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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The HTV-5 Completes Its Mission at the ISS...

KOUNOTORI 5 is grappled by the space station's robotic arm prior to being unberthed from the orbital outpost on September 28, 2015 (U.S. Time).
NASA

Successful Re-entry of H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI 5" (HTV-5) - Press Release

The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 5 (HTV-5) successfully re-entered the atmosphere after the third de-orbit maneuver at 5:08 AM on September 30, 2015 (Japanese Standard Time, JST).

The KOUNOTORI 5 has successfully accomplished its main objective of shipping cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and completed its 42-day mission.

The estimated date/time for the re-entry and waterlanding are as follows (Japanese Standard Time):
Estimated re-entry*: September 30, 2015 / 5:33 AM
Estimated waterlanding: September 30, 2015 / 5:47 AM - 6:13 AM

* Altitude at 120 km

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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KOUNOTORI 5 floats above the Earth after being unberthed from the International Space Station on September 28, 2015 (U.S. Time).
NASA

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Orion's Heat Shield: Lessons Learned from EFT-1...

A test version of the upgraded heat shield that will fly on the Orion spacecraft during Exploration Mission-1 in 2018.
Lockheed Martin

NASA Applies Insights for Manufacturing of Orion Spacecraft Heat Shield (Press Release)

When it comes to building a spacecraft fit for a journey to Mars, improvements happen brick by brick and block by block. Orion Program leaders have decided to begin building Orion’s heat shield in blocks rather than as a monolithic structure, a move that signals the insights gained as a result of testing the design in space.

Engineers building NASA’s Orion are making manufacturing improvements for the spacecraft ahead of its missions to deep space destinations near the moon and on the journey to Mars. Program leaders opted to begin building Orion’s heat shield in blocks rather than as a monolithic structure, a move that signals the insights gained as a result of testing the design in space.

The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects it and the future astronauts inside from searing temperatures experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when they return home. For Exploration Mission (EM)-1, the top layer of Orion’s heat shield that is primarily responsible for helping the crew module endure reentry heat will be composed of approximately 180 blocks that can be built in stages, easing the labor-intensive manufacturing process.

“The heat shield we put to the test during Orion’s flight test last December met every expectation we had and gave us a tremendous amount of data on its thermal and mechanical performance,” said Mark Kirasich, Acting Orion Program Manager. “But the process of building the heat shield as a single piece for that flight also gave us insight into how we could improve the way we build this essential element of the spacecraft.”

Orion’s flight test, known as Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, provided an opportunity to develop confidence in the overall system and provide insight that can't be gained from models in the laboratory. The heat shield experienced temperatures of about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and speeds approximately 80 percent of what it will endure when it comes back from missions near the moon, all while keeping the temperature inside the crew module in the mid-70s. Post-flight examinations of the heat shield confirmed it performed well within expected tolerances.

The heat shield was composed of a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin that gave the crew module its circular shape on the bottom and provided structural support, on top of which a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure was placed. The honeycomb structure had 320,000 tiny cells that were individually filled by hand with an ablative material called Avcoat designed to wear away as Orion returned to Earth through the atmosphere. During the labor-intensive process, each individual cell was filled by hand as part of a serial process, cured in a large oven, X-rayed and then robotically machined to meet precise thickness requirements.

However, during the manufacture of the heat shield for Orion’s flight test, engineers determined that the strength of the Avcoat/honeycomb structure was below expectations. While analysis showed, and the flight proved, that the heat shield would work for the test, the EM-1 Orion will experience colder temperatures in space and hotter temperatures upon reentry, requiring a stronger heat shield.

Through lessons and data obtained from building and flying the heat shield, the team was able to make a design update for the Avcoat block design that will meet the EM-1 strength requirements. It is also expected to provide a cost savings and shorten the current heat shield manufacturing timeline by about two months. Engineers have now folded the update into the design review that will lock down the design for the next version.

Across the country, elements of the Orion spacecraft for EM-1 are coming together. This month welding began on the next Orion destined for space at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. In October, NASA will see the arrival of a test version of Orion’s ESA (European Space Agency)-provided service module for testing and analysis at the agency’s Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio, and is scheduled to complete its critical design review, a months-long review that demonstrates Orion is ready to proceed to full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and testing.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Orion's heat shield is installed onto the spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...during Exploration Flight Test-1 launch preparations last year.
NASA

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SLS Update: Making Progress Towards Next Year's QM-2 Test...

Engineers inspect the avionics subsystem and hardware for the QM (Qualification Motor)-2 solid rocket booster (SRB) at an Orbital ATK test facility in Utah...prior to the successful off-motor hot-fire test on September 22, 2015.
Orbital ATK

Twice as Nice: NASA, Orbital ATK Prepare for Second SLS Booster Ground Test (Press Release)

NASA and Orbital ATK of Promontory, Utah, are getting fired up for a second qualification ground test for the largest, most powerful boosters ever built for the agency’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

On Sept. 22, engineers successfully tested the booster thrust vector control and avionics systems during an off-motor hot-fire test at ATK. The hot-fire test simulated the test cycle that will be used in the second qualification test, which will closely resemble flight conditions.

The thrust vector control system steers the rocket nozzle based on commands passed through the booster avionics system -- made up of hardware, software and operating systems that will communicate with the SLS avionics system and ground operations. The avionics also will control booster operations, like motor firing and separation motor ignition.

When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. The solid rocket boosters -- measuring 177 feet long and producing 3.6 million pounds of thrust -- operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight. The boosters provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the launch vehicle to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth.

The second qualification test, planned for spring 2016, will test the booster’s performance at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees and also demonstrate that it meets applicable ballistic requirements.

“We are making significant progress in preparation for the second qualification test,” says Bruce Tiller, deputy manager of the SLS Boosters Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Marshall manages the SLS Program for the agency. “The completion of these qualification tests is crucial in getting the boosters certified for the first two flights of SLS and staying the course for the journey to Mars.”

Four of the five segments of the booster also have been cast at Orbital ATK’s facilities. The final segment is scheduled to be cast in late September. Two of the cast segments have undergone rigorous inspections, with the other two following suit in the next two months.

“The rear and forward segments have successfully completed all non-destructive evaluation with no defect indications and are currently in final assembly,” says Fred Brasfield, Orbital ATK vice president for NASA programs. “The next major event for the rear segment will be installation of the nozzle, which is expected to happen in November.”

“Finding no defects in the segment insulation we’ve inspected so far is a huge accomplishment for our teams, and something that hasn’t been done on past NASA programs,” says Tiller. “That’s a testament to the work we’ve put in on refining our manufacturing processes and materials.”

The first booster qualification test was successfully completed in March. For that test, the booster was heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit to demonstrate how it performs in high-temperature conditions. Similar to the first test, some of the objectives of the second test include data gathering on vital motor upgrades, such as the new insulation and booster case liner and the redesigned nozzle, which increases the robustness of the design. The nozzle -- the most complex part of the booster -- controls expansion of chamber pressures and includes the thrust vector control system, which guides and controls the rocket.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a Block I 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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Orbital ATK engineers install insulation to the rear segment of the SRB for the QM-2 ground test...set to take place in Utah early next year.
Orbital ATK

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

EM-1 Update: Europe Makes Progress in Developing Orion's Service Module...

A test version of the fuel tank that will be installed inside the Service Module that Europe is building for NASA's Orion spacecraft.
Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space Builds First Hardware for Orion Space Vehicle’s Service Module (Press Release)

Airbus Defence and Space, prime contractor for NASA’s Orion space vehicle’s European Service Module (ESM), has completed four large titanium tanks for the module that will be delivered for initial testing.

The tanks are the first hardware to be supplied for the Orion space vehicle. Each tank is 2.67 metres high with a diameter of 1.15 metres. The tanks weight approximately 100 kilograms when empty and have a volume of 2,100 litres, giving a total payload capacity of almost nine tonnes of fuel [monomethylhydrazine (MMH) and mixed oxides of nitrogen (MON)]. Most of the ESM’s total mass of just over 13 tonnes will consist of fuel.

The tanks will be first transported to Italy, where the structural test model will be assembled before being tested in the United States. The primary goal of these initial tests is to verify whether the structural components can withstand the enormous loads, especially during take-off. The next step is to build the engineering model that will be assembled and tested at Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen. This model will be used to test the inner workings of the tanks, which ensure a continuous, bubble-free flow of propellant to the motors in zero gravity. The actual flight tanks for the ESM – which will be used for the first time when the uncrewed Exploration Mission 1 launches in 2018 – will be built by Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen by mid-2016.

The ESM will provide propulsion, power and thermal control to the Orion space vehicle, and will also supply crew members with water and oxygen during missions to the Moon, asteroids and later, eventually, to Mars.

Source: Airbus Group

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft with a European Service Module attached to it.
ESA

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Orion Update: EM-2 May Launch No Later Than Early 2023...

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, spacesuit engineers demonstrate how four crew members would be arranged for launch inside the Orion spacecraft, using a mockup of the capsule.
NASA

NASA Completes Key Milestone for Orion Spacecraft in Support of Journey to Mars (Press Release)

NASA’s mission to send astronauts to deep space destinations where no other human has traveled has taken another important step forward with the completion of a critical milestone for the Orion spacecraft currently in production.

Agency officials have completed a rigorous technical and programmatic review, confirming continued support of the program and establishing NASA’s commitment to the program’s technical, cost, and schedule baseline. This is the first time NASA has reached this level of progress for a spacecraft designed to take humans into deep space beyond the moon, including to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit and on the journey to Mars.

“Our work to send humans out into the solar system is progressing,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Orion is a key piece of the flexible architecture that will enable humanity to set foot on the Red Planet, and we are committed to building the spacecraft and other elements necessary to make this a reality.”

A successful test of an uncrewed Orion capsule, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), flew in December 2014, providing important data that allowed engineers to identify risks associated with deep space flight and re-entry and use that knowledge to improve the design of Orion for its next test flights, Exploration Missions 1 and 2 (EM-1 and EM-2).

Performance data has helped to improve manufacturing processes, as well. Engineers have already incorporated many of these improvements into elements of the EM-1 design, including the crew compartment or pressure vessel, which now is in fabrication and assembly at companies across the country. The vessel is comprised of seven panels or sections, and the first two of these were welded together last week. When complete, this capsule will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the first fully integrated flight test, EM-1.

Astronauts will fly on Orion for the first time on EM-2. That mission will build on the results of the EM-1 flight with additional requirements that the Orion capsule includes fully integrated environmental control and life support systems; controls; and communications designed specifically for the human operation; and advanced launch and re-entry spacesuits for the crew. The recent review, culminating in what is known within NASA as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), includes all of these technological advancements, and approval represents agency support for this work and the Orion program plan.

The decision commits NASA to a development cost baseline of $6.77 billion from October 2015 through the first crewed mission (EM-2) and a commitment to be ready for a launch with astronauts no later than April 2023. The commitment is consistent with funding levels in the president’s budget request. Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the Orion Program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program's control.

“As we take these steps to develop the capabilities we need to send astronauts deep into space, we’re also aligning how we manage our human exploration systems development programs to ensure we are prepared for unforeseen future hurdles,” said Robert Lightfoot, NASA associate administrator. “We’re committing to this funding and readiness level to stay on the journey we’ve outlined to get to Mars.”

Orion engineers now are executing a rigorous review of the spacecraft’s engineering design and technical progress of the vehicle systems and subsystems. This critical design review (CDR) will demonstrate Orion is ready to proceed to full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and testing. NASA’s SLS Program recently completed this milestone, and its Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program will begin its review this fall.

“The Orion Program has done incredible work, progressing every day and meeting milestones to prepare for our next missions,” said William Gerstenmaier, the agency’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. “The team will keep working toward an earlier readiness date for a first crewed flight, but will be ready no later than April 2023, and we will keep the spacecraft, rocket and ground systems moving at their own best possible paces.”

In the coming months, Orion will complete its CDR; see the arrival of a test version for the European Space Agency-provided service module at NASA’s Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio; perform a series of parachute tests; and complete the welding of the crew pressure vessel. Although Orion’s readiness date for EM-1 was not formally part of the KDP-C milestone commitment, engineers continue to work toward a commitment for SLS and GSDO to be ready for the uncrewed mission in fall 2018, and NASA will set an integrated launch date after GSDO’s critical design review is completed.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Photo of the Day: A Celestial Display Between Our Star and Mankind's Largest Artificial Satellite...

A composite image of the International Space Station crossing in front of our Sun on September 6, 2015.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

International Space Station Transits the Sun (Press Release - September 8)

This composite image made from five frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of nine onboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Sergey Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

SLS Update: Paving the Way for the Mega-Rocket's Assembly...

A test version of the Space Launch System's Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA) is assembled at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given

Construction Begins on Test Version of Important Connection for SLS (Press Release)

Strong connection points between the stages of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) -- the agency’s advanced launch vehicle for exploration beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space -- are essential to ensure that the rocket will withstand the loads it may experience during flight. The Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, or LVSA, plays an important role in connecting two major sections of the rocket -- the core stage and the upper stage.

The upper stage, known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, gives the Orion spacecraft the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before the spacecraft returns to Earth for the first flight test of SLS. The Orion spacecraft is connected to the upper stage with the Orion Stage Adapter.

Welding of the major panels of a test version of the LVSA began in August at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the agency manages the SLS program.

Marshall engineers, in close partnership with prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, are applying friction-stir-welding capabilities and equipment. The friction-stir-welding process joins large pieces of the LVSA by stirring their edges together without completely melting the metal, resulting in a stronger weld than in standard welding practices. The Marshall weld team also developed an innovative modular tooling concept, which can make different size adapters using the same machinery – reducing costs and build time.

“We are starting to see the test version of the LVSA take shape,” said Brent Gaddes, adapter manager for SLS. “This is a unique structure, which presents some challenges due to its large size and conical shape. However, we have a very capable team, both with Marshall and Teledyne Brown, and are building on our experience with the stage adapter that was used on Orion’s first test flight in 2014.”

Engineers have already completed structural test articles of the Orion stage adapter, core stage simulator and Orion spacecraft simulator. A test article for the interim cryogenic propulsion stage is currently in production at United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama. When the test versions of all the parts are completed, engineers will stack them and move the 56-foot tall structure to 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.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a Block I 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 infographic showing the LVSA's location on NASA's Space Launch System.
NASA / MSFC

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Orion Update: Construction Begins on the EM-1 Spacecraft!

Welding begins on the first two components (the tunnel and forward bulkhead) of the Orion EM-1 spacecraft at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA

First Pieces of NASA’s Orion for Next Mission Come Together at Michoud (Press Release)

NASA is another small step closer to sending astronauts on a journey to Mars. On Saturday, engineers at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will fly atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on a mission beyond the far side of the moon.

“Every day, teams around the country are moving at full speed to get ready for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), when we’ll flight test Orion and SLS together in the proving ground of space, far away from the safety of Earth,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re progressing toward eventually sending astronauts deep into space.”

The primary structure of Orion’s crew module is made of seven large aluminum pieces that must be welded together in detailed fashion. The first weld connects the tunnel to the forward bulkhead, which is at the top of the spacecraft and houses many of Orion’s critical systems, such as the parachutes that deploy during reentry. Orion’s tunnel, with a docking hatch, will allow crews to move between the crew module and other spacecraft.

“Each of Orion’s systems and subsystems is assembled or integrated onto the primary structure, so starting to weld the underlying elements together is a critical first manufacturing step,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “The team has done tremendous work to get to this point and to ensure we have a sound building block for the rest of Orion’s systems.”

Engineers have undertaken a meticulous process to prepare for welding. They have cleaned the segments, coated them with a protective chemical and primed them. They then outfitted each element with strain gauges and wiring to monitor the metal during the fabrication process. Prior to beginning work on the pieces destined for space, technicians practiced their process, refined their techniques and ensured proper tooling configurations by welding together a pathfinder, a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design.

NASA’s prime contractor for the spacecraft, Lockheed Martin, is doing the production of the crew module at Michoud.

Through collaborations across design and manufacturing, teams have been able to reduce the number of welds for the crew module by more than half since the first test version of Orion’s primary structure was constructed and flown on the Exploration Flight Test-1 last December. The Exploration Mission-1 structure will include just seven main welds, plus several smaller welds for start and stop holes left by welding tools. Fewer welds will result in a lighter spacecraft.

During the coming months as other pieces of Orion’s primary structure arrive at Michoud from machine houses across the country, engineers will inspect and evaluate them to ensure they meet precise design requirements before welding. Once complete, the structure will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be assembled with the other elements of the spacecraft, integrated with SLS and processed before launch.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The seven major components that make up the pressure vessel of the Orion EM-1 spacecraft.
NASA

Friday, September 4, 2015

CST-100 Update: Make Way for the STARLINER!

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 STARLINER in low-Earth orbit.
Boeing

Boeing Revamps Production Facility for Starliner Flights (Press Release)

Meet the CST-100 Starliner, the newly unveiled name of Boeing’s commercial crew transportation spacecraft. It's been designed with a focus on automated flight, reliable operation and frequent flights carrying NASA astronauts to the space station. It also may take paying customers to the awe-inspiring heights of low-Earth orbit and the unique sensation of sustained weightlessness.

NASA last year awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to each develop systems that will safely and cost effectively transport astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States.

The CST-100 will be assembled and processed for launch at the revitalized Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA had used the facility for 20 years as a shuttle processing hangar and for the extensive preps and testing of the space shuttle main engines in the engine shop.

"One hundred years ago we were on the dawn of the commercial aviation era and today, with the help of NASA, we're on the dawn of a new commercial space era," said Boeing's John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Space Exploration. "It's been such a pleasure to work hand-in-hand with NASA on this commercial crew development, and when we look back 100 years from this point, I’m really excited about what we will have discovered."

With the high bay of the C3PF expected to be complete in December 2015, engineers are building the structural test article for the Starliner in the remodeled engine shop. Though not scheduled to ever make it into space, the test version of the spacecraft will be put through a continuum of tests culminating with a pad abort test in 2017. It will be used as a pathfinder to prove the design Boeing and NASA's Commercial Crew Program worked together to develop is sound and can accomplish its missions.

For NASA, the main mission for Boeing's Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is to re-establish an American launch capability for astronauts to use to reach the space station and make more use of its unique research environment. Experiments are conducted every day in orbit that will improve life on Earth and find answers to the challenges of deep space exploration so astronauts can undertake a successful journey to Mars in the future.

"Commercial crew is an essential component of our journey to Mars, and in 35 states, 350 American companies are working to make it possible for the greatest country on Earth to once again launch our own astronauts into space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “That’s some impressive investment.”

NASA expects to use the Starliner and Crew Dragon to take four crew members to the space station at a time, increasing the resident crew on the orbiting laboratory to seven at a time instead of the current six. By adding the workweek of a single new crew member to the capabilities of the space station, the amount of research time available to astronauts in orbit will double to about 80 hours a week.

Kennedy will be the home of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, with other buildings at the center to be used as Boeing's Launch Control Center and for mission support.

“Kennedy Space Center has transitioned more than 50 facilities for commercial use. We have made improvements and upgrades to well-known Kennedy workhorses such as the Vehicle Assembly Building, mobile launcher, crawler–transporter and Launch Pad 39B in support of Orion, the SLS and Advanced Exploration Systems,” said Robert Cabana, Kennedy’s center director. “I am proud of our success in transforming Kennedy Space Center to a 21st century, multi-user spaceport that is now capable of supporting the launch of all sizes and classes of vehicles, including horizontal launches from the Shuttle Landing Facility, and spacecraft processing and landing.”

Boeing officials say Kennedy was a natural choice given its expertise along the full range of spacecraft and rocket processing to launch and operations.

"When Boeing was looking for the prime location for its program headquarters, we knew Florida had a lot to offer from the infrastructure to the supplier base to the skilled work force," said Chris Ferguson, a former shuttle commander who now is deputy manager of operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Starliner will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The crew access tower that will support astronauts and ground support teams before launch is being built a couple of miles away from the launch pad now and will be assembled adjacent to the current structures already at the pad. ULA will continue to operate the pad for Atlas V processing and launches during construction of the tower.

Although the infrastructure is coming together quickly, the first flight of the Starliner and Crew Dragon depends on a number of design and testing milestones for the entire space system before either one will be in a position to take its first flight test.

Working under contracts awarded last year, both Boeing and SpaceX agreed to conduct an orbital mission without a crew aboard for their respective spacecraft. Then each will launch a test flight, which includes astronauts, to demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to meet the demands of human-rated spaceflight. Following that mission, the spacecraft will be certified for operational missions carrying a full complement of crew to support the research work on the space station. And astronauts will once again will be taking regular flights from Florida’s Space Coast.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 STARLINER vehicle in low-Earth orbit.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ISS Update: Another Soyuz Is Bound for the Orbital Outpost...

A Soyuz TMA-18M rocket carrying three Expedition 45 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 2, 2015.
NASA TV

Soyuz Heads to Space Station with New Crew, Return Transportation for One-Year Mission Team (Press Release - September 1)

Three crew members representing Russia, Denmark and Kazakhstan have launched to the International Space Station to provide a new ride home for the station’s one-year crew and continue important research that advances NASA's journey to Mars.

Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, Andreas Mogensen of ESA (European Space Agency) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency launched aboard Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:37 a.m. EDT on Wednesday (10:37 a.m. in Baikonur). They are set to dock to the station at 3:42 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 4. NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 3 a.m.

At 2:40 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, NASA TV will provide a live broadcast as Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscomos hands over command of the space station to Expedition 44 Flight Engineer Scott Kelly of NASA. Expedition 45 begins on Sept. 11 when Padalka, Mogensen and Aimbetov undock from the orbital outpost in the Soyuz spacecraft designated TMA-16M and return to Earth. The Soyuz TMA-16M carried Padalka, Kelly, and Roscosmos’ Mikhail Kornienko to space in March. Because each Soyuz remains in orbit for about six months, the spacecraft swap is necessary at the midway point of the one-year mission.

With the arrival of Volkov, Mogensen and Aimbetov, nine people will be aboard the orbiting laboratory for the first time since 2013. The three join Expedition 44 Flight Engineers Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Commander Padalka and Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Kornienko of Roscosmos, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Kelly and Kornienko will reach the halfway point of their one-year mission to advance understanding of the medical and psychological challenges astronauts face during long duration spaceflight, in addition to developing countermeasures that will help minimize adverse effects. The pair will spend 342 consecutive days living in space before returning to Earth with Volkov in March 2016 aboard the Soyuz TMA-18M.

In the coming months, Expedition 45 crew members will conduct more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.

The recently installed CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) searches for dark matter, measures cosmic rays and observes sources of high-energy phenomena in the galaxy. CALET seeks answers for several unknowns, including the origin of cosmic rays, how cosmic rays accelerate and move across the galaxy, and the existence of dark matter and its relation to nearby cosmic ray sources. Once scientists take an inventory of the highest-energy radiation in space, they may be able to characterize the radiation environment experienced by humans and encountered by space electronics. This may help determine risk of exposure to this type of radiation.

Ongoing station research also includes the Flame Extinguishment Experiment-2 JAXA (FLEX-2J), a study of combustion in microgravity. Fires burn differently in space, where fuels form spherical droplets and flames burn in a globular shape rather than teardrop. The crew studies the interactions of flames on the motion and ignition, or non-ignition, of millimeter-sized droplets. Results could provide key insights and improve computer modeling of fuel combustion to aid in reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency in space and on Earth.

During the second half of the marathon one-year mission, the team will continue a wide variety of human research studies, such as the Assessing Telomere Lengths and Telomerase Activity in Astronauts (Telomeres). Telomeres are "caps" on the ends of chromosomes that protect them from fraying, much like the aglet on the end of a shoelace. Telomeres shorten over time, and the rate at which this occurs can be increased by stress, leading to accelerated aging, cardiovascular disease, cancer and an impaired immune system. The Telomeres investigation uses crew member blood samples to examine how telomeres and telomerase, an enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres, are affected by space travel and to better evaluate the impact of future spaceflight.

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 space station 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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A Soyuz TMA-18M rocket carrying three Expedition 45 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 2, 2015.
NASA TV