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Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Previously-Flown Dragon Heads to the ISS...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a reused Dragon spacecraft launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2017.
NASA TV

New NASA Experiments, Research Headed to International Space Station (Press Release)

Major experiments that will look into the human body and out into the galaxy are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following its 5:07 p.m. EDT launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The Dragon lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 6,000 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the cargo craft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the rendezvous and capture beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 5. NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture SpaceX’s Dragon when it arrives at the station.

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include an experiment studying fruit flies to better understand the effects on the heart of prolonged exposure to microgravity. Because they’re small, age rapidly, and have a well-known genetic make-up, they are good models for heart function studies. This experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system and could aid in the development of countermeasures to help astronauts.

The Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis investigation tests a new drug that can rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving crew health. When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation build on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

Three payloads inside Dragon’s unpressurized area will demonstrate new solar panel technologies, study the physics of neutron stars, and host an array of Earth-viewing instruments.

This mission is SpaceX’s eleventh cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 52 and 53.

The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station in early July, returning with more than 3,400 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 16 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 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.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Falcon 9's first stage booster stands quietly at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral after launching a reused Dragon capsule to the International Space Station...on June 3, 2017.
SpaceX

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Photo of the Day: Another Successful Engine Test for the Space Launch System...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on May 23, 2017.
NASA / SSC

NASA’s Space Launch System Engine Testing Heats Up (News Release - May 23)

NASA engineers successfully conducted the second in a series of RS-25 flight controller tests on May 23, 2017, stepping closer to deep-space exploration with the world’s most-powerful rocket. The test was set after a facility issue, subsequently resolved, forced rescheduling of a May 16 hot fire. The 500-second – more than eight full minutes – test on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi marked another milestone toward launch of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on its inaugural flight, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

The SLS rocket, powered by four RS-25 engines firing simultaneously, will provide 2 million pounds of thrust and work in conjunction with a pair of solid rocket boosters. The RS-25 engines for the initial flight are former space shuttle main engines, modified to perform at a higher level and with a new controller. The controller is the key modification to the engines. The component is often cited as the RS-25 “brain” that allows communication between the engine and the rocket. Prior to a flight, engine performance specifications, such as percentage of thrust needed, are programmed into the controller. The controller then communicates the specifications and ensures these are being met by monitoring and controlling such factors as propellant mixture ratio and thrust level.

Stennis performed an earlier series of tests to gather data for development of the new controller, which is a collaborative effort of NASA, RS-25 prime contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif. and subcontractor Honeywell of Clearwater, Fla. The first flight controller was tested in March at Stennis for installation on one of the four EM-1 engines. Pending data review from the May 23 test, the second flight controller will be installed on SLS for EM-1. A third flight controller is scheduled for testing in July at Stennis.

Tests are conducted by a team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services engineers and operators. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The President's 2018 Budget for NASA Is Released...

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Acting Administrator Statement on Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal released Tuesday:

“Today, President Trump released his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the federal government. At $19.1 billion, we have a very positive budget that retains the same parameters we saw in March, and which reflects the president’s confidence in our direction and the importance of everything we’ve been achieving.

“I want to reiterate how proud I am of the NASA team and its hard work. It’s making a real difference in this country and around the world. NASA missions inspire the next generation, inject innovation into the national economy, provide critical information needed to address national challenges, and support global engagement and international leadership.

“As the President has said, American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. NASA is executing programs, step by step, to make this dream a reality, as well as the broader quest to explore and understand the universe. We’ve had a horizon goal for some time now of reaching Mars, and this budget sustains that work and also provides the resources to keep exploring our solar system and look beyond it. And, it enables us to keep innovating and creating the technologies that will take us to deep space and improve the aeronautics systems on which all of us rely.

“The hard choices are still there, and we can’t do everything. But we can certainly do a lot, and each member of the NASA team, every day, is helping to create the future.

“As NASA approaches its 60th anniversary in 2018, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request will maintain NASA’s place as the global leader in space. We appreciate the bipartisan commitment to our continuity of purpose. It’s essential that our near term work be stable as we plan for the long term and look toward the next horizons, and this budget helps us do that. The NASA Transition Authorization Act and the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriation we recently received also represent important contributions to that continuity.

“Working with commercial partners, NASA will fly astronauts from American soil on the first new crew transportation systems in a generation in the next couple of years. We are continuing the development of solar electric propulsion for use on future human and robotic missions. NASA is fabricating and assembling the systems to launch humans into lunar orbit by 2023. Our budget request supports progress toward these and many other major milestones as part of the diverse portfolio of work we execute as we explore, discover, and develop on behalf of the American people.

“We are ending formulation of a mission to an asteroid, known as the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but many of the central technologies in development for that mission will continue, as they constitute vital capabilities needed for future human deep space missions.

“While this budget no longer supports the formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through its missions and the many ways that our work excites and encourages discovery by learners and educators. We are as committed to inspiring the next generation as ever. We’re going to engage the public in the compelling story of exploration by the successful and safe execution of our missions, which is where our focus has to be.

“At the same time, we’re going to take this opportunity for NASA to revisit the public engagement and outreach activities that take place on the ground at centers every day to ensure that we are leveraging the synergies between education and outreach to facilitate meaningful connections.

“All the details
(are) online, but I did want to mention some other specifics about the budget. In Science, for instance, this budget supports about 100 space missions -- 40 missions currently preparing for launch and 60 operating missions. The Solar Probe Plus (SPP), Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the InSight Mars lander, and the James Webb Space Telescope are on track to launch in 2018, and the next Mars rover is on pace for a 2020 launch.

“While we are not proposing to move forward with Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3
(OCO-3), Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder (CLARREO PF), and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), this budget still includes significant Earth Science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions.

“The budget keeps us on track for the next selection for the New Frontiers program, and includes formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. It supports research on space weather and upcoming Heliophysics missions, and continues support for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which will eventually succeed Webb. Our work in science leads the world in its size, scope and output.

“NASA’s Aeronautics research program advances U.S. global leadership by developing and transferring key technologies to make aviation safer, greener, and more efficient. This budget takes the next significant step in the New Aviation Horizons initiative -- the bold series of experimental aircraft known as X-planes -- and systems demonstrations towards revolutionary aircraft and improving the efficiency of the national air transportation system.

“Our Space Technology program enables rapid development and incorporation of transformative space technologies in NASA’s future missions, which increases our nation’s overall capabilities and helps industry, as well. The budget supports our diverse portfolio, which is creating a technology pipeline to solve the most difficult challenges in space, from solar electric propulsion to laser communications and cross-cutting technologies that benefit our work across the board.

“We have a budget that also provides the necessary resources in the coming year to support our plans to send humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s. The European service module will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for integration with Orion in 2018. Prototype ground testing of habitat modules under our broad area announcement activity will happen in 2018.

“The International Space Station, commercial crew and cargo, and the Space Launch System and Orion all continue to advance our future in space with this budget. Having an additional NASA crew member on the space station will greatly enhance the research and advancement towards exploration. The station continues to create new opportunities for collaboration with industry and supports public-private partnerships for exploration systems that will extend human presence into the solar system. So there’s a lot to look forward to.

“The program of exploration and discovery we propose with this budget should be a source of pride for all Americans. The impact of NASA’s work is immense, and we have great momentum and support to keep moving ahead.”

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NASA

Friday, May 19, 2017

Two Astronauts Officially Become Part of NASA History...

The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
NASA

Two NASA Astronauts Inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (Press Release)

Two veteran NASA astronauts joined the ranks of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Friday.

Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to travel to space and current director of the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Michael Foale, the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station and Russian space station Mir, bring the total number of space explorers honored in the hall of fame to 95.

Bob Cabana, 2008 hall of famer and current director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, presided over the ceremony at Kennedy’s visitor complex to welcome the new inductees.

Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined Johnson in 1990, when she was selected as an astronaut candidate. After completing astronaut training, she served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, conducting atmospheric studies to better understand the effect of solar activity on Earth’s climate and environment.

Ochoa has flown in space four times, including the STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110 missions, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. She is Johnson’s first Hispanic director and its second female director. She also has served as the center’s deputy director and director of Flight Crew Operations.

Foale, whose hometown is Cambridge, England, earned a doctorate in laboratory astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Foale was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1987. Before his first spaceflight, he tested shuttle flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory simulator. Foale was a crew member on six space missions, including STS-45, STS-56, STS-63, STS-84, STS-103 and Soyuz TMA-3. During STS-84, he helped reestablish the Russian Space Station Mir after it was degraded by a collision and depressurization. Foale logged more than 374 days in space, including four spacewalks totaling 22 hours and 44 minutes.

Foale also served as chief of the Astronaut Office Expedition Corps, assistant director (technical) of Johnson, and deputy associate administrator for exploration operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. His last assignment at Johnson was as chief of the Soyuz Branch, Astronaut Office, supporting Soyuz and International Space Station operations and space suit development. Foale retired from NASA in 2013.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

SLS Update: Construction Continues on the Mega-Rocket for Its 2019 Maiden Flight...

The structural test article for the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank is completed at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud - Judy Guidry

NASA Continues Testing, Manufacturing World’s Most Powerful Rocket (News Release - May 12)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch crew and massive amounts of cargo to deep space including missions to Mars. Before launching the world’s most powerful rocket the first time, each part of SLS must undergo numerous tests to ensure the rocket and its components have been designed, manufactured and integrated to withstand the stresses of launch.

The heavy-lift rocket for the first integrated flight with the agency’s Orion spacecraft is a foundation for all future SLS configurations. NASA recently completed a major test series on hardware for the upper part of the rocket. A test article of the rocket’s core stage engine section is on its way by barge to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for a qualification test series. The engine section is the first of four core stage test articles manufactured and is designed to the specifications needed for launch.

“Completing these SLS structural tests puts NASA one step closer to the launch pad,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program manager at Marshall. “Our upcoming core stage testing will continue the largest testing campaign for a NASA rocket since the space shuttle.”

Building New Hardware

In addition to shipping the completed engine structural test article this month, the liquid hydrogen tank structural test article manufacturing is also complete. It is being equipped before heading to Marshall for testing later this year. Finally, the flight intertank structural assembly is also nearly finished and will soon undergo application of thermal protection systems.

While NASA is making significant progress overall with SLS to prepare for deep space exploration, the agency is overcoming production delays at Michoud due to tornado damage and the learning curve for first time operations. As schedules are adjusted to account for tornado recovery, the processes for friction stir welding are also under evaluation to validate performance of the weld process over time. This assessment will help engineers to duplicate their process for long-term production, and will ensure flight hardware made-to-date is consistent with requirements.

During recent manufacturing of the liquid oxygen tank test article in Michoud’s Vertical Assembly Center, the rear or aft dome was inadvertently damaged during pre-weld preparations. This occurred before the dome was welded to the rest of the test article. NASA and Boeing formed independent mishap investigation teams to evaluate the incident. No personnel were injured, and assessments are ongoing to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“Small things from the tiniest screws to each weld matter,” said Honeycutt. “Our engineers are learning as we work with Boeing to tackle challenges from aligning robotic weld machines off by as little as the width of a paperclip to addressing the fact that tiny threads on welding pins affect weld strength. We’re working together to ensure critical flight hardware is handled safely in the factory and as it is moved thousands of miles by ships, trains, and planes.”

New Tools and Techniques

Making a world-class evolvable rocket for the first time is challenging, Honeycutt added. The 212-foot-tall core stage uses four RS-25 engines to power SLS, and is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever manufactured and it will power all SLS rocket configurations. The agency is using innovative tools and new techniques and processes not only to build SLS, but also to transport it inside and outside the factory at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

“We are advancing U.S. leadership in manufacturing while building and testing a powerful rocket that meets the quality and safety criteria needed to take humans farther in space than we’ve ever traveled before,” said Honeycutt.

NASA and Boeing, the agency’s prime contractor for SLS, have done extensive work to develop weld parameters and processes for making the first-of-their-kind large fuel tanks.

“Production of the fuel tank pushes the state-of-the-art for self-reacting friction stir welding of thicker materials,” said Steve Doering, the SLS stages manager at Marshall. “This is the first time robotic self-reacting friction stir weld technology has built such large rocket parts with thicker joints. We’ve learned a lot as we work through processes to get weld parameters for the large fuel tanks adjusted to produce high-quality welds that can withstand the extreme forces of launch and spaceflight.”

By establishing repeatable manufacturing processes now, NASA will evolve SLS to meet a variety of mission needs as America moves deeper into the solar system. All the work done across the country now will support for the agency’s series of planned missions beyond the moon in the future.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The intertank that will fly aboard the Space Launch System on its 2019 maiden flight will soon be completed and undergo application of thermal protection systems at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud - Judy Guidry

Friday, May 12, 2017

EM-1 Update: The Space Launch System Will NOT Have Crew Members Aboard During Its Maiden Flight in 2019...

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Affirms Plan for First Mission of SLS, Orion (News Release)

In February, NASA began an effort looking at the feasibility of putting crew aboard the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft -- Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1. After weighing the data and assessing all implications, the agency will continue pursuing the original plan for the first launch, as a rigorous flight test of the integrated systems without crew. However, engineers will apply insights gained from the effort to the first flight test and the integrated systems to strengthen the long-term push to extend human presence deeper into the solar system.

NASA determined it is technically capable of launching crew on EM-1, but after evaluating cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it would be difficult to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning. The effort confirmed that the baseline plan to fly EM-1 without crew is still the best approach to enable humans to move sustainably beyond low Earth orbit.

“We appreciate the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of this crewed flight,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “The bi-partisan support of Congress and the President for our efforts to send astronauts deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before is valued and does not go unnoticed. Presidential support for space has been strong.”

Exploration Mission-1 is the first in a broad series of exploration missions that will take humans to deep space, and eventually to Mars. It is designed to be a flight test of our entire system -- one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations and ultimately build confidence in our ability to safely send crew into deep space.

“We’re considering additional ground testing of the heat shield prior to EM-1 as well as the possibility of advancing the ascent abort test for the Orion launch abort system based on findings from the study,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Conducting these tests in advance of EM-1 would provide additional data that will advance our systems knowledge faster and possibly improve the robustness of the overall plan for sending humans into deep space.”

As part of the assessment, NASA also reviewed the schedule for EM-1, including production schedules across the enterprise, anticipated budgets and appropriations, projected delivery of the European Service Module, first time production issues related to the core stage that is at the leading edge of new manufacturing, and the ongoing impact of the February tornado that directly affected the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. As a result of these factors, NASA will adjust the target launch date for the EM-1 mission to 2019, and will execute its normal process in the coming weeks to determine an official revised launch date.

NASA continues to keep each part of the enterprise – Orion, SLS, and ground systems – moving at their best possible pace toward the first integrated test mission. While components for EM-1 are being delivered, contractors can turn to the next phase of their work for the second flight, Exploration Mission-2, which will carry crew beyond the Moon.

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is currently in production for both the first and second missions, and progress continues across the country. The SLS engine section structural test hardware is currently aboard a barge on its way to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for testing, a series of engine tests is taking place in Mississippi, and the Orion abort attitude control system was tested in Maryland. An abort motor for the launch abort system will soon be tested in Utah, and avionics systems for the Orion European Service Module have been integrated into the Orion testing laboratory near Denver. Meanwhile at the Kennedy Space Center, Orion’s heat shield is being installed, and ground systems and software continue development. In addition, deep space habitation and propulsion system development activities also are underway and life support and related technologies are being tested 250 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station now.

“We are building both systems and supporting infrastructure to ensure a sustained cadence of missions beginning with EM-1 and continuing thereafter,” said Lightfoot. “NASA will continue to work with the Administration and Congress as we move toward a crewed flight test on EM-2 and, right now, we are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test.”

NASA continues to lead the way in sending humans into deep space beyond the Moon through building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity. This infrastructure will be available for use by others both domestic and international as they want to join in the effort to advance human presence into the solar system. These systems create an incredible capability from which future generations will continue to benefit.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Russia Launches a Two-Person Soyuz Crew to the ISS...

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket carrying two Expedition 51 space station crew members launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 20, 2017.
NASA

Two New Crew Members Arrive at International Space Station (Press Release)

After a six-hour flight, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos arrived at the International Space Station at 9:18 a.m. EDT Thursday where they will continue important scientific research.

The two launched aboard a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the space station.

The arrival of Fischer and Yurchikhin increased the station's crew complement to five. The two join Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency). The Expedition 51 crew members will spend more than four months conducting approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

Novitskiy and Pesquet will remain aboard the station until early June. Fischer and Yurchikhin are scheduled to remain aboard the station until September, along with Whitson, whose stay aboard the station was extended into Expedition 52 by an agreement recently signed between NASA and Roscosmos.

The expanded Expedition 51 crew soon will conduct new science investigations arriving on Orbital ATK’s seventh NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission Saturday, April 22. Investigations arriving will include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space. Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world, as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.

Fischer and Whitson are scheduled to take part in the fifth spacewalk of the year on May 12. The pair’s main task will be to replace an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, a storage platform. The box houses electrical, and command and data routing equipment for science experiments and replacement hardware stored outside the station. The new avionics box is arriving aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo craft on Saturday, April 22.

The crew members also are scheduled to receive one Russian Progress resupply mission delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research.

For more than 16 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 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.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The S.S. John Glenn Heads Up to the International Space Station...

The Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK's Cygnus freighter, which has been dubbed the S.S. JOHN GLENN after the late American hero, launches towards the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on April 18, 2017.
NASA / KSC

NASA Space Station Cargo Launches aboard Orbital ATK Resupply Mission (Press Release)

The International Space Station will be capable of dozens of new scientific investigations from NASA and around the world when Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft delivers more than 7,600 pounds of cargo Saturday, April 22.

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the station launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Expedition 51 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Peggy Whitson of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6:05 a.m. Saturday. The spacecraft will remain at the space station until July before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.

This is the fourth flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the third using the Atlas V launch system. The spacecraft for this mission is named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. Glenn, who died in December at age 95, was one of NASA's original seven astronauts and a retired U.S. Senator from Ohio.

The mission, which is under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations as Expeditions 51 and 52 contribute to approximately 250 science and research studies.

Highlights from the new experiments will include studies on cancer-fighting drugs, crystal growth and atmospheric reentry.

In microgravity, cancer cells grow in 3-D, spheroid structures that closely resemble their form in the human body, enabling better tests for drug efficacy. The ADCs in Microgravity investigation tests drugs designed as targeted cancer therapies called antibody-drug conjugates, developed by Oncolinx. These conjugates combine an immune-activating drug with antibodies and target only cancer cells, which could potentially increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduce side-effects. Results from this investigation could help inform treatments for cancer patients and provide insight into how microgravity affects a drug’s performance.

The Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules (SUBSA) investigation originally was operated successfully aboard the station in 2002. Updated software, data acquisition, high definition video and communication interfaces will help advance understanding of the processes involved in semiconductor crystal growth. Investigations such as the CLYC Crystal Growth experiment will be conducted in the SUBSA Furnace and inserts. High-quality crystals are essential to a variety of applications, and a microgravity environment can produce better quality crystals. CLYC crystals grown aboard station can help researchers understand the exact conditions needed to produce the highest-quality, defect-free crystals.

The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) investigation studies a new type of recording device that rides alongside a spacecraft as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere, recording data about the extreme conditions it encounters. Scientists, so far, have been unable to monitor those conditions on a large scale, and a better understanding could lead to more accurate spacecraft breakup predictions, better spacecraft designs, and materials capable of better resisting the extreme heat and pressure during the return to Earth.

For more than 16 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 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.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Photo of the Day: Mega-Rockets at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

Just thought I'd end this month by posting this awesome composite image that I found online showing NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket poised for flight at their respective launch sites at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Seeing a Falcon Heavy at Launch Complex 39A won't be a reality till sometime this summer, while the SLS won't be ready to soar on its maiden voyage from Launch Complex 39B till 2019. But the day will hopefully come when these two vehicles, which represent America's best chance at finally sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit and to other worlds for the first time in almost 50 years, stand side-by-side (so to speak) at Cape Canaveral...

Let's share the optimism.

A composite image showing SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket (foreground) and NASA's Space Launch System atop their respective pads at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39.
NASA / SpaceX / Nathan Koga

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Orion Update: NASA Is Developing Technology That Will Revolutionize Deep-Space Communications With The Capsule...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

NASA Laser Communications to Provide Orion Faster Connections (News Release)

NASA is working to forever change the way astronauts communicate to and from space using an advanced laser communications system called LEMNOS, which will enable exponentially faster connections than ever before.

Imagine being able to watch 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) video as humans take their first steps on another planet. Or imagine astronauts picking up a cell phone and video-conferencing their family and friends from 34 million miles away, just the same as they might on Earth. LEMNOS, Laser-Enhanced Mission and Navigation Operational Services, may make these capabilities and more a reality in the near future. The project was named for the island, Lemnos, where the mythical hero Orion regained his sight, according to Greek lore. Similarly, LEMNOS will provide sight for NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft.

“Laser communications will revolutionize data return from destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, enhance outreach opportunities from outer space and improve astronauts’ quality of life on long space missions,” said Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication and Navigation division at the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters. “As we strive to put humans on Mars for the first time, it’s imperative that we develop a communications system to support these activities at the highest level possible.”

Laser communications, also known as optical communications, is the latest space communications technology, able to provide data rates as much as a hundred times higher than current systems. This means, for example, that astronauts could send and receive ultra-high-definition video from the surface of Mars. No mission to Mars has yet had that capability. Something that basic could have wide-reaching applications, allowing the American public to “ride along” as our astronauts explore deep space while also enabling scientific discoveries with much higher resolution images and data.

The Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been tapped to build LEMNOS in collaboration with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. They worked with other NASA centers to determine specific needs the system can fulfill.

“As we started thinking about the possibility of laser communications on Orion, I spoke with the flight controllers at Johnson Space Center who are developing the communications plan for Orion’s deep space missions. They were talking about enabling communications capabilities that we take for granted, but that are so foreign in space, from streaming scientific data and video in real time, to allowing astronauts to watch the Super Bowl or keep up with an election,” said Mark Brumfield, deputy program manager of implementation for ESC. “Being able to connect with society could have great impacts to astronauts’ mental health during the mission. Right now, they wouldn’t be able to make those connections in a meaningful way, but optical communications will give us that capability.”

In the nearly 50 years between the Apollo program and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, data return vastly improved, as evidenced by the difference between Apollo 8’s and LRO’s earthrise images, which were relayed to Earth via a much higher-rate system. While Apollo’s communications system supported 51 kilobytes of data per second, LEMNOS will be able to support communications at rates of at least 80 megabytes per second.

The project just got underway at Goddard, with a goal to test LEMNOS for the first time on the second flight of Orion beyond the moon. Scheduled for one week with the option to extend for a longer mission, it will be the perfect opportunity to test the laser communications system, operating it continuously for up to an hour a day.

After the initial mission, Brumfield speculates NASA could add more laser communications terminals on future Orion exploration missions. This would increase communications capability because of the line-of-sight requirement for LEMNOS. He says it would be an evolutionary change to the way NASA does space communications.

The Space Communication and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters provides programmatic oversight to the project. The communications team at Goddard has been tapped to build and implement the system in collaboration with MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Source: NASA.Gov
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An improvement in deep-space communications has allowed better-quality images to be relayed to Earth. 'Earthrise' as seen from Apollo 8 (top photo) in 1968 and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (bottom photo) in 2015.
NASA

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

NASA Plots Out Its Journey to the Moon, Mars and Beyond...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching a deep space gateway orbiting the Moon.
NASA

Deep Space Gateway to Open Opportunities for Distant Destinations (News Release)

NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the Moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars. The area of space near the Moon offers a true deep space environment to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the solar system, access the lunar surface for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months.

The period of exploration in the vicinity of the Moon will begin with the first integrated mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, and will continue as we explore further. NASA aims to begin a cadence of one flight per year after the second mission, and the agency has established an initial set of integrated human exploration objectives combining the efforts aboard the International Space Station, SLS and Orion, and other capabilities needed to support human missions to explore deep space.

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is currently in production for the first and second missions, life support and related technologies are being tested on ISS, and habitation and propulsion development activities are also underway. NASA is working with domestic and international partners to solve the great challenges of deep space exploration. Missions in the vicinity of the Moon will span multiple phases as part of NASA’s framework to build a flexible, reusable and sustainable infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity.

Deep Space Gateway

This first phase of exploration near the Moon will use current technologies and allow us to gain experience with extended operations farther from Earth than previously completed. These missions enable NASA to develop new techniques and apply innovative approaches to solving problems in preparation for longer-duration missions far from Earth.

In addition to demonstrating the safe operation of the integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, the agency is also looking to build a crew tended spaceport in lunar orbit within the first few missions that would serve as a gateway to deep space and the lunar surface. This deep space gateway would have a power bus, a small habitat to extend crew time, docking capability, an airlock, and serviced by logistics modules to enable research. The propulsion system on the gateway mainly uses high power electric propulsion for station keeping and the ability to transfer among a family of orbits in the lunar vicinity. The three primary elements of the gateway, the power and propulsion bus and habitat module, and a small logistics module(s), would take advantage of the cargo capacity of SLS and crewed deep space capability of Orion. An airlock can further augment the capabilities of the gateway and can fly on a subsequent exploration mission, Building the deep space gateway will allow engineers to develop new skills and test new technologies that have evolved since the assembly of the International Space Station. The gateway will be developed, serviced, and utilized in collaboration with commercial and international partners.

“I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the Moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system.”

Deep Space Transport

The second phase of missions will confirm that the agency’s capabilities built for humans can perform long duration missions beyond the Moon. For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft. This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars. The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again. The transport would take full advantage of the large volumes and mass that can be launched by the SLS rocket, as well as advanced exploration technologies being developed now and demonstrated on the ground and aboard the International Space Station.

This second phase will culminate at the end of the 2020s with a one year crewed mission aboard the transport in the lunar vicinity to validate the readiness of the system to travel beyond the Earth-Moon system to Mars and other destinations, and build confidence that long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth. Through the efforts to build this deep space infrastructure, this phase will enable explorers to identify and pioneer innovative solutions to technical and human challenges discovered or engineered in deep space.

To achieve the agency’s goal to extend humanity’s presence in the solar system will require the best research, technologies and capabilities from international partners and the private sector. NASA will look to partners for potential contributions of spaceflight hardware and the delivery of supplemental resources. The gateway and transport could potentially support mission after mission as a hub of activity in deep space near the Moon, representing multiple countries and agencies with partners from both government and private industry. NASA is open to new ideas of both a technical and programmatic nature suggestions as we develop, mature and implement this plan.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Another art concept of the deep space gateway orbiting the Moon.
NASA

Thursday, March 23, 2017

EM-1 Update: A New "Brain" for One of the Space Launch System's RS-25 Engines Is Tested...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on March 23, 2017.
NASA / SSC

NASA Tests New Engine Controller for First Space Launch System Flight (Press Release)

NASA marked a critical milestone March 23 with a test of the first RS-25 engine controller that will be used on the first flight of the new Space Launch System (SLS), the world’s most powerful rocket.

The new controller or “brain” has the electronics that operate the engine and communicate with the SLS vehicle. Engine Controller Unit-2 (ECU-2) was installed on RS-25 development engine No. 0528 and test fired for 500 seconds on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Once test data is certified, the engine controller will be removed and installed on one of four flight engines that will help power the first integrated flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft.

This year, two more engine controllers for the first SLS mission will be tested on this development engine at Stennis, and then installed on flight engines. The fourth controller will be tested when NASA tests the entire core stage during a “green run” on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis. That testing will involve installing the core stage on the stand and firing its four RS-25 flight engines simultaneously, as during a mission launch.

“This an important – and exciting – step in our return to deep space missions,” Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said. “With every test of flight hardware, we get closer and closer to launching humans deeper into space than we ever have traveled before.”

The RS-25 engines that will help power the SLS vehicle on its first flights are former space shuttle main engines, built for NASA by Aerojet Rocketdyne. Four engines will fire simultaneously to provide 2 million pounds of thrust and operate in conjunction with a pair of solid rocket boosters to power the SLS launch.

Space shuttle main engines were tested extensively and used to power 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. For SLS, the engines have been upgraded to operate at a higher level and under different conditions, and the flight controller was one of the critical new parts of the engine to enable performance under these new conditions.

Prior to a flight, performance specifications, such as the percentage of thrust needed, are programmed into the controller. The controller then communicates the specifications and monitors engine conditions to ensure they are being met, controlling such factors as propellant mixture ratio and thrust level.

Testing for the upgraded engines and new controllers is vital to ensure they will perform as needed within the operating parameters. For instance, space shuttle main engines operated at a maximum of 104.5 percent of power level capability. For SLS flights, the RS-25 engines must fire at 109 percent of capability. The engines also will operate with colder liquid oxygen and engine compartment temperatures, higher propellant pressure and greater exhaust nozzle heating.

“The importance of this testing cannot be overemphasized,” A-1 Test Director Jeff Henderson said. “Each test has specific objectives to determine how the engine will respond. The goal is to learn as much as we can about the performance of the engine.”

RS-25 testing at Stennis is conducted by a team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services engineers and operators. Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for RS-25 engines. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 Is Signed into Law...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

NASA Acting Administrator Statement on the NASA Authorization Act of 2017 (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on President Trump signing Tuesday the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017:

“We would like to thank President Trump for his support of the agency in signing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017.

“We also want to express our gratitude to a bipartisan Congress for its thoughtful consideration of the agency’s path forward. We are grateful for the longstanding support and trust of the American people, which enables our nation’s space, aeronautics, science, and technology development programs to thrive.

“Our workforce has proven time and again that it can meet any challenge, and the continuing support for NASA ensures our nation’s space program will remain the world’s leader in pioneering new frontiers in exploration, innovation, and scientific achievement.”

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Under the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, the International Space Station will remain in operation till at least 2024.
NASA

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Congress Reveals the 2018 Budget Proposal for NASA...

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA Acting Administrator Statement on Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 agency budget proposal:

“The President mentioned in his speech to both houses of Congress that, ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ NASA is already working toward that goal, and we look forward to exciting achievements that this budget will help us reach.

“NASA teams continue to do amazing work to develop and launch our missions and increase this nation’s technical capabilities across the board. America needs NASA more than ever, and the agency’s work every single day is vitally important.

“While more detailed budget information will be released in May, we have received a top line budget number for the agency as part of an overall government budget rollout of more than $19 billion. This is in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation, even during these times of fiscal constraint.

“While the budget and appropriation process still has a long way to go, this budget enables us to continue our work with industry to enhance government capabilities, send humans deeper into space, continue our innovative aeronautics efforts and explore our universe.

“The budget supports our continued leadership in commercial space, which has demonstrated success through multiple cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, and is on target to begin launches of astronauts from U.S. soil in the near future.

“The budget also bolsters our ongoing work to send humans deeper into space and the technologies that will require.

“As discussions about this budget proposal begin with Congress, we continue to operate under the funding provided by a Continuing Resolution that runs through April 28.

“Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases. We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us – a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide ranging science work on many fronts.

“This budget also keeps aeronautics on stable footing allowing us to continue our forward movement in many areas, including the New Aviation Horizons initiative.

“While this budget no longer funds a formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through our missions and channel education efforts in a more focused way through the robust portfolio of our Science Mission Directorate. We will also continue to use every opportunity to support the next generation through engagement in our missions and the many ways that our work encourages the public to discover more.

“We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget. This doesn’t mean, however, that the hard work of the teams already working on ARM will be lost. We will continue the solar electric propulsion efforts benefiting from those developments for future in space transportation initiatives. I have had personal involvement with this team and their progress for the past few years, and am I extremely proud of their efforts to advance this mission.

“This is a positive budget overall for NASA. I want to reiterate that we are committed to NASA’s core mission of exploration – in all the ways we carry that out.

“As with any budget, we have greater aspirations than we have means, but this blueprint provides us with considerable resources to carry out our mission, and I know we will make this nation proud.”

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NASA

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Photo of the Day: Another Successful Drop Test for Orion in Arizona...

The three main parachutes on the Orion test article successfully deploy above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, on March 8, 2017.
NASA

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Parachutes Tested at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (News Release)

Engineers successfully tested the parachutes for NASA's Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona Wednesday, March 8. This was the second test in a series of eight that will certify Orion's parachutes for human spaceflight.

The test, which dropped an Orion engineering model from a C-17 aircraft at 25,000 feet, simulated the descent astronauts might experience if they have to abort a mission after liftoff.

Orion, which will launch atop NASA's Space Launch System rocket from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is built to take astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. The spacecraft will carry crew to space, provide emergency abort capabilities, sustain the crew during their mission and provide safe re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SpaceX Plans to Send Two Tourists Around the Moon via Crew Dragon and Falcon Heavy Late Next Year...

A composite image that I created depicting SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule venturing near the Moon.
SpaceX / R. Par

NASA Statement About SpaceX Private Moon Venture Announcement (Press Release - February 27)

The following is a statement on SpaceX’s announcement Monday about a private space mission around the Moon:

“NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher.

“We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

“For more than a decade, NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity's future in space.

“NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft and systems to go beyond the Moon and sustain deep space exploration.”

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An artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket, with a Crew Dragon aboard, lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX

Monday, February 27, 2017

Photo of the Day #2: SLS Components to Begin Arriving in Florida for Exploration Mission 1...

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage will soon head down to Cape Canaveral in Florida to be prepped for integration with NASA's Space Launch System rocket...currently set to make its debut flight next year.
ULA

Flight Hardware for NASA's Space Launch System on Its Way to Cape (News Release)

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) for the first flight of NASA's Space Launch System rocket is on its way by barge to United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Operation Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will provide the thrust needed to send the Orion spacecraft and 13 secondary payloads beyond the moon before Orion returns to Earth. It will be the first integrated piece of SLS hardware to arrive at the Cape and undergo final processing and testing before being moved to Ground Systems Development Operations at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The ICPS was designed and built by ULA in Decatur, Alabama, and The Boeing Co. in Huntsville, Alabama. When completed, SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world for deep-space missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Photo of the Day: Orion's Wiring...

An engineer tends to wiring that will be used aboard the European Service Module that will fly with NASA's Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission 1.
OHB

Propelling Orion (News Release)

Even the most complex of systems comes down to properly configured wires and cables, such as those pictured here on the Propulsion Qualification Model of the Orion service module.

ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft is the European Service Module, designed to provide the spacecraft’s propulsion, electrical power, water and thermal control. The model, designed by Airbus Defence and Space, was assembled by OHB Sweden.

Made from steel and containing propellant and helium tanks, among various electronics and command systems, the Propulsion Qualification Model allows engineers to determine how well systems are working together.

The model was built in January in Stockholm, Sweden and has since been shipped to the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico (USA), where it will undergo more extensive testing by NASA, ESA and main contractor Airbus DS.

Source: European Space Agency

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Sunday, February 19, 2017

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Finally Lifts Off from Historic Apollo and Space Shuttle Launch Pad in Florida...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

NASA Cargo Headed to Space Station Includes Important Experiments, Equipment (Press Release)

Major experiments that will look into a range of scientific disciplines from human health to atmospheric conditions on Earth are on their way to the International Space Station following liftoff at 9:39 a.m. EST aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. About 5,500 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station on the CRS-10 mission.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22 on NASA TV and the agency’s website, with installation coverage set to begin at 8:30 a.m.

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include a crystal growth experiment that will crystallize a monoclonal antibody that is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological diseases. Growing the crystal in space will allow it develop more than it could on Earth where gravity causes crystals to collapse on themselves. Preserving these antibodies in crystals allows researchers a glimpse into how the biological molecules are arranged, which can provide new information about how they work in the body. So far, Earth-grown crystalline suspensions of monoclonal antibodies have proven to be too low-quality to fully model.

Better defining how some bacteria become drug-resistant is the focus of another experiment that aims to develop medicines that counter the resistance. Stem cells like those used to treat strokes and other occurrences also will be studied using experiment supplies brought up on this flight.

The equipment aboard the Dragon includes a major instrument that will survey Earth's upper atmosphere in a continuation of one of NASA's longest-running Earth-observing programs. Called SAGE III for Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment, the instrument examines the levels of ozone, aerosols, nitrogen dioxide and water vapor in the stratosphere and troposphere high above Earth. It is the latest version of an experiment that began in 1979 and has created a multi-decade record of measurements. The 2,200-pound instrument will be connected to the outside of the station to make daily observations for several years.

The mission is the company's tenth cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 50 and 51.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in late March, returning nearly 5,000 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 16 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 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.

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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9 first stage booster is about to touch down at a Cape Canaveral landing site following a successful launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center a few miles away...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

SpaceX's Dragon capsule separates from its second stage motor following a successful launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

Friday, February 17, 2017

Photo of the Day: A Rocket Will Soon Soar Away from Kennedy Space Center Once More...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stands vertical at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd share this pic that SpaceX released today showing its Falcon 9 vehicle—with the Dragon cargo freighter now installed atop the rocket—poised for launch atop Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 is set to lift off towards the International Space Station at 10:01 AM, Eastern Standard Time (7:01 AM, Pacific Standard Time) tomorrow...assuming that engineers will be able to rectify an upper stage issue as mentioned in Elon Musk's tweet below. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EM-1 Update: Astronauts to Fly Aboard the Space Launch System on Its Maiden Flight?

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA to Study Adding Crew to First Flight of SLS and Orion (News Release)

NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot has asked Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The study will examine the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.

The SLS and Orion missions, coupled with record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock the mysteries of space and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Friday, February 10, 2017

SpaceX Update: A Rocket Will Launch from Kennedy Space Center's LC-39A for the First Time in Almost Six Years...

In preparation for a static fire test that will take place tomorrow morning, a Falcon 9 rocket is raised vertically at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 10, 2017.
Elon Musk

While repairs continue to take place at its main launch site at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) following a pad explosion in September of last year (see video below), SpaceX is ready to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from nearby Kennedy Space Center (KSC) less than three weeks from today. Set for tomorrow is a static fire test of the Falcon 9's Merlin 1D engines at KSC's Launch Complex (LC)-39A...which last saw a rocket lift off from its perimeter in July of 2011. It was on July 8 of that year that Atlantis lifted off from this pad to begin mission STS-135, the final flight of the space shuttle program.

Assuming that everything goes well during the static fire tomorrow morning, the Falcon 9 will launch on February 18 to send a Dragon cargo freighter to the International Space Station. LC-39A will be the East Coast launch site for Falcon 9 rockets until Space Launch Complex 40 at CCAFS is back in operation. Along with the Falcon 9, LC-39A will also be the permanent site where SpaceX's Falcon Heavy vehicle lifts off from terra firma to venture beyond Earth's atmosphere...its maiden flight set for later this year. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

EM-1 Update: A Major Milestone For SLS Is Achieved At NASA's Kennedy Space Center In Florida...

The 20th and final work platform that will be used to grant workers access to the Space Launch System is installed inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on January 12, 2017.
NASA / Frank Michaux

Final Work Platform Installed in Vehicle Assembly Building for NASA's Space Launch System (News Release)

NASA reached a key milestone in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A year of platform installations came to conclusion in January as the final work platform, A north, was lifted, installed and secured recently on its rail beam on the north wall of High Bay 3 inside the iconic facility.

The installation of the final topmost level completes the 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platforms halves altogether, that will surround NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft and allow access during processing for missions, including the first uncrewed flight test of Orion atop the SLS rocket.

"Just a year ago, we were meeting the challenges of getting the first half of the first platform installed," said Mike Bolger, Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program manager, "It's a great testament to the creativity, persistence and hard work of the team, and it's a terrific indicator that GSDO is on track to process the SLS and Orion flight hardware for the first test mission."

The A platforms will provide access to the Orion spacecraft's Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion lifting sling removal and installation of the closeout panels. LAS Antenna Testing also is performed on this level.

The platforms were mated with two, 60,000-pound rail beam assemblies that allow the platforms to move towards and away from the vehicle, as well as tie the entire system to the VAB structure. Each platform will ride on four Hillman roller systems on each side — much like how a kitchen drawer glides in and out. The process to lift and install each of the platforms takes about four hours. Each platform weighs more than 300,000 pounds, and measures about 38 feet long and close to 62 feet wide.

"I am very proud of the amount of work that the team accomplished. I am also humbled to have been able to lead this group of amazing people who have been able to complete this very complex and challenging project," said Jose Perez Morales, GSDO VAB Element senior project manager. "I am very pleased with all the work performed by the NASA and contractor team."

Engineers began installation of the first halves, the K-level platforms, about a year ago, followed by the J, H and G platforms. In July 2016, platform installation reached the halfway point, with the fifth of ten levels of platforms, the F-level, completed.

The remaining platforms installed are E, D, C, B and A. Each of the platform levels is strategically located to allow technicians and engineer’s access to different systems on the rocket, Orion spacecraft and the Launch Abort System during processing and stacking operations on the mobile launcher.

"This is a huge day for us," said Darrell Foster, GSDO Project Management Division chief. "We cherish these milestones. We're all working toward launch day success."

GSDO, with support from the center's Engineering Directorate, is overseeing upgrades to the VAB, including the installation of the work platforms.

NASA awarded a contract to modify High Bay 3 to the Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colorado, in March 2014. Hensel Phelps, along with its subcontractors, Institutional Services Contract, Engineering Services Contract, and Test and Operation Support Contractor, supported crane operations, lifting, installation and initial inspection of each of the platforms.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

EM-2 Update: A Significant Milestone Achieved for the Space Launch System's Second Stage Motor...

An artist's concept of the upgraded Space Launch System rocket that will send astronauts towards the Moon on Exploration Mission 2 in 2021.
NASA

Major Review Completed for NASA’s New SLS Exploration Upper Stage (News Release - January 27)

NASA has successfully completed the exploration upper stage (EUS) preliminary design review for the powerful Space Launch System rocket. The detailed assessment is a big step forward in being ready for more capable human and robotic missions to deep space, including the first crewed flight of SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2021.

"To send humans and even more cargo farther away from Earth than ever before, NASA decided to add a more powerful upper stage -- the upper part of the rocket that continues to operate after launch and ascent," said Kent Chojnacki, EUS team lead and preliminary design review manager.

"With the completion of this review, our teams will start developing components and materials for the EUS, and build up tooling," he added. "Full-scale manufacturing will begin after the critical design phase is completed." Critical design review is the next programmatic milestone that will provide a final look at the design and development of the EUS before beginning full-scale fabrication.

Starting with that first crewed mission, future configurations of SLS will include the larger exploration upper stage and use four RL10C-3 engines. The EUS will replace the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will be used on the initial configuration of SLS for the first, uncrewed flight with Orion. The EUS will use an 8.4-meter diameter liquid hydrogen tank and a 5.5-meter diameter liquid oxygen tank. A new universal stage adapter will connect the EUS to the Orion spacecraft, and be capable of carrying large co-manifested payloads, such as a habitat.

The preliminary design review kicked off Nov. 30, 2016, with approximately 500 experts from across NASA and industry assessing more than 320 items on the EUS, including documents and data. This review had a new "techie" touch to it with the incorporation of virtual reality glasses, which gave teams enhanced visuals of how the EUS is put together and a broader perspective on the size of the hardware. The preliminary design review board was completed Jan. 19, with the board voting unanimously that the EUS is ready to move to the critical design phase.

"I couldn’t be prouder of the SLS Stages team completing this review," said SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt. "We continue to make progress on hardware for SLS’s first flight, while also working on the next-generation rocket that will take astronauts to deep-space destinations, like Mars."

The powerful stage will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Massive welding machines, like the Vertical Assembly Center, currently building the SLS core stage, also will help build the EUS liquid hydrogen tank. New tooling and assembly areas will be put in place to manufacture the liquid oxygen tank.

Once built, the EUS structural test article will undergo qualification testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to ensure the hardware can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. "Green run" testing on the first flight article will be done at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. For the test, the EUS and RL10 engines will fire up together for the first time before being sent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the 2021 launch.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Friday, January 27, 2017

50 Years Later: An Exhibit That Honors the Crew of Apollo 1...

An exhibit honoring the crew of Apollo 1 has opened at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA Unveils Tribute to Crew of Apollo 1 (Press Release)

A new tribute opened Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, dedicated to the lives, accomplishments and memories of the three astronauts who perished 50 years ago in a launch pad fire while training for the flight of Apollo 1. The tribute exhibit stands only a few miles from the long-abandoned Launch Complex 34, the launch pad where the fire took place. The pad was dismantled in 1968 after the launch of Apollo 7.

Called "Ad Astra Per Aspera - A Rough Road Leads to the Stars," the permanent exhibition carries the blessings of the families of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. It showcases clothing, tools and models that define the men as their parents, wives and children saw them as much as how the nation viewed them.

The tribute also displays for the first time the three-section hatch from the Apollo 1 capsule that caught fire at Launch Complex 34 on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts were not able to escape the smoke and blaze inside the spacecraft before they asphyxiated despite their own efforts and those of numerous pad crew members who braved thick fumes and scorching temperatures to try to get the men out.

"Although the fire took place across the river on Launch Pad 34, their story didn’t end there and their legacy lives on today," said Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee.

The new tribute features displays that tell the full story of the lives of the astronauts, the fire and the work the NASA team put in to rebound from the devastating loss.

"Ultimately, this is a story of hope, because these astronauts were dreaming of the future that is unfolding today," said former astronaut Bob Cabana, center director at Kennedy. "Generations of people around the world will learn who these brave astronauts were and how their legacies live on through the Apollo successes and beyond."

The main focus was to show the astronauts to generations who never met them and may not know much about them or the early space program.

"This lets you now meet Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee as members of special families and also as members of our own family," said NASA's Luis Berrios, who co-led the tribute design that would eventually involve more than 100 planners and workers to realize. "You get to know some of the things that they liked to do and were inspired by. You look at the things they did and if anyone does just one of those things, it's a lifetime accomplishment and they did all of it and more."

For Grissom, one of NASA's Original Seven astronauts who flew the second Mercury mission, a hunting jacket and a pair of ski boots are on display, along with a small model of the Mercury spacecraft and a model of an F-86 Sabre jet like the one he flew in the Korean War. There is also a slide rule and engineering drafts that typify his dedication to detail.

The small handheld maneuvering thruster that Ed White II used to steer himself outside his Gemini capsule during the first American spacewalk features prominently in a display case of the West Point graduate whose athletic prowess nearly equaled his flying acumen. An electric drill stands alongside the "zip gun," as he called the thruster.

"It was great to juxtaposition it with a drill which was also a tool that Ed loved to use," Berrios said. "He had a tremendous passion for making things for his family."

Roger Chaffee, for whom Apollo 1 would have been his first mission into space, was an esteemed Naval aviator who became a test pilot in his drive to qualify as an astronaut later. Displayed are board games like those he played with his wife and kids on rare evenings free of training.

The three men had worked an earlier mission together as astronauts, but not as crewmates. During Gemini 4, the mission in which Ed White made his landmark spacewalk, Grissom and Chaffee served as CAPCOMs, talking to White and mission commander James McDivitt.

After the fire, NASA set out on an exhaustive examination of every element of the spacecraft and launch systems.

Beside the failed hatch is one element of the improvements, a redesigned hatch that would fly on all subsequent Apollo missions. Full of modifications that let the hatch open in five seconds in an emergency, the redesigned hatch is displayed as a symbol of all the improvements made throughout the Apollo spacecraft and NASA itself that would set the agency on a successful course to land 12 men on the moon.

"That part of the exhibit is a story of determination and resolve and also something as elemental as a hatch – the complexities of just one component in a vehicle that has over 2 million parts," Berrios said. "After the loss of the crew in that tragic event, NASA learned how to really look at every piece of a rocket and imagine what could happen and it made the spacecraft safer and allowed us to get to the moon, land on it and even with Apollo 13, to recover that crew safely."

After seeing the hatches, visitors will walk through a gateway and down the same metal walkway astronauts used later to get to the Apollo spacecraft as it stood on a Saturn V rocket poised for the moon.

"Grissom, White, Chaffee, President Kennedy - I think these names are appropriately mentioned together," said Michael Collins, the command module pilot for Apollo 11. "Apollo 1 tragically cost three lives, but I think it saved more than three lives later. Without it, very likely we would've not landed on the moon by the end of the decade."

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