Monday, February 29, 2016

EM-1 Update: Orion Spreads Her (Test) Wing...

A test version of Orion's solar array wing deploys from the craft's service module during a demonstration at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station...on February 29, 2016.

Orion Solar Array Wing Deployment Test is a Success (Press Release)

An international team of engineers deployed an Orion solar array wing inside the Space Power Facility (SPF) at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio on Feb. 29.

The deployment of the 24-foot wing qualification model was an important first step to verify Orion’s power system for the spacecraft’s first flight atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, which will venture tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon.

“We check to make sure everything works exactly as it should in flight” said Meg Nazario, NASA Glenn Test and Transportation project manager. “We want to see if there are any issues now so they can be fixed before the mission.”

The solar array is based on the ESA (European Space Agency) Automated Transfer Vehicle’s X-shaped array of four panels. Together, the four panels will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet when extended. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is being provided by ESA and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.

The first of two wing deployments to take place in SPF this year, the test confirmed that the array unfurled properly and locked into place and that all of the mechanisms functioned as expected.

Prior to deployment, the wing was held in a stowed position by four Kevlar straps. When an Airbus Netherlands test engineer issued the command for the wing to deploy, thermal knives cut the straps to release the array wing. The design includes two thermal knives for each strap for redundancy. After the wing deployed, Airbus engineers performed what they call a “glow test” to make sure the thermal knives heated as they should and activated simultaneously.

The successful deployment was the first in a series of crucial tests being performed at SPF to verify the Orion service module can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and ascent into deep space. SPF is the only place in the world that can subject the full-scale, flight-like test article to the conditions of launch and ascent. It is home to the world’s largest mechanical vibration table and most powerful acoustic chamber.

Throughout spring and fall, engineers will use those facilities to mimic the shaking and noise the service module will experience during its ascent into space. They also will use pyrotechnics to simulate the shock the service module will experience during separation from the SLS rocket. In early fall, they’ll conclude the campaign with another solar array wing deployment test.

“Today’s deployment kicked off our test campaign and set a baseline for the second array test. It proved that everything was shipped and installed correctly and that the array is functional,” said Nazario. “The second one will show that it withstood the launch environment. That is when everyone will be holding their breath.”

Months of preparation led to the successful deployment. As parts of the test article arrived from across Europe and the United States, the team meticulously inspected, stacked and assembled them. On Feb. 20, they carefully tilted the test article -- which includes structural representations of the service module, crew module adapter, and spacecraft adapter -- to a 90 degree angle to position it for the deployment test. Last week, they attached the test wing, instrumentation and mass simulators to represent the other wings.

“For Orion, this test was also important because it was the first time we integrated NASA and Lockheed Martin hardware with hardware from our European partners,” said Ben Van Lear, NASA Glenn assembly and integration lead for the test campaign. “We are proving out our planning, assembly and integration together. It is really a pathfinder for the EM-1 flight.”

With the first solar array wing test complete, engineers will waste no time preparing for the next test. This week, they will begin stacking the Orion crew module and launch abort system mass simulator on top of the test article and attaching the outer fairings in preparation for acoustic tests to begin this spring.

The Orion spacecraft is being developed to send astronauts to deep space destinations, such as an asteroid placed in lunar orbit and on a journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Orion's Service Module Ready to Begin Tests for EM-1...

At NASA Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, engineers work on a test version of the Orion spacecraft's service module...on February 20, 2016.
NASA / Christopher J. Lynch (Alcyon Technical Services)

Orion Test Hardware in Position for Solar Array Test (Press Release - February 24)

Engineers and technicians at NASA Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, are preparing for the first major test in the campaign to verify the structural integrity of Orion’s service module for Exploration Mission-1, the spacecraft’s first flight atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Orion’s service module, which will power and propel the vehicle and supply it with air and water, is being provided by ESA and built by Airbus Defence and Space. The solar array wing deployment test will verify that the qualification model wing unfurls as expected.

On Saturday, Feb. 20, an international team of engineers and technicians lifted and tilted the service module test article -- which includes structural representations of the service module, crew module adapter, and spacecraft adapter -- to a 90 degree angle to position it for the deployment test of one of Orion’s four solar arrays. The next step in preparation for the test is attaching the solar array before the Feb. 29 deployment test. This is the first in a series of crucial tests to verify the service module’s structural integrity and ability to withstand the dynamic launch environment atop the SLS rocket.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

SLS Update: Core Stage Assembly to Ramp Up This Year...

An engine section weld confidence article for the Space Launch System's (SLS) core stage booster is removed from the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel

Tools and Talent at Michoud to Complete SLS Core Stage Welding in 2016 (Press Release)

This will be a pinnacle year for NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, as all welding for the structural backbone of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, will be completed this summer in preparation for its first flight in 2018. NASA’s first uncrewed test flight with Orion atop SLS is critical to paving the way for future flights with astronauts to deep space, including on a journey to Mars.

The structural backbone of SLS is the core stage, which will tower more than 200 feet tall and store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s four RS-25 engines.

"Completing all core stage welding will be a huge milestone for our team," said Pat Whipps, SLS resident manager at Michoud. "It is something we've been working hard toward here at Michoud, and we are excited to move on to integration and other next steps in building the core stage to be ready for the first flight of SLS."

The core stage is comprised of five major structures: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank, the intertank, the liquid hydrogen tank and the engine section. The core stage also will house the vehicle’s avionics, including flight computers, instrumentation, batteries, power handling, sensors and other electronics. The Boeing Company of Chicago is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, including its avionics.

On the first SLS and Orion mission, known as Exploration Mission 1 or EM-1, SLS will launch an uncrewed Orion to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the spacecraft and rocket. From the lunar vicinity, Orion will return to Earth to demonstrate re-entry and landing prior to a crewed flight.

The hardware being welded at Michoud will include confidence, qualification and flight components of the core stage. Confidence articles verify that weld procedures are working as planned and tooling-to-hardware interfaces are correct. It also gives the weld team experience in bringing all aspects of hardware, tooling and software together. Qualification articles closely replicate flight hardware and processing procedures. Those qualification articles are later structurally tested to ensure the vehicle design is sound. Flight hardware is just that – hardware that will fly as part of the rocket to space.

Engineers and technicians at Michoud are using six state-of-the-art welding tools for the core stage, including the world's largest spacecraft welding tool, the Vertical Assembly Center. At 170 feet tall, the Vertical Assembly Center is the last stop in welding the primary structure and is used to join domes, rings and barrels to make a completed section of the core stage.

"We faced some alignment challenges with this one-of-a-kind tool, which can happen with a machine as tall as the Vertical Assembly Center," said Joan Funk, core stage lead for the Stages Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed for the agency. "The NASA-Boeing Stages team resolved the issues, successfully completed tool acceptance testing and are welding confidence hardware."

"While completing primary structure welding is very important, it is just the beginning of the complex and lengthy process to build a core stage that is ready to be integrated with the rest of the vehicle," said Whipps. "This process includes cleaning, priming and proof testing (an acceptance test for the workmanship) the tanks and integrating all of the parts with the primary structure. Eventually, the primary structure with its internal components will be jointed to form the core stage at the facility."

Qualification hardware for the liquid oxygen tank, the intertank, the liquid hydrogen tank and the engine section will be shipped on the Pegasus barge for structural loads testing at the Marshall Center. Two new test stands are being built that will subject the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks to loads and stresses, which ensures that the structure’s design will handle flight environments. The tests also will verify the models already in place that predict the amount of loads the core stage can withstand during launch and ascent.

The initial SLS 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, known as Block 1B, will use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

Source: NASA.Gov


A liquid hydrogen tank weld confidence article for the SLS core stage booster is completed on the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Celebrating the Early Days of the Human Spaceflight Program...


Last night, I drove down to Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena to attend a presentation and signing by Amy Shira Teitel...who was promoting her new publication, Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA. For those of you who don't know who Ms. Teitel is, she has written articles for such sites as Popular Science and Al Jazeera, provided science news updates on the Discovery Channel, and did public relations videos for NASA's New Horizons mission that flew past Pluto last summer.

In terms of Teitel's new book, I found it very interesting based on the snippets I read at the bookstore before she arrived for the signing. One interesting tidbit was about rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun. It was fascinating to find out what he and his fellow colleagues did to escape Nazi Germany just as it was about to be defeated by the Allies in early 1945, and how determined von Braun was to meet up with American soldiers and convince them that his knowledge of rocket science would benefit the United States just as World War II was concluding, and the Cold War would soon begin with the Soviet Union.

Another neat tidbit was about Chuck Yeager...and how he broke the sound barrier while nursing broken ribs. Yeager had no idea that he wasn't going to feel anything inside his Bell X-1 as he flew past the speed of sound—and that he was expecting to lose his hearing and experience other physical trauma at the moment his craft exceeded Mach 1. Just as interesting was Teitel remarking that Yeager tweeted to her on Twitter a while ago—and that she was both scared and thrilled that the aerospace icon contacted her on social media!

All-in-all, it was a fascinating presentation by Ms. Teitel last night. Despite her misgivings about the direction that present-day NASA is going (she's not a fan of the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission or plans that call for the Orion spacecraft to merely circumnavigate the Moon in 2018 and 2021, respectively), Teitel showed just how passionate she is about the early days of American's human spaceflight program, as well as robotic missions such as Mars Pathfinder and Cassini. Teitel is planning to write a second book that will cover the days of Gemini through Apollo... Can't wait for that book to be published!

Amy Shira Teitel is about to begin a presentation on her new book at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena...on February 22, 2016.

Amy Shira Teitel signs her new book at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena...on February 22, 2016.

Posing with Amy Shira Teitel at her book signing inside Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena...on February 22, 2016.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

LOTS of People Want to Join NASA's Astronaut Corps in 2017...

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

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA (Press Release - February 19)

More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Applications opened Dec. 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates. NASA expects to announce its selections in mid-2017.

Between now and then, NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board will review the applications, assessing each candidate’s qualifications. The board then will invite the most highly qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews before the final selection is made and the new astronaut candidates report to Johnson for training.

“We have our work cut out for us with this many applications,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “But it’s heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission. I look forward to meeting the men and women talented enough to rise to the top of what is always a pool of incredible applicants.”

After reporting at Johnson, the astronaut candidates will go through about two years of initial training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills and teamwork, Russian language and other requisite skills.

Those who complete the training will be given technical duties within the Astronaut Office at Johnson before being assigned on any of four different spacecraft: the International Space Station, NASA’s Orion spacecraft for deep space exploration, or one of two American-made commercial crew spacecraft currently in development – Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The commercial crew spacecraft will carry four astronauts to the space station, expanding the orbiting laboratory’s crew from six to seven and effectively doubling the amount of crew time available to conduct the important research and technology demonstrations that are advancing our knowledge for the journey to Mars, while also returning benefits to Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

The Crew Dragon capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

The Orion Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) capsule is ready to complete assembly inside the Operations & Checkout Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Friday, February 19, 2016

The VSS Unity Makes Her Debut!

The VSS Unity is unveiled at The Spaceship Company in Mojave, California on February 19, 2016.
Virgin Galactic

Sir Richard Branson Unveils Virgin Galactic’s New Spaceship Named VSS Unity By Professor Stephen Hawking (Press Release)

Mojave, CA – Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, today unveiled its newly completed SpaceShipTwo. The rollout ceremony was attended by Sir Richard Branson and his family, Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts, and partners. Professor Stephen Hawking named the new vehicle Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity via a recorded speech and said, “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”

The ceremony featured four generations of Sir Richard’s family, from his mother Eve, Richard himself, his son Sam, to his grandchild Eva Deia who celebrated her first birthday by “launching” the spaceship in the traditional way but with milk in place of bubbly. The ceremony also included a video congratulations from Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai emphasizing the importance of space to science and technical education. Photos and speech transcripts can be found here:

The new SpaceShipTwo is the first vehicle to be manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s wholly owned manufacturing arm, and is the second vehicle of its design ever constructed. VSS Unity was unveiled in FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program. VSS Unity featured a new silver and white livery and was guided into position by one of the company’s support Range Rovers, provided by its exclusive automotive partner Land Rover.

The new vehicle’s build process kicked off in 2012 with each component part undergoing rigorous testing before assembly. With VSS Unity now fully manufactured and unveiled, The Spaceship Company will undertake integrated systems verification, followed by ground and flight tests in Mojave and ground and air exercises at its future home in Spaceport America, New Mexico. The Spaceship Company has already started work on the next SpaceShipTwo.

Based on the smaller 2004 X-PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space. Virgin Galactic’s space flight experience features an air launch followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound, the silence of space, several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and multiple windowed views of our home planet.

Virgin Galactic’s budding commercial spaceline fleet now consists of the spaceship VSS Unity and two dedicated carrier aircraft—the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve for human spaceflight and the 747-400 Cosmic Girl for the LauncherOne small satellite launch service.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson said, “Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now, and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth. Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal and will provide us with an unprecedented body of experience which will in turn lay the foundations for Virgin Galactic’s future. Her creation is also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose.”

Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said, “We seek to open space to people from all walks of life, and today’s milestone is big step toward that goal. Outer space is the province of all humanity, and we think it is about time that all of humanity has a chance to explore it: not just pilots but also painters, not just engineers but also everyday explorers.”

The Spaceship Company President Doug Shane said, “Building a talented team for our assembly facility in Mojave is perhaps what I take the most pride in. As we developed and manufactured SpaceShipTwo, we also developed the end-to-end capability for vehicle design through delivery for this and future aerospace projects. We look forward to fulfilling our aim as The Spaceship Company with vehicles of the future for Virgin Galactic and the rest of the industry.”

Professor Stephen Hawking said, “A man with the vision and persistence to open up space flight for ordinary, earth-bound citizens, Richard Branson made it his mission to make space flight a reality for those intrepid enough to venture beyond the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere. I have had ALS for over fifty years now and while I have no fear of adventure, others do not always take the same view. If I am able to go – and if Richard will still take me, I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship. Space exploration has already been a great unifier – we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth. We are entering a new space age and I hope this will help to create a new unity.”

Source: Virgin Galactic


The VSS Unity is unveiled at The Spaceship Company in Mojave, California on February 19, 2016.
Virgin Galactic

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CST-100 Update: Testing the Capsule's Ability to Land on Water...

A full-scale test article of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is dropped into the Hydro Impact Basin at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
NASA / David C. Bowman

Commercial Crew Partner Boeing Tests Starliner Spacecraft (Press Release)

Engineers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Boeing dropped a full-scale test article of the company’s CST-100 Starliner into Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin. Although the spacecraft is designed to land on land, Boeing is testing the Starliner’s systems in water to ensure astronaut safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent. Testing allows engineers to understand the performance of the spacecraft when it hits the water, how it will right itself and how to handle rescue and recovery operations. The test is part of the qualification phase of testing and evaluation for the Starliner system to ensure it is ready to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Photo of the Day: Prepping for Another Return to the ISS...

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson trains for a spacewalk inside the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Bill Brassard (NBL)

Astronaut Peggy Whitson Trains For a Spacewalk (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson trains underwater for a spacewalk at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Whitson is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in late 2016 as part of Expedition 50/51.

Dr. Whitson first traveled to the space station as a crew member of Expedition 5, launching aboard the space shuttle STS-111 mission and returning six months later on STS-113. She was named the first NASA Science Officer during her stay, and she conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences as well as commercial payloads. Whitson became the first woman to command the International Space Station in October 2007, leading Expedition 16 during a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, February 8, 2016

ISS Update: Levi's Stadium As Seen From Almost 250 Miles Above...

Levi's Stadium (center of photo) as seen from the International Space Station orbiting almost 250 miles above...on February 7, 2016 (Super Bowl Sunday).
NASA / Scott Kelly

Space Station Flyover of Super Bowl 50 (Press Release)

On the evening of Feb. 7, 2016, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly snapped this photo of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. from the International Space Station, writing, "Got to see the #SuperBowl in person after all! But at 17,500MPH, it didn't last long. #YearInSpace"

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Photo of the Day: Two Student-Built CubeSats Deployed from the ISS...

Two student-built CubeSats, known as LONESTAR, are released from the robotic arm of Japan's Kibo science module at the International Space Station...on January 29, 2016.

Successful Deployment of University Satellites From Space Station (Press Release - February 2)

Expedition 46 flight engineer Tim Peake of ESA captured this photo on Jan. 29, 2016 from the International Space Station, as the robotic arm in Japan's Kibo laboratory successfully deployed two combined satellites from Texas universities. The pair of satellites -- AggieSat4 built by Texas A&M University students, and BEVO-2 built by University of Texas students -- together form the Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (LONESTAR) investigation.

The satellites will demonstrate communication protocols between them and with ground stations, as well as systems that allow the satellites to navigate through space and relative to each other and to orient themselves in three dimensions. Flight demonstration of these abilities, necessary for unmanned craft to be able to rendezvous and dock in space without direct human intervention, will contribute to future satellite missions as well.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, February 5, 2016

Remembering the Sixth Man to Walk on the Moon...

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell stands on the surface of the Moon in 1971.
NASA / Alan Shepard

NASA Administrator Remembers Apollo-Era Astronaut Edgar Mitchell (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

"On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell. As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe.

“Edgar spoke poetically about seeing our home planet from the moon saying: ‘Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth...home.’

“He believed in exploration, having been drawn to NASA by President Kennedy’s call to send humans to the moon. He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand."

Source: NASA.Gov


Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the Moon.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Orion EM-1 Capsule Is Ready to Complete Assembly...

The Orion Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) capsule is ready to complete assembly inside the Operations & Checkout Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

New and Improved Orion Crew Module Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)

Milestone Marks First Major Delivery of Exploration Mission-1 Flight Hardware

The Lockheed Martin and NASA Orion team has secured the 2,700 lb. Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) Orion crew module into its structural assembly tool, also known as the “birdcage.” The crew module is the living quarters for astronauts and the backbone for many of Orion’s systems such as propulsion, avionics and parachutes.

“The structure shown here is 500 pounds lighter than its Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) counterpart,” said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion vice president and program manager. “Once the final structural components such as longerons, bolts and brackets are added, total crew module structural weight savings from EFT-1 to EM-1 will total 700 pounds.”

From experience gained by building test articles, building and flying EFT-1, and now building the EM-1 crew module, the Lockheed Martin team is learning how to shed weight, reduce costs and simplify the manufacturing process – all in an effort to improve the production time and cost of future Orions.

“Our very talented team in Louisiana has manufactured a great product and now they have passed the baton to Florida,” said Hawes. “This is where we assemble, test and launch, and the fun really begins.”

At Kennedy Space Center, the crew module will undergo several tests to ensure the structure is perfectly sound before being integrated with other elements of the spacecraft. First it will undergo proof-pressure testing where the structural welds are stress tested to confirm it can withstand the environments it will experience in space. The team will then use phased array technology to inspect the welds to make sure there are no defects. Additional structural tests will follow including proof-pressure testing of the fluid system welds and subsequent x-ray inspections.

Once the crew module passes those tests it will undergo final assembly, integration and entire vehicle testing in order to prepare for EM-1, when Orion is launched atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) for the first time. The test flight will send Orion into lunar distant retrograde orbit – a wide orbit around the moon that is farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. The mission will last about three weeks and will certify the design and safety of Orion and SLS for future human-rated exploration missions.

Source: Lockheed Martin


After being offloaded from the Super Guppy aircraft (background) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion EM-1 capsule is ready to be transported to the Operations & Checkout Facility for final assembly.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

More on Exploration Mission-1: Testing the Prototype Solar Sail for NEA Scout...

An artist's concept of the NEA Scout solar sail studying an asteroid.

NASA Tests Solar Sail Deployment for Asteroid-Surveying CubeSat NEA Scout (Press Release - February 2)

Progress continues on the journey to Mars as NASA plans to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before, including to an asteroid and ultimately to the surface of Mars. Before humans embark on the journey, the agency will survey an asteroid to learn about the risks and challenges asteroids may pose to future human explorers.

One way NASA will do this is by performing a reconnaissance flyby of an asteroid with Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout. NEA Scout -- a CubeSat, or small satellite -- will launch as a secondary payload on the inaugural flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the world’s most powerful rocket, scheduled to launch in 2018. Information gained from NEA Scout’s flyby will enhance the agency’s understanding of asteroids and their environments and will help reduce risk for future exploration of asteroids and small planetary bodies.

NEA Scout’s second mission objective will be to develop and verify a low-cost reconnaissance platform capable of carrying a wide range of research spacecraft to many destinations. To do this, NEA Scout will utilize a solar sail, harnessing solar pressure to propel the spacecraft.

NEA Scout’s solar sail will be larger and travel farther than any NASA has ever deployed in space. “As a propulsion system that doesn’t require any propellant, solar sails have a lot of potential,” said Les Johnson, NEA Scout’s solar sail principal investigator. “In the future, solar sails can take spacecraft to the outermost regions of the solar system faster than ever before.”

NEA Scout’s flight solar sail will be 86 square meters, approximately the length of a full-size school bus. Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recently conducted a series of tests with a sail roughly half that size -- 36 square meters to verify the folding and deployment of the sail in deep space.

“We were able to zero in some specifics of design, motor size, hardware attrition and even the time required to fold and deploy the sail,” said Tiffany Russell Lockett, NEA Scout Sail systems engineer. Next spring, the team will build and test a full-size engineering development unit.

Only one-third of NEA Scout’s total size can be dedicated to the solar sail. Each of the 13 CubeSats hitching a ride on the SLS will be the size of a large shoebox and weigh less than 30 pounds. For the school bus-size sail to fit within the small space requirements, it will have to be meticulously folded and then unpacked in space. To test the folding and deployment process, engineers built a low-cost test article using parts left over from previous programs.

“We were fortunate to have parts so readily available to test these new techniques,” said NEA Scout Project Manager Leslie McNutt. “It’s a fabulous opportunity for us to learn more before building our engineering development unit.”

The lightweight assembly consists of three 3D printed spools -- an oblong spool that contains the sail’s material and two smaller spools, each containing two booms, or the sail’s arms. The booms -- which will unfold the sail and hold it in place during flight -- are strong, yet flexible.

“The booms are much like a handyman’s metal tape measure. They are very strong when held out straight, and when bent they become flexible enough to be wound around the spools -- saving space,” said McNutt.

The sail’s material, a strong plastic with aluminum coating, is as thin as a human hair and has to be meticulously folded and wrapped around the oblong spool. Once in space, the booms -- each attached to a different corner of the sail -- will extend, unpacking the solar sail.

“We successfully tested a new folding technique that has never been used before with solar sails,” said McNutt. “The sail material is folded like an accordion and unreels like a bow tie as the booms deploy.”

To simulate a microgravity environment similar to that in space, the team used Marshall’s Flat Floor Facility -- the world’s flattest floor. “We connected air bearings to the ends of the booms,” said McNutt. “That allowed the booms to float on a thin layer of air above the floor, offsetting the effects of Earth’s gravity.”

McNutt believes solar sails like NEA Scout’s could be a game changer in the future of deep-space missions. “In the past, they have been relatively small,” she said. “Advances like NEA Scout’s sail could enable larger and larger spacecraft. The larger the spacecraft, the larger the solar sail will need to be. You have to work your way up -- this is a step in the direction of bigger and better.”

NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) manages NEA Scout with the team led at Marshall Space Flight Center with support from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. AES infuses new technologies developed by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate and partners with the Science Mission Directorate to address the unknowns and mitigate risks for crews and systems during future human exploration missions.

Source: NASA.Gov


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NASA Reveals 7 of 13 Hitchhikers That Will Fly Aboard the SLS in 2018...

An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Flashlight surveying the Moon.

NASA Space Launch System’s First Flight to Send Small Sci-Tech Satellites Into Space (Press Release)

The first flight of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will carry 13 CubeSats to test innovative ideas along with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in 2018.

These small satellite secondary payloads will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars. SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provides the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit.

“The 13 CubeSats that will fly to deep space as secondary payloads aboard SLS on EM-1 showcase the intersection of science and technology, and advance our journey to Mars,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

The secondary payloads were selected through a series of announcements of flight opportunities, a NASA challenge and negotiations with NASA’s international partners.

“The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit," said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This rocket has the unprecedented power to send Orion to deep space plus room to carry 13 small satellites – payloads that will advance our knowledge about deep space with minimal cost.”

NASA selected two payloads through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement:

Skyfire - Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Denver, Colorado, will develop a CubeSat to perform a lunar flyby of the moon, taking sensor data during the flyby to enhance our knowledge of the lunar surface

Lunar IceCube - Morehead State University, Kentucky, will build a CubeSat to search for water ice and other resources at a low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon

Three payloads were selected by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate:

Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space

Lunar Flashlight will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface

Two payloads were selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate:

CuSP a “space weather station” to measure particles and magnetic fields in space, testing practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather

LunaH-Map will map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s south pole

Three additional payloads will be determined through NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge – sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and designed to foster innovations in small spacecraft propulsion and communications techniques. CubeSat builders will vie for a launch opportunity on SLS’ first flight through a competition that has four rounds, referred to as ground tournaments, leading to the selection in 2017 of the payloads to fly on the mission.

NASA has also reserved three slots for payloads from international partners. Discussions to fly those three payloads are ongoing, and they will be announced at a later time.

On this first flight, SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of Orion and the SLS rocket prior to the first crewed flight. The first configuration of SLS that will fly on EM-1 is referred to as Block I and will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines. The CubeSats will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage and once Orion is a safe distance away. Each payload will be ejected with a spring mechanism from dispensers on the Orion stage adapter. Following deployment, the transmitters on the CubeSats will turn on, and ground stations will listen for their beacons to determine the functionality of these small satellites.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

Monday, February 1, 2016

EM-1 Update - Orion's Next Stop: Kennedy Space Center!

At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, the Super Guppy is ready to receive the Orion EM-1 spacecraft for transport to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly...on February 1, 2016.

Super Guppy Ready to Transport the Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

NASA's Super Guppy aircraft readies to transport the Orion spacecraft pressure vessel for Exploration Mission-1 from the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The pressure vessel will fly on the first integrated launch of Orion and NASA's powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System. The test flight, which will fly without crew, will demonstrate the agency’s new capability to launch future deep space missions, which include missions to an asteroid and Mars.

The Super Guppy has a cargo compartment that is 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide and 111 feet long and can carry more than 26 tons. The aircraft has unique hinged nose that can open more than 200 degrees, allowing large pieces of cargo to be loaded and unloaded from the front.

Source: NASA.Gov


At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, the Super Guppy receives the Orion EM-1 spacecraft for transport to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly...on February 1, 2016.