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Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Martian...

Matt Damon stars as stranded NASA astronaut Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.
20th Century Fox

Since NASA has been vigorously promoting The Martian through its website and online social media, just thought I'd share this latest trailer for the Ridley Scott-directed movie that stars Matt Damon. Based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir and out in theaters nationwide on October 2, The Martian chronicles the exploits of a NASA astronaut who has to find a way to survive on the Red Planet's surface for four years as he waits for help after being left stranded by his crew following a Martian dust storm. Here's hoping Ridley Scott made a film that will be as critically-acclaimed and enjoyed by audiences as Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar were. NASA could use the additional PR if it wants its "JourneyToMars" hashtag on Twitter to continue meaning something years from now.

Orbiting high above Mars, an astronaut floats outside of a space station in this screenshot from THE MARTIAN.
20th Century Fox


Thursday, August 27, 2015

SLS Update: And That's A Wrap on the First Phase of RS-25 Testing!

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on August 27, 2015.
NASA

NASA Concludes Series of Engine Tests for Next-Gen Rocket (Press Release)

NASA has completed the first developmental test series on the RS-25 engines that will power the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on missions deeper into space than ever before.

The test series wrapped up Thursday with a seventh hot fire test of a developmental RS-25 engine on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The test ran for a full-duration 535 seconds.

“The completion of this test series is an important step in getting SLS ready for the journey to Mars,” said Steve Wofford, engines manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed for the agency. “The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system. It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time.”

The series was designed to collect valuable data on performance of the RS-25 engine, a former space shuttle main engine operating at higher thrust levels in order to provide the power needed for the SLS vehicle. Of particular interest is data that will aid in development of a new engine controller, or “brain,” to monitor engine status and communicate programmed performance needs.

“These are extremely reliable engines. We are testing them again because we want to ensure that the engine performs as required with a new engine controller, higher propellant inlet pressures and lower temperatures that are part of the SLS design. We also want to mitigate any risks on the ground before flight,” Wofford said.

Four RS-25 engines will help power the SLS core stage during launch. Firing simultaneously at 109 percent of its operating level, the engines will provide approximately 2 million pounds of thrust. The engines will operate in conjunction with a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters for a total of 8.4 million pounds of thrust to lift the initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) SLS off the launch pad. The SLS eventually will evolve to a 130-metric-ton (143-ton) configuration that will enable missions to such deep space destinations as an asteroid and Mars.

Testing of RS-25 flight engines for the initial SLS missions will begin at Stennis this fall. In addition to testing RS-25 flight engines, Stennis operators will employ their collective expertise to test the SLS core stage. The B-2 Test Stand at Stennis is being renovated to conduct tests on the SLS flight core stage prior to its first uncrewed mission. That testing will involve installing the flight stage on the stand and firing its four RS-25 engines simultaneously, just as during an actual launch.

“What a great time to be at Stennis,” Center Director Rick Gilbrech said. “When it comes to powering the future of the deep space exploration program for this country, this is the front lines, where we enable those missions to fly.”

The developmental tests began with a Jan. 9 hot fire and resumed in May after scheduled work was completed on the high-pressure industrial water system that provides the thousands of gallons of water needed during an engine test. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engine work.

“This was a great test series for Stennis,” said Ronnie Rigney, RS-25 project manager at Stennis. “Our teams built up a lot of history with space shuttle main engines and were able to use that expertise to meet very challenging test specifications for the RS-25. The testing done here will help ensure the engines perform as needed during actual SLS missions.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The HTV-5 Cargo Freighter Arrives at the ISS...

KOUNOTORI 5 is grappled by the space station's robotic arm prior to being berthed to the International Space Station (ISS) on August 24, 2015, Japan Standard Time.
NASA / JAXA - Kimiya Yui

Successful Berthing of the H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI 5" (HTV-5) to the International Space Station (Press Release)

The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 5 (HTV-5) started its final approach to the International Space Station (ISS), and was captured by the ISS robotic arm at 7:29 PM on August 24, Japan Standard Time (JST). Being captured and maneuvered by the robotic arm, the HTV-5 was successfully berthed to the ISS at 2:28 AM on August 25 (JST).

Once after berthing of vehicle, the internal and external cargo will be unloaded by the on-board crew.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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KOUNOTORI 5 is berthed to the ISS on August 24, 2015 (JST).
NASA / Scott Kelly

Friday, August 21, 2015

SLS Update: Making Progress on the Mega-Rocket's New Launch Tower...

The Mobile Launcher undergoes modifications for NASA's Space Launch System rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Cory Huston

Mobile Launcher Mods Will Support NASA's Next-Generation Rocket and Spacecraft (Press Release)

NASA's mobile launcher (ML) is shaping up nicely as modifications continue on the ground structure that will launch the agency's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on the journey to Mars and other deep-space destinations.

"We just finished up a major construction phase of the mobile launcher," said Eric Ernst, NASA ML project manager. "We were actually able to accelerate some of the work."

NASA recently selected J.P. Donovan Construction Inc. of Rockledge, Florida, to begin the next phase of work on the 380-foot-tall (including the base), 10.5-million-pound steel structure at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

J.P. Donovan Construction will install and integrate ground support equipment (GSE) systems onto the mobile launcher to modify the structure with the systems necessary to assemble, process and launch NASA's integrated Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. The scope of work includes the installation of mechanical, electrical and fluid subsystems that will support the SLS rocket.

According to Ernst, this phase will include the installation of more than 800 mechanical, fluid and electrical panels, about 300,000-plus feet of cabling, and miles of tubing and piping.

"One of our big challenges is that SLS, Orion and GSE systems are all in development concurrently," Ernst said. "Now we are working to develop an install design for the hardware. There are a lot of unique challenges."

Members of the media recently toured the ML and saw first-hand all of the upgrades and modifications that have been completed so far. The ML was originally developed to support Ares I. The base and tower structure were modified to accommodate the much larger SLS/Orion configurations. These modifications included structural reinforcement of the base and tower and increased exhaust hole to accommodate the much larger launch vehicle.

"To increase the size of the exhaust hole and strengthen the base, we had demolition of over 750 tons of steel, and fabrication and installation of more than 1,000 tons of new steel," said Mike Taylor, project manager for J.P. Donovan.

A series of lines will connect the ML to various parts of the rocket to provide the necessary power, fuel, and communications until launch. These umbilical lines release at liftoff and then retract to clear the way for the rocket. The base of the ML will contain the tail service mast umbilicals. The tower will contain several umbilicals, including the crew access arm, the Orion service module umbilical, and several umbilicals that will provide power, cryogenics and stability to the SLS rocket.

The ML is planned to be rolled to the Vehicle Assembly Building in early 2017.

Overseeing modification to the ML is one of many ways the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is helping to prepare Kennedy to process and launch the next-generation vehicles and spacecraft designed to achieve NASA's goals for space exploration. To achieve this transformation, the NASA and contractor workforce is developing the necessary ground systems while refurbishing and upgrading infrastructure and facilities to accommodate government, commercial and other customers' needs.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Members of the media gather underneath the Mobile Launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a viewing opportunity on August 19, 2015.
NASA / Cory Huston

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Japan's Newest Cargo Ship Is Bound for the International Space Station...

JAXA's KOUNOTORI 5 spacecraft is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan towards the International Space Station, on August 19, 2015.
JAXA

Launch Success of H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 5 (HTV-5) by H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 5‏ (Press Release)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.5 (H-IIB F5) with the KOUNOTORI 5 (HTV-5, a cargo transfer vehicle to the International Space Station) onboard at 8:50:49 p.m. on August 19 (Wednesday) 2015 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 14 minutes and 54 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the KOUNOTORI 5 was confirmed.

We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the successful launch of the H-IIB F5.

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, a wind speed was 3.5 meters/second from the south-south-east and the temperature was 27.8 degrees Celsius.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Photo of the Day: SpaceShipTwo Takes One More Step Towards Its Return to Flight...

The successor to the VSS Enterprise is attached to the underbelly of White Knight II at The Spaceship Company in California's Mojave Desert, on August 5, 2015.
Virgin Galactic

Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic posted this photo on Twitter showing the successor to the VSS Enterprise after it was secured to the underbelly of its mothership, the VMS Eve, at The Spaceship Company for a fit-check. While SpaceShipTwo's replacement (which was initially known as the VSS Voyager) is still far from completing construction, it is nice to know that Sir Richard Branson's aerospace firm is making strides towards returning to flight following last October's tragedy in California's Mojave Desert. Can't wait to see this bird soar in the sky once more.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

SLS Update: The 'Ferrari of Rocket Engines' Roars Back to Life...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on August 13, 2015.
NASA

Countdown to Deep Space Continues with Latest RS-25 Test (Press Release - August 13)

NASA’s countdown to deep space continued today with a 535-second test of its Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine to collect engine performance data at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. SLS will launch astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on missions to deep space and eventually on the journey to Mars. Operators on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis are conducting the test series to qualify an all-new engine controller and put the upgraded former space shuttle main engines through the rigorous temperature and pressure conditions they will experience during a SLS mission.

One final test of this RS-25 developmental engine is planned in this series; testing of flight engines begins later this fall.

More than 1,200 people, including elected officials and community leaders, media and social media representatives, and NASA and contractor employees and family members viewed the test. Guests saw Stennis facilities and test stands, the Aerojet Rocketdyne engine assembly facility, and the Pegasus barge that will transport the SLS core stage from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Stennis for testing then to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch.

An initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) SLS configuration will use four RS-25 engines for the core stage, along with two five-segment solid rocket boosters, providing more lift to orbit than any current launch vehicle. The core stage for the first SLS and Orion integrated flight – Exploration Mission-1 – also will be tested at Stennis. That test will involve simultaneous firing of the four RS-25 engines just as during an actual launch.

The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system for deep space exploration. It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engine work.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Orion Update #2: Paving the Way for Exploration Mission-1...

At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, engineers work on a full-scale pathfinder article for the Orion EM-1 spacecraft...which officially begins construction in about a month or so.
NASA

Welding Preparations For Orion Spacecraft at Michoud Assembly Facility (Press Release)

At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, engineers are welding together the Orion crew module pathfinder in preparation for the welding process set to begin later this summer on the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission-1. This pathfinder, including the barrel section shown here, is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It is used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce flight hardware for Orion’s next mission, when the spacecraft will fly atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. Several pieces of Orion’s primary structure for that mission have already arrived at Michoud for processing.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Components of the full-scale pathfinder article and the Orion EM-1 spacecraft itself...which officially begins construction in about a month or so.
NASA

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Orion Update: Beginning the Process of Finalizing the Spacecraft's Design...

A computer-generated image depicting the Orion spacecraft as its flies past the Moon several days after the launch of Exploration Mission-1...in late 2018.
NASA

Orion Begins Critical Design Review Milestone (Press Release)

NASA’s Orion Program kicked off its critical design review at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston the week of Aug. 3, a major program milestone that will ensure the spacecraft’s design is ready for its deep space missions atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Orion, which successfully flew about 3,600 miles into space last year during an uncrewed flight test, is being developed to send astronauts to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and on toward Mars. During its next mission, Orion will venture to a distant lunar orbit beyond the far side of the moon.

“Our team across the country has been working incredibly hard to develop a spacecraft capable of expanding humanity’s frontier in the solar system,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “Since even before flying Orion in space last year, we’ve been moving at full steam toward our first flight on SLS, and this review gives us a chance to make sure all systems and their designs meet our requirements and are in sync before we continue pressing ahead.”

The review is a months-long process where engineers delve into the details of the spacecraft’s systems and subsystems to evaluate their maturity and involves thousands of documents. The milestone is a rallying point for those with technical stakes in successfully building and flying future Orion missions to ensure all elements are in sync before moving ahead with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and testing.

It will include an evaluation of common aspects of the spacecraft for Exploration Mission (EM)-1 and the spacecraft for EM-2, the first Orion mission with astronauts, such as the spacecraft’s structures, pyrotechnics, Launch Abort System, guidance, navigation and control and software, among many other elements. Systems unique to EM-2 will be addressed at a later critical design review for the mission in the fall of 2017.

Not only will Orion technical experts take a close look at the spacecraft, but engineers working on SLS, which recently completed its own critical design review, the ground systems needed for launch and other elements needed to execute successful missions, such as mission operations and safety and mission assurance, will be on hand during the review to provide insight.

“We’re working through our critical design review now so that we can balance evaluating individual components with the hardware manufacturing needs we have to start our assembly and integration activities,” said Geyer.

The Orion Program’s critical design review is targeted for completion in late October.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A computer-generated image depicting the Orion spacecraft firing its main engine as it heads back to Earth...following a flyby of the Moon during Exploration Mission-1 in late 2018.
NASA

Monday, August 10, 2015

ISS Update #3: All That's Needed Now Is a Bottle of Ranch Dressing!

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and his two fellow crew members, Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren, feast on red romaine lettuce aboard the International Space Station, on August 10, 2015.
NASA TV

Space Farming Yields a Crop of Benefits for Earth (Press Release)

The six astronauts currently living on the International Space Station (ISS) have become the first people to eat food grown in space. The fresh red romaine lettuce that accompanied the crew’s usual freeze-dried fare, however, is far from the first crop grown on a space station. For decades, NASA and other agencies have experimented with plants in space, but the results were always sent to Earth for examination, rather than eaten.

A number of technologies NASA has explored for these space-farming experiments also have returned to Earth over the years and found their way onto the market.

Orbital Technologies (ORBITEC), for example, partnered with Kennedy Space Center to develop the plant growth system—known as Veggie—that produced this most recent crop of lettuce, as well as its predecessor, the Biomass Production System. Many features of the high-efficiency lighting system the company developed with Kennedy funding have been incorporated into ORBITEC’s commercial offerings.

Not only does its greenhouse lighting technology take advantage of the efficiency of LEDs, which waste almost no energy on heat, but its variable light output allows it to be adapted to specific plant species at specific growth stages. It can also sense the presence of plant tissue and only power nearby LEDs. Overall, it uses about 60 percent less energy than traditional plant lighting systems.

While early LEDs came to NASA’s attention as a potential light source for plant growth, the National Space Biomedical Research Program (NSBRI), a NASA-funded group of institutions, took notice of the fact that the lamps could produce specific wavelengths of light. The team that was growing plants at Kennedy built LED prototypes for an NSBRI team that used it for a research project, discovering that different wavelengths of light helped test subjects stay awake or fall asleep.

So the Kennedy team partnered with a contractor to develop the ISS’s first LED lighting system. Soon after, several scientists involved in the project brought their expertise to the company Lighting Science, which developed a line of DefinityDigital light bulbs for home use. Different bulbs can suppress or increase melatonin production in the brain to induce wakefulness or sleepiness, respectively. Another is used to grow plants, and a fourth bulb is designed for outdoor lighting in coastal areas, where it won’t disorient sea turtles, as normal outdoor lighting tends to.

A problem faced by greenhouses both in space and on Earth is ethylene, a gas plants give off that hastens the ripening of fruits and vegetables. Accelerating ripening means speeding decay. Researchers at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, a NASA research partnership center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, figured out how to deal with this problem in the 1990s, ultimately leading to a highly successful line of products. The ethylene-scrubbing technology they devised first flew in 1995 on the space shuttle and was later licensed by KES Science & Technology, which partnered with Akida Holdings to launch the AiroCide product line.

The scrubbers turned out to destroy not only ethylene and other volatile organic compounds but also airborne bacteria, mold, fungi, mycotoxins, viruses, and odors. AiroCide scrubbers are now widely used for food preservation in supermarkets, produce distribution facilities, food processing plants, wineries, distilleries, restaurants, and large floral shops. They’ve been incorporated into a line of refrigerators. They’re also used in parts of the developing world such as India and the Persian Gulf area, where food storage and distribution is often complicated by harsh conditions and underdeveloped infrastructure.

AiroCide units are also commonly used to clean the air and prevent the spread of disease in hospitals, doctors’ offices, laboratories, schools, hospitals, and daycare centers. By 2013, a home version became available and immediately caught on.

Another product of NASA’s space-farming endeavors allows plants to text their caretakers when they’re thirsty. Astronauts aboard the ISS don’t have a lot of time for checking up on plants, so an employee of BioServe Space Technologies, a nonprofit, NASA-sponsored research partnership center, built a sensor that used electrical impulses to measure leaf thickness, which indicates water content. BioServe partnered with AgriHouse Brands Ltd. to test the sensor and found that it not only eliminated guesswork from watering plants but also reduced water use by 25 to 45 percent.

By 2012, AgriHouse offered sensors that attach to plants and transmit water-content data to a user’s computer, and the system can send text messages when certain crops need water.

This wasn’t the first partnership between BioServe and AgriHouse to advance agriculture in space and on Earth. In the late 1980s, AgriHouse used BioServe research to develop a method for aeroponic crop production—that is, growing plants suspended in air without soil or media. Plants grown aeroponically require far less water and fertilizer, don’t need pesticide, are much less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil.

For a 2007 aeroponic experiment aboard the ISS, BioServe consulted with AeroGrow International, which had been inspired by NASA’s aeroponic work, to develop its AeroGarden kitchen gardening appliances. The experiment using AeroGrow technology proved a success, as has the company’s line of indoor gardening systems, which easily grow food and other plants without dirt, weeds, or the need for a green thumb.

NASA’s push into the frontiers of space will undoubtedly continue to advance the state of the art of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors. As the agency eyes deep-space missions like a trip to an asteroid or Mars, space farming becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity. Plants will be an integral part of any life-support system for extended missions, providing food and oxygen and processing waste. Significant further advances will be necessary, and each of them promises to bring new innovations to agriculture here on Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Red romaine lettuce is grown inside the VEGGIE hardware system that is currently aboard the International Space Station.
Orbital Technologies / NASA

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ISS Update #2: Getting Ready to Dine on Lettuce...

Lettuce is grown inside the VEGGIE hardware system aboard the International Space Station.
NASA

Testing Hardware for Growing Plants and Vegetables in Space (Press Release)

Astronauts on the International Space Station continue testing the VEGGIE hardware for growing vegetables and plants in space. VEGGIE provides lighting and nutrient supply for plants in the form of a low-cost growth chamber and planting "pillows" -- helping provide nutrients for the root system. It supports a variety of plant species that can be cultivated for educational outreach, fresh food and even recreation for crew members on long-duration missions.

Further work on the VEGGIE hardware validation test (VEG-01) began on Monday, July 20, 2015 when NASA astronaut Scott Kelly photographed the progress of the plants thus far and watered them the next day. On Friday, July 24, new crew member and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren took over watering duties and photographic documentation of the plants. Knowledge from this investigation could benefit agricultural practices on Earth by designing systems that use valuable resources, such as water, more efficiently.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, August 2, 2015

ISS Update: Manned Spaceflight Epitomized By This Photo...

The International Space Station (to the right of the Moon's center) transits our lunar neighbor on August 2, 2015.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Space Station Lunar Transit (Press Release)

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.

Source: NASA.Gov