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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

ISS Update: Two EVAs Set to Take Place at the Outpost Early Next Month...

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough of NASA capture a quick selfie during robotics training inside the Cupola module.
NASA

NASA Preps for Space Station Power Upgrade Spacewalks; Live NASA TV Coverage (Press Release)

Expedition 50 astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station at 7 a.m. EST Jan. 6 and 13 to perform a complex upgrade to the orbital outpost’s power system. Coverage of the spacewalks will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, NASA TV will air a briefing at 2 p.m. from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to preview the spacewalk activities. The briefing participants are:

Kenneth Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration Manager
Jud Frieling, flight director for Jan. 6 spacewalk
Gary Horlacher, flight director for Jan. 13 spacewalk
Troy McCracken, lead battery replacement robotics officer
Kieth Johnson, lead spacewalk officer

Media may attend the briefing at Johnson or ask questions by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 1:45 p.m. Jan. 4.

Working on the right side truss of the space station, the crew members will install adapter plates and hook up electrical connections for six new lithium-ion batteries that were delivered to the station in December.

Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA will perform the first spacewalk Jan. 6. The work will continue Jan. 13 during the second spacewalk, which will be conducted by Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

Prior to each spacewalk, the new batteries will be robotically extracted from a pallet to replace 12 older nickel-hydrogen batteries through a series of robotic operations. Nine of the older batteries will be stowed in a cargo resupply craft for later disposal, while three will remain on the station’s truss, disconnected from the power grid. The robotic operations will not air on NASA TV.

This will be the 196th and 197th spacewalks in support of space station assembly and maintenance. Kimbrough will be designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1), wearing the suit bearing red stripes for both spacewalks, the third and fourth of his career.

Whitson will be making the seventh spacewalk of her career and match the record of NASA’s Suni Williams, for most spacewalks by a woman. She will be designated extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2), wearing the suit with no stripes for the first spacewalk.

Pesquet, who will be making the first spacewalk of his career, will be extravehicular crew member 2 for the second spacewalk, also wearing a suit with no stripes.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

SLS Update #2: Testing the Mega-Rocket's Aerodynamics...

An artist's concept of the upgraded Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifting off on its maiden flight...currently scheduled for 2021.
NASA

Wind Tunnel Testing Underway for Next, More Powerful Version of NASA's Space Launch System (Press Release)

As engines are fired, software written and hardware welded to prepare for the first flight of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), engineers are already running tests in supersonic wind tunnels to develop the next, more powerful version of the world's most advanced launch vehicle capable of carrying humans to deep space destinations.

"Aeronautics leads the way in the design of a new rocket," said Jeff Bland, SLS discipline lead engineer for Integrated Vehicle Structures & Environments at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "The first leg any journey for spacecraft launched from Earth is a flight through our atmosphere."

Manufacturing is well underway on the initial configuration of SLS. It is 322 feet tall and able to lift 70 metric tons (77 tons). For the first test flight of SLS, the rocket will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and then return to Earth, deploying 13 small science and technology satellites in deep space during the journey.

The new wind tunnel tests are for the second generation of SLS. It will deliver a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity and will be 364 feet tall in the crew configuration -- taller than the Saturn V that launched astronauts on missions to the moon. The rocket's core stage will be the same, but the newer rocket will feature a powerful exploration upper stage. On SLS’s second flight with Orion, the rocket will carry up to four astronauts on a mission around the moon, in the deep-space proving ground for the technologies and capabilities needed on NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Scale models of the upgraded rocket in crew and cargo configurations are being carefully positioned in wind tunnels for test programs to obtain data needed to refine the design of the rocket and its guidance and control systems, said Dr. John Blevins, SLS lead engineer for aerodynamics and acoustics at Marshall. During hundreds of test runs at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, engineers are measuring the forces and loads that air induces on the launch vehicle during every phase of its mission.

"All the critical aerodynamic environments, from when the upgraded rocket leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral to launch, acceleration through the sound barrier and booster separation at greater than Mach 4 are evaluated in these four tests," Blevins said.

Ascent tests completed at Ames in November determined the rocket's behavior as it climbs after launch, and the kind of instructions to be programmed into the rocket flight computer for guidance and control as the rocket passes through transonic flight. For instance, the tests will determine what commands the autopilot will send to the rocket's nozzles to correct for wind or other factors and stay on course.

Buffet testing at Langley in November focused primarily on how the cargo version of the upgraded rocket behaves as it moves through the atmosphere at just below the speed of sound, approaching about 800 miles per hour, then moves into supersonic flight. As the rocket approaches the speed of sound, shock waves build and move along different points of the launch vehicle. These shock waves can cause buffeting, shaking, vibration and unsteady loads that could result in damage or course changes that must be corrected, Blevins said.

The cargo version of the upgraded rocket has a smooth fairing above the exploration upper stage instead of the Orion spacecraft and launch abort system, so separate wind tunnel testing is needed. Similar tests planned for the fall 2017 at Langley will include observing this transonic shock oscillation and buffeting on the crew version of the rocket, at both subsonic speeds and higher Mach numbers. At Mach 1.5 or 2, the waves terminate, or remain at the same points on the rocket for the rest of the flight, but they continue to change angle and strength.

These wind tunnel tests are critical, Blevins said, because the location and temporal behavior of these shock waves are difficult to predict with computational fluid dynamics -- they must be observed and measured.

Two other test series are planned at Langley. The first in early 2017 will provide data to ensure that as the SLS’s two solid rocket boosters separate from the rocket during ascent, they don't come back into contact with the vehicle. These tests are complex, Blevins said, because the models of the rocket’s core stage and each of the two boosters are separately instrumented, and even the dynamics of the small rocket motors that jettison the boosters are simulated.

Next will be liftoff transition testing, scheduled in the summer. These tests will include evaluation of the effects of winds on the rocket as it is waiting on the pad, and the presence of the mobile launcher and tower during liftoff. Drift of the vehicle as it moves past the tower must be controlled to avoid damage and because the sound bouncing back from the pad can cause damaging vibration.

"We expect that at the end of this test series we will have all the aerodynamic flight data needed for the upgraded rocket," he said. "We'll be ready for the first flight with crew, targeted as early as 2021, and subsequent flights."

NASA engineers have also teamed with CUBRC Inc. of Buffalo, New York, to use a special type of wind tunnel to better understand and analyze how the SLS heats up as it ascends into space. A model of the rocket was used in the first phase of aerodynamic heating tests in CUBRC's Large Energy National Shock Tunnel (LENS-II) in September. A second phase of testing is planned for models of the SLS in crew and cargo versions, in early 2017.

The SLS wind tunnel testing is very much a cross-agency effort resulting in information and new test techniques that also benefit other rocket and aerospace programs, said Dr. Patrick Shea. He's based at Langley, but served as SLS aerodynamics test lead for the transonic ascent testing recently completed at the Ames facilities.

For example, the Ames aerodynamics team is developing an optical measurement method involving Unsteady Pressure-Sensitive Paint. During a test, special lights and cameras will observe changes in the paint's fluorescence, indicating the strength of aerodynamic forces acting along different areas of the rocket or test article. Ames was able to take advantage of the presence of the SLS rocket model to conduct its own tests using the paint.

"For a lot of aero-acoustics and buffet work, we instrument the models with hundreds of pressure sensors. If we can start moving to more of an optical technique such as the dynamic pressure sensitive paint, it will really make good strides forward," Shea said. "It ended up being a really nice integration of their test technique and our test campaign."

Source: NASA.Gov

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A model of the upgraded SLS rocket undergoes wind tunnel testing at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
NASA / Ames / Dominic Hart

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

SLS Update: Welding Continues on the Mega-Rocket's Core Stage Components...

A welding machine is about to plug holes on the liquid hydrogen tank for NASA's Space Launch System rocket...at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steve Seipel

Preparing to Plug Into NASA SLS Fuel Tank (News Release)

A team prepares a robot – the yellow machine attached to the liquid hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System rocket -- for friction plug welding at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Friction plug welding is a technique developed by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It uses a robot to fill holes left after the tank goes through assembly in a larger robotic welder.

The liquid hydrogen tank is more than 130 feet long and is the largest part of the rocket’s core stage -- the backbone of the rocket. The liquid hydrogen tank, along with a liquid oxygen tank, will provide 733,000 gallons of fuel for the first integrated mission of SLS with NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2018. SLS will be the world's most powerful rocket and take astronauts in Orion to deep space, including on the Journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Orion Update: Construction Continues on the European Service Module...

The main engine that will fly on the European Service Module of the Orion EM-1 spacecraft undergoes a vibration test at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA

Orion Main Engine Arrives In Europe (News Release - December 14)

The main engine for the European Service Module that will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft was shipped from NASA’s White Sands facility and has arrived at Airbus Space and Defence assembly hall in Bremen, Germany.

The first Orion exploration mission will fly in 2018 beyond the Moon with a European-built service module to provide electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen as well as keeping the spacecraft at the right temperature and on course.

The service module has 33 engines to provide thrust and manoeuvre the spacecraft on all axes. The main engine on the first mission is a repurposed Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System engine that has flown 19 times in space before on Space Shuttle Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis. The engine provides 25.7 kN, enough to lift a van, and can swivel in pitch and yaw.

Road to Bremen

At White Sands the engine was refurbished and reassembled before shipping to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for shake testing. It was returned to White Sands for leak testing and is now in Europe. The engine flew from Dallas/Fort Worth airport to Frankfurt and continued its trip by truck to the European Service Module integration halls in Bremen, Germany.

Source: European Space Agency

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Japan's Newest Cargo Ship Arrives at the ISS...

KOUNOTORI 6 is grappled by the space station's robotic arm prior to being berthed to the International Space Station on December 14, 2016, Japan Standard Time.
NASA / JAXA

Successful Berthing of the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) to the International Space Station (Press Release)

The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) started its final approach to the International Space Station (ISS), and was captured by the ISS robotic arm at 7:39 p.m. on December 13 (Japanese Standard Time, JST). Being captured and maneuvered by the robotic arm, the HTV-6 was successfully berthed to the ISS at 3:24 a.m. on December 14 (JST).

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

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Saturday, December 10, 2016

EM-1 Update: The First Major SLS Rocket Component Is Essentially Complete...

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will fly aboard the Space Launch System during its first flight in 2018 completes major assembly at United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama.
ULA

Major Assembly Complete on System that will Pack a Powerful Push for Orion (News Release - December 9)

The propulsion system that will give the Orion spacecraft the in-space push needed to travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon and back has completed major assembly at United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Decatur, Alabama. The Boeing-designed interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion an extra punch of power on the first, uncrewed flight of the spacecraft with NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System in late 2018. The first integrated exploration mission will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems farther from Earth, and demonstrate Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area of space near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space, including the Journey to Mars.

With major assembly now complete on the flight hardware, the ICPS has several more steps to go, including avionics installation at the ULA-Decatur factory; barge and road transport to the Delta Operating Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for avionics and system-level testing; and delivery to NASA in mid-2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, December 9, 2016

ISS Update: Japan Launches Another Cargo Ship to the Orbital Outpost...

JAXA's KOUNOTORI 6 spacecraft is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan towards the International Space Station, on December 9, 2016.
JAXA / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

Launch Success Of The H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) With The H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 On Board (Press Release)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with cargo transporter to the International Space Station, the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 6 (HTV-6) on board at 10:26:47 p.m. on December 9, 2016 (JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 15 minutes and 11 seconds after liftoff, the separation of HTV6 was confirmed.

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, the wind speed was 4.3 meters/second, from the north-west, and the temperature was 15.5 degrees Celsius.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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An artist's concept of JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle separating from its second stage motor after launch.
JAXA

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Remembering an American Hero...

NASA astronaut John Glenn is about to board his Friendship 7 capsule for his historic flight into space on February 20, 1962.
NASA

I remember the last time John Glenn flew into space... It was on October 29, 1998, and I rushed back to my dorm after a class (it was my first semester in college) to watch the launch of shuttle Discovery on television. John Glenn was a payload specialist on this flight (STS-95), and he was going to embark on an 8-day mission that involved gaining a better understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body. Even though this seemed like a routine shuttle flight, everyone knew that it was historic—as it was an American hero's return to space after a 36-year absence from the final frontier. Farewell, Mr. Glenn... Along with Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride and other space pioneers, you now belong to the ages. Ad astra.

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NASA Remembers American Legend John Glenn (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Sen. John Glenn:

“Today, the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, passed away. We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world. As one of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn's riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race, and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.

“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle -- once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space.

“He earned many honors for both his military and public service achievements. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, and he also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Glenn's extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

“With all his accomplishments, he was always focused on the young people of today, who would soon lead the world. ‘The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,’ he said. ‘To me, there is no greater calling ... If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I've accomplished something.’

“Senator Glenn's legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship. Personally, I shall miss him greatly. As a fellow Marine and aviator, he was a mentor, role model and, most importantly, a dear friend. My prayers go out to his lovely and devoted wife, Annie, and the entire Glenn family at this time of their great loss."


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John Glenn returned to the final frontier on October 29, 1998...as a payload specialist during space shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission.
NASA

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Europe To Remain An ISS Partner Through 2024...

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

NASA Administrator Statement on ESA’s Commitment to Space Station (Press Release - December 2)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) decision to continue its operations aboard the International Space Station:

"I'm excited all the International Space Station partners have now joined us in committing to operation of this invaluable resource through at least 2024.

"The European Space Agency contributions to station are essential, and we look forward to continuing to work with ESA, the Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Roscomos for extended operations, and to collaborating with other nations to push the boundaries of human exploration, and extend our reach farther into the solar system as part of the ongoing Journey to Mars."

For more information about the International Space Station, its research and crews, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The VSS Unity Finally Flies Solo!

The VSS Unity soars above California's Mojave Desert during her first glide test on December 3, 2016.
Virgin Galactic

Congrats to Virgin Galactic on achieving a huge milestone today as the VSS Unity finally conducted her first glide test above California's Mojave Desert this morning! After a few months of captive carry test flights from the Mojave Air & Space Port, the newest SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is now stretching her wings... The anticipation is high as to when RocketMotorTwo will be installed inside Unity and she'll be soaring towards her true destination—the edge of space. But due diligence comes first, and we must be patient as Virgin Galactic accomplishes the goals necessary for SS2 to finally and safely transform into a true space vehicle once more. Godspeed!

The VSS Unity soars above California's Mojave Desert during her first glide test on December 3, 2016.
Virgin Galactic

Friday, December 2, 2016

Orion Update: Looking Ahead to Exploration Missions 1 and 2...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

NASA’s First Flight With Crew Will Mark Important Step on Journey to Mars (News Release - December 1)

When astronauts are on their first test flight aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will take them farther into the solar system than humanity has ever traveled before, their mission will be to confirm all of the spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space. After an Orion test campaign that includes ground tests, systems demonstrations on the International Space Station, and uncrewed space test flights, this first crewed test flight will mark a significant step forward on NASA’s Journey to Mars.

This will be NASA’s first mission with crew in a series of missions in the proving ground, an area of space around the moon where crew can build and test systems needed to prepare for the challenge of missions to Mars. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as early as August 2021. Crew size will be determined closer to launch, but NASA plans to fly up to four astronauts in Orion for each human mission.

“Like every test flight, we will have test objectives for this mission both before and after we commit to going to the moon,” said Bill Hill, deputy associated administrator, Exploration Systems Development, NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It’s just like the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, which built up and demonstrated their capabilities over a series of missions. During this mission, we have a number of tests designed to demonstrate critical functions, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space.”

Leaving Earth

The mission plan for the flight is built around a profile called a multi-translunar injection (MTLI), or multiple departure burns, and includes a free return trajectory from the moon. Basically, the spacecraft will circle our planet twice while periodically firing its engines to build up enough speed to push it toward the moon before looping back to Earth.

After launch, the spacecraft and upper stage of the rocket will first orbit Earth twice to ensure its systems are working normally. Orion will reach a circular orbit at an altitude of 100 nautical miles and last 90 minutes. The move or burn to get the spacecraft into a specific orbit around a planet or other body in space is called orbital insertion.

Following the first orbit, the rocket’s powerful exploration upper stage (EUS) and four RL-10 engines will perform an orbital raise, which will place Orion into a highly elliptical orbit around our planet. This is called the partial translunar injection. This second, larger orbit will take approximately 24 hours with Orion flying in an ellipse between 500 and 19,000 nautical miles above Earth. For perspective, the International Space Station orbits Earth from about 250 miles above.

Once the integrated vehicle completes these two orbits, the EUS will separate from Orion and any payloads selected and mounted inside the rocket’s universal stage adapter will be released. The payloads will then fly on their own to conduct their unique missions.

After the EUS separation, the crew will do a unique test of Orion’s critical systems. They will gather and evaluate engineering data from their day-long orbit before using Orion’s service module to complete a second and final propulsion move called the translunar injection (TLI) burn. This second burn will put Orion on a path toward the moon, and will conclude the “multi-translunar injection” portion of the mission.

“Free” ride home

The TLI will send crew around the backside of the moon where they will ultimately create a figure eight before Orion returns to Earth. Instead of requiring propulsion on the return, the spacecraft will use the moon’s gravitational pull like a slingshot to bring Orion home, which is the free return portion of the trajectory. Crew will fly thousands of miles beyond the moon, which is an average of 230,000 miles beyond the Earth.

A flexible mission length will allow NASA to gather valuable imagery data during daylight for the launch, landing and recovery phases. It will take a minimum of eight days to complete the mission, and pending additional analysis, it may be extended up to 21 days to complete additional flight test objectives.

Two missions, two different trajectories

The agency is scheduled to test SLS and Orion together for the first time without crew over the course of about three weeks in late 2018. The MTLI will build upon testing that will be done in a distant lunar retrograde orbit, or DRO, for that first mission. The DRO will put Orion in a more challenging trajectory, and will be an opportunity to test the kind of maneuvers and environments the spacecraft will see on future exploration missions. The DRO will require additional propulsion moves throughout the trip, including a moon flyby and return trajectory burns.

“Between the DRO on our first flight, and the MTLI on the second flight, we will demonstrate the full range of capabilities SLS and Orion need to operate in deep space,” said Hill.

Once these first two test flights are completed, Hill added that NASA hopes to begin launching missions every year with crew, depending on budget and program performance.

NASA recently outlined its exploration objectives in deep space and grouped them into three categories: transportation, working in space, and staying healthy. The early missions in the proving ground are a critical step on the journey to learn more about the deep space environment and test the technologies the agency needs to eventually take humans to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ISS Update: Russia's Latest Progress Flight Suffers Mishap After Launch...

An unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft, as seen by a crewmember onboard the International Space Station.
NASA

Russian Resupply Ship Experiences Anomaly; International Space Station Crew is Fine (Press Release)

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station has been lost. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday on a Soyuz rocket, but experienced an anomaly around six and a half minutes into its flight.

Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.

The ISS Progress 65 cargo spacecraft launched on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause.

The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. The next mission scheduled to deliver cargo to the station is an H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-6 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday, Dec. 9.

Cargo packed inside the Progress 65 included more than 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware. Among the U.S. supplies on board were spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing, all of which are replaceable.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

NASA Releases New Results from Its ISS Inflatable Habitat Mission...

Four photos showing BEAM in various stages of expansion as the module successfully deployed aboard the International Space Station...on May 28, 2016.
NASA TV

BEAM Update: Expandable Habitat Reveals Important Early Performance Data (Press Release)

Just five months into its two-year demonstration mission on the International Space Station, the first human-rated expandable habitat in low-Earth orbit is already returning valuable information about expandable technology performance and operations in space. Developed through a public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) launched to the station April 8, 2016, in the “trunk” of the Dragon capsule during the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission.

In late May, with careful instructions from the ground, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams conducted the manual expansion of the module through a series of seconds-long valve openings that allowed space station air to enter and expand BEAM. After BEAM was fully expanded with low pressure, air tanks inside the BEAM were opened with an automated controller to fully pressurize BEAM to match station pressure. From its packed to expanded configurations, the module nearly doubled in length and increased by 40 percent in diameter. This capability to increase a spacecraft’s useable internal volume after launch offers a potentially significant advantage for mission planners who seek to reduce cargo volume, maximize payload space and efficiently package structures inside a launch vehicle fairing.

During and after expansion, sensors inside the BEAM recorded overall structural and thermal performance. Once it was confirmed that the module was maintaining pressure with no leaks during the week following deployment, Williams commenced the beginning of BEAM’s two-year demonstration when he entered the module for the first time on June 6, 2016. He entered again on June 7 and 8, outfitting the interior with additional sensors and air ventilation ducts and taking surface and air samples to test for microbes.

Steve Munday, BEAM Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, notes that the module and its sensors have performed as expected for the most part. “Through the NASA sensor suites on board, our teams on the ground, and astronaut support on station, we’re gaining extremely valuable data about the performance of expandable structures and habitats in space,” he says.

The NASA sensor suites inside BEAM help analyze module performance as it orbits Earth attached to a port on the space station’s Tranquility Node. Bulkhead accelerometers measured structural dynamics during deployment, wireless thermal sensors help assess the insulation performance of the fabric shell layers and metallic bulkheads, active and passive dosimeters measure radiation penetration, and Distributed Impact Detection System (DIDS) sensors detect and locate any space debris impacts on the BEAM exterior.

But like any advanced technology demonstration, the BEAM has offered a few surprises. “That’s why we test, to learn and explore new technology,” asserts Munday.

In fact, the successful expansion on May 28 was the second attempt. During the first attempt on May 26, the BEAM’s fabric layers expanded more slowly than was predicted by deployment models on the ground, perhaps partially due to being tightly packed for more than a year awaiting launch on SpaceX CRS-8. NASA and Bigelow Aerospace teams halted the deployment to closely compare the predictive deployment models pressure limits with actual readings to ensure that continuing expansion would pose no risk to the station or crew. On May 27, astronauts released pressure from BEAM to help the stiff fabric layers relax after the initial resistance. After reconfirming that the BEAM deployment operation posed no risk to the space station or its crew, the team restarted BEAM expansion on May 28, successfully reaching the fully expanded and pressurized configuration after about seven hours.

Thermal engineers at JSC found that BEAM was warmer than predicted, particularly in the packed configuration immediately prior to deployment. Munday suggests it could be due to less contact between the folded layers, providing more heat insulation than we expected. Warmer is better than cooler for BEAM, which has no active thermal control and relies upon air exchange with the station.

“A colder-than-expected BEAM would have increased the risk of condensation, so we were pleased when Jeff first opened the hatch and found the interior to be bone dry,” says Munday. “BEAM is the first of its kind, so we’re learning as we go and this data will improve our structural and thermal models and analyses going forward.”

Space station crew members entered the BEAM twice more in September to reinforce instruments that had loosened since installation, reboot a sensor data-relay laptop that had crashed, take additional samples for return to Earth, and perform tests inside the module to help engineers on the ground better define the structural characteristics of BEAM. NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins entered the BEAM on Sept. 5 to replace the DIDS battery packs after it was determined that drained batteries were disrupting wireless communications with the sensors. Ground operators remotely reconfigured DIDS power settings to a more efficient mode, preventing further disruptions. On Sept. 29, she entered again to conduct a series of modal tests to assess how the structure responds to impacts that cause vibrations and the structure’s ability to dampen the vibrations.

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are pleased to report that, overall, BEAM is operating as expected and continues to produce valuable data. Structural engineers at NASA JSC confirmed that BEAM deployment loads upon the space station were very small, and continue to analyze the module’s structural data for comparison with ground tests and models. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have found no evidence of large debris impacts in the DIDS data to date—good news for any spacecraft. And radiation researchers at JSC have found that the dosage due to Galactic Cosmic Rays in BEAM is similar to other space station modules, and continue to analyze local “trapped” radiation particles, particularly from the South Atlantic Anomaly, to help determine additional shielding requirements for long-duration exploration missions.

The space station is the world’s primary platform for testing and validating deep space capabilities. “The two-year BEAM mission on ISS provides us with an early opportunity to understand how expandable habitats perform in space,” says Munday. “We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have the the space station and its crew to help demonstrate and assess BEAM technology for use in future exploration missions.”

The BEAM demonstration is a public-private partnership managed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES). AES is pioneering innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. Although the BEAM represents an early demonstration of deep space habitation capabilities, AES is also pursuing deep space habitation development with industry partners through contracts issued under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement. Under NextSTEP, four companies (Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK) have recently completed cislunar habitation concept studies, and all four plus Sierra Nevada Corporation, are proceeding toward contract negotiations to develop full-size ground prototypes of cislunar habitats. A sixth team led by NanoRacks was selected to complete an additional study on the repurposing of upper stages of rockets into habitats.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Components Continue to Move Into Place for Next Year's SLS Tests...

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) will give the Orion EM-1 capsule the in-space thrust needed to fly beyond the Moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion in late 2018.
NASA / MSFC / Brian C. Massey

NASA SLS Propulsion System Goes into Marshall Stand Ahead of Big Test Series (News Release - November 17)

NASA engineers installed a test version of a crucial piece of hardware for the Space Launch System rocket in a 65-foot-tall test stand Nov. 17 at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for human missions to deep space with the Orion spacecraft, including the Journey to Mars.

The hardware is a test version of the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), which is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the in-space push needed to fly beyond the Moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS and Orion in late 2018. The ICPS will be stacked with three other test articles and two simulators that make up the upper portion of the SLS rocket ahead of a rigorous test series in early 2017.

"The installation of the ICPS is another big step in getting ready for the test series, which will ensure that the hardware can endure the incredible stresses of launch," said Steve Creech, deputy manager of the Spacecraft and Payload Integration & Evolution Office at Marshall, which manages the SLS Program for the agency. "In addition to testing, work is underway on flight pieces of the upper part of the rocket, including the ICPS. NASA and our prime contractor teams are working diligently toward mission success for first flight, and this test series also will provide crucial data to support future missions, including the journey to Mars."

The ICPS test article, without the engine, is around 29 feet tall and 16.8 feet in diameter. It is the largest piece of hardware for the test series, and was designed and built by The Boeing Co. in Huntsville and United Launch Alliance of Decatur.

The hardware -- some being almost exact to flight specifications -- will be pushed, pulled and twisted during the tests. The ICPS joins two other pieces of hardware already installed in the stand. The core stage simulator was loaded into the test stand Sept. 21, with the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) following on Oct. 12. The core stage simulator is a duplicate of the top of the SLS core stage that is approximately 10 feet tall and 27.5 feet in diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall.

The LVSA connects the SLS core stage and the ICPS. The LVSA test hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top diameter of 16.8 feet. It was designed and built by prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville. The other three qualification articles and the Orion simulator will complete the stack later this fall. Approximately 50 test cases are planned for the upcoming series.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A test version of the ICPS for the SLS rocket is loaded into the test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA / MSFC / Brian C. Massey

Thursday, November 17, 2016

New Expedition 50/51 Crew Members Head Up to the ISS...

The Soyuz MS-03 rocket carrying three Expedition 50/51 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 18, 2016 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

New Crew Launches to Space Station to Continue Scientific Research (Press Release)

Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and France are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:20 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 17 (2:20 a.m. Nov. 18, Baikonur time).

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Peggy Whitson of NASA, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), is scheduled to dock with the space station’s Rassvet module at 5:01 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 4:15 p.m. Hatches are scheduled to open about 7:35 p.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 6:45 p.m.

The arrival of Whitson, Novitskiy and Pesquet returns the station's crew complement to six. The three join Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko. The Expedition 50 crew members will spend over four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

Upcoming research includes how lighting impacts the overall health and well-being of crew members, and how microgravity affects tissue regeneration in humans and the genetic properties of space-grown plants.

In February, Whitson will become the first woman to command the space station twice. Her first tenure as commander was in 2007, when she became the first woman to hold this post. Whitson has an advanced degree in biochemistry, and prior to her selection as an astronaut candidate in 1996, she served in prominent medical science research and supervisory positions at NASA.

The crew members are scheduled to receive three cargo craft delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research to the station, as well as new lithium ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on the station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. These will be installed during a series of spacewalks currently scheduled for January.

Whitson, Novitskiy and Pesquet will remain aboard the station until next spring. Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late February.

For more than 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the International Space Station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the Journey to Mars. A truly global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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Expedition 50/51 crew members Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Peggy Whitson of NASA pose for a group photo at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia...on October 25, 2016.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ISS Update: The Cygnus Freighter Is Ready to Part Ways with the Orbital Outpost...

Orbital ATK's Cygnus freighter (left) as seen from within the Cupola module aboard the International Space Station...on October 23, 2016.
NASA

US Cargo Ship Set to Depart Space Station, Live NASA TV Coverage (Press Release)

One month after launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station at 8:20 a.m. EST Monday, Nov. 21. Live coverage of the spacecraft departure will begin at 8 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Cygnus arrived at the space station Oct. 16 with more than 5,100 pounds of cargo to support science experiments from around the world. The spacecraft will be detached from the Earth-facing side of the station's Unity module using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, operated by ground controllers. Robotics controllers will maneuver Cygnus into place, and then Expedition 50 robotic arm operators Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will give the command for its release.

Experiments delivered on Cygnus supported NASA and other research investigations during Expeditions 49 and 50, including studies in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science – research that impacts life on Earth. Investigations included studies on fire in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.

Five hours after departing the station, the Saffire-II experiment will intentionally ignite a fire inside a module aboard the uncrewed spacecraft. The second in a series of three, the experiment allows researchers to study a realistic fire on an exploration spacecraft. Instruments on the Cygnus will measure flame growth, oxygen use and more. Results could determine microgravity flammability limits for several spacecraft materials, validate NASA’s material selection criteria, and help scientists understand how microgravity and limited oxygen affect flame size. The investigation is important for the safety of current and future space missions.

Cygnus also will release four LEMUR CubeSats from an external deployer on Friday, Nov. 25, sending them to join a remote sensing satellite constellation that provides global ship tracking and weather monitoring.

The spacecraft will remain in orbit until Sunday, Nov. 27, when its engines will fire twice, pushing it into Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Expedition 50/51 Crew Members Are Ready to Soar to the International Space Station...

Expedition 50/51 crew members Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Peggy Whitson of NASA pose for a group photo at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia...on October 25, 2016.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Next Space Station Crew Set for Launch Nov. 17, Watch Live on NASA TV (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will launch Thursday, Nov. 17, for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Prelaunch activities will air through Nov. 16, and live launch coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. EST Nov. 17, on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The crew of Expedition 50/51 will launch at 3:20 p.m. (2:20 a.m. Nov. 18, Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

After launching, the crew members will travel for two days before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. NASA TV coverage of the docking will begin at 4:15 p.m. Hatches between the Soyuz and station will open at approximately 7:35 p.m., and the arriving crew will be welcomed by Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who have been aboard the complex since October. NASA TV coverage of hatch opening and welcoming ceremonies will begin at 6:45 p.m.

During their stay aboard the orbital complex, Whitson will become the first woman to command the space station twice. Her first tenure as commander was in 2007, when she became the first woman to hold this post. Whitson has an advanced degree in biochemistry, and prior to her selection as an astronaut candidate in 1996, she served in prominent medical science research and supervisory positions at NASA.

The soon-to-be six crew members of Expedition 50 will contribute to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity’s only microgravity laboratory. The crew is scheduled to return to Earth next spring.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Images of the Day: NASA Continues Its Plan to Retrieve (Parts of) An Asteroid...

At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a full-scale engineering development version of the Asteroid Redirect Mission's robotic capture system is being tested.
NASA

Prototype Capture System, Mock Asteroid Help Simulate Mission Sequence (News Release)

A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021.

Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with foot pads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder.

NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target.

Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit.

Source: NASA.Gov

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NASA

Sunday, October 30, 2016

ISS Update: A Safe Return for Expedition 49 Crew...

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is all smiles after safely returning to Earth aboard a Soyuz capsule on October 30, 2016.
NASA TV

NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, Crewmates Safely Return From the Space Station (Press Release)

NASA astronaut and Expedition 49 crew member Kate Rubins, who became the first person to sequence DNA in space, returned to Earth Saturday after a successful mission aboard the International Space Station.

Rubins and her crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, touched down in their Soyuz MS-01 at 11:58 p.m. EDT (9:58 a.m. Oct. 30, Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

Rubins, who has a degree in molecular biology, contributed to several new studies taking place for the first time aboard the space station, including the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment. The ability to sequence the DNA of living organisms in space could enable astronauts to diagnose an illness, or identify microbes growing in the space station and determine whether they represent a health threat.

During her time on the orbiting complex, Rubins ventured outside the confines of the station for two spacewalks. During the first one on Aug. 19, she and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installed the first international docking adapter. Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the adapter’s main purpose is to provide a port for spacecraft bringing astronauts to the station in the future. Its first users are expected to be the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft now in development in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. During her second spacewalk Sept. 1, Rubins and Williams retracted a spare thermal control radiator and installed two new high-definition cameras.

Together, the Expedition 49 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the world-class orbiting laboratory during their 115 days in space.

The trio also welcomed three cargo spacecraft delivering several tons of supplies and research experiments. Rubins was involved in the grapple of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station in October, the company's sixth contracted commercial resupply mission, and SpaceX’s Dragon ninth contracted mission in July. One Russian ISS Progress cargo spacecraft also docked to the station in July.

Rubins and Onishi have each spent a total of 115 days in space during their first mission. Ivanishin now has 280 days in space from two flights.

Expedition 50, with Shane Kimbrough of NASA in command and his crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, will operate the station for three weeks until the arrival of three new crew members.

Peggy Whitson of NASA, Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos are scheduled to launch Nov. 17 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

More Expedition 49 Crew Members Head Up to the ISS...

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket carrying three Expedition 49 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 19, 2016.
NASA / Joel Kowsky

NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, Crewmates Launch to Space Station to Continue Research (Press Release)

Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:05 a.m. EDT Wednesday (2:05 p.m. Baikonur time).

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is scheduled to dock to the Poisk module of the space station at 5:59 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21. NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 5:15 a.m. Hatches are scheduled to open about 8:35 a.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 8 a.m.

The arrival of Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko returns the station's crew complement to six. The three join Expedition 49 Commander Anatoli Ivanishin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineers Kate Rubins of NASA and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The Expedition 49 crew members will spend a little over four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late February. Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi will return to Earth Oct. 30.

The Expedition 49 crew will welcome a variety of cargo deliveries to the space station, including Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, which launched Monday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the orbital laboratory Sunday, Oct. 23, with more than 5,100 pounds of science and research equipment, as well as crew supplies and hardware.

Included in the Cygnus shipment are payloads that will study fires in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.

A Japanese cargo craft is scheduled to deliver new lithium ion batteries in December to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. The crew members also are scheduled to receive SpaceX’s 10th commercial resupply ship and two Russian Progress resupply missions delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research.

For more than 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the space station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A truly global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cygnus Update: The Antares Returns to Flight!

The Antares 230 rocket carrying Orbital ATK's Cygnus freighter launches toward the International Space Station from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia...on October 17, 2016.
NASA TV

NASA Space Station Cargo Launches from Virginia on Orbital ATK Resupply Mission (Press Release)

The crew of the International Space Station soon will be equipped to perform dozens of new scientific investigations with cargo launched Monday aboard NASA’s latest commercial resupply services mission from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft lifted off at 7:45 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A on the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket carrying more than 5,100 pounds of cargo. Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the space station Sunday, Oct. 23. Expedition 49 astronauts Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6 a.m.

This is the first flight on the upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle, and the first launch from Wallops since an Antares rocket and its Cygnus spacecraft were lost in October 2014. It’s also the third flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft featuring a greater payload capacity, supported by new fuel tanks and UltraFlex solar arrays.

“It’s great to see launches to the International Space Station happening again from the Virginia coast – and it shows what can be accomplish with a close partnership of federal and state agencies, along with the U.S. industry, all working together,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

The cargo aboard the Cygnus will support dozens of new and existing investigations as the space station crews of Expeditions 49 and 50 contribute to about 250 science and research studies. The new experiments include studies on fire in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.

Low-temperature fires with no visible flames are known as cool flames. In previous combustion experiments aboard the space station, researchers observed cool flame burning behaviors not predicted by models or earlier investigations. The Cool Flames Investigation examines low-temperature combustion of droplets of a variety of fuels and additives in low gravity. Data from this investigation could help scientists develop more efficient advanced engines and new fuels for use in space and on Earth.

The Lighting Effects investigation tests a new lighting system aboard the station designed to enhance crew health and keep their body clocks in proper sync with a more regular working and resting schedule. The system uses adjustable light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a dynamic lighting schedule that varies the intensity and spectrum of the LEDs in tune with sleep and wake schedules. Research has shown that enhancing certain types of light can improve alertness and performance while other types can promote better sleep.

A user-friendly tablet app provides astronauts with a new and faster way to collect a wide variety of personal data. The EveryWear investigation tests use of a French-designed technology to record and transmit data on nutrition, sleep, exercise and medications. EveryWear has potential for use in science experiments, biomedical support and technology demonstrations.

Astronauts aboard the space station are exposed to space radiation that can reduce immune response, increase cancer risk, and interfere with electronics. The Fast Neutron Spectrometer investigation will help scientists understand high-energy neutrons, part of the radiation exposure experienced by crews during spaceflight, by studying a new technique to measure electrically neutral neutron particles.

The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until November before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of about 3,000 pounds of trash.

The space station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the station. The orbiting lab remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

CST-100 Update: The Starliner's Atlas V Rocket Gets An Updated Design...

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and its modified Atlas V rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
United Launch Alliance

United Launch Alliance and the Boeing Company Unveil the Atlas V Configuration for the CST-100 Starliner Crew Capsule (Press Release - October 13)

ULA’s Atlas V will Provide Safe and Reliable Transportation for Starliner to the International Space Station

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2016) United Launch Alliance (ULA) and The Boeing Company today unveiled an updated aerodynamic configuration of the Atlas V that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule for NASA after encountering unique challenges with aerodynamic stability and loads.

This new configuration incorporates an aeroskirt aft of the spacecraft, extending the Starliner Service Module cylindrical surface to improve the aerodynamic characteristics of the integrated launch configuration and bring loads margins back to acceptable flight levels.

“Through incredible coordination and continued innovative thinking, the collective team of NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance completed three wind tunnel tests in six months to investigate the aerodynamic stability of various configurations and to anchor our analytical predictions. Based on that information, we updated the configuration for the Atlas V Starliner integrated vehicle stack,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Services. “This configuration is unique because it combines the Atlas V launch vehicle without a payload fairing with Boeing’s Starliner capsule, resulting in different aerodynamic interactions.”

The aeroskirt is a metallic orthogrid structure designed to be jettisoned for improved performance. In the unlikely event that an emergency occurs during boost phase of flight, the aeroskirt has venting provisions to control over-pressurization if the Starliner’s abort engines are fired. Fabrication of the aeroskirt is scheduled to begin this month at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama, following completion of a Production Readiness Review.

"Our testing indicates the solution we chose will sufficiently smooth the air flow around the vehicle during ascent, ensuring crew safety and mission success," said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program.

The ULA team completed the aeroskirt Preliminary Design Review earlier this month. The Atlas V with Starliner has a planned uncrewed flight test in 2018 with operational missions to follow.

“We look forward to our continued partnership with Boeing and NASA to ensure mission success and safety for American astronauts flying from U.S. soil on the Atlas V Starliner,” said Wentz.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 110 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

Source: United Launch Alliance

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Orion Update: A European Service Module Replica Gets Shaken and Rattled in Ohio...



NASA Shakes Up Orion Test Article for the Journey to Mars (News Release)

How do you know if a spacecraft can hold up to the intense vibrations of launching atop the world’s most powerful rocket? You shake it on the world’s most powerful vibration table.

Engineers at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio recently finished a series of tests on a full-size test version of Orion’s service module to verify that it can withstand the vibrations it will experience when it launches and travels into space atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The 13-ton service module is an essential part of the spacecraft. It will propel, power and cool Orion in addition to providing air and water for the crew.

“We’re making sure that the structure on the service module will survive the extremely strong vibrations of launch and ascent on the journey to space,” said Nicole Smith, project manager for the Orion testing at Plum Brook.

NASA’s SLS rocket will produce more than eight million pounds of thrust during launch, and like all spacecraft Orion will get a good shaking during ascent. Although NASA has designed Orion and its service module to endure launch and ascent vibrations as Orion travels into space, testing on the ground helps to verify those designs before the mission.

Earlier this summer, the service module test article was placed on a mechanical vibration table in Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility. At 22-feet wide and 55,000-pounds, the table is the world’s most powerful spacecraft shaker system. Engineers ran a total of 98 vibration tests throughout the summer.

“We needed to see the different ways the service module would dynamically perform during launch when the tanks are full and then later in the mission after it has used some of that propellant,” Smith said.

The test vibration levels started as low as 2.5 Hz and swept up to 100 Hz.

“We eased into it,” said Jerry Carek, the facility manager. “We started at about 20 percent of the maximum test level and gradually worked our way up to 100 percent with vertical movement. Then we did the same thing with lateral movement.”

The vibration tests were part of a series of crucial checks being performed at the Space Power Facility to verify the service module for Orion’s first flight atop SLS, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, which will venture tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon.

The test article’s next stop is the assembly high bay area, where engineers will fire pyrotechnics to simulate the shocks the service module will experience as Orion separates from the SLS rocket.

The test article was provided by ESA (European Space Agency) and built by Airbus Defence & Space. As these ground tests continue to verify the service module’s design, the first flight unit service module for EM-1 is now being built in Europe. This unit is expected to be shipped to the United States in 2017.

EM-1 is targeted to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late 2018. Orion will take crew farther in space than they’ve ever gone before and plays an essential role as part of NASA’s preparation for the Journey to Mars. The spacecraft will carry astronauts to space, provide emergency abort capabilities, sustain the crew during their mission and provide safe re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

EM-1 Update: Space Launch System Components Ready to be Tested...

An aerial view of the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) article being installed inside a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama...on October 12, 2016.
NASA / MSFC / Brian Massey

The Pressure is On for SLS Hardware in Upcoming Test (News Release)

Engineers are getting ready to put the pressure on hardware for the world's most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System, as part of a rigorous test series to ensure each structure can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. SLS and the agency’s Orion spacecraft will travel to new destinations in deep space as NASA continues to prepare for its Journey to Mars.

"Not only is this series more cost effective by testing several qualification articles together, but it also helps us to understand how the flight-like hardware will interface together," said Mike Roberts, mechanical team lead in the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

A 65-foot-tall test stand at Marshall is being readied for the upcoming test series, where two simulators and four qualification articles of the upper part of the SLS will be stacked and then pushed, pulled and twisted by forces similar to those experienced in flight. "We have to make sure all the hardware is structurally sound and will not compromise under the incredible amounts of force," said Dee VanCleave, lead test engineer for the structural loads test at Marshall. "The best way to verify these major structures are ready for launch is to test them."

The qualification articles and simulators will be stacked in order from bottom to top in a test structure with "spiders" – given that name because the hardware has 8-16 legs that span out from the center. The spider's design helps distribute the load evenly in the test stand. The pieces are:

- Core stage simulator -- a duplicate of the top of the SLS core stage that is approximately 10 feet tall and 27.5 feet in diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall.
- Launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) -- connects the SLS core stage and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS). The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. The LVSA test hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top diameter of 16.8 feet. It was designed and built by prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville.
- Frangible joint assembly -- part of the separation system on the SLS. The flight version will have small explosive devices installed that will separate the ICPS from the rest of the rocket in space. Only the structural part of the frangible joint assembly is included for this test series. It was designed and built by The Boeing Co. in Huntsville and United Launch Alliance of Decatur.
- ICPS -- The qualification test article, without the engine, is around 29 feet tall and 16.8 feet in diameter. It will be filled with liquid nitrogen for testing, rather than liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. "Liquid nitrogen is the safest cryogenic media to use for testing," VanCleave said. The ICPS was designed and built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance.
- Orion stage adapter connects the Orion to the ICPS. It is 4.8 feet tall, with a 16.8-foot bottom diameter and 18-foot top diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall. The adapter technology was used for Orion’s first test flight in December 2014.
- Orion spacecraft simulator a replica of the bottom portion of the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The simulator also was designed and built at Marshall, and is 4.5 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter.

The qualification articles are almost exact to flight hardware specifications. The core stage simulator was loaded into the test stand Sept. 21, with the LVSA following on Oct. 12. The other three qualification articles and the Orion simulator will complete the stack later this fall. Testing is scheduled to begin in early 2017.

Ready, Set, Test

Approximately 50 test cases are planned for the series. The qualification test articles will be outfitted with 28 mechanical load lines, which will use hydraulic pressure to push and pull on the test articles. The ICPS tanks also will be filled with liquid nitrogen, which will subject the hardware to pressure as high as 56 pounds per square inch -- relative to atmospheric pressure. More than 170,000 pounds of liquid nitrogen will be used in the tanks for most of the load cases, and 500,000 pounds of axial hydraulic force will be applied to the entire test stack. Engineers will not test to failure for this series.

Data from the tests will be recorded through 1,900 instrumentation channels, measuring the strain on the test articles, temperature, deflection and other factors. The test data will be compared to computer models to verify the integrity of the hardware and ensure it can withstand the forces it will experience during flight. This also will be a type of practice run for assembly operations before the rocket hardware is stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of launch.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. A third configuration 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.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The LVSA article is installed inside a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama...on October 12, 2016.
NASA / MSFC / David Olive

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Successful Launch and Abort Test for Blue Origin's Rocket and Capsule...



New Shepard In-Flight Escape Test (Press Release)

On October 5, 2016, New Shepard performed an in-flight test of the capsule’s full-envelope escape system, designed to quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. At T+0:45 and 16,053 feet (4,893 meters), the capsule separated and the escape motor fired, pushing the capsule safely away from the booster. Reaching an apogee of 23,269 feet (7,092 meters), the capsule then descended under parachutes to a gentle landing on the desert floor. After the capsule escape, the booster continued its ascent, reaching an apogee of 307,458 feet (93,713 meters). At T+7:29, the booster executed a controlled, vertical landing back at the West Texas Launch Site, completing its fifth and final mission.

Source: Blue Origin

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The New Shepard capsule is about to separate from its rocket to perform a launch abort test...while the rocket continued to head up towards space on October 5, 2016.
Blue Origin

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

EM-1 Update: Preparing SLS For Its Cargo of CubeSats...

An engineer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center conducts measurements on the Orion stage adapter that will deploy 13 CubeSats into space during 2018's Exploration Mission-1.
NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given

Work Underway On Hardware That Will Do Double Duty On First SLS Flight (News Release)

David Osborne, an Aerie Aerospace LLC machinist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, takes measurements prior to the start of precision machining of the Orion stage adapter for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System. The adapter will connect the Orion spacecraft to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) for the first flight of SLS with Orion in late 2018. The ICPS is the liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth. The adapter also will carry 13 CubeSats that will perform science and technology investigations that will help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the Journey to Mars.

The adapter's top surface will be machined completely flat on a seven-axis mill turntable before hundreds of holes are drilled in it for bolting to the rest of the rocket. To complete the same work on the other side of the adapter, the hardware will later be flipped using a Posi-Turner load rotation device and an assembly jig, the ring that connects the Posi-Turner to the bottom of the adapter and rotates it. The adapter will then undergo inspections, and a special coating will be added to the top and bottom of the structure to make it more corrosion resistant.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SpaceX Officially Unveils Its Plans for Mars (and Beyond)...



Earlier today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed the vehicle that his company will develop as it sets its sight on Mars. Known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), this mega-rocket is designed to ferry a large capsule carrying at least 100 people to the Red Planet and beyond. Musk targets the mid-2020s as the timetable during which he plans to send humans to Mars...which would be at least 10 years faster than the date that NASA is eyeing to send crews to the Red Planet via Orion and the Space Launch System. But Musk isn't just settling for Mars; the ITS is intended to ferry homo sapiens even deeper into space—as shown with the illustrations below.

It will be a historic day when, not if, SpaceX's "Mars Vehicle" becomes a reality.

An artist's concept of a woman staring out a window aboard the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) towards Mars.
SpaceX

A schematic depicting the mega-rocket and spacecraft that comprise the ITS.
SpaceX

An infographic comparing the size of the ITS to NASA's Saturn V rocket.
SpaceX

A full-size replica of a fuel tank for the ITS.
SpaceX

An artist's concept of the ITS spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.
SpaceX

An artist's concept of the ITS spacecraft on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa.
SpaceX

An artist's concept of the ITS spacecraft floating above Saturn's rings.
SpaceX

An artist's concept of the ITS spacecraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
SpaceX