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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