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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.
NASA / MSFC

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

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

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 / JSC

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.

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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

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

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

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