Saturday, July 30, 2016

SpaceX Is Officially on the Books for a Second Crewed Flight to the ISS...

An artist's concept of a Crew Dragon capsule about to dock with the International Space Station...with a berthed Dragon cargo freighter in the foreground.

NASA Orders Second SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station (Press Release - July 29)

NASA took another important step Friday in returning U.S. astronaut launches from U.S. soil with the order of a second post-certification mission from commercial provider SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. Commercial crew flights from Florida’s Space Coast to the International Space Station will restore America’s human spaceflight launch capability and increase the time U.S. crews can dedicate to scientific research, which is helping prepare astronauts for deep space missions, including the Journey to Mars.

"The order of a second crew rotation mission from SpaceX, paired with the two ordered from Boeing will help ensure reliable access to the station on American spacecraft and rockets," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "These systems will ensure reliable U.S. crew rotation services to the station, and will serve as a lifeboat for the space station for up to seven months."

This is the fourth and final guaranteed order NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing received its two orders in May and December of 2015, and SpaceX received its first order in November 2015. Both companies have started planning for, building and testing the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first flight tests, and ultimately missions for the agency.

At a later time, NASA will identify which company will fly the first post-certification mission to the space station. Each provider’s contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

SpaceX met the criteria for this latest award after it successfully completed interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews for its Crew Dragon spacecraft, Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems.

"We’re making great progress with Crew Dragon, with qualification of our docking adapter and initial acceptance testing of the pressure vessel qualification unit completed" said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “We appreciate the trust NASA has placed in SpaceX with the order of another crew mission and look forward to flying astronauts from American soil next year."

SpaceX is building four Crew Dragon spacecraft at its Hawthorne facility -- two for qualification testing and two for flight tests next year. The company also is in the process of modifying Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from which the company will launch future crewed missions to the space station.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry as many as four crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo, and remain at the station for as long as 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s International Space Station chief scientist. “Given the number of investigations waiting for the crew to be able to complete their research, having more crew members will enable NASA and our partners to significantly increase the important research being done every day for the benefit of all humanity.”

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions.


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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Video of the Day: A Previously-Flown Falcon 9 Booster Roars Back to Life...

Check out this cool YouTube clip showing the Falcon 9 booster that successfully returned to Earth after launching the JCSAT-14 spacecraft last May as its engines came back to life yesterday. The test fire occurred at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas...where the company's bid to make rockets reusable began with the Grasshopper demonstrations a few years back. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is hoping that this Falcon 9 will see flight again before the end of this year; a payload for this mission is yet to be selected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

47 Years Since the First Moon Landing: NASA Takes One More Step Towards Exploring Deep Space Once More...

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg uses a fundoscope to image her eye while doing research on microgravity-related visual impairment aboard the International Space Station.

NASA Establishes Institute to Explore New Ways to Protect Astronauts (Press Release)

NASA is joining with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to operate a new institute charged with researching and developing innovative approaches to reduce risks to humans on long-duration exploration missions, including NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Work under the Translational Research Institute Cooperative Agreement, overseen by NASA’s Human Research Program, begins Oct. 1.

Translational research is an interdisciplinary model of research that focuses on translating fundamental research concepts into practice, with appreciable health outcomes. The NASA Translational Research Institute (NTRI) will implement a “bench-to-spaceflight” model, moving results or methods from laboratory experiments or clinical trials to point-of-care astronaut health and performance applications. The goal of the research is to produce promising new approaches, treatments, countermeasures or technologies that have practical application to spaceflight.

“It’s fitting on the 47th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing that we’re announcing a new human spaceflight research institute that will help reduce risks for our astronauts on the next giant leap – our Journey to Mars,” said Marshall Porterfield, NASA’s director of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications.

Translational research has the potential to move solutions into practical application much faster than traditional research approaches. To that end, the NTRI will maintain research leadership in translational human performance, biomedical, environmental, and cognitive and behavioral science, and foster greater involvement of the science community in accomplishing the agency’s human exploration goals.

The institute also will provide opportunities for scientists to gain experience in research laboratories, within and external to NASA, and apply their knowledge and expertise to reducing human exploration health and performance risks.

Major subcontractors are the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Services will be performed at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute in Houston. The agreement has a maximum potential value of $246 million for a six-year performance period with one additional six-year period that could extend work to September 2028.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Photo of the Day: Assembly Is Complete on a Massive SLS Fuel Tank Replica...

Welding is complete on a replica of the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Eric Bordelon

NASA Completes Welding on SLS Fuel Tank Test Article (Press Release)

A qualification test article for the liquid hydrogen tank on NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, is lifted off the Vertical Assembly Center after final welding at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. This giant tank isn't destined for space, but it will play a critical role in ensuring the safety of future explorers. The liquid hydrogen qualification article closely replicates flight hardware and was built using identical processing procedures. SLS will have the largest cryogenic fuel tanks ever used on a rocket.

The liquid hydrogen tank – along with a liquid oxygen tank – are part of the SLS core stage. The core stage is made up of the engine section, liquid hydrogen tank, intertank, liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt. As four qualification articles of the core stage hardware are manufactured, they will be shipped on the Pegasus barge from Michoud to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for structural loads testing.

Now that welding is finished, the liquid hydrogen tank hardware, standing at more than 130 feet tall, will be outfitted with sensors to record important data. It will be tested in a new, twin-tower test stand currently under construction for the tank at the Marshall Center. Structural loads testing ensures that these huge structures can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. When completed, SLS will have the power and payload capacity needed to carry crew and cargo on exploration missions to deep space, including Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, July 18, 2016

ISS Update: What Goes Up (Dragon), Must Come Down (Falcon 9)...

The Dragon CRS-9 capsule deploys from its second stage motor after launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket towards the International Space Station...on July 18, 2016.

NASA Sends Trailblazing Science, Cargo to International Space Station Aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

Instruments to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space, and the first international docking adapter for commercial spacecraft, are among the cargo scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station after Monday’s launch of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services-9 (CRS-9) mission.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched at 12:45 a.m. EDT on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo. The spacecraft will be grappled to the space station at 7 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, supported by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins.

“Each commercial resupply flight to the space station is a significant event. Everything, from the science to the spare hardware and crew supplies, is vital for sustaining our mission,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program manager. “With equipment to enable novel experiments never attempted before in space, and an international docking adapter vital to the future of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, we’re thrilled this Dragon has successfully taken flight.”

The mission is the company's ninth cargo flight to the station under NASA’s CRS contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 48 and 49.

DNA testing aboard the space station typically requires collecting samples and returning them to Earth. The Biomolecule Sequencer seeks to demonstrate, for the first time, that DNA sequencing is feasible in microgravity using a crew-operated, miniaturized device to identify microbes, diagnose diseases, monitor crew health and possibly help detect DNA-based life off the Earth.

Maintaining safe temperatures is difficult in space where there is no atmosphere to moderate the extreme heat and cold provided by direct, unfiltered sunlight. The Phase Change Heat Exchanger, a NASA investigation to test temperature control technology for future spacecraft, uses a continual process of freezing and thawing to maintain temperatures inside a spacecraft, thereby protecting crews and equipment.

The crew also will test a new efficient, three-dimensional solar cell.

Millions of Americans experience bone loss resulting from disease or the reduced effects of gravity that can occur in immobilized patients. New ground-based studies are using magnetic levitation equipment to simulate these gravity-related changes. Research delivered under the station’s role as a U.S. National Laboratory includes OsteoOmics, a test to determine whether magnetic levitation accurately simulates the free-fall conditions of microgravity by comparing genetic expression in different types of bone cells.

Improved understanding of the mechanisms behind bone loss could lead to better ways to prevent it during space missions. This also could contribute to better prevention of, and treatments for, bone loss as a result of diseases like osteopenia and osteoporosis, or from prolonged bed rest.

Another National Lab investigation called Heart Cells studies how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary from one individual to another. Future exploration of the moon, asteroids or Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of heart muscle. Heart cells cultured aboard the space station for one month will be analyzed for cellular and molecular changes. Results could advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station Monday, Aug. 29. After splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, more than 3,300 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools will be returned to shore.

For more than 15 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that 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.


The Falcon 9 booster sits quietly at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...after successfully launching the Dragon CRS-9 capsule to the International Space Station on July 18, 2016.
SpaceX / Elon Musk

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Orion Update: Working Up a Sweat in Deep Space...

A cutaway view of the Orion capsule...with an astronaut using the ROCKY exercise device inside the spacecraft.

Exercise Device for Orion to Pack Powerful Punch (News Release)

When astronauts travel far beyond Earth on the journey to Mars, keeping them healthy in space will be critically important. They’ll need to be in top physical form when they make it to their destination so they can effectively pioneer new frontiers and be able to recover relatively quickly when back on Earth.

While engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together on the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 in 2018, a group of NASA engineers and scientists have made it their objective to find answers to an important question that must be answered to make deep space missions with crew successful – how do you take what we know about the exercise equipment needed to keep astronauts healthy and fit in space and make it exponentially smaller, lighter and more robust while also offering the same benefits?

To exercise in Orion beginning on Exploration Mission-2, the first mission of the spacecraft with crew, astronauts will use the Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo (ROCKY) device, developed by Zin Technologies of Middleburg Heights, Ohio.

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.”

On the space station, astronauts have a treadmill, resistive exercise device and a cycle ergometer that collectively weigh more than 4,000 pounds and occupy about 850 cubic feet within the space station. Astronauts workout on this equipment for more than two hours a day to stay healthy during their multi-month stays in space. ROCKY will be about the size of a large shoe box, weigh approximately 20 pounds and take up about one cubic foot of room.

“Our long-term goal is to develop a device that’s going to work for us for exploration,” said Cindy Haven, project manager for the Exploration Exercise Equipment Project. “Between now and the mission, we’ll have different phases where we’re going to evaluate it for functionality, usability and durability to refine its design.”

Astronauts will be able to use the device like a rowing machine for aerobic activity and for strength training with loads of up to 400 pounds to perform exercises such as squats, deadlifts and heel raises, as well as upper body exercises like bicep curls and upright rows. The device can be customized with specific workouts for individual astronauts. It will also incorporate the best features from a second device evaluated during the selection process called the Device for Aerobic and Resistive Training, or DART, developed by TDA Research in Denver, under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, including a servo-motor programmed to deliver a load profile that feels very similar as free weights to the exercising astronaut’s muscles.

After an Orion launch, the crew’s seats will be collapsed to provide more interior space for the astronauts inside. ROCKY will be located near the side hatch of the spacecraft that astronauts will use to get in and out.

While Orion’s early missions with crew will last only a matter of weeks, staying fit will also be important in the unlikely event astronauts need to get out of the crew module unassisted after splashdown. NASA’s plans call for recovery personnel to arrive to the landing site shortly after splashdown, but the crew will need to be prepared to exit the spacecraft on their own in sea conditions if they were ever to land off course.

Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion that dock with a habitat in the area of space around the moon known as the cis-lunar proving ground. They will be looking at ways to expand its capabilities even further while keeping mass and volume to a minimum.

The team will include engineers and scientists from Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will be responsible for building and certifying the hardware for flight on Orion and will incorporate lessons learned from the development of exercise equipment for the space station, recent Mini Exercise Device-2 demonstrations and ground-based research to optimize the device. The team also plans to fly ROCKY on the space station in the coming years.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kennedy Space Center Continues to Prepare for SLS and Orion...

A worm's-eye view of four of ten work platforms that will provide access to NASA's Space Launch System inside Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Looking Up at New Work Platforms in the Vehicle Assembly Building (News Release)

In this view looking up from the floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, four levels of new work platforms are now installed on the north and south sides of High Bay 3. The G-level work platforms were most recently installed, at about the 14th floor level. Below them are the H, J and K level platforms.

The G-level work platforms are the fourth of 10 levels of work platforms that will surround and provide access to the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission 1. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3, including installation of the new work platforms, to prepare for NASA’s journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, July 8, 2016

Photo of the Day: A Test Version of an SLS Fuel Tank Is About to Complete Assembly...

As seen from the ground looking directly up, a replica of the liquid hydrogen fuel tank for the Space Launch System is about to complete assembly at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel

A Peek Inside SLS: Fuel Tank For World’s Largest Rocket Nears Completion (Press Release)

While this may look like a futuristic tunnel to another world, it is really looking up inside a nearly complete fuel tank for NASA’s powerful, new rocket—the Space Launch System—that will take humans to destinations never explored by people before. At over 300-feet tall and 5.75 million pounds at liftoff, SLS needs plenty of fuel to leave Earth. Once a final dome is added to the liquid hydrogen rocket fuel tank, shown here, it will come in at 27.5-feet in diameter and over 130-feet long, making it the largest major part of the SLS core stage. The core stage forms the rocket’s backbone and has five major parts, all of which are being manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Core stage tanks carry all the cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen combusted in four RS-25 engines to produce two million pounds of thrust. The tank holds 537,000 gallons of chilled liquid hydrogen that is completely combusted in the engines in the short 8.5 minutes it takes to send the SLS and Orion crew vehicle into orbit. The blue section, shown here, is part of the world’s largest robotic weld tool in the Vehicle Assembly Center at Michoud. Inside the tool, five barrels and one dome were welded to make the tank, shown here in silver; engineers will cap it with one more dome to complete tank welding. While the tank is smooth on the outside, the inside appears to have ridges because the cylindrical barrels that form the tank are manufactured with square patterns created by stiffening ribs machined into them to make the walls light but uniformly strong in every direction.

When it is finished, a barge will carry this tank to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While this qualification tank won’t actually fly, it will be tested at Marshall in a stand that simulates launch and ascent forces. Traveling to deep space requires a large vehicle that can carry huge payloads, and SLS will have the power and payload capacity needed to carry crew and cargo needed for exploration missions to deep space, including Mars. For the first flight of the SLS rocket, the Block I configuration can lift 70-metric-tons (77 tons). 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. For both configurations, SLS will use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

The Boeing Co., headquartered in Chicago, is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, including avionics, and Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engines.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

More Expedition 48 Astronauts Headed Up to the ISS...

The Soyuz MS-01 rocket carrying three Expedition 48 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 7, 2016 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

New Crew Members, Including NASA Biologist, Launch to Space Station (Press Release)

Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Japan are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7).

Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are traveling in an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft. They’ll spend two days -- and 34 Earth orbits – testing modified systems before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 12:12 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 9.

NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 8. Hatches are scheduled to open about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, July 9, with NASA TV coverage starting at 2:30 a.m.

The arrival of Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi returns the station's crew complement to six. The three will join Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos. The Expedition 48 crew members will spend four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.

Rubins, who holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in cancer biology, Ivanishin and Onishi are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late October. Williams, Skripochka and Ovchinin will return to Earth in September.

Expedition 48 crew members are expected to receive and install the station’s first international docking adapter, which will accommodate future arrivals of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. Scheduled for delivery on SpaceX’s ninth commercial resupply mission (CRS-9) to the station, the new docking port features built-in systems for automated docking and uniform measurements. That means any spacecraft may use the adapters in the future – from NASA’s new crewed and uncrewed spacecraft, developed in partnership with private industry, to international spacecraft yet to be designed. The work by private companies to take on low-Earth orbit missions is expected to free up NASA's resources for future crewed missions into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars, with the Orion crew capsule launching on the Space Launch System rocket.

Investigations arriving on SpaceX CRS-9 in July will test capabilities for sequencing DNA in space, regulating temperatures aboard spacecraft, understanding bone loss, and tracking ships around the world. Other investigations will study how to protect computers from radiation in space and test an efficient, three-dimensional solar cell.

The crew members also are scheduled to receive Orbital ATK’s sixth commercial resupply mission and two Russian Progress resupply flights delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research. A Japanese cargo craft will deliver 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.

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. 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.