Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bigelow Aerospace and ULA Aim for the Moon...

An artist's concept of Bigelow Aerospace's B330 expandable module orbiting the Moon.
Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance Announce Agreement to Place a B330 Habitat in Low Lunar Orbit (Press Release)

Las Vegas, NV and Centennial, Colo. – Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are working together to launch a B330 expandable module on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle. The launch would place a B330 outfitted module in Low Lunar Orbit by the end of 2022 to serve as a lunar depot.

“We are excited to work with ULA on this lunar depot project,” said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace. “Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars. It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term. This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon.

"This commercial lunar depot would provide anchorage for significant lunar business development in addition to offering NASA and other governments the Moon as a new exciting location to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training.”

The B330 would launch to Low Earth Orbit on a Vulcan 562 configuration rocket, the only commercial launch vehicle in development today with sufficient performance and a large enough payload fairing to carry the habitat. Once the B330 is in orbit, Bigelow Aerospace will outfit the habitat and demonstrate it is working properly. Once the B330 is fully operational, ULA’s industry-unique distributed lift capability would be used to send the B330 to lunar orbit. Distributed lift would also utilize two more Vulcan ACES launches, each carrying 35 tons of cryogenic propellant to low Earth orbit. In LEO, all of the cryogenic propellant would be transferred to one of the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES). The now full ACES would then rendezvous with the B330 and perform multiple maneuvers to deliver the B330 to its final position in Low Lunar Orbit.

“We are so pleased to be able to continue our relationship with Bigelow Aerospace,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “The company is doing such tremendous work in the area of habitats for visiting, living and working off our planet and we are thrilled to be the ride that enables that reality.”

Bigelow Aerospace is a destination-oriented company with a focus on expandable systems for use in a variety of space applications. These NASA heritage systems provide for greater volume, safety, opportunity and economy than the aluminum alternatives.

The B330 is a standalone commercial space station that can operate in low Earth orbit, cislunar space and beyond. A single B330 is comparable to one third of the current pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace is developing two B330 commercial space station habitats that will be ready for launch any time after 2020.

Source: United Launch Alliance


An artist's concept of the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
United Launch Alliance

Monday, October 16, 2017

Photo of the Day: Orion EM-1 Capsule Components Are Ready for Integration at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

Components for the Orion EM-1 capsule are on display inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Orion Processing Continues for NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (News Release)

NASA's Orion crew module is being prepared for its first uncrewed integrated flight test atop the Space Launch System rocket. Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a variety of test stands, processing bays and hardware are in view. Thermal protection panels and other components for Orion are in various stages of processing.

Orion will launch on the SLS rocket from Kennedy's Launch Pad 39B on Exploration Mission-1. The spacecraft will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week period. Orion will return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Back in the Day: Remembering Endeavour's Parade Five Years Ago...

Posing with space shuttle Endeavour near Los Angeles International Airport on October 12, 2012.

Just thought I'd re-post these photos that I took during the first two days of Endeavour's 3-day trek from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center in downtown L.A. five years ago. The street journey for NASA's youngest retired space shuttle orbiter took place on October 12 - 14, 2012...prompting a million people to venture to Los Angeles over the course of that weekend to watch Endeavour as she ventured to her final resting spot in Exposition Park. Endeavour's permanent home, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, should hopefully break ground at the Science Center sometime next year—for a grand opening in 2019. Stay tuned.

Space shuttle Endeavour is parked on the street near Los Angeles' well-known Randy's Donuts on October 12, 2012.

Space shuttle Endeavour is parked outside of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on October 13, 2012.

Posing with space shuttle Endeavour outside of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on October 13, 2012.

A Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store sign is dwarfed by space shuttle Endeavour outside of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, on October 13, 2012.

Space shuttle Endeavour towers above the crowd outside of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, on October 13, 2012.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Photos of the Day: Assembly Continues on Orion's Service Module for Exploration Mission-2...

At Thales Alenia in Italy, engineers work on a component of Orion's Service Module that will fly on Exploration Mission (EM)-2.
NASA / Rad Sinyak

Work Progresses on Orion Powerhouse for Crewed Mission (News Release)

While engineers in Europe continue to outfit the Orion spacecraft’s service module for Exploration Mission-1 in preparation for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida next year, work is already beginning on the service module that will power, propel, cool and provide air and water for the first crewed mission in the Orion spacecraft in the early 2020s. Technicians at Thales Alenia in Turin, Italy, are working on the primary structure of the European Service Module that will carry astronauts in Orion beyond the Moon during Exploration Mission-2.

ESA (European Space Agency) and its contractors are providing Orion’s service module for its first two missions atop the Space Launch System rocket. NASA is leading the next steps in human space exploration and will send astronauts to the vicinity of the Moon to build and test the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars. NASA is working with domestic and international partners to solve the great challenges of deep space exploration.

Source: NASA.Gov


At Thales Alenia in Italy, an engineer works on a component of Orion's Service Module that will fly on EM-2.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

EM-1 Update: The SLS Continues to Make Progress Towards Flight...

The four RS-25 engines that will fly aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) on Exploration Mission-1 are put on display at the Aerojet Rocketdyne facility in Southern California.
Aerojet Rocketdyne

First Four Space Launch System Flight Engines Ready To Rumble (News Release)

The flight preparations for the four engines that will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) on its first integrated flight with Orion are complete and the engines are assembled and ready to be joined to the deep space rocket’s core stage. All five structures that form the massive core stage for the rocket have been built including the engine section where the RS-25 engines will be attached.

“NASA’s priority is to deliver hardware for the first flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “This year, the SLS team has constructed major parts of the rocket, such as the in-space stage, which is already at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the four RS-25 engines, core stage structures, and solid rocket booster segments.”

Start Your Engines

The SLS has the largest core stage ever built and includes four RS-25 engines, which previously powered NASA’s space shuttle. The RS-25 engines that are being tested and prepared for SLS were proven during the years they were responsible for propelling 135 shuttle missions, and have been upgraded for the first SLS flight. The four that will fly on Exploration Mission-1 supported a total of 21 shuttle missions.

In total, NASA has 16 flight-proven RS-25 engines and two development engines that are being used as “workhorse” engines for testing. These engines have been used to test new controllers – the brains of the engine – which have now been installed on the flight engines. The flight engines will be attached to the core stage to prepare for green run testing – the final test for the four flight engines and the core stage that will occur before the first mission.

“NASA has transformed these phenomenal engines that served so well in the past for a new bold mission -- the first integrated launch of SLS and Orion,” said Steve Wofford, the SLS liquid engines manager at Marshall. “For engines needed beyond the first four flights, we are working with our industry partner Aerojet Rockedyne to streamline manufacturing and make future engines more affordable.”

In addition, NASA is investing in new RS-25 engines for future launches built with modern manufacturing techniques. Aerojet Rocketdyne has restarted RS-25 production and the agency has ordered six new RS-25 engines built to be expendable and more affordable to produce for future deep space exploration missions.

Core Stage: The Center of Attention

The welding completion on the liquid hydrogen tank for SLS marked the last of five parts to be built for the rocket's core stage. When it is assembled, the core stage will stand taller than a 20-story building and hold more than 700,000 gallons of propellant. The core stage is made up of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks; the engine section where the RS-25 engines will be housed; and the intertank and the forward skirt.

"To make these massive propellant tanks, NASA and our industry partner Boeing have used the largest robotic rocket welding tool to build the thickest pieces ever welded with self-reacting friction stir welding,” said Steve Doering, SLS stages manager at Marshall. "Now, we are moving from manufacturing major structures for the core stage to outfitting them to do their jobs and make the rocket fly.”

The liquid oxygen flight tank recently completed the first hydrostatic test for an SLS tank. The weld strength was tested by filling the tank with 200,000 gallons of water and subjecting it to pressures and forces similar to those it will experience during flight. The liquid hydrogen tank will soon undergo proof testing using gaseous nitrogen. The core stage pathfinder recently arrived at Michoud, and it will be used to help develop and verify handling and transportation procedures before these processes are used on the valuable flight hardware.

“This rocket is happening now,” said Honeycutt. “The Space Launch System team has made great progress and has an exciting year ahead as NASA conducts crucial structural tests at Marshall, assembles the core stage and the four RS-25 engines at Michoud and delivers more hardware to the launch pad at Kennedy.”

Source: NASA.Gov


The full-scale steel mock-up of the SLS core stage booster arrives at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC / Michoud - Jude Guidry

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Photos of the Day: SLS Engines for Exploration Mission-2 Continue to Undergo Testing in Mississippi...

The Space Launch System's (SLS) flight engine E2063 is about to be installed onto the A-1 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on September 27, 2017.

‘Two For the Show’ – NASA Installs 2nd RS-25 Flight Engine for Testing (News Release)

RS-25 flight engine E2063 is delivered and lifted into place onto the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center on Sept. 27 in preparation for an Oct. 19 hotfire test. Once tested and certified, the engine is scheduled to help power NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) on its Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which will be the first flight of the new rocket to carry humans. The hotfire test is planned during a public Founders Day Open House event at Stennis, giving thousands of visitors the chance to view a flight engine test in person.

The E2063 engine is the second SLS flight engine tested at Stennis. The E2059 engine was tested on the A-1 stand on March 10, 2016, also for use on the EM-2 flight. Stennis has been testing new flight engine controllers for use by engines on both the Exploration Mission-1 and EM-2 launches of the SLS rocket as well. It also will test the SLS core stage that will fly on the EM-1 mission. The SLS is being built to carry humans to deep-space destinations, including Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov


SLS flight engine E2063 is about to be installed onto the A-1 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on September 27, 2017.

Monday, October 2, 2017

ISS Update: The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module May Stay At The Orbital Outpost A Bit Longer...

Four photos showing BEAM in various stages of expansion as the module successfully deployed aboard the International Space Station...on May 28, 2016.

NASA May Extend BEAM’s Time on the International Space Station (News Release)

NASA is exploring options with Bigelow Aerospace to extend the life of the privately owned Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Known as BEAM, the module is attached to the International Space Station and continues to perform well during its technology demonstration mission. NASA has issued a synopsis of an intended contract action to partner with Bigelow Aerospace to extend the life of the expandable habitat and use it for long-term in-orbit storage. This step continues NASA’s commitment to expand private-public partnerships, scientific research and commercial applications aboard station to maximize the benefits from humanity’s premiere laboratory in microgravity.

NASA’s use of BEAM as part of a human-rated system will allow Bigelow Aerospace to demonstrate its technology for future commercial applications in low-Earth Orbit. Initial studies have shown that soft materials can perform as well as rigid materials for habitation volumes in space and that BEAM has performed as designed in resistance to space debris.

BEAM launched on the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission in 2016. After being attached to the Tranquility Node using the station’s robotic Canadarm2, it was filled with air to expand it for a two-year test period to validate overall performance and capability of expandable habitats. Since the initial expansion, a suite of sensors installed by the crew automatically take measurements and monitor BEAM’s performance to help inform designs for future habitat systems. Learning how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids and orbital debris will provide information to address key concerns about living in the harsh environment of space. This extension activity will deepen NASA’s understanding of expandable space systems by making the BEAM a more operational element of the space station to be actively used in storage and crew operations.

Space station crew members have entered BEAM 13 times since its expansion in May 2016. The crew has conducted radiation shielding experiments, installed passive radiation badges called Radiation Area Monitors, and they routinely collect microbial air and surface samples. These badges and samples are returned to Earth for standard microbial and radiation analysis at the Johnson Space Center.

The original plan called for engineers to robotically jettison BEAM from the space station following the two-year test and validation period, allowing it to burn up during its descent through Earth’s atmosphere. However, after almost a year and a half into the demonstration with positive performance, NASA now intends to continue supporting BEAM for stowage use and to allow Bigelow Aerospace to use the module as a test-bed for new technology demonstrations. A new contract would likely begin later this year, overlapping the original planned test period, for a minimum of three years, with two options to extend for one additional year. At the end of the new contract, the agency may consider further life extension or could again consider jettisoning BEAM from the station.

Using the space inside BEAM would allow NASA to hold between 109 to 130 Cargo Transfer Bags of in-orbit stowage, and long-term use of BEAM would enable NASA to gather additional performance data on the module’s structural integrity, thermal stability and resistance to space debris, radiation and microbial growth to help NASA advance and learn about expandable space habitat technology in low-Earth orbit for application toward future human exploration missions. Given that the volume of each Cargo Transfer Bag is about 1.87 cubic feet (0.53 cubic meters), use of BEAM for stowage will free an equivalent space of about 3.7 to 4.4 International Standard Payload Racks, enabling more space in the ISS for research.

With an extension of the partnership, Bigelow also would be able to continue to demonstrate its technology for future commercial applications in low-Earth orbit. The public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow supports NASA’s objective to develop deep space habitation capabilities for human missions beyond Earth orbit while fostering commercial capabilities for non-government applications to stimulate the growth of the space economy.

Source: NASA.Gov


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Images of the Day: SpaceX Reveals Its Updated Mars Vehicle...

An artist's concept of SpaceX's Big F(reakin') Rocket, or BFR, launching from the surface of Mars.

Yesterday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his revised plan to begin building a new rocket and spacecraft next year that could lead to human landings on Mars by 2024. This rocket—which was initially called the Interplanetary Transport System but is better known by its colorful nickname BFR [for Big F(reakin') Rocket]—would still be designed to carry 100 people during a single launch into space...

All I can say this, Musk is a very optimistic visionary if he thinks that the chances of another Challenger or Columbia tragedy taking place drops to zero by the time the BFR becomes operational. Anyways, here are some neat illustrations of the BFR in operation...

An artist's concept of SpaceX's BFR docked to the International Space Station.

An artist's concept of SpaceX's BFR releasing payload into low-Earth orbit.

An artist's concept of SpaceX's BFR on the surface of the Moon.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lockheed Martin Unveils Its Plans for the Red Planet...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching Lockheed Martin's Mars Base Camp above the Red Planet.
Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Reveals New Details to its Mars Base Camp Vision (Press Release - September 28)

Lockheed Martin's Mars Base Camp concept shows how to send humanity to Mars in about a decade.

DENVER, Sept. 28, 2017 -- Today, at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, Lockheed Martin experts are revealing new details of its Mars Base Camp concept including how it aligns with NASA's lunar Deep Space Gateway and a Mars surface lander.

Mars Base Camp is a vision of how to send humans to Mars in about a decade. It's a sound, safe and compelling mission architecture centered around an orbital outpost where scientist-astronauts can perform unprecedented, real-time scientific exploration of the Red Planet.

"Sending humans to Mars has always been a part of science fiction, but today we have the capability to make it a reality," said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin. "Partnered with NASA, our vision leverages hardware currently in development and production. We're proud to have Orion powered-on and completing testing in preparation for its Exploration Mission-1 flight and eventually its journey to Mars."

Mars Base Camp is aligned with NASA's recently-announced lunar Deep Space Gateway approach for developing and testing systems, including Orion, in cis-lunar space before using them to go to Mars. The Gateway allows astronauts to live and work in orbit around the Moon for months at a time while gaining experience with extended operations far from Earth.

On the Gateway, they can perform lunar science and test out systems and operations such as habitats, airlocks, solar electric propulsion, surface telerobotics and even landers. Mars Base Camp would ultimately be built up at the Deep Space Gateway, away from Earth's gravity, before being deployed to Mars.

Mars Base Camp's first mission is intended to be an orbiting mission around the Red Planet. Following this, the architecture allows for a surface lander. The concept is designed to be a reusable, single-stage lander capable of descending to the surface from Mars orbit. Each surface mission could last two weeks with up to four astronauts, and then return to the orbiting Mars Base Camp where it would be refueled and readied for another mission.

Source: Lockheed Martin


An artist's concept of Lockheed Martin's Mars Base Camp orbiting the Red Planet.
Lockheed Martin

An artist's concept of the Mars Base Camp Excursion Module flying past one of the Red Planet's two moons.
Lockheed Martin

An artist's concept of the Excursion Module about to dock with Lockheed Martin's Mars Base Camp above the Red Planet.
Lockheed Martin

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Space Launch System's Full-Size Core Stage Mock-up Arrives in Louisiana...

The full-size mock-up of the Space Launch System's core stage is about to arrive at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana...on September 27, 2017.
NASA / MSFC / MAF / Steven Seipel

SLS Core Stage Pathfinder Arrives At NASA Michoud (News Release)

The Space Launch System (SLS) core stage pathfinder, which is similar in size, shape and weight to the 212-foot-tall core stage, arrived at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility early in the morning on September 27, 2017. To reduce the risk of first-time operations with one-of-a-kind spaceflight hardware for SLS, the agency built a core stage pathfinder.

Like SLS, the core stage pathfinder will be doing something that's never been done -- testing new shipping and handling equipment and procedures from the manufacturing site to the test site to the launch site.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Back in the Day: Endeavour's Aerial Tour of the Golden State...

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, on September 21, 2012.
REUTERS / Patrick Fallon

Just thought I'd re-post these amazing photos that were taken as Endeavour passed over various iconic locales of California prior to arriving in Los Angeles five years ago today. From the Golden Gate Bridge in the Bay Area to the Hollywood Sign, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the battleship USS Iowa and Angel Stadium of Anaheim in SoCal, the pilots flying NASA 905 (a modified Boeing 747) that ferried Endeavour made sure that people living in different parts of the California coastline had the opportunity to spot NASA's youngest retired space shuttle orbiter in the sky one last time. The pilots did not disappoint. Well— Except those who were down in San Diego that day... Sorry.

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on September 21, 2012.
NASA / Carla Thomas

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena on September 21, 2012.

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Honda Center and Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Orange County, on September 21, 2012.
NASA / Jim Ross

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Queen Mary in Long Beach on September 21, 2012.
Matthew Brucker -

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the battleship USS Iowa in San Pedro on September 21, 2012.
NASA / Jim Ross

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the California Science Center on September 21, 2012.
NASA / Jim Ross

Endeavour and NASA 905 fly over the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) prior to touching down at LAX on September 21, 2012.
NASA / Scott Andrews

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Soyuz Capsule Returns to Earth with Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Aboard...

A Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer, as well as Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin fires its retrorockets as it prepares to touch down in Kazakhstan...on September 3, 2017 (Kazakh Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Three International Space Station Crewmates Safely Return to Earth (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who set multiple U.S. space records during her mission aboard the International Space Station, along with crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, safely landed on Earth at 9:21 p.m. EDT Saturday (7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sunday, Sept. 3), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

While living and working aboard the world’s only orbiting laboratory, Whitson and Fischer contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, welcomed several cargo spacecraft delivering tons of supplies and research experiments, and conducted a combined six spacewalks to perform maintenance and upgrades to the station.

Among their scientific exploits, Whitson and Fischer supported research into the physical changes to astronaut’s eyes caused by prolonged exposure to a microgravity environment. They also conducted a new lung tissue study that explored how stem cells work in the unique microgravity environment of the space station, which may pave the way for future stem cell research in space.

Additional research included an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment, and the study of plant physiology and growth in space using an advanced plant habitat. NASA also attached the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation (ISS CREAM) on the outside of the space station in August, which is now observing cosmic rays coming from across the galaxy.

The crew members received a total of seven cargo deliveries during their mission. A Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle launched to the space station in December 2016 delivering new lithium-ion batteries that were installed using a combination of robotics and spacewalks. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at the station in April on the company's seventh commercial resupply mission. Three SpaceX Dragon spacecraft completed commercial resupply missions to the station in February, June and August. And, Russian ISS Progress cargo spacecraft docked to the station in February and June.

Whitson’s return marks the completion of a 288-day mission that began last November and spanned 122.2 million miles and 4,623 orbits of the Earth – her third long-duration mission on the station. During her latest mission, Whitson performed four spacewalks, bringing her career total to 10. With a total of 665 days in space, Whitson holds the U.S. record and places eighth on the all-time space endurance list.

Fischer, who launched in April, completed 136 days in space, during which he conducted the first and second spacewalks of his career. Yurchikhin, who launched with Fischer, now has a total of 673 days in space, putting him seventh place on the all-time endurance list.

Expedition 53 continues operating the station, with Randy Bresnik of NASA in command, and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) serving as flight engineers. The three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos. Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin are scheduled to launch Sept. 12 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.


Friday, September 1, 2017

EM-1 Update: The First Fuel Tank for the Space Launch System's Core Stage Booster Is Complete...

The liquid oxygen tank for the Space Launch System's core stage booster is completed at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / MSFC / Michoud / Jude Guidry

NASA Completes Welding of Liquid Oxygen Tank for First SLS Flight (News Release)

NASA is another step closer to completing all main structures for the agency’s first launch of the Space Launch System deep space rocket. The liquid oxygen flight tank was recently built in the Vertical Assembly Center robotic welder at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

After the liquid oxygen tank was inspected, it was moved to another area for plug welding to fill the holes left by the friction stir welding process. Five major parts -- the engine section, liquid hydrogen tank, intertank, liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt –will be connected together to form the 212-foot-tall core stage, the backbone of the SLS rocket.

Boeing, the prime contractor for the core stage, is welding the liquid hydrogen tank structure--the final major core stage structure to be built for the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. The liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks will hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to power the stage's four RS-25 engines that together produce more than 2 million pounds of thrust.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Photos of the Day #2: The Full-Size SLS Core Stage Mock-up Is Ready to Help NASA Prepare to Handle the Real Thing...

Radiance Technologies, Dynetics and G&G Steel personnel attend a ceremony marking the completion of the Space Launch System's core stage pathfinder.

SLS Core Stage Simulator Will Pave Way for Mission Success (News Release)

To reduce the risk of first-time operations with one-of-a-kind spaceflight hardware for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the agency built a core stage pathfinder similar in size, shape and weight to the 212-foot-tall core stage. Like SLS, the core stage pathfinder will be doing something that's never been done -- testing new shipping and handling equipment and procedures from the manufacturing site to the test site to the launch site.

Three companies helped build the pathfinder, joining more than 1,000 other American businesses that have contributed to building NASA’s deep-space rocket. Alabama companies Radiance Technologies and Dynetics of Huntsville and G&G Steel of Russellville worked to build and assemble the core stage pathfinder.

The steel simulator will travel by commercial barge from G&G Steel's Cordova factory to NASA's rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Later, it will make its way on NASA’s barge Pegasus to the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis in Mississippi, and then to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In all these NASA facilities, the core stage pathfinder will help technicians practice critical operations for handling and transporting flight hardware and enable them to fit check the hardware before the actual core stage arrives at their facilities.

Source: NASA.Gov


Radiance Technologies, Dynetics and G&G Steel personnel pose for a group photo in front of the Space Launch System's core stage pathfinder.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Photo of the Day: The First Component of the SLS Core Stage Booster Is Ready To Undergo Final Touch-ups...

The Space Launch System's launch vehicle stage adapter is ready for thermal insulation after completing assembly at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
NASA / MSFC / Tyler Martin

NASA's Space Launch System Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter Ready for Thermal Insulation Application (News Release)

The largest piece of hardware for NASA's Space Launch System built at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is ready for thermal insulation. Manufacturing is complete on the launch vehicle stage adapter, and it has been moved to NASA’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing for the application of the spray-on foam insulation that will surround it during its ride to space. Not only is the LVSA the largest segment of the rocket built at Marshall, measuring 27.6 feet in diameter and 30 feet tall, it is also the largest piece of flight hardware to have insulation applied at Marshall by hand.

The LVSA connects two major sections of the upper part of SLS -- the core stage and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage -- for the first flight of the rocket and NASA's Orion spacecraft. Insulation is applied to segments of rocket hardware to protect them from aerodynamic heating. When the insulation is applied, the coating will appear yellow, but as the insulation is exposed to the sun, it will turn orange. Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, is the prime contractor for the adapter.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey: Mission Control Is In Lockdown...

An aerial view of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center Closes Through Labor Day for Tropical Storm Harvey (Press Release)

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will remain closed to all but mission essential personnel through Labor Day due to the effects of now-Tropical Storm Harvey. The center originally closed Aug. 25 and will reopen Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The center’s leadership team continues to closely monitor weather conditions and the overall situation in Houston, and is preparing a full assessment of the center’s status once the storm abates.

“Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and all our fellow Houstonians," said Johnson Director Ellen Ochoa. “We’re taking these measures to ensure the members of our team and their families can take care of themselves and their neighbors.”

The closing allows employees to avoid treacherous road conditions, and to attend to the needs of their families. It also allows the center to focus on the highest priority mission activities, including the landing of three International Space Station crew members this weekend in Kazakhstan.

Flight control for the International Space Station continues in Johnson’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Mission control is expected to remain in operation throughout this period.

All backup systems required to maintain the James Webb Space Telescope, which is at Johnson for testing, were checked prior to the arrival of the storm, and are ready for use, if necessary.

Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for Johnson, has announced it will extend its closure through Friday, Sept. 1. The visitor center’s leadership is monitoring conditions and will announce Saturday’s operating hours on Friday.


Tropical Storm Harvey as seen from aboard the International Space Station.
NASA / Randy Bresnik

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

EM-1 Update: The Orion Capsule Comes to Life...

The Orion capsule that will fly on 2019's Exploration Mission-1 is powered up for the first time inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Leif Heimbold

Lockheed Martin Powers-up Next Orion Spacecraft for First Time (Press Release)

Brain and Heart Brought to Life on NASA's Deep Space Exploration Ship

DENVER, Aug. 22, 2017 -- Engineers at Lockheed Martin and NASA breathed life into the next Orion crew module when they powered up the spacecraft for the first time at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Designed for human spaceflight, this Orion will be the first to fly more than 40,000 miles beyond the Moon during its nearly three-week Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), a feat that hasn't been possible before.

"Orion was designed from the beginning to take humanity farther into space than we've ever gone, and to do this, its systems have to be very robust and reliable," said Mike Hawes, vice president and Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin. "Over the last year, we've built great momentum in assembling the crew module for EM-1. Everyone on the team understands how crucial this test campaign is, and more importantly, what this spacecraft and mission means to our country and future human space flight."

The initial power-on event was the first time the vehicle management computers and the power and data units were installed on the crew module, loaded with flight software and tested. Evaluating these core systems, thought of as the "brain and heart" of the Orion capsule, is the first step in testing all of the crew module subsystems.

Although astronauts will not fly in this capsule on this flight, a large majority of the subsystems and avionics are the same design that astronauts will rely on during following missions with Orion into the solar system. Launching on NASA's Space Launch System—the most powerful rocket in the world—the EM-1 flight is critical to confirming the Orion spacecraft and all of its interdependent systems operate as designed in the unforgiving environment of deep space.

With the successful initial power on behind them, engineers and technicians will now continue integrating the 55 components that make up the spacecraft avionics suite, connecting them with nearly 400 harnesses. Over the course of the next two to three months, as each system is installed, they will perform thorough functional tests to ensure Orion is ready to move to the all-important environmental testing phase.

NASA's Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle is the world's first human-rated spacecraft designed for long-duration, deep space exploration. Orion will transport humans to interplanetary destinations beyond low Earth orbit, including the Moon and eventually Mars. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to NASA for Orion, and is responsible for the design, build, testing, launch processing and mission operations of the spacecraft. Orion is managed out of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Source: Lockheed Martin


An artist's concept of the Orion capsule soaring above the Earth.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Picture of the Day: The ISS Photobombs the Great American Eclipse...

Earlier today, NASA released this amazing composite image showing the International Space Station (ISS) crossing the Sun's disk during this morning's solar eclipse. It is absolutely amazing that photographers are able to take a picture of an artificial satellite passing in front of our parent star and Earth's natural satellite (the Moon) in such precise fashion. This is especially stunning considering the fact that the ISS is traveling at 17,500 mph above the Earth at all times...making it such a great challenge for any person on the ground who wants to take a snapshot of the station!

For photos that I myself took during today's highly-anticipated eclipse, visit my main Blog.

A composite image showing the International Space Station crossing the Sun's disk (below its equator) during the Great American Eclipse...on August 21, 2017.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

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 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.

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.


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.

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.

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


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.