA

Monday, May 11, 2015

SLS Update: Putting the Finishing Touches on the Monster Rocket's Design...

An illustration of the Space Launch System's 'Block I' configuration.
NASA / MSFC

Space Launch System Program Moving Forward with Critical Design Review (Press Release)

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) Program is kicking off its critical design review May 11 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

This new rocket will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. It is designed to be sustainable and evolve to carry crew and cargo on deep space missions, including an asteroid and ultimately to Mars.

Milestone reviews like the critical design review are just that -- critical. The critical design review demonstrates that the SLS design meets all system requirements with acceptable risk, and accomplishes that within cost and schedule constraints. It also proves that the rocket should continue with full-scale production, assembly, integration, and testing and that the program is ready to begin the next major review covering design certification.

"We've never said building a rocket is easy," said SLS Program Manager Todd May. "We pore over every part of this rocket during these reviews. Thousands of documents and months of time are put into making sure the design is sound, safe and sustainable, and will make NASA's mission of furthering human spaceflight possible. We are making advances every day on this vehicle."

Each element for the rocket -- including boosters, engines, stages and Spacecraft and Payload Integration & Evolution (SPIE) -- undergo their own reviews before this week’s kickoff of the integrated program review. Boosters, stages and engines have passed their critical design reviews, and the SPIE Office is in the process of completing its critical design review. SPIE is responsible for the design and development of several parts of the top of the rocket, including:

- Orion 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 during the first flight test of SLS
- Launch vehicle stage adapter -- used to connect the core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stages

SPIE also works to prepare for the future evolution of SLS to provide the capabilities needed for human missions to Mars. The office oversees in-house research and partners with academia, industry and other government agencies to develop new technologies and systems that will benefit not only SLS, but also the larger U.S. launch industry.

The SLS Program critical design review is targeted to conclude in late July.

The first flight test of the 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. As the SLS evolves, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built and 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 illustration showing the components of the Space Launch System's 'Block I' configuration.
NASA / MSFC

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SpaceX Achieves A Major Milestone Towards Its First Crewed Flight!

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule roars away from Space Launch Complex 40 during a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

SpaceX Demonstrates Astronaut Escape System for Crew Dragon Spacecraft (Press Release)

A loud whoosh, faint smoke trail and billowing parachutes marked a successful demonstration Wednesday by SpaceX of its Crew Dragon spacecraft abort system – an important step in NASA’s endeavor to rebuild America's ability to launch crews to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. The successful test of the spacecraft’s launch escape capabilities proved the spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.

The Crew Dragon simultaneously fired its eight SuperDraco engines at 9 a.m. EDT and leapt off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The engines fired for about six seconds, instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust each and lifting the spacecraft out over the Atlantic Ocean before jettisoning its trunk, as planned, and parachuting safely into the ocean. The test lasted about two minutes from engine ignition to splashdown.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring crew safety for government and commercial endeavors in low-Earth orbit," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "Congratulations to SpaceX on what appears to have been a successful test on the company's road toward achieving NASA certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to and from the International Space Station.”

The flight test is a vital milestone in the company’s development effort and furthers its plan to meet a major requirement for the next generation of piloted spacecraft -- an escape system that can quickly and safely take crew members away from their rocket while on the pad and through their ascent to orbit. SpaceX can use the test data to help refine its aerodynamic and performance models, and its design, to help ensure crew safety throughout all phases of flight.

“SpaceX was founded with the goal of carrying people to space, and today’s pad abort test represented an important milestone in that effort,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Our partnership with NASA has been essential for developing Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that we believe will be the safest ever flown. Today’s successful test will provide critical data as we continue toward crewed flights in 2017.”

The test was the first with a full-size developmental spacecraft using a complete set of eight SuperDraco engines in the demanding real-world conditions of a pad abort situation. SpaceX built the SuperDracos for pad and launch abort use. Each engine, the chambers of which are 3-D printed, burns hypergolic propellants monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

More than 270 special instruments, including temperature sensors and accelerometers, which are instruments that measure acceleration, were strategically placed in and around the vehicle to measure a variety of stresses and acceleration effects. A test dummy, equipped with sensors, went along for the ride to measure the effects on the human body. To further maximize the value of the test, weights were placed inside the capsule at crew seat locations to replicate the mass of a crewed launch.

The trunk, an unpowered cylinder with stabilizing fins, detached from the spacecraft when it reached maximum altitude and fell back to Earth, while the capsule rotated on as planned for a couple seconds before unfurling its drogue parachutes, which then deployed the main parachutes. Boat crews have begun the process of retrieving the Crew Dragon from the ocean and returning it to land for further analysis.

Spacecraft development and certification through the Commercial Crew Program is performed through a new arrangement that encourages innovation and efficiency in the aerospace industry, bringing to the process the space agency’s expertise in the form of safety and performance requirements for the spacecraft, boosters and related systems.

The pad abort test is a payment milestone funded by the Commercial Crew Program under a partnership agreement established with the company in 2012. The agency awarded contracts last year to Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective systems for flight tests and operational missions to the space station. Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, the awards allow continued work on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at a pace that is determined by their respective builders, but that also meets NASA's requirements and its goal of flying crews in 2017.

"Our partners have met many significant milestones and key development activities so far, and this pad abort test provides visual proof of one of the most critical safety requirements -- protecting a crew in the event of a major system failure," Lueders said.

NASA already is preparing the space station for commercial crew spacecraft and the larger station crews that will be enabled by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100. NASA plans to use the new generation of privately developed and operated spacecraft to carry as many as four astronauts each mission, increasing the station crew to seven and doubling the amount of science that can be performed off the Earth, for the Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Recovery boats wait offshore as SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule splashes down into the water near Space Launch Complex 40 after a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back in the Day: The Flight Path of Freedom 7...

An illustration showing the Freedom 7's flight path in space after a successful launch on May 5, 1961.
NASA

Trajectory of Alan Shepard's Historic Flight (Press Release)

Fifty-four years ago on May 5, 1961, only 23 days after Yuri Gagarin of the then-Soviet Union became the first person in space, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard launched at 9:34 a.m. EDT aboard his Freedom 7 capsule powered by a Redstone booster to become the first American in space. His historic flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds.

Source: NASA

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Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard is ready to blast off into space aboard his Freedom 7 capsule...on May 5, 1961.
NASA