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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Image of the Day: A New Paint Scheme for the Space Launch System's Twin Solid Rocket Boosters...

An artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System rocket sporting a new paint scheme on its twin Solid Rocket Boosters.
NASA

NASA recently unveiled a new art concept depicting the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in an updated paint scheme as progress continues to be made towards its 2019 launch on Exploration Mission (EM)-1. As mentioned in this previous entry, engineers at Orbital ATK began painting black marks on the SLS' Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) that will be used for photogrammetry...the science of using photography to help measure distances between objects. In the case of EM-1, the black marks will allow engineers on the ground to discern the distance between the SRBs and SLS' core stage upon booster separation during launch. The photogrammetric markings will also be used on components of the Orion spacecraft to analyze the distance between the capsule and the core stage as the spacecraft separates from SLS after reaching Earth orbit.

The black marks are nothing new; the SRBs have been sporting these paint schemes since the days of the space shuttle program.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Dragon Is Once Again Station-Bound...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon CRS-12 spacecraft launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 14, 2017.
SpaceX

NASA Cargo Launches to Space Station Aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

Experiments seeking a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease and the origin of cosmic rays are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following today’s 12:31 p.m. EDT launch.

Carrying more than 6,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies, the spacecraft lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the company’s 12th commercial resupply mission. It will arrive at the space station Wednesday, Aug. 16, at which time astronauts Jack Fischer of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture it.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of spacecraft rendezvous and capture beginning at 5:30 a.m., followed by installation coverage at 8:30 a.m.

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include an experiment to grow large crystals of leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), a protein believed to be the greatest genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease. Gravity keeps Earth-grown versions of this protein too small and too compact to study. This experiment, developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, will exploit the benefits of microgravity to grow larger, more perfectly-shaped LRRK2 crystals for analysis on Earth. Results from this study could help scientists better understand Parkinson’s and aid in the development of therapies.

The Kestrel Eye (NanoRacks-KE IIM) investigation is a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging payload, including a commercially available telescope. This investigation, sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory, tests the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as lowering the cost of Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass instrument will be attached to the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility on the space station, and measure the charges of cosmic rays. The data collected from its three-year mission will address fundamental questions about the origins and histories of cosmic rays, building a stronger understanding of the basic structure of the universe.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in mid-September, returning more than 3,300 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies 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 to 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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The Falcon 9's first stage booster is about to touch down at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral after launching the Dragon CRS-12 capsule to the International Space Station...on August 14, 2017.
NASA TV

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

EM-2 Update: Assembly Is Completed on Orion's Windows at a Local SoCal Manufacturer...

The window panel that will be incorporated aboard the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission-2 is on display at AMRO Fabricating Corp. in South El Monte, California.
NASA / AMRO Fabricating Corp.

Orion Supplier Readies Shipment of Orion Astronauts’ Windows on the Universe (News Release)

When the first crew of astronauts flies aboard the Orion spacecraft, they will be able to look through a window and view the Moon and Earth from their deep-space vantage point. The window panel that will provide that view is ready for shipment to NASA. AMRO Fabricating Corp., of South El Monte, California, has completed a section of the Orion pressure vessel, or underlying structure of the spacecraft that will send astronauts farther than humans have ever traveled before on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2).

Orion’s four windows are contained in one of three cone panels that AMRO is manufacturing for NASA and Orion prime contractor, Lockheed Martin. The spacecraft’s pressure vessel has seven structural elements, including the three cone panels. AMRO will ship the panel to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by the end of August, where it will be outfitted with strain gauges and wiring for monitoring purposes and joined together with other pieces of the pressure vessel scheduled to arrive at Michoud in the coming months.

“Many of our suppliers around the country are already starting to manufacture elements of the Orion for our first mission with astronauts,” said Paul Marshall, assistant program manager for Orion. “Their work enables NASA’s push to expand our boundaries into space and eventually our voyage to Mars.”

The pressure vessel forms the sealed environment inside where astronauts will live and the structure upon which all the other elements of the spacecraft are built and integrated. The components of Orion’s pressure vessel are joined using the friction-stir welding process, which bonds the pieces by transforming metals from a solid into a plastic-like state and then forging a bond between the two metal components. Once all pressure vessel elements are welded together, the spacecraft will be sent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for outfitting, processing and launch.

Other than several small changes to allow for interfaces with crew equipment or mounting of hardware specific to EM-2, the overall structure, manufacturing process and mass of the pressure vessel is the same as it is for the structure that will fly on the first mission of Orion and SLS, now that engineers have optimized the design of Orion’s structure. Engineers are making progress on the EM-1 spacecraft, currently being assembled at Kennedy ahead of its 2019 launch.

AMRO is a third generation, family owned, small business manufacturer that specializes in building metallic structures for spacecraft and launch vehicles. In addition to its work for Orion, AMRO makes elements of the Space Launch System core stage and provided components for the space shuttle. This past February, AMRO successfully graduated from the NASA Mentor-Protégé Program – a program through the Office of Small Business Programs which encourages NASA prime contractors to assist eligible protégés, thereby enhancing the protégés’ capabilities to perform on NASA contracts and subcontracts.

“I speak for everyone in the NASA Office of Small Business Programs when I express how proud we are of the tremendous contributions the AMRO Fabricating Corporation is making to the NASA mission,” said Glenn Delgado, associate administrator of the Office of Small Business Programs in Washington. “Their growth and achievements are a shining example of what can be accomplished by our protégés. We look forward to AMRO’s continued success.”

Exploration Mission-2 will be NASA’s first mission with crew in a series of missions in the proving ground, an area of space around the Moon where crew can build and test systems needed to prepare for the challenge of missions to Mars. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the early 2020s.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Photo of the Day: Inside the ISS' Expandable Habitat...

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module aboard the International Space Station...on July 31, 2017.
NASA

A Look Inside the Space Station's Experimental BEAM Module (News Release)

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the International Space Station's Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) on July 31, 2017. He shared this photo on social media on August 2, commenting, "Ever wonder how you look when you enter a new part of a spacecraft? Well, this is it. First time inside the expandable BEAM module."

The BEAM is an experimental expandable module launched to the station aboard SpaceX's eighth commercial resupply mission on April 8, 2016, and fully expanded and pressurized on May 28. Expandable modules weigh less and take up less room on a rocket than a traditional module, while allowing additional space for living and working. They provide protection from solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, and other contaminants. Crews traveling to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, or other destinations may be able to use them as habitable structures.

The BEAM is just over halfway into its planned two-year demonstration on the space station. NASA and Bigelow are currently focusing on measuring radiation dosage inside the BEAM. Using two active Radiation Environment Monitors (REM) inside the module, researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are able to take real-time measurements of radiation levels.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

EM-1 Update: SLS Side Boosters Inch Closer to Launch...

Orbital ATK technicians apply photogrammetric markings on completed segments for the solid rocket boosters that will fly on Exploration Mission-1 in 2019.
Orbital ATK

Space Launch System Solid Rocket Boosters ‘on Target’ for First Flight (News Release)

Production of the five-segment powerhouse motors for the Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters is on target at prime contractor Orbital ATK’s facilities in Utah, with 10 motor segments cast with propellant and four of those segments complete. Following propellant casting, the finished segments were evaluated using non-destructive techniques, such as x-ray, to ensure they met quality standards, and the exterior cases were painted white with black-and-white photogrammetric markings. All motor segments will ultimately be shipped to Kennedy Space Center, where they will be integrated with forward and aft booster structures and then with the SLS core stage.

The markings on the outside of the complete boosters look like black-and-white checkerboards and serve as “targets” for cameras located in strategic locations on and around the vehicle and will be used for photogrammetry, the science of using photography to help measure distances between objects.

In addition to the boosters, black-and-white photogrammetric targets will also appear on the SLS core stage, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and the Orion stage adapter. On Orion, NASA’s deep-space exploration spacecraft, photogrammetric markings will appear on the spacecraft adapter. The mobile launcher will also have photogrammetric markings. In addition, certain elements of the integrated stack, like the launch vehicle stage adapter, have photogrammetric markings on the interior rather than the exterior.

Cameras will be located on Orion, on the rocket’s core stage, on the interior of the launch vehicle stage adapter, on the ground and on the mobile launcher. The cameras will be able to more easily track the vehicle’s position in space by fixing on the black-and-white checkerboard targets. NASA’s photogrammetry analysts will then use software to process the images from the cameras to measure distances, such as between the boosters and the core stage after those elements separate. Engineers are also interested in measuring the booster nozzles’ clearance from the mobile launcher and the entire vehicle’s clearance from the mobile launch tower shortly after liftoff.

One area engineers are particularly interested in is how the SLS solid rocket boosters, the largest ever manufactured for flight, will separate from the core stage. “Booster separation is influenced by several factors — their length, the configuration of the separation motors and the timing of separation,” explained Alex Priskos, SLS systems engineering & integration manager. “The longer separation is delayed, the greater the clearance will be. However, waiting longer adversely impacts performance. Our job is to balance these factors.”

Engineers designed SLS using state-of-the-art 3D software models and analysis, explained Beth St. Peter, SLS imagery integration lead. “As accurate as those models are, photogrammetry will provide real-life ‘truth data’ on separation events and other key points. And for the first flight of SLS, gathering this real-world data on how the vehicle performs compared to the models is crucial.”

Although NASA has used photogrammetry since the days of the Saturn moon rockets and the space shuttle, use of the technology has come a long way, St. Peter said, primarily due to advances in being able to place digital imagery systems on launch vehicles.

SLS and Orion will incorporate different types of checkerboard patterns, or photogrammetric targets, which will be used for different types of measurements, noted David Melendrez, Orion’s lead for imagery integration at Johnson Space Center. “The big squares will be used to measure general vehicle motion and ground clearances. Smaller checkerboards and elongated markings will be used to measure more complicated three-dimensional motions of the boosters relative to the core stage during their separation, about two minutes into the spaceflight.”

On some parts of the rocket, smaller circular markings will help the cameras and photogrammetric software measure separation events, like Orion’s separation from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage. “Some of these smaller markings will also have retro-reflective centers to help improve our ability to see them under the dark conditions we’re likely to encounter on-orbit,” Melendrez said.

In the final design, the photogrammetric checkerboards will replace the orange and gray stripes that had been previously considered. “Designing and building these deep space exploration systems is an evolutionary process,” Priskos said. “In the beginning, you define a mission and a basic architecture to take you where you want to go. The details might be a little fuzzy at first, but gradually, like a camera zooming in closer and closer, those details are revealed. This is where we are with SLS and Orion.”

On launch day — and during the duration of the first mission — it won’t just be the engineers on the ground who see the imagery from the cameras located at various spots on the vehicle and ground. “Some cameras will record imagery onboard SLS and Orion and transmit later. But there will also be some live downlinked imagery from these cameras on launch day,” Melendrez said. “People watching at home will be able to see some of this imagery live on NASA TV.”

With the application of black-and-white photogrammetric targets on the solid rocket boosters, NASA’s new capability for exploring deep space is becoming clearer — and closer — all the time.

Source: NASA.Gov

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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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Orion Update: Testing on NASA's Deep Space Capsule Continues...

NASA and military personnel practice techniques on how to assist astronauts egressing from an Orion capsule following splashdown after a deep space mission.
NASA

In Gulf of Mexico, NASA Evaluates How Crew Will Exit Orion (News Release)

When astronauts return to Earth from destinations beyond the Moon in NASA’s Orion spacecraft and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, they’ll still need to safely get out of the spacecraft and back on dry land. Using the waters off the coast of Galveston, Texas, a NASA and Department of Defense team tested Orion exit procedures in a variety of scenarios July 10-14.

During the crew egress testing, a joint team from the Orion and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs, along with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force, evaluated how the crew will get out of the capsule with assistance and by themselves.

“Astronauts returning to Earth in Orion will have spent many days in space, and we want to make sure the last part of their journey goes smoothly no matter what kind of conditions they land in,” said Tom Walker, rescue and recovery lead for Orion at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Our testing in the Gulf of Mexico gives us an opportunity to practice and evaluate our plans and hardware for how to get crew out of Orion as safely and efficiently as possible.”

NASA is developing multiple methods to get the crew out of the spacecraft on the day they return home, which gives recovery personnel and mission controllers flexibility to account for the crew’s health, weather and the condition of the recovery personnel and equipment in the area in real-time.

Orion is designed to sustain a crew that has splashed down in the ocean for up to 24 hours. When the capsule and its crew return from deep space missions, during one recovery method, small boats of Navy personnel will arrive soon after landing. They will assist the crew as they exit through the side hatch of the capsule and onto rafts, and take them and the capsule back to an awaiting Naval ship.

Crew members must also be prepared to get out of the spacecraft’s if conditions aren’t as favorable. If the capsule were to land off course and recovery teams were not expected to arrive quickly, or water intrudes into the crew module before they arrive, astronauts must be prepared to get out of the spacecraft alone.

NASA also is evaluating how well crew members can get out of the spacecraft within three minutes and into a raft by themselves, without the assistance of recovery personnel. On human missions, Orion will be equipped with such a raft and a few additional emergency supplies such as water, tools and signaling mirrors, should the crew ever be in a situation where a team of recovery personnel is not immediately available to assist them.

Astronauts and engineering test subjects wore Orion Crew Survival System spacesuits, modified versions of NASA’s orange Advanced Crew Escape suits in development for use during Orion launch and entry, making the testing as true to mission scenarios as possible.

The testing builds upon the development and execution of recovery procedures practiced in the Neutral Buoyancy lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, a 6.2 million-gallon pool that is used for astronaut training and provided a calm environment for initial testing. Engineers expect to conduct additional future crew egress testing in open water.

Orion will send astronauts farther into space than humans have ever traveled before. While engineers are currently building the spacecraft for Orion’s first uncrewed flight atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket, NASA is working hard to develop and build the spacecraft elements, tools and techniques required to ensure a safe, successful journey when astronauts fly on the spacecraft beginning with Exploration Mission-2.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Image of the Day: Orion's Airbags...

An animated GIF showing Orion's crew module uprighting system being tested at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA

Orion Crew Module Uprighting System (News Release)

NASA’s Orion program is evaluating an updated design to the crew module uprighting system, the system of five airbags on top of the capsule that inflate upon splashdown. In high waves or wind over the ocean, the uprighting bags are responsible for turning Orion right side up if the capsule lands upside down or turns over when it returns to Earth. Engineers have retooled the design of the bags after they didn’t properly inflate during Exploration Flight Test-1.

The testing occurred at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The team is evaluating the bags during both normal inflation and failure scenarios to validate computer models. The testing in the calm waters of the pool is helping the team prepare for a late-summer complement of uprighting system tests in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, June 23, 2017

SLS Update: NASA Continues to Make Progress on Building Its New Mega-Rocket...

A test article of the Space Launch System's liquid hydrogen fuel tank is lowered into a cleaning cell at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Judy Guidry

SLS Core Stage Production Continues for Rocket’s First Flight (News Release)

Throughout NASA’s 43-acre rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, engineers are building all five parts of the Space Launch System’s core stage. For the first SLS flight for deep space exploration with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, major structural manufacturing is complete on three parts: the forward skirt, the intertank and the engine section. Test articles, which are structurally similar to flight hardware, and are used to qualify the core stage for flight, are in various stages of production and testing.

“One of the most challenging parts of building the world’s most powerful rocket has been making the largest rocket stage ever manufactured for the first time,” said Steve Doering, the SLS stages manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The 212-foot-tall core stage is a new design made with innovative welding tools and techniques.”

To build the rocket’s fuel tanks, Boeing, the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, is joining some of the thickest parts ever built with self-reacting friction stir welding. NASA and Boeing engineers and materials scientists have scrutinized the weld confidence articles and developed new weld parameters for making the liquid oxygen and hydrogen tanks for the first SLS mission.

Resuming Welding in the Vertical Assembly Center

The Vertical Assembly Center, the large robotic tool where core stage parts are welded to form major structures, is expected to resume manufacturing next week. NASA halted production in early May after a liquid oxygen tank dome was inadvertently damaged during pre-weld preparations on the infeeder tool. This equipment is what positions the large dome for welding, or feeds it into the tank.

While the mishap investigation is still wrapping up, NASA and Boeing fully inspected the impacted dome and found while the hardware sustained minor damage, it is usable for its original purpose as part of a structural test article. The infeeder tool did sustain some damage during the incident and repairs to the tool are complete. Welding is resuming to finish construction of the liquid oxygen test article by adding the aft, or bottom, dome. Upon completion, the tank will undergo inspection for any flaws, final processing and proof testing.

In another area of the factory, domes and segments for the flight liquid oxygen tank await their turn to be joined on the VAC, and Boeing is now completing welding domes and barrels that will make up the liquid hydrogen tank for flight. Recently, major structural construction was completed on flight hardware for the one part of the core stage structure not welded. The intertank walls are too thick to be welded, so its eight panels are connected with 7,500 bolts. The walls have to be extremely strong because of the force it feels from the solid rocket boosters attached to it. To complete assembly on the inside of the core stage, the team is outfitting the intertank along with the flight forward skirt and the engine section structures, with avionics, wire harnesses, tubing, sensors, and propulsion systems.

Preparing Hardware for Testing

NASA and Boeing continue to prepare existing hardware for tests to help ensure success of the first SLS flight and crew safety on future missions. Before the tanks are hooked up to feed propellant to the four RS-25 engines or through a test stand propellant system, the tanks have to be cleaned to avoid any contamination. Though the liquid hydrogen structural test article is not fueled, the tank has recently been moved to the cleaning cell to certify the process ahead of the flight tank.

The first structural test article for SLS, an engine section which is similar to the flight article located at the bottom of the rocket’s core stage, is being installed on a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Hydraulic cylinders will push, pull, twist and bend the engine test article to validate the design and ensure it can withstand the pressure expected during launch and ascent.

“We are conducting the largest NASA launch vehicle test campaign since space shuttle development,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at Marshall. “The team is focused on delivering hardware to the pad for the first launch. We just completed integrated structural testing for the stage that will send Orion out beyond the Moon on the first flight. Now, we’ll be putting the core stage parts through the paces to gain an in-depth understanding of the rocket we are building for the first time as we expose parts of it to the extreme conditions of spaceflight.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Assembly is completed on the intertank structure that will fly aboard the Space Launch System during Exploration Mission-1 in 2019.
NASA / MSFC Michoud image: Judy Guidry

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