Monday, November 21, 2016
BEAM Update: Expandable Habitat Reveals Important Early Performance Data (Press Release)
Just five months into its two-year demonstration mission on the International Space Station, the first human-rated expandable habitat in low-Earth orbit is already returning valuable information about expandable technology performance and operations in space. Developed through a public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) launched to the station April 8, 2016, in the “trunk” of the Dragon capsule during the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission.
In late May, with careful instructions from the ground, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams conducted the manual expansion of the module through a series of seconds-long valve openings that allowed space station air to enter and expand BEAM. After BEAM was fully expanded with low pressure, air tanks inside the BEAM were opened with an automated controller to fully pressurize BEAM to match station pressure. From its packed to expanded configurations, the module nearly doubled in length and increased by 40 percent in diameter. This capability to increase a spacecraft’s useable internal volume after launch offers a potentially significant advantage for mission planners who seek to reduce cargo volume, maximize payload space and efficiently package structures inside a launch vehicle fairing.
During and after expansion, sensors inside the BEAM recorded overall structural and thermal performance. Once it was confirmed that the module was maintaining pressure with no leaks during the week following deployment, Williams commenced the beginning of BEAM’s two-year demonstration when he entered the module for the first time on June 6, 2016. He entered again on June 7 and 8, outfitting the interior with additional sensors and air ventilation ducts and taking surface and air samples to test for microbes.
Steve Munday, BEAM Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, notes that the module and its sensors have performed as expected for the most part. “Through the NASA sensor suites on board, our teams on the ground, and astronaut support on station, we’re gaining extremely valuable data about the performance of expandable structures and habitats in space,” he says.
The NASA sensor suites inside BEAM help analyze module performance as it orbits Earth attached to a port on the space station’s Tranquility Node. Bulkhead accelerometers measured structural dynamics during deployment, wireless thermal sensors help assess the insulation performance of the fabric shell layers and metallic bulkheads, active and passive dosimeters measure radiation penetration, and Distributed Impact Detection System (DIDS) sensors detect and locate any space debris impacts on the BEAM exterior.
But like any advanced technology demonstration, the BEAM has offered a few surprises. “That’s why we test, to learn and explore new technology,” asserts Munday.
In fact, the successful expansion on May 28 was the second attempt. During the first attempt on May 26, the BEAM’s fabric layers expanded more slowly than was predicted by deployment models on the ground, perhaps partially due to being tightly packed for more than a year awaiting launch on SpaceX CRS-8. NASA and Bigelow Aerospace teams halted the deployment to closely compare the predictive deployment models pressure limits with actual readings to ensure that continuing expansion would pose no risk to the station or crew. On May 27, astronauts released pressure from BEAM to help the stiff fabric layers relax after the initial resistance. After reconfirming that the BEAM deployment operation posed no risk to the space station or its crew, the team restarted BEAM expansion on May 28, successfully reaching the fully expanded and pressurized configuration after about seven hours.
Thermal engineers at JSC found that BEAM was warmer than predicted, particularly in the packed configuration immediately prior to deployment. Munday suggests it could be due to less contact between the folded layers, providing more heat insulation than we expected. Warmer is better than cooler for BEAM, which has no active thermal control and relies upon air exchange with the station.
“A colder-than-expected BEAM would have increased the risk of condensation, so we were pleased when Jeff first opened the hatch and found the interior to be bone dry,” says Munday. “BEAM is the first of its kind, so we’re learning as we go and this data will improve our structural and thermal models and analyses going forward.”
Space station crew members entered the BEAM twice more in September to reinforce instruments that had loosened since installation, reboot a sensor data-relay laptop that had crashed, take additional samples for return to Earth, and perform tests inside the module to help engineers on the ground better define the structural characteristics of BEAM. NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins entered the BEAM on Sept. 5 to replace the DIDS battery packs after it was determined that drained batteries were disrupting wireless communications with the sensors. Ground operators remotely reconfigured DIDS power settings to a more efficient mode, preventing further disruptions. On Sept. 29, she entered again to conduct a series of modal tests to assess how the structure responds to impacts that cause vibrations and the structure’s ability to dampen the vibrations.
NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are pleased to report that, overall, BEAM is operating as expected and continues to produce valuable data. Structural engineers at NASA JSC confirmed that BEAM deployment loads upon the space station were very small, and continue to analyze the module’s structural data for comparison with ground tests and models. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have found no evidence of large debris impacts in the DIDS data to date—good news for any spacecraft. And radiation researchers at JSC have found that the dosage due to Galactic Cosmic Rays in BEAM is similar to other space station modules, and continue to analyze local “trapped” radiation particles, particularly from the South Atlantic Anomaly, to help determine additional shielding requirements for long-duration exploration missions.
The space station is the world’s primary platform for testing and validating deep space capabilities. “The two-year BEAM mission on ISS provides us with an early opportunity to understand how expandable habitats perform in space,” says Munday. “We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have the the space station and its crew to help demonstrate and assess BEAM technology for use in future exploration missions.”
The BEAM demonstration is a public-private partnership managed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES). AES is pioneering innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. Although the BEAM represents an early demonstration of deep space habitation capabilities, AES is also pursuing deep space habitation development with industry partners through contracts issued under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement. Under NextSTEP, four companies (Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK) have recently completed cislunar habitation concept studies, and all four plus Sierra Nevada Corporation, are proceeding toward contract negotiations to develop full-size ground prototypes of cislunar habitats. A sixth team led by NanoRacks was selected to complete an additional study on the repurposing of upper stages of rockets into habitats.
Friday, November 18, 2016
NASA / MSFC / Brian C. Massey
NASA SLS Propulsion System Goes into Marshall Stand Ahead of Big Test Series (News Release - November 17)
NASA engineers installed a test version of a crucial piece of hardware for the Space Launch System rocket in a 65-foot-tall test stand Nov. 17 at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for human missions to deep space with the Orion spacecraft, including the Journey to Mars.
The hardware is a test version of the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), which is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the in-space push needed to fly beyond the Moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS and Orion in late 2018. The ICPS will be stacked with three other test articles and two simulators that make up the upper portion of the SLS rocket ahead of a rigorous test series in early 2017.
"The installation of the ICPS is another big step in getting ready for the test series, which will ensure that the hardware can endure the incredible stresses of launch," said Steve Creech, deputy manager of the Spacecraft and Payload Integration & Evolution Office at Marshall, which manages the SLS Program for the agency. "In addition to testing, work is underway on flight pieces of the upper part of the rocket, including the ICPS. NASA and our prime contractor teams are working diligently toward mission success for first flight, and this test series also will provide crucial data to support future missions, including the journey to Mars."
The ICPS test article, without the engine, is around 29 feet tall and 16.8 feet in diameter. It is the largest piece of hardware for the test series, and was designed and built by The Boeing Co. in Huntsville and United Launch Alliance of Decatur.
The hardware -- some being almost exact to flight specifications -- will be pushed, pulled and twisted during the tests. The ICPS joins two other pieces of hardware already installed in the stand. The core stage simulator was loaded into the test stand Sept. 21, with the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) following on Oct. 12. The core stage simulator is a duplicate of the top of the SLS core stage that is approximately 10 feet tall and 27.5 feet in diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall.
The LVSA connects the SLS core stage and the ICPS. The LVSA test hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top diameter of 16.8 feet. It was designed and built by prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville. The other three qualification articles and the Orion simulator will complete the stack later this fall. Approximately 50 test cases are planned for the upcoming series.
The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity.
NASA / MSFC / Brian C. Massey
Thursday, November 17, 2016
NASA / Bill Ingalls
New Crew Launches to Space Station to Continue Scientific Research (Press Release)
Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and France are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:20 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 17 (2:20 a.m. Nov. 18, Baikonur time).
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Peggy Whitson of NASA, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), is scheduled to dock with the space station’s Rassvet module at 5:01 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 4:15 p.m. Hatches are scheduled to open about 7:35 p.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 6:45 p.m.
The arrival of Whitson, Novitskiy and Pesquet returns the station's crew complement to six. The three join Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko. The Expedition 50 crew members will spend over four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
Upcoming research includes how lighting impacts the overall health and well-being of crew members, and how microgravity affects tissue regeneration in humans and the genetic properties of space-grown plants.
In February, Whitson will become the first woman to command the space station twice. Her first tenure as commander was in 2007, when she became the first woman to hold this post. Whitson has an advanced degree in biochemistry, and prior to her selection as an astronaut candidate in 1996, she served in prominent medical science research and supervisory positions at NASA.
The crew members are scheduled to receive three cargo craft delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research to the station, as well as new lithium ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on the station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. These will be installed during a series of spacewalks currently scheduled for January.
Whitson, Novitskiy and Pesquet will remain aboard the station until next spring. Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late February.
For more than 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the International Space Station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the Journey to Mars. A truly global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.
NASA / Bill Ingalls
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
US Cargo Ship Set to Depart Space Station, Live NASA TV Coverage (Press Release)
One month after launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station at 8:20 a.m. EST Monday, Nov. 21. Live coverage of the spacecraft departure will begin at 8 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
Cygnus arrived at the space station Oct. 16 with more than 5,100 pounds of cargo to support science experiments from around the world. The spacecraft will be detached from the Earth-facing side of the station's Unity module using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, operated by ground controllers. Robotics controllers will maneuver Cygnus into place, and then Expedition 50 robotic arm operators Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will give the command for its release.
Experiments delivered on Cygnus supported NASA and other research investigations during Expeditions 49 and 50, including studies in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science – research that impacts life on Earth. Investigations included studies on fire in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.
Five hours after departing the station, the Saffire-II experiment will intentionally ignite a fire inside a module aboard the uncrewed spacecraft. The second in a series of three, the experiment allows researchers to study a realistic fire on an exploration spacecraft. Instruments on the Cygnus will measure flame growth, oxygen use and more. Results could determine microgravity flammability limits for several spacecraft materials, validate NASA’s material selection criteria, and help scientists understand how microgravity and limited oxygen affect flame size. The investigation is important for the safety of current and future space missions.
Cygnus also will release four LEMUR CubeSats from an external deployer on Friday, Nov. 25, sending them to join a remote sensing satellite constellation that provides global ship tracking and weather monitoring.
The spacecraft will remain in orbit until Sunday, Nov. 27, when its engines will fire twice, pushing it into Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
NASA / Bill Ingalls
Next Space Station Crew Set for Launch Nov. 17, Watch Live on NASA TV (Press Release)
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will launch Thursday, Nov. 17, for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station.
Prelaunch activities will air through Nov. 16, and live launch coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. EST Nov. 17, on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The crew of Expedition 50/51 will launch at 3:20 p.m. (2:20 a.m. Nov. 18, Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
After launching, the crew members will travel for two days before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. NASA TV coverage of the docking will begin at 4:15 p.m. Hatches between the Soyuz and station will open at approximately 7:35 p.m., and the arriving crew will be welcomed by Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who have been aboard the complex since October. NASA TV coverage of hatch opening and welcoming ceremonies will begin at 6:45 p.m.
During their stay aboard the orbital complex, Whitson will become the first woman to command the space station twice. Her first tenure as commander was in 2007, when she became the first woman to hold this post. Whitson has an advanced degree in biochemistry, and prior to her selection as an astronaut candidate in 1996, she served in prominent medical science research and supervisory positions at NASA.
The soon-to-be six crew members of Expedition 50 will contribute to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity’s only microgravity laboratory. The crew is scheduled to return to Earth next spring.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Prototype Capture System, Mock Asteroid Help Simulate Mission Sequence (News Release)
A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021.
Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with foot pads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder.
NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target.
Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit.