Thursday, October 29, 2015

ISS Update #2: Another Spacewalk Complete...

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly takes a selfie during a spacewalk that was successfully conducted outside the International Space Station on October 28, 2015.

Spacewalk Selfie (Press Release)

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly took this photograph during a spacewalk on Oct. 28, 2015. Sharing the image on social media, Kelly wrote, "#SpaceWalkSelfie Back on the grid! Great first spacewalk yesterday. Now on to the next one next week. #YearInSpace"

This was the first spacewalk for both Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren; the two will venture outside the International Space Station for the second time on Friday, Nov. 6. The two spacewalks were scheduled around milestones in space. Today, Oct. 29, Kelly becomes the U.S. astronaut who has lived in space the longest during a single U.S. spaceflight, and on Monday, Nov. 2, the crew celebrates the 15th year of a continuous human presence in space aboard the station.

During the 7-hour and 16-minute spacewalk, Kelly and Lindgren applied a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer; applied grease to a number of components in one of the latching ends of the Canadarm2 robotic arm; and began work to rig power and data system cables for the future installation of a docking port to the station that will be used for the arrival of the Boeing Starliner CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ISS Update: Prepping for Another Extra-Vehicular Activity...

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly prepares for a spacewalk that he and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren will conduct outside the International Space Station on October 28, 2015.

Scott Kelly Prepares For a Spacewalk (Press Release)

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the U.S. Quest airlock of the International Space Station. Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren will venture outside the station for a pair of spacewalks, the first of their careers, on Wednesday, Oct. 28 and Friday, Nov. 6.

The Oct. 28 spacewalk is set to last six hours and 30 minutes after Kelly and Lindgren set their spacesuits to battery power. It will be the 32nd U.S. spacewalk, and will focus on station upgrades and maintenance tasks, including installing a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector that has been attached to the station since 2011. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. EDT.

Sharing this photograph of the spacesuit fit check with his social media followers, Kelly wrote, "Day 212 Getting my game face on for #spacewalk Thanks for sticking w me #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, October 26, 2015

Orion Update: Another Big Milestone Towards Exploration Mission-1...

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

NASA’s Orion Marks Progress With Design Review (Press Release - October 25)

On Oct. 21, NASA held a review to evaluate the design readiness of the Orion spacecraft, the latest in a series of key milestones on the journey to Mars. The results of this review, known as a Critical Design Review, at the Program level will be briefed to agency leaders in the coming months.

The Orion spacecraft is being developed to send astronauts to deep space destinations, such as an asteroid and on the journey to Mars launching on the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

“The Orion team across the country put in many long hours preparing for and participating in this review,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion Program manager. “Every aspect of the spacecraft design was closely scrutinized.”

The Critical Design Review was carried out over the past 10 weeks by engineers at NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Clearing the Critical Design Review means that the Orion design is mature and ready to move ahead with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and testing. The review was supported by engineers working with the SLS and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs and in the Exploration Systems Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, alongside an independent Standing Review Board.

The evaluation included a review 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.

“This is an exciting time for Orion,” Kirasich continued. “We are making strong progress manufacturing the Exploration Mission-1 Orion vehicle. Our dedicated team is making human space exploration a reality.”

Across the country, elements of the Orion spacecraft are coming together for the first integrated mission with SLS and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center. At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, welding began in September on the next Orion destined for space. Next month, NASA will see the arrival of a test version of Orion’s service module, provided by ESA, for testing and analysis at the agency’s Plum Brook Station, near Sandusky, Ohio.

Source: NASA.Gov


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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The New Look of SLS Unveiled: Artwork #2...

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Artist Concept: Space Launch System Takes Flight (Press Release - October 22)

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. The first SLS mission -- Exploration Mission 1 -- will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon and bring it back to Earth to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft’s re-entry and landing prior to a crewed flight.

Source: NASA.Gov


A cropped version of the artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The New Look of SLS Unveiled: Artwork #1...

An artist's concept of the 'Block I' version of the Space Launch System sitting on its pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA's Space Launch System Design 'Right on Track' for Journey to Mars (Press Release - October 22)

ABOVE: Artist concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration.

For the first time in almost 40 years, a NASA human-rated rocket has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR). The agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Huge Milestone Achieved for America's Next Mega-Rocket!

A composite image showing the Space Launch System at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA Completes Critical Design Review for Space Launch System (Press Release)

For the first time in almost 40 years, a NASA human-rated rocket has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR). The agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. The CDR provided a final look at the design and development of the integrated launch vehicle before full-scale fabrication begins.

“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS, we’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division. “There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space.”

The CDR examined the first of three configurations planned for the rocket, referred to as SLS Block 1. The Block I configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS, Block 1B, would use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. Block 2 will add a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 130-metric-ton (143-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

The SLS Program completed the review in July, in conjunction with a separate review by the Standing Review Board, which is composed of seasoned experts from NASA and industry who are independent of the program. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – made up of senior engineers and aerospace experts across the agency and industry – reviewed more than 1,000 SLS documents and more than 150 GB of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where SLS is managed for the agency.

The Standing Review Board reviewed and assessed the program’s readiness and confirmed the technical effort is on track to complete system development and meet performance requirements on budget and on schedule.

The program briefed the results of the review in October to the Agency Program Management Council, led by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, as the final step in the CDR process.

This review is the last of four reviews that examine concepts and designs. The next step for the program is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete. The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design. The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date.

“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager. “Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress.”

Critical design reviews for the individual SLS elements of the core stage, boosters and engines were completed successfully as part of this milestone. Also as part of the CDR, the program concluded the core stage of the rocket and Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter will remain orange, the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements, instead of painted white. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall and with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.

The integrated spacecraft and payloads are nearing completion on their CDR. Flight hardware currently is in production for every element. NASA is preparing for a second qualification test for the SLS boosters, and structural test articles for the core and upper stages of the rocket are either completed or currently in production. NASA also recently completed the first developmental test series on the RS-25 engines.

Source: NASA.Gov


An infographic showing the various components that comprise the Space Launch System.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Photos of the Day: Endeavour's Final Home...

A concept model and illustration depicting the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour's final home, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 11, 2015.

Earlier today, I drove down to the California Science Center (CSC) in Los Angeles to visit space shuttle Endeavour once more (plus, I watched a documentary called Humpback Whales 3D at the museum's IMAX theater). I didn't take any new photos of the retired orbiter since I already have a whole bunch that's posted on this page, but I did take some images of a cool concept model that shows how Endeavour's final home, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, will look when it hopefully opens around three years from now. By the way, tomorrow marks three years since Endeavour first departed from a United Airlines hangar at Los Angeles International Airport to begin her much-celebrated street parade towards the CSC, while Wednesday (October 14), marks three years since the shuttle made her way up a ramp into the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, Endeavour's temporary home, at the downtown L.A. museum. Can't wait to see Endeavour in her vertical, launch-like configuration in 2018! That'll be a sight to see.

The illustration depicting the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour's final home, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 11, 2015.

The concept model depicting the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour's final home, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 11, 2015.

The concept model depicting the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour's final home, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles...on October 11, 2015.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Setting Sights on the Red Planet: Visions for the Future...

An illustration depicting the Earth Reliant, Proving Ground and Earth Independent thresholds, showing key capabilities that will be developed as NASA plans for a journey to Mars.

NASA Releases Plan Outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars (Press Release)

NASA is leading our nation and the world on a journey to Mars, and Thursday the agency released a detailed outline of that plan in its report, “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.”

“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week.”

The plan can be read online at:

The journey to Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth. NASA is managing these challenges by developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps:

Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. From this world-class microgravity laboratory, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.

In the Proving Ground, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space—the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions—NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.

Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners—a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars to seek the potential for sustainable life beyond Earth.

“NASA’s strategy connects near-term activities and capability development to the journey to Mars and a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. “This strategy charts a course toward horizon goals, while delivering near-term benefits, and defining a resilient architecture that can accommodate budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships.”

NASA is charting new territory, and we will adapt to new scientific discoveries and new opportunities. Our current efforts are focused on pieces of the architecture that we know are needed. In parallel, we continue to refine an evolving architecture for the capabilities that require further investigation. These efforts will define the next two decades on the journey to Mars.


Living and working in space require accepting risks—and the journey to Mars is worth the risks. A new and powerful space transportation system is key to the journey, but NASA also will need to learn new ways of operating in space, based on self-reliance and increased system reliability. We will use proving ground missions to validate transportation and habitation capabilities as well as new operational approaches to stay productive in space while reducing reliance on Earth.

We identify the technological and operational challenges in three categories: transportation, sending humans and cargo through space efficiently, safely, and reliably; working in space, enabling productive operations for crew and robotic systems; and staying healthy, developing habitation systems that provide safe, healthy, and sustainable human exploration. Bridging these three categories are the overarching logistical challenges facing crewed missions lasting up to 1,100 days and exploration campaigns that span decades.


NASA is investing in powerful capabilities and state-of-the-art technologies that benefit both NASA and our industry partners while minimizing overall costs through innovative partnerships. Through our evolvable transportation infrastructure, ongoing spaceflight architecture studies, and rapid prototyping activities, we are developing resilient architecture concepts that focus on critical capabilities across a range of potential missions. We are investing in technologies that provide large returns, and maximizing flexibility and adaptability through commonality, modularity, and reusability.

On the space station, we are advancing human health and behavioral research for Mars-class missions. We are pushing the state-of-the-art life support systems, printing 3-D parts, and analyzing material handling techniques for in-situ resource utilization. The upcoming eighth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission will launch the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, a capability demonstration for inflatable space habitats.

With the Space Launch System, Orion crewed spacecraft, and revitalized space launch complex, we are developing core transportation capabilities for the journey to Mars and ensuring continued access for our commercial crew and cargo partners to maintain operations and stimulate new economic activity in low-Earth orbit. This secured U.S. commercial access to low-Earth orbit allows NASA to continue leveraging the station as a microgravity test bed while preparing for missions in the proving ground of deep space and beyond.

Through the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), we will demonstrate an advanced solar electric propulsion capability that will be a critical component of our journey to Mars. ARM will also provide an unprecedented opportunity for us to validate new spacewalk and sample handling techniques as astronauts investigate several tons of an asteroid boulder – potentially opening new scientific discoveries about the formation of our solar system and beginning of life on Earth.

We are managing and directing the ground-based facilities and services provided by the Deep Space Network (DSN), Near Earth Network (NEN), and Space Network (SN) – critical communications capabilities that we continue to advance for human and robotic communication throughout the solar system.

Through our robotic emissaries, we have already been on and around Mars for 40 years, taking nearly every opportunity to send orbiters, landers, and rovers with increasingly complex experiments and sensing systems. These orbiters and rovers have returned vital data about the Martian environment, helping us understand what challenges we may face and resources we may encounter. The revolutionary Curiosity sky crane placed nearly one metric ton – about the size of a small car – safely on the surface of Mars, but we need to be able to land at least 10 times that weight with humans – and then be able to get them off the surface.

These challenges are solvable, and NASA and its partners are working on the solutions every day so we can answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth: Was Mars home to microbial life? Is it today? Could it be a safe home for humans one day? What can it teach us about life elsewhere in the cosmos or how life began on Earth? What can it teach us about Earth’s past, present and future?

The journey to Mars is an historic pioneering endeavor—a journey made possible by a sustained effort of science and exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit with successively more capable technologies and partnerships.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

One Small Step for a Journey to the Red Planet...

An experimental heat shield designed for Mars entry vehicles is tested at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.

NASA Completes Successful Heat Shield Testing for Future Mars Exploration Vehicles (Press Release)

As NASA missions to Mars progress with science and complex human exploration missions, spacecraft will require larger heat shields to protect against the extreme heat of entering a planet's atmosphere and decelerating at a safe altitude in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Today's rockets have limited space to accommodate spacecraft and their heat shields. However, engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, have a solution to accommodate that limitation.

NASA’s Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) is one solution. ADEPT is a mechanically-deployable heat shield concept using carbon fabric: a flexible heat shield that expands to “open” like an umbrella. Recently, Ames’ engineers successfully completed heating simulation testing of an ADEPT model under conditions akin to entering the Martian atmosphere.

The photograph above shows one of these tests. In it, a flow of extremely heated air is exiting the 21-inch diameter nozzle from the left, causing a bow shock to form in front of the ADEPT test article, which is attached to a water-cooled support arm. Surface temperatures on the test article reached 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The bluish-hue streaks, streaming away from the test article, are due to the decomposition of the resin-infused protective layers that prevent degradation of the stitched fabric joints.

Extensive instrumentation and imaging products from the test will be used to validate how materials respond to the testing conditions, and thermo-structural design codes. The testing approach demonstrated with this test will enable future, more extensive testing of the ADEPT configuration – toward possible future use of the system on missions bigger than anything NASA’s ever flown.

The ADEPT project is led by NASA’s Ames Research Center, with contributions from multiple other NASA centers. Testing, conducted by Ames’ Entry Systems and Technology Division, was funded by the Game Changing Development Program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, October 5, 2015

ISS Update: Paving the Way for Crew Dragon, CST-100 and Other Spacecraft...

An International Docking Adapter that will soon launch to the International Space Station.
NASA / Charles Babir

International Space Station Partners Release Major Update to Docking Standard (Press Release)

The International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) has approved a major update to the station docking system standard. First released in 2010, the docking standard established a common station-to-spacecraft equipment interface to enable spacecraft of multiple types to dock to the space station.

"The latest additions to the docking standard further open the door for contributions by international agencies, as well as commercial enterprises for the International Space Station and exploration,” said William Gerstenmaier, MCB chair and NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We have already seen benefits of this standard, creating the opportunity to develop additional standards for spacecraft design. The International Docking Adapters that will soon be installed on the space station are fully compatible with the docking standard, which means that any spacecraft can use the adapters in the future – from new commercial spacecraft to other international spacecraft yet to be designed.”

The update more than doubles the content in the guidelines, which enable in-orbit crew rescue by a range of spacecraft types and international collaborative exploration with future spacecraft -- from crewed to autonomous vehicles, and low-Earth orbit to deep-space missions. Limited to describing physical features and design parameters of a standard docking interface, the docking standards help ensure a common interface without dictating a particular design.

With this revision, the standard now includes a full range of rendezvous operations, with information on passive rendezvous targets used by spacecraft to locate the space station and lock on for approach. The addition of content related to rendezvous operations will provide the greatest possible access to information for active rendezvous sensor developers, while providing full compatibility for all current rendezvous sensor technologies.

The space station's senior level management board, the MCB includes senior representatives from NASA; the Russian Federal Space Agency; the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, assisted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; ESA (European Space Agency); and the Canadian Space Agency. This group coordinates the orbiting laboratory's operations and activities among the partners.

The Multilateral Coordination Board released the document to allow non-partner agencies and commercial developers to review the new standard and provide feedback. Technical teams from the five space station partner agencies will continue to work on additional refinements and revisions to the standard.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, October 1, 2015

SLS Update: Preparing the SRBs for Exploration Mission-1...

Engineers process the aft stiffener that will comprise one of the five-segment solid rocket boosters of the Space Launch the Orbital ATK facility in Utah.
Orbital ATK

Booster Hardware Readied for First Flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (Press Release)

Technicians at Orbital ATK in Promontory, Utah, offload the aft stiffener that will be used on one of the two, five-segment solid rocket boosters for the first flight of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The boosters operate in parallel with the rocket’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight to provide the thrust needed for the launch vehicle to escape the gravitational pull of Earth. The aft stiffener is a component of the aft segment of the booster, which is located at the bottom of the booster during flight. The flight hardware is being processed at Orbital ATK’s facility. Later, the motor segments will be transported by rail to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they will join the forward and aft skirt assemblies. Once the boosters are assembled and checked out, they will be mated with the SLS core stage in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy.

Source: NASA.Gov


An infographic showing the various components that comprise the Space Launch System's five-segment solid rocket booster.