Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Huge Milestone for Orion Exactly 10 Years After Its Concept Was Revealed by Lockheed Martin and NASA...

NASA management unveils a miniature mock-up of the Orion spacecraft on August 31, 2006.

Orion Crew Module Reaches Milestone in Processing for First Test Flight with NASA’s Space Launch System (News Release)

Assembly of the Orion crew module for the first uncrewed flight test atop NASA’s Space Launch System reached a significant milestone this month in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of Orion, and its subcontractor engineers, technicians and X-ray specialists completed the first propellant system tube welds on the exterior of the Orion pressure vessel.

Orion’s propulsion lines are comprised of multiple metal tubes of varying lengths that are welded together around the vehicle. With the first tubes in place, X-ray specialists performed inspections of the welds for any imperfections. This process will be repeated as each of the remaining tube assemblies are completed along the exterior of the crew module in the clean room.

“Completion of the first Orion propulsion system welds marks an important milestone for production of the next spacecraft for flight,” said Scott Wilson, NASA manager of production operations for the Orion Program. “We are moving from assembling structure to installing the critical systems that will propel Orion farther and farther from Earth than human-capable spacecraft ever have journeyed.”

The propellant lines will provide hydrazine to the spacecraft thrusters during missions into deep space. The propellant lines complete a continuous connection from the propellant tanks in the aft bay of the crew module to the spacecraft’s thrusters, which are part of the system that helps to steer the capsule during the mission.

“These first propulsion system welds marks a significant transition during the build-up of the crew module, signifying the completion of the structures assembly and the beginning of the fluid systems integration,” said Jules Schneider, Orion KSC operations manager with Lockheed Martin.

Orion was moved from the birdcage assembly fixture and secured in the clean room for the first time in late July. The first propellant system weld was completed in the clean room. The spacecraft’s critical systems, including the Environmental Control and Life Support System and propellant lines, will be completed in this room.

Orion is the NASA spacecraft that will send astronauts to deep-space destinations, including on toward the journey to Mars. The pressure vessel will contain the atmosphere that a crew would breathe during a mission. It also will provide living and working space for the crew, and withstand the loads and forces experienced during launch and landing.

The SLS rocket with Orion atop is targeted to launch from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B in 2018. EM-1 will send Orion on a path thousands of miles beyond the moon over a course of three weeks, farther into space than human spaceflight has ever travelled before. The spacecraft will return to Earth and safely splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The mission will advance and validate capabilities required for human exploration of Mars.

“Our human journey to Mars is underway. It is milestones like these that mark our progress to deep space,” Wilson said.

Source: NASA.Gov


At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last month, the Orion EM-1 capsule was transferred into the clean room inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to begin integration of the vehicle's propellant lines and other critical systems.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Photos of the Day: Two Falcon 9s in Hawthorne...

Posing with the Falcon 9 booster that is now on display outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

Last Thursday, I drove down to Hawthorne to check out the Falcon 9 booster that was recently put on permanent display outside SpaceX Headquarters. This booster delivered the Orbcomm satellites to low-Earth orbit before becoming the first rocket to touch down on land following an orbital launch last December. Parked on the street around the corner of this Falcon 9's final resting spot is another flown booster that delivered the THAICOM 8 satellite to geostationary orbit last May. Unlike the Orbcomm vehicle—which could've been reused had SpaceX founder Elon Musk not decided to turn this rocket into a museum piece instead—THAICOM's Falcon 9 is presumably too damaged to fly again. (The speed and altitude at which this booster entered Earth's atmosphere and came in for a landing was much faster and higher than that of the Orbcomm launcher...seeing as how THAICOM 8 was sent to an orbit about 23,000 miles above the Earth.) Anyways, here are photos that I took of the two 162-foot-tall boosters. I wonder if SpaceX will ever donate a Falcon 9 to the California Science Center for display with space shuttle Endeavour? We'll see.

LINK: More photos I took of the Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX Headquarters

The Falcon 9 booster that is now on display outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

This Falcon 9 booster launched the Orbcomm satellites to low-Earth orbit on December 21, 2015.

A close-up of the Falcon 9's landing legs outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

A low-angle shot of the Falcon 9 booster outside SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

Another Falcon 9 booster that is parked out on the street near SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA...on August 25, 2016.

This Falcon 9 booster launched the THAICOM 8 satellite to geostationary orbit on May 27, 2016.

A close-up of the grid fins at the top of the Falcon 9 booster...on August 25, 2016.

A close-up of the Merlin 1D engine replicas at the bottom of the Falcon 9 booster...on August 25, 2016.

Cars drive past SpaceX Headquarters and the Falcon 9 booster on Crenshaw Boulevard...on August 25, 2016.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SLS Update: America's Mega-Rocket Gets a New Set of Wheels...

A Space Launch System (SLS) transporter is test-driven at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Steven Seipel

Specialized Transporters Move Core Stage of NASA’s Space Launch System Rocket (News Release)

Any fitness expert will say it is important to take care of your body’s core. Any engineer will say the same about rockets.

Before NASA’s Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket in the world – can exercise its core “muscles” and climb off the launch pad, its core stage and test articles have to be moved to various NASA centers for testing, assembly with other components and eventually launch. That's where the agency’s newest transporters enter the picture.

These are no ordinary trucks. An American company designed and built the highly specialized, mobile platforms specifically to transport the 212-foot SLS core stage, the largest part of the 322-foot SLS rocket that will send humans aboard the Orion spacecraft into deep space.

“We wanted something modular and multipurpose, so that it is not only capable of carrying the massive core stage of the Space Launch System but also moving other hardware NASA will need for the journey to Mars,” said Chris Bramon, the SLS operations disciplines lead engineer in the Mission Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “This transportation system will work for many generations of rockets, safely moving valuable space hardware needed for NASA’s boldest missions.”

This summer, four transporters were delivered to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where the five sections that make up the core stage are being manufactured. The transporters were designed and built by Wheelift of Waterloo, Iowa, where they were named Elpis, Novus, Pandora and Aegis through a company-hosted contest. The transporters will carry the core stage down roads and on and off the Pegasus barge for shipping to test and launch sites.

“The delivery and testing of the transporters mark several years of hard work by engineers at Marshall and Wheelift designing transporters that can move critical spaceflight hardware,” said Greg Parrish, Marshall’s project manager for the transporters. “Right now, we are in the process of checking them out by testing them with simulated hardware to assure they work properly and safely.”

Known as self-propelled modular transporters, the haulers will carry three test articles of the core stage – the liquid hydrogen tank, liquid oxygen tank and intertank – individually for testing and as a fully integrated core stage with the engine section and forward skirt. When moving the payloads, the four transporters are arranged in pairs, with one pair supporting each end.

Each transporter is over 33 feet long and 12 feet wide and can carry 75 tons each, the equivalent to 14 fully-grown elephants. On each transporter, the 12 independent, electric wheel modules are powered by a propane-driven Chevy 350 cubic inch small block engine. The transporters can position the cargo to within 5 one-thousandths of an inch – that’s less than the size of a grain of sand. In addition to being strong and very agile, each transporter is safe; they contain systems to monitor and control the forces imparted into the delicate hardware and a fire suppression system in the event of emergencies.

A key element of the transporters is the capacity to distribute the weight of the payloads equally to each of the 48 wheel modules. The empty core stage weighs approximately 94 tons and is over 200 feet long and more than 27 feet in diameter. That is the equivalent of a three-story tall building stretching from the goal line to the opposite 30-yard line on an American football field. The transporters work together wirelessly, forming what is known as a virtual strong-back, which keeps the large, precision built payload from bending or twisting during transportation.

Before it’s time to load and go, the transporters are programmed to work together to haul the specific payload. When it’s time to go, an operator walking alongside the transporters uses a joystick and control box called a “belly pack” to move them underneath the payload. The payload is lowered to within a few inches of the hardware interface structure and pallet -- a rocket cradle system designed and developed at Marshall. Final alignment is made, and the payload is secured.

Acting as one unit, the transporters then set off down the road, precious cargo aboard. With a top speed of just over one mile per hour, the system will steadily and carefully move the rocket elements down roads and on and off the Pegasus barge. Once on the barge, the transporters can remain aboard for water transit or be removed and trucked to the destination for rendezvous with their payloads and cradle system.

During transport, the hardware interface structure and the multiple purpose carrier serve both as the interface between the payload and the transporters and allows the load to move on the transporters. Movement is allowed because the varying terrain, such as a levee, along the transport patch will require the system to ascend and descend a four percent grade and turn corners. By allowing the load to move relative to the transporters and monitoring that movement, engineers can help ensure the rocket will not be damaged during transit.

“We’re going to be able to transport an entire fully integrated core stage from Michoud to Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be assembled with the other parts of the SLS rocket,” said David Adcock, the SLS Stages Office's ground support equipment cost accounting manager at Marshall. “The transporter will drive right onto the Pegasus barge and head to Kennedy. When NASA takes possession of the core stage, they will have a fully integrated core stage, ready for flight, and that saves time and money.”

The SLS test articles will travel from Michoud to Marshall, and the flight article will travel to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The first flight-ready core stage is expected to arrive at Kennedy Space Center in 2018 when the rocket will flex its muscles for the first time, an important milestone for the journey to Mars that would not be possible without the specialized transporters to move and protect the rocket’s core.

Source: NASA.Gov


A transporter is driven around carrying a heavy load that simulates the SLS core stage's weight at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Steven Seipel

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Setting Sights on 2018: Orion's Heat Shield Arrives at Cape Canaveral...

The container holding Orion's EM-1 heat shield is offloaded from NASA's Super Guppy aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 25, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Orion Heat Shield for Exploration Mission 1 Arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida (News Release - August 26)

The heat shield that will protect the Orion crew module during re-entry after the spacecraft’s first uncrewed flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2018 arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 25. The heat shield arrived aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility, and was offloaded and transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building high bay today.

The heat shield was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the company’s facility near Denver. Orion’s heat shield will help it endure the approximately 5,000 degrees F it will experience upon reentry. The heat shield measures 16.5 feet in diameter.

Orion is the spacecraft that will carry astronauts to deep-space destinations, including the journey to Mars. Orion will be equipped with power, communications and life support systems to sustain space travelers during their journey, and return them safely back to Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov


Orion's EM-1 heat shield at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
Lockheed Martin

Friday, August 26, 2016

Another Successful Mission for Dragon...


SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down with Crucial NASA Research Samples (Press Release)

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:47 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 26, southwest of Baja California with more than 3,000 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

When it arrived at the station July 20, Dragon delivered the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs) in its external cargo hold, or “trunk.” The IDAs will be used by commercial spacecraft now in development for transporting astronauts to the station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The initial adapter was installed during an Aug. 19 spacewalk by Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. The second adapter is being built and will be delivered on a future Dragon cargo resupply mission.

Among the experiment samples returning Friday are those from the Heart Cells study, which is looking at how microgravity affects human heart cells. The U.S. National Laboratory investigation is studying how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary between individuals. Deep space missions including the journey to Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of the 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.

Samples will also be returned from two rodent-based investigations, the Mouse Epigenetics and Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly experiments. The mouse model is useful for showing how much shorter stays by mice in the low-Earth environment can be used to infer how similar conditions may affect future human exploration.

In Mouse Epigenetics, researchers are exploring altered gene expression and DNA by tracking changes in the organs of male mice that spend one month in space, and examining changes in the DNA of their offspring. In Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly, scientists are looking at rapid loss of bone and muscle mass in the legs and spine, and comparing it to what is experienced by people with muscle wasting diseases or with limited mobility on Earth and testing an antibody known to prevent muscle wasting in mice on Earth. This U.S. National Laboratory experiment is sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

Also returning are samples from the Multi-Omics experiment. This research is analyzing the composition of microbes in the human digestive system and how they may affect the human immune system. Researchers may be able to identify bacterial or metabolic biomarkers that could be useful for astronaut health management, and therefore future human exploration of the solar system.

Dragon is currently the only space 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 July 18 carrying almost 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s ninth commercial resupply mission to the station.

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 human space exploration, including the journey to Mars.


The Dragon capsule is about to splash down into the Pacific Ocean...after completing the CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station on August 26, 2016.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

EM-1 Update: Orion's Service Module Begins to Take Shape in Europe...

The European Service Module that will fly with Orion during 2018's Exploration Mission-1 begins to take shape at Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, Germany.
Airbus DS

The Real Thing (News Release)

The European Service Module that will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon and beyond is taking shape in the assembly hall at Airbus Defence and Space, Bremen, Germany. The spacecraft module will provide propulsion, electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen and thermal control.

Seen here is the primary structure that provides rigidity to the European Service Module much like the chassis of a car. It absorbs the vibrations and energy from launch while a secondary structure protects the module from micrometeoroids and space debris.

Assembly of the thousands of components needed to build the advanced spacecraft started on 19 May with the arrival of the primary structure that was shipped from Turin, Italy, by Thales Alenia Space. In 2018 this structure will be an element of the European Service Module that will be launched into space, as part of the Orion spacecraft, on its first mission to fly more than 64,000 km beyond the Moon and back.

In the background is a poster of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that was also assembled in this hall in Bremen. Five ATVs flew to the International Space Station to deliver supplies and raise its orbit. Developing ATV provided the experience necessary to develop the European Service Module in Europe.

Source: European Space Agency

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Huge Milestone Is Made at the CST-100's Launch Pad...

The Crew Access Arm is attached to the CST-100's Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 15, 2016.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Crew Access Arm Installed for Starliner Missions (News Release - August 15)

The Crew Access Arm for a new generation of spacecraft was lifted into place the morning of Aug. 15 at Space Launch Complex-41 where workers are modifying the launch pad to give astronauts access to Boeing's CST-100 Starliner on launch day.

The 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound arm will form a bridge between the newly built Crew Access Tower and the hatch of the spacecraft. Astronauts will walk across the arm to climb inside the Starliner for flight. Poised to begin a mission, the Starliner will sit on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The arm also holds the White Room, an enclosed area big enough for astronauts to make final adjustments to their suits before climbing aboard the spacecraft.

Work began around 7:30 a.m. with crews attaching cables to the arm before a crane slowly hoisted it off the launch pad surface. Another crew of workers was waiting in the tower about 160 feet above the surface as the crane maneuvered one end of the arm into a notch on the tower. They bolted and welded the apparatus to the tower to complete the process.

The addition of the arm is the latest in a rapid string of accomplishments for NASA's Commercial Crew Program and its partners. Working independently on separate contracts with NASA's program, Boeing and SpaceX are developing spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station. The additional launch capability will allow the resident crew of the station to grow by one, effectively doubling the time astronauts have in orbit to conduct science vital to spaceflight research, as well as investigations into benefits for those on Earth.

"You have to stop and celebrate these moments in the craziness of all the things we do,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s going to be so cool when our astronauts are walking out across this access arm to get on the spacecraft and go to the space station.”

The arm and tower have been constructed between Atlas V launches at SLC-41. The arm was built at a construction yard near NASA's Kennedy Space Center and trucked to the launch pad on Aug. 11. The tower was built in segments close to the launch pad and stacked together to form the nearly 200-foot-tall structure. It is the first new crew access structure at the Florida spaceport since the space shuttle's Fixed Service Structures were put in place before Columbia's first flight in 1981. It also is the first new crew access tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the Apollo Program.

"You think about when we started building this 18 months ago and now it's one of the most visible changes to the Cape's horizon since the 1960s," said Chris Ferguson, a former shuttle commander who is now Boeing's deputy program manager for the company's Commercial Crew Program. "It's a fantastic day."

The advances reminded some of the early days of human spaceflight when the first generation Atlas rockets put astronauts into orbit.

"John Glenn was the first to fly on an Atlas, now our next leap into the future will be to have astronauts launch from here on Atlas V," said Barb Egan, program manager for Commercial Crew for ULA.

Earth is not the only place work is underway to prepare for Commercial Crew missions. Astronauts on the International Space Station will perform a spacewalk Friday to install an International Docking Adapter to a station port that will allow visiting spacecraft including those on commercial crew missions to dock with the orbiting laboratory. Carried into orbit during the most recent cargo resupply mission, the IDA will become a doorway for astronauts as they cross from their spacecraft into the station. The adapters are outfitted with a network of sensors and fixtures that work with automated systems to dock the spacecraft to the port.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule and the Atlas V rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Monday, August 15, 2016

NASA Continues Its Plan to Retrieve (Parts of) An Asteroid...


NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission Completes Robotic Design Milestone (News Release)

Following a key program review, NASA approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to proceed to the next phase of design and development for the mission’s robotic segment. ARM is a two-part mission that will integrate robotic and crewed spacecraft operations in the proving ground of deep space to demonstrate key capabilities needed for NASA’s journey to Mars.

The milestone, known as Key Decision Point-B, or KDP-B, was conducted in July and formally approved by agency management Aug. 15. It is one in a series of project lifecycle milestones that every spaceflight mission for the agency passes as it progresses toward launch. At KDP-B, NASA established the content, cost, and schedule commitments for Phase B activities.

Earlier this year, NASA updated the target launch date for the robotic mission to December 2021 in order to incorporate acquisition of the industry robotic spacecraft development into the project schedule. To reflect this new target date, the project's cost cap was increased at KDP-B from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion. This figure does not include the launch vehicle or the post-launch operations phase. The crewed segment, targeted for launch in 2026, remains in an early mission concept phase, or pre-formulation.

The robotic ARM will demonstrate advanced, high-power, high-throughput solar electric propulsion; advanced autonomous high-speed proximity operations at a low-gravity planetary body; controlled touchdown and liftoff with a multi-ton mass from a low-gravity planetary body, astronaut spacewalk activities for sample selection, extraction, containment and return; and mission operations of integrated robotic and crewed vehicle stack—all key components of future in-space operations for human missions to Mars.

During Phase B of the robotic mission, the program will develop a baseline mission design to meet requirements consistent with NASA’s direction on risk, cost and schedule, and will conduct an independent review of the baseline project design.

“This is an exciting milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Not only is ARM leveraging agency-wide capabilities, it will test a number of new technologies already in development.”

Completing KDP-B is a catalyst for increased external involvement in the robotic mission development, explained Michele Gates, program director for ARM at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Since its early formulation, NASA has invited mission concept feedback and development ideas from the planetary science community, general public, U.S. and global industry, and international partners,” said Gates. “With KDP-B under our belt, ARM can now move forward to define partnerships and opportunities for long-term engagement.”

The robotic ARM project, led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, will issue a request for proposals for the spacecraft to a set of aerospace companies that previously worked with the ARM robotic design team on a six-month study of spacecraft concepts to meet mission requirements. KDP-B serves as authority for JPL to proceed with the next procurement phase.

NASA plans to issue a solicitation in September that will include a call for partner-provided payloads on the robotic flight system. This call for partner-provided payloads is in addition to potential cooperation under discussion with the Italian Space Agency. NASA will provide spacecraft integration, power, data storage and communication capabilities for selected payloads, which the agency will choose based on contributions to both partner goals and ARM objectives, with consideration for those that may support risk reduction for the mission.

This solicitation also will include a membership call for an ARM Investigation Team, which will be a multidisciplinary group of U.S. industry, academia, government, and international members. The Investigation Team will operate on an initial three-to-five year term, providing technical expertise to the ARM robotic and crewed project teams.

The team will conduct analyses of spacecraft and mission design, and investigate concepts to support robotic mission objectives, including overall science, planetary defense, asteroid resource use, and deep-space capability demonstrations. Led out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the Investigation Team work will continue some of the research conducted by the ARM Formulation Assessment and Support Team, which helped define mission concepts and inform mission requirements and risks over a three-month period in 2015.

The robotic component of the ARM will demonstrate the world’s most advanced and most efficient solar electric propulsion system as it travels to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA). NEAs are asteroids that are fewer than 121 million miles (1.3 AU) from the sun at the closest point in their orbit. Although the target asteroid is not expected to be officially selected until 2020, NASA is using 2008 EV5 as the reference asteroid while the search continues for potential alternates.

A target asteroid such as 2008 EV5 is particularly appealing to the scientific, exploration, and industrial communities because it is a primitive, C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid, believed to be rich in volatiles, water, and organic compounds. The ability to extract core samples from the captured boulder will allow us to evaluate how its composition varies with depth and could unlock clues to the origins of our solar system. Astronaut sampling and potential commercial activities could indicate the value of C-type asteroids for commercial mining purposes, which in turn could have significant impacts on how deep space missions are designed in the future.

After collecting a multi-ton boulder from the asteroid, the robotic spacecraft will slowly redirect the boulder to an orbit around the moon, using the moon’s gravity for an assist, where NASA plans to conduct a series of proving ground missions in the 2020s. There, astronauts will be able to select, extract, collect, and return samples from the multi-ton asteroid mass, and conduct other human-robotic and spacecraft operations in the proving ground that will validate concepts for NASA’s journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SLS Update: Initial Data Received from Last June's QM-2 Demonstration in Utah...

A five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA's Space Launch System successfully fires during the Qualification Motor (QM-2) test at the Orbital ATK facility in Utah, on June 28, 2016.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

First Results Show Success for Second NASA SLS Booster Test (News Release)

For two heart-pumping minutes, the booster for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, demonstrated its power and operated as planned at nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit during a successful qualification test June 28 at Orbital ATK's test facilities in Promontory, Utah.

The smoke has well cleared from that test, but critical data continues to pour in, which will help NASA qualify the booster for the first, uncrewed flight of SLS with the Orion spacecraft in 2018 -- a key milestone on the agency’s journey to Mars.

"Preliminary analysis from the test shows the instrumentation performed extremely well and gathered the critical data needed to show that we met our test objectives," said Mat Bevill, deputy chief engineer for the SLS Boosters Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS program is managed for the agency.

During the test, 82 qualification test objectives were measured through more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit – which is the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range.

This is the second qualification ground test for the booster, as the first was successfully completed in March 2015. This is the fifth, full-scale motor test overall for the booster, which includes three development tests. The first qualification ground test demonstrated acceptable performance of the booster design at 90 degrees Fahrenheit -- the highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range. Testing at the thermal extremes experienced by the booster on the launch pad is important to understanding the effect of temperature on how the propellant burns.

"We still have many months to go to analyze all the data from the second test, as it's a very detailed process," Bevill said. That process includes disassembling the 154-foot-long booster and getting a thorough look at every part of it. The detailed inspection, including the post-test measurements, will support verification that the booster design meets SLS requirements and performed as expected on test day. Engineers also will compare data from the previous four ground tests.

Once all analysis is complete, the boosters will still have a few steps to go before being ready for the launch pad, including design certification review. That review will determine if the design for all parts of the booster are certified for flight. In 2015, the SLS Program completed its critical design review – a first in almost 40 years for a NASA human-rated rocket.

"This is a critical and exciting time for our teams as we prepare the boosters for flight and move forward on the journey to Mars," said Alex Priskos, manager of the SLS Boosters Office. "Booster flight hardware for our first flight, Exploration Mission-1, is in full production, with four segments being cast and a fifth going to casting later this month at Orbital ATK. We also have aft skirt refurbishment work taking place at Kennedy Space Center, where the boosters will be stacked ahead of the flight." Orbital ATK, headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, is prime contractor for the SLS boosters.

When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS on deep space missions. The solid rocket boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight. They provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape the gravitational pull of Earth.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

Source: NASA.Gov


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

NextSTEP-2: Paving The Way for the Future...

An artist's concept of the interior of a deep space habitation module.

NASA Selects Six Companies to Develop Prototypes, Concepts for Deep Space Habitats (Press Release)

NASA has selected six U.S. companies to help advance the Journey to Mars by developing ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats.

Through the public-private partnerships enabled by the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A, NASA and industry partners will expand commercial development of space in low-Earth orbit while also improving deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human spaceflight missions.

The selected companies are:

Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas
Boeing of Pasadena, Texas
Lockheed Martin of Denver
Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado
NanoRacks of Webster, Texas

Habitation systems provide a safe place for humans to live as we move beyond Earth on our Journey to Mars.

“NASA is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the Journey to Mars, and we’re utilizing the innovation, skill and knowledge of the both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems. “The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion. We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.”

The six partners will have up to approximately 24 months to develop ground prototypes and/or conduct concept studies for deep space habitats. The contract award amounts are dependent on contract negotiations, and NASA has estimated the combined total of all the awards, covering work in 2016 and 2017, will be approximately $65 million, with additional efforts and funding continuing into 2018. Selected partners are required to contribute at least 30 percent of the cost of the overall proposed effort.

The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality. These are important activities as they help define the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase.

NASA made the first NextSTEP selections in 2015, which include deep space habitation concept studies that also advance low-Earth orbit commercial capabilities. Four companies were selected under that solicitation: Bigelow Aerospace LLC, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK.

This round of NextSTEP selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyze commercial investment in low-Earth orbit and lead to an operational deep space habitation capability for missions in the area of space near the moon, which will serve as the proving ground for Mars during the 2020s. These missions will demonstrate human, robotic and spacecraft operations in a true deep space environment that’s still relatively close to Earth and validate technologies for the longer journey to Mars.

The activities of these NextSTEP awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects, such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment using SLS and Orion and commercial vehicles. In addition to U.S. industry, NASA is in discussions on collaborative opportunities with our international partners to enable fully operational deep space habitation capability.

NextSTEP is managed by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES) in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. AES is pioneering innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.


Friday, August 5, 2016

SLS Update: A Solid Rocket Booster's Exhaust Plume As Never Seen Before...

The Qualification Motor (QM-2) test as seen with the HiDyRS-X camera...on June 28, 2016.

Revolutionary Camera Recording Propulsion Data Completes Groundbreaking Test (News Release)

While thousands turned out to watch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) recently complete a full-scale test of its booster, few were aware of the other major test occurring simultaneously. NASA’s High Dynamic Range Stereo X (HiDyRS-X) project, a revolutionary high-speed, high dynamic range camera, filmed the test, recording propulsion video data in never before seen detail.

The HiDyRS-X project originated from a problem that exists when trying to film rocket motor tests. Rocket motor plumes, in addition to being extremely loud, are also extremely bright, making them difficult to record without drastically cutting down the exposure settings on the camera. Doing so, however, darkens the rest of the image, obscuring other important components on the motor.

Traditionally, video cameras record using one exposure at a time, but HiDyRS-X records multiple, slow motion video exposures at once, combining them into a high dynamic range video that perfectly exposes all areas of the video image.

The HiDyRS-X project began as part of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Early Career Initiative (ECI), designed to give young engineers the opportunity to lead projects and develop hardware alongside leading innovators in industry. Howard Conyers, a structural dynamist at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, was awarded as an ECI grant in 2015. After initial proof of concept and a preliminary design review, the HiDyRS-X project was placed within NASA’s Game Changing Development program to complete its first prototype. Created in partnership with Innovative Imaging and Research Corporation, the project was tested on small rocket nozzle plumes at Stennis.

The massive booster test served as a rare opportunity to test the HiDyRS-X hardware in a full-scale environment. The Qualification Motor 2, or QM-2, test was held at Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah, and was the second and final booster test before SLS’s first test flight in late 2018. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world, and will take our astronauts farther into deep space than ever before.

In moving from the smaller-scale tests to QM-2, Conyers says the most difficult challenges were seen in compensating for brightness of the booster plume, which is several orders of magnitude brighter than what they had tested before. They were also faced with transporting and assembling the equipment at the QM-2 test site located in the desert of Utah — a remote environment requiring the HiDyRS-X team to be self-sufficient, as well as deliberate and methodical in their preparation and set up. Unlike the smaller scale rocket engine tests at Stennis, boosters are extremely powerful and, once ignited, cannot be turned off or restarted. The HiDyRS-X team had one shot at getting good footage.

In the days prior to the test of QM-2, the HiDyRS-X team double- and triple-checked their connections and start procedures to allow the camera to collect as much footage as possible. Leading up to the day of the test, the team performed several more dry runs using the camera to ensure that everything was working perfectly, Conyers says.

With thousands of people assembled over a mile away to watch the fiery plume of the solid rocket booster, Conyers and his team monitored the camera from a safe distance, ready to act in case something went wrong. As the countdown clock ticked down to zero, the SRB ignited and the HiDyRS-X team watched the camera’s automatic timer fail to go off. Luckily, they were quick to hit the manual override, allowing the camera to turn on just moments after ignition.

Once engaged, the camera recorded several seconds of the two-minute test before the power source was suddenly disconnected. In an unanticipated series of events, the sheer power of the booster shook the ground enough for the power cable to be removed from the power box.

Having had two unexpected camera outages during the test, Conyers described being disappointed.

“I was bummed,” Conyers says. “Especially because we did not experience any failures during the dry runs.”

When the team reviewed the camera footage, they saw a level of detail on par with the other successful HiDyRS-X tests. The team saw several elements never before caught on film in an engine test.

“I was amazed to see the ground support mirror bracket tumbling and the vortices shedding in the plume,” Conyers says. The team was able to gather interesting data from the slow motion footage, and Conyers also discovered something else by speeding up the playback.

“I was able to clearly see the exhaust plume, nozzle and the nozzle fabric go through its gimbaling patterns, which is an expected condition, but usually unobservable in slow motion or normal playback rates.”

Although initially disappointed with the camera anomalies, Conyers and the HiDyRS-X team came out of QM-2 with proof that their technology worked and that it had the ability to provide unprecedented views of high exposure rocket motor tests. The test experience also left Conyers with two major lessons learned for the future. First, to start the camera a full ten seconds before ignition to allow the ground team time to start the camera manually in the event of a timer failure. The second lesson, Conyers adds, is to understand just how powerful the engine tests are to properly protect and secure the electronics hardware from damage or disconnection.

“Failure during testing of the camera is the opportunity to get smarter,” Conyers says. “Without failure, technology and innovation is not possible.”

HiDyRS-X will continue testing at Stennis, while a second prototype of the camera is built with more advanced high dynamic range capabilities, using data gathered from the past few years of experimentation. The second HiDyRS-X prototype will be made with an improved manufacturing process to enhance the alignment capabilities of multiple exposure settings -- a challenge overcome in the first prototype.

HiDyRS-X not only stands as a game changing technology expected to revolutionize propulsion video analysis, but it also stands as a testament to ECI and the power of determined young engineers within NASA. Seasoned NASA employees and recent hires alike have the capacity to significantly contribute to NASA’s research and development goals. ECI’s emphasis on pairing young engineers with innovative industry partners enables technological leaps that would otherwise be impossible.

“The Stennis HiDyRS-X ECI project continues to be an exciting and challenging public-private collaboration of which we are proud to be a part,” says Mary Pagnutti, president of the Innovative Imaging and Research Corporation. “It’s giving us the chance to mentor early career technologists and advance the way we image and assess rocket motor firings.”

Source: NASA.Gov


The QM-2 test as seen with a normal camera...on June 28, 2016.

Monday, August 1, 2016

SpaceShipTwo Is One Step Closer to Seeing Flight Again...

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

FAA-AST Awards Virgin Galactic Operator License For SpaceShipTwo (Press Release)

New Spaceship Conducts Taxi Test as it Nears Start of Flight Test Program

Mojave, CA –– The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic an operating license for SpaceShipTwo. The license award comes as the new vehicle, VSS Unity, begins to stretch its legs with the first tests conducted out of the hangar. Unity conducted the first taxi test today to evaluate and calibrate the navigation and communications/telemetry systems. Unity was pulled by a Range Rover Autobiography provided by Virgin Galactic’s automotive partner Land Rover, the same vehicle that will be used to tow Unity off the runway after flight tests.

The license award, which will ultimately permit commercial operations of the vehicle, was the culmination of several years of in-depth interaction with the FAA. The license review process consists of an in-depth review of the vehicle’s system design, safety analysis and flight trajectory analysis, culminating in FAA-AST approval.

Virgin Galactic Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said, “The granting of our operator license is an important milestone for Virgin Galactic, as is our first taxi test for our new spaceship. While we still have much work ahead to fully test this spaceship in flight, I am confident that our world-class team is up to the challenge.”

Source: Virgin Galactic


The VSS Unity is towed by a Ranger Rover Autobiography during a taxi test at The Spaceship Company in Mojave, California.
Virgin Galactic