Sunday, May 29, 2016

Photos and Video of the Day: BEAM Opens Up in the Heavens...

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

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone! Just thought I'd share these pics and a video showing the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) as it successfully deployed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams spent about seven hours repeatedly opening and closing a pressure valve that allowed air to seep from the Tranquility module into the experimental space habitat to expand it. BEAM was originally supposed to take 45 minutes to inflate, but difficulties that Williams ran into last Thursday (due to over-pressure after the module's multiple fabric layers refused to separate as a result of being stuck on the ground for 15 months...a consequence caused by SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch mishap in June of 2015) prevented him from continuing the operation that day. NASA decided on Friday to hold off on resuming BEAM activities till yesterday morning.

With BEAM now expanded to its full size, NASA will wait a week before giving ISS crew members authorization to venture into the module for the first time and begin installing sensors inside the inflatable compartment. BEAM will stay attached to the orbital outpost for two years before being detached from the station via robotic arm and released into space. BEAM will orbit the Earth for a few months before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.

The video below shows sped-up footage of BEAM inflating in the vacuum of space. Amazing stuff!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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

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)

Airbus Defence and Space Starts Orion Service Module Assembly (Press Release - May 19)

- During Exploration Mission-1, Orion will fly more than 64,000 km beyond the Moon

- Service module provides power and propulsion for Orion and life support systems for astronauts

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, has started assembling the European Service Module (ESM), a key element of NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft that will transport astronauts into deep space for the first time since the end of the Apollo program.

In November 2014, Airbus Defence and Space was chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor to develop and build the ESM, which will supply propulsion, power, thermal control, air and water for astronauts on missions beyond the Moon and to Mars. The ESM sits below the Crew Module.

Integrating more than 20,000 parts and components in the ESM flight model ranging from electrical equipment to rocket engines, solar arrays, tanks for propellant and life support consumables as well as hundreds of meters of cables and tubes marks a major milestone for the Orion program. After the arrival of the flight model structure from Thales Alenia Space Italy the assembly is being carried out at Airbus Defence and Space’s site at Bremen, Germany, where officials from ESA, NASA, Airbus Defence and Space and partners gave an update on the Orion program’s progress on May 19.

“With the Orion Service Module, we are part of an historic space mission,” said Fran├žois Auque, Head of Space Systems. “We will make sure this mission is a success, working hand in hand with our customers ESA and NASA and our industrial partner Lockheed Martin Space Systems.”

The second test flight of the Orion vehicle and its first atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is known as Exploration Mission-1. This 2018 mission will be un-crewed and travel more than 64,000 km beyond the Moon to demonstrate the spacecraft’s performance. The first crewed mission, Exploration Mission-2, will be launched as early as 2021.

The Orion spacecraft is designed to take humans further than they have ever been before. The exploration vehicle will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. Orion ushers in a new era of space exploration, with missions envisaged beyond the Moon, to an asteroid mass delivered to lunar orbit and Mars.

The ESM is cylindrical in shape and about four metres in diameter and in height. It features the ATV’s distinctive four-wing solar array (19 metres across unfurled) that generates enough electricity to power two households. Its 8.6 tonnes of propellant will power one main engine and 32 smaller thrusters. The ESM has a total mass of just over 13 tonnes. In addition to the main propulsion capability for the Orion spacecraft, the ESM will perform orbital maneuvering and attitude control functions. It also provides the main elements of the life support system such as water and oxygen for the crew while providing power and thermal control while it is docked to the crew module. The unpressurised service module can also be used to carry additional cargo.

In managing the development and construction of the ESM, Airbus Defence and Space is drawing on its extensive experience as prime contractor of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which made regular deliveries of experiment equipment, spare parts, food, air and water for the crews on board the International Space Station.

Source: Airbus Defence and Space


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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Photos of the Day #2: ET-94 Arrives in Exposition Park!

With the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the background, ET-94 finally comes to a stop at Exposition Park near the California Science Center...on May 21, 2016.

Just before 7 PM (Pacific Time), yesterday, a truck towing the space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 pulled up onto a grassy area right next to the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, Endeavour's current home, at the California Science Center. This marked the end to an almost 12-hour journey that I spent following the giant NASA flight artifact as it slowly made its way from Inglewood to its permanent home in downtown Los Angeles. Here are some pics (out of almost 200 that I took yesterday) of the external tank as large crowds gathered around it to snap photos and take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Posing with ET-94 as it came to a temporary stop on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles...on May 21, 2016.

ET-94 will spend the next two years undergoing refurbishment outside Endeavour's pavilion...prior to being mated to the retired orbiter and twin Solid Rocket Boosters (that are still in storage at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert) in preparation for their eventual display inside the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, scheduled to open in 2019. Stay tuned.

Cruising down Manchester Avenue, ET-94 passes by The Forum in Inglewood on May 21, 2016.

ET-94 makes a turn from Manchester Avenue to Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles...on May 21, 2016.

ET-94 comes to a temporary stop alongside an office building on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles...on May 21, 2016.

Entering Exposition Park, ET-94 is about to pass by the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium and the Coliseum...on May 21, 2016.

ET-94 passes by the Coliseum on May 21, 2016.

ET-94 comes to a final stop outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, Endeavour's current home, at the California Science Center...on May 21, 2016.

A night shot of ET-94 with the L.A. Natural History Museum and Samuel Oschin Pavilion in the background...on May 21, 2016.

Another night photo of ET-94 with the Samuel Oschin Pavilion behind it...on May 21, 2016.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Photos of the Day: Welcome to Los Angeles, ET-94!

Space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village in Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

Earlier today, I drove down to Marina del Rey to check out space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 after it arrived in the coastal city (following a month-long voyage from New Orleans, Louisiana) yesterday. For those of you who are interested in seeing the California Science Center's newest museum piece in person, go to the Fisherman's Village located on Fiji Way...where the tank will be until Friday night. ET-94 begins its move to downtown Los Angeles at 12:01 AM (Pacific Time) on Saturday. It should arrive at the Science Center at 8:30 PM (PT) that night.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

The address for Fisherman's Village is 13755 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey, CA 90292. Parking is at least $7 at the nearest lot. Head on down now!

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

ET-94 is on display near the Fisherman's Village at Marina del Rey...on May 19, 2016.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Three's a Crowd Inside a SpaceX Hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

The three recovered Falcon 9 first-stage boosters are stored inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Photo courtesy of Elon Musk -

SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently tweeted the image above showing the three recovered Falcon 9 boosters now placed in storage at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first stage rockets that returned to Earth last December, last month and nine days ago are inside the hangar that will soon house the three core stage boosters for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket...set to make its launch debut by the end of this year.

While the Falcon 9 stage that returned last Christmas will be put on display at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, it remains to be seen when the other two motors will once again see flight. When they do, it will be a historic day for Musk's company, private aerospace companies in general, and space exploration overall.

3 landed rockets

A photo posted by SpaceX (@spacex) on

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SpaceX Update: The Dragon CRS-8 Mission Comes to an End...

The Dragon capsule is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean...after completing the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station on May 11, 2016.

Critical NASA Science Returns to Earth aboard SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft (Press Release)

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 11, about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA, and then be prepared for shipment to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

A variety of technology and biology studies conducted in the unique microgravity environment of the space station returned aboard the commercial resupply spacecraft, including research in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. The Microchannel Diffusion study, for example, examined how microparticles interact with each other and their delivery channel in the absence of gravitational forces. In this one-of-a-kind laboratory, researchers were able to observe nanoscale behaviors at slightly larger scales – knowledge which may have implications for advancements in particle filtration, space exploration and drug delivery technologies.

CASIS Protein Crystal Growth 4 also has applications in medicine – specifically, drug design and development. Growing protein crystals in microgravity can avoid some of the obstacles inherent to protein crystallization on Earth, such as sedimentation. One investigation explored the effect of microgravity on the co-crystallization of a membrane protein with a medically-relevant compound in order to determine its three-dimensional structure. This will enable scientists to use “designer” compounds to chemically target and inhibit an important human biological pathway thought to be responsible for several types of cancer.

The spacecraft also returned to Earth the final batch of human research samples from former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic one-year mission. These samples will be analyzed for studies such as Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study. Additional samples taken on the ground, as Kelly continues to support these studies, will provide insights relevant for NASA’s Journey to Mars as the agency learns more about how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

The spacesuit worn by NASA astronaut Tim Kopra during a January spacewalk also was returned for additional analysis by engineers on the ground, as NASA continues to investigate the source of water that caused and early end to the spacewalk after Kopra reported a small water bubble inside his helmet.

Dragon currently is the only station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida April 8, and arrived at the space station April 10, carrying almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s eighth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission.

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

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, May 9, 2016

SLS Update: An SRB Is All Set for Next Month's QM-2 Test...

At the Orbital ATK facility in Promontory, Utah, the solid rocket motor that will be used for the Qualification Motor-2 demonstration on June 28 is now installed on its test stand.
Orbital ATK / NASA

Orbital ATK Completes Installation of World's Largest Solid Rocket Motor for Upcoming Ground Test (Press Release)

Promontory, Utah – Orbital ATK, a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, in partnership with NASA, has completed installing the second Space Launch System (SLS) booster qualification motor, QM-2, in a specialized test stand in Utah in preparation for a June 28 static-fire test. QM-2 is the second of two Orbital ATK-developed motors to support qualification of the boosters for NASA’s SLS, which is a heavy-lift rocket designed to enable exciting new deep space exploration missions. The first qualification motor, QM-1, completed a successful test last spring.

“Testing before flight is critical to ensure reliability and safety when launching humans into space,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division. “This ground test is an important step in qualifying NASA’s new five-segment solid rocket motor, the largest solid rocket motor ever built for flight, for planned SLS missions to deep space.”

While last year’s QM-1 test validated motor performance at the upper end of the propellant temperature range, Orbital ATK personnel are cooling QM-2 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit to test its lower temperature capabilities against the required temperature range. Lying horizontally in the test stand, the motor is 154 feet in length and 12 feet in diameter. When fired, QM-2 will produce 3.6 million pounds of maximum thrust.

Orbital ATK and NASA will use measurements from more than 530 data channels to evaluate motor performance, acoustics, motor vibrations, nozzle modifications, insulation upgrades, Booster Separation Motor structural dynamic response and nozzle vectoring parameters. The full-scale motor test will further improve the safety, technology and knowledge of solid rocket motors.

The SLS five-segment motor is based on the design heritage of the flight-proven solid rocket boosters used on NASA’s Space Shuttle and incorporates new technologies and updated materials.

“Throughout the Space Shuttle Program, we regularly monitored and enhanced our motor design, and we have made further modifications to our booster for NASA’s new SLS,” said Precourt, a four-time space shuttle astronaut and former chief of the astronaut office. “Having personally experienced the power of these motors and been a part of these modifications, I can attest to their reliability.”

The SLS, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, provides a flexible deep space exploration platform to take humans and cargo to multiple destinations across our solar system. Orion successfully experienced its first flight test in December 2014, orbiting twice around the Earth and flying as far away as 3,600 miles – more than 15 times farther than the International Space Station and farther than a human spaceflight vehicle has traveled in 40 years.

The first test flight of SLS and Orion together, called Exploration Mission-1, is scheduled for 2018. EM-1 will use two of Orbital ATK’s five-segment solid rocket boosters.

A network of hundreds of suppliers representing 49 states supports the SLS and Orion programs. Orbital ATK has 29 key SLS booster suppliers across 16 states including Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Source: Orbital ATK

Friday, May 6, 2016

SpaceX Update: Falcon 9 Does It Again!

Footage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster moments after it successfully touched down on a robotic barge out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 6, 2016 (Eastern Time).

Earlier today, SpaceX once again made history when a Falcon 9 first stage booster that launched a Japanese communications satellite to orbit successfully landed on a robotic barge out in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the second time in less than a month and the third time since last December that Elon Musk's company was able to retrieve a flown rocket after it returned to Earth. Unlike last month, however, today's feat was more difficult... The Falcon 9 booster launched the satellite (known as JCSAT-14) to a geostationary transfer orbit—which is located more than 22,000 miles above our planet as opposed to the low, 250-mile orbit where the International Space Station and SpaceX's Dragon CRS-8 capsule reside. This means that the first stage had to travel at much faster speeds and experience greater heating than the previous booster as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere and descended towards the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX officials said before the launch that there was a 50/50 chance that this booster would survive the landing attempt. What they got instead was a third flown rocket to be temporarily placed inside SpaceX's storage hangar at Cape Canaveral; waiting to be refurbished and re-flown on another orbital flight. (The booster that flew last December, however, will go on display at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.)

SpaceX plans to do another barge landing before it attempts to have a Falcon 9 touch down at Cape Canaveral again...sometime this year.

A photo of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster several hours after it successfully touched down on a robotic barge out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 6, 2016.

A photo of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster several hours after it successfully touched down on a robotic barge out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 6, 2016.

A photo of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster several hours after it successfully touched down on a robotic barge out in the Atlantic Ocean...on May 6, 2016.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Back in the Day: America's First Astronaut Prepares for Flight...

Alan Shepard is ready to launch on the Mercury Redstone 3 mission on May 5, 1961...becoming the first American to fly into space.

May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard in Spacesuit Before Mercury Launch (Press Release)

Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., in his silver pressure suit with the helmet visor closed, prepares for his Mercury Redstone 3 launch on May 5, 1961. Shepard's Freedom 7 Mercury capsule lifted off at 9:34 a.m. from Launch Complex 5 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and flew a suborbital trajectory lasting 15 minutes and 22 seconds. He became the first American to fly into space.

During the rocket's acceleration, Shepard was subjected to 6.3 g, or 6.3 times his normal weight, just before shut down of the Redstone engine, two minutes and 22 seconds after liftoff. Soon after, America's first space traveler got his first view of the Earth. "What a beautiful view," Shepard said. His spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, 302 miles from Cape Canaveral, where he and Freedom 7 were recovered by helicopter and transported to the awaiting aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Photo of the Day: The ISS Passes Over North Africa...

An image of Morocco as seen from aboard the International Space Station...on May 2, 2016.

Space Station Flyover of Morocco (Press Release)

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA captured this detailed photograph from the International Space Station during a daytime flyover of Morocco on May 2, 2016. Williams shared the image to social media and asked, "Reptile scales, or incredible and rugged geology in Morocco?"

Source: NASA.Gov