Thursday, December 28, 2017
Emiliano C. Diaz de Leon
Earlier today, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket was rolled out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to undergo a fit check and additional testing at the pad. As shown above, Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster is now encapsulated inside the rocket's payload fairing. Falcon Heavy's static-fire test won't occur till next week (with its maiden flight still scheduled for late January), but it's great to see the launch vehicle vertical at its pad as it gears up to become the most powerful rocket in the world (for the next two years) once it finally soars beyond the Earth's atmosphere... Happy Thursday.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Yesterday, SpaceX revealed on social media that it is indeed launching a Tesla Roadster towards Mars via a Falcon Heavy rocket next month. The sleek, electric-powered sports coupe can be seen in these photos mounted to its second stage adapter...with the Falcon Heavy's two huge payload fairings ready to enshroud it. The rocket should undergo a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida before the end of this week. And sometime in January, Elon Musk's newest rocket will hopefully become the world's most powerful launch vehicle (before NASA's Space Launch System comes online in late 2019 or early 2020, that is) to take flight since a Saturn V sent Skylab to low-Earth orbit in 1973. Carry on.
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Friday, December 22, 2017
Bruce McCandless II, the NASA astronaut who conducted the first-ever untethered spacewalk during a shuttle mission in 1984, passed away yesterday at the age of 80. Along with being the subject of an iconic photo (taken from the orbiter Challenger during flight STS-41-B) showing him piloting a Manned Maneuvering Unit high above the Earth, McCandless was also part of the STS-31 crew that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope from shuttle Discovery in April of 1990. May this brave explorer rest in peace.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Earlier today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted these three images of the first Falcon Heavy rocket lying horizontal inside its processing facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The giant vehicle is set to be rolled out to Launch Pad 39A to undergo a static-fire test sometime before the end of this month—prior to embarking on its maiden flight into space sometime in January. It remains to be seen if Musk's Tesla Roadster will indeed be the first payload to fly on the Falcon Heavy next month... Stay tuned.
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Monday, December 18, 2017
The Last Jedi to Appear Aboard International Space Station (News Release - December 15)
So who is The Last Jedi? Is it Luke Skywalker? Is it Rey? Other theories? Crew members currently aboard the International Space Station won’t have to wait until they return to Earth to find out. Just as Disney did two years ago for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the company is sending Episode VIII to space for astronauts to watch in orbit.
Disney will uplink the film to the space station through mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Expedition 54 crew members, including NASA astronauts Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei, and soon Scott Tingle, look forward to watching the science fiction saga at their leisure while they’re living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory that will enable human and robotic exploration of galaxies far, far away.
Eager to bring in the next crop of Padawans, NASA recently selected its newest class of astronaut candidates as the next generation of American space explorers. Twelve elite men and women with backgrounds ranging from aeronautics to geology and nuclear engineering were hand-picked from more than 18,300 applicants. They will train for two years at NASA Johnson before they become full-fledged astronauts.
Speaking of astronauts, NASA’s record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth in September. Like General Leia and Rey, the Force is strong with Peggy – she is the first female to command the station (twice now). Among her accomplishments after three long-duration stays in space, she holds the U.S. record for time in space with 665 days, and places eighth on the all-time space endurance list.
As NASA works to extend human presence farther into the solar system, understanding how the human body reacts to microgravity is a focal point among the hundreds of experiments conducted on station annually. Some of the research on the next cargo resupply flight could rival the healing powers of bacta, including a new synthetic material to accelerate bone repair, and another to combat muscle atrophy.
While Star Wars often relies on the wisdom of ancient aliens like Yoda and Maz, NASA is building on the James Webb Space Telescope to study the history of our universe. Using the agency’s Kepler spacecraft, NASA is able to survey the “outer rim” of the Milky Way to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets. Of course, we need the ability to communicate in the solar system, and NASA’s Deep Space Network is bigger and better than the HoloNet system used by the Galactic Republic.
Somewhere in the Star Wars galaxy there are likely plans to build a new rebel outpost. NASA’s concept for a deep space gateway would be the agency’s first crew-tended spaceport near the Moon. A sustainable crew presence in deep space will take the best of the Resistance, so NASA is studying this concept with U.S. industry and our space station partners.
A power and propulsion element would be the first element of the gateway staged near the Moon, and it would leverage advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP) technology. Whereas the First Order developed a superweapon to harvest a star’s energy for evil, NASA would use the Sun’s energy to extend the length and capabilities of ambitious new science and human exploration missions. NASA would launch additional elements for a deep space spaceport (including a habitat and logistics modules) on the early crewed missions of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Once the gateway is assembled in space, NASA’s deep space transport concept could become the agency’s Millennium Falcon.
And while interstellar travelers today only bear resemblance to the flagship of the Rebel fleet, NASA is hard at work pushing the boundaries of human exploration. Perhaps one day scavengers on Saturn will find remnants of the Cassini spacecraft, or humans will look fondly back on Earth from a planet like Jakku.
Disney / Lucasfilm
Sunday, December 17, 2017
NASA / Joel Kowsky
Three New Crew Members on Voyage to International Space Station (Press Release)
Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Japan are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:21 a.m. EST Sunday (1:21 p.m. Baikonur time).
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA’s Scott Tingle, Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is scheduled to dock to the space station’s Rassvet module at 3:43 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19. Coverage of docking will begin at 3 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website, followed at 5 a.m. by coverage of the opening of hatches between the spacecraft and station.
The arrival of Tingle, Shkaplerov and Kanai will restore the station's crew complement to six. They will join Expedition 54 Commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and his crewmates, Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA. The crew members will spend more than four months conducting approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin are scheduled to remain aboard the station until February 2018, and Tingle, Shkaplerov and Kanai are scheduled to return to Earth in April.
This crew continues the long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment from three to four, allowing NASA to maximize time dedicated to research on the space station. Highlights of upcoming investigations include demonstrating the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment, a new study looking at structures that are vital to the design of advanced optical materials and electronic devices and examining a drug compound and drug delivery system designed to combat muscular breakdown in space or during other prolonged periods of disuse, such as extended bed rest on Earth.
For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Orion Parachute Tests Prove Out Complex System for Human Deep Space Missions (News Release - December 15)
When NASA’s Orion spacecraft hurtles toward Earth’s surface during its return from deep-space missions, the capsule’s system of 11 parachutes will assemble itself in the air and slow the spacecraft from 300 mph to a relatively gentle 20 mph for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean in the span of about 10 minutes. As the astronauts inside descend toward the water on future missions, their lives will be hanging by a series of threads that have been thoroughly ruggedized, tested and validated to ensure the parachute-assisted end of Orion missions are a success. Through a series of tests in the Arizona desert, the engineers refining Orion’s parachutes have made the road to certifying them for flights with astronauts look easy, including a successful qualification test Dec. 15 that evaluated a failure case in which only two of the systems three orange and white main parachutes deploy after several other parachutes in the system used to slow and stabilize Orion endure high aerodynamic stresses. But behind the scenes, engineers are working hard to understand and perfect the system that must be able to work across a broad range of potential environmental conditions and bring the crew home.
While Orion’s parachutes may look similar to those used during the Apollo-era to the untrained eye, engineers can’t simply take that parachute system and scale it up to accommodate Orion’s much larger size. Through testing and analysis, technicians have developed Orion’s parachutes to be lighter, better understood and more capable than Apollo’s. NASA has also been able to adjust the system as elements of the spacecraft, such as attachment points, have matured.
“Through our testing, we’ve addressed some known failures that can happen in complex parachute systems to make the system more reliable,” said Koki Machin, chief engineer for the system. “We built upon the strong foundation laid by Apollo engineers and figured out how to manage the stresses on the system during deployment more efficiently, decrease the mass of the parachutes by using high tech fabric materials rather than metal cables for the risers that attach the parachute to the spacecraft, and improve how we pack the parachute into Orion so they deploy more reliably.”
Orion’s parachute system is also incredibly complex. About 10 miles of Kevlar lines attach the spacecraft to the outer rim of nearly 12,000 square feet of parachute canopy material – over four times the average square footage of a house – and must not get tangled during deployment. In addition to the fabric parachutes themselves, there are cannon-like mortars that fire to release different parachutes. Embedded in several parachutes are fuses set to burn at specific times that ignite charges to push blades through bullet proof materials at precise moments, slowly unfurling the parachutes to continue the sequential phases of the deployment sequence. All of these elements must be developed to be reliable for the various angles, wind conditions and speeds in which Orion could land.
With the analysis capabilities that exist today and the historical data available, engineers have determined that approximately 20-25 tests, rather than the more than 100 performed during the Apollo era, will give them enough opportunities to find areas of weakness in Orion’s parachute system and fix them. After the three remaining final tests next year, the system will be qualified for missions with astronauts.
“There are things we can model with computers and those we can’t. We have to verify the latter through repeated system tests by dropping a test article out of a military aircraft from miles in altitude and pushing the parachutes to their various limits,” said CJ Johnson, project manager for the parachute system. “Lots of subtle changes can affect parachute performance and the testing we do helps us account for the broad range of possible environments the parachutes will have to operate in.”
Orion parachute engineers have also provided data and insight from the tests to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners. NASA has matured computer modeling of how the system works in various scenarios and helped partner companies understand certain elements of parachute systems, such as seams and joints, for example. In some cases, NASA’s work has provided enough information for the partners to reduce the need for some developmental parachute tests.
“Orion’s parachute system is an extremely lightweight, delicate collection of pieces that absolutely must act together simultaneously or it will fail,” said Machin. “It alone, among all the equipment on the crew module, must assemble itself in mid-air at a variety of possible velocities and orientations.”
Parachute testing is just one part of the vast expanse of work being performed across the country that enable humans to venture farther into space than ever before.
Friday, December 15, 2017
ISS Update #2: A Previously-Flown Falcon 9 Rocket Launches a Reused Dragon Capsule Loaded with New Supplies to the Space Station...
NASA Sends New Research to Space Station Aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)
An experiment in space manufacturing and an enhanced study of solar energy are among the research currently heading to the International Space Station following Friday’s launch of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at 10:36 a.m. EST.
Dragon lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 4,800 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.
NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 17. Installation coverage is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.
Research materials flying inside Dragon's pressurized area include an investigation demonstrating the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. Designed by the company Made in Space, and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the investigation will attempt to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass. Results from this investigation could lead to the production of higher-quality fiber optic products for use in space and on Earth.
NASA's Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS-1, will measure the Sun's energy input to Earth. TSIS-1 measurements will be three times more accurate than previous capabilities, enabling scientists to study the Sun’s natural influence on Earth’s ozone, atmospheric circulation, clouds and ecosystems. These observations are essential for a scientific understanding of the effects of solar variability on the Earth system.
The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years. Once mounted on the exterior of the station, this one-square-meter sensor will provide near-real-time debris impact detection and recording. Research from this investigation could help lower the risks posed by orbital debris to human life and critical hardware.
This is SpaceX’s 13th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in January 2018 and return to Earth with more than 3,600 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.
For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
NASA / Bill Ingalls
NASA Astronaut Bresnik and Crewmates Return to Earth From Space Station (Press Release)
Three crew members who have been living and working aboard the International Space Station returned to Earth on Thursday, landing in Kazakhstan after opening a new chapter in the scientific capability of humanity’s premier microgravity laboratory.
Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos landed at 3:37 a.m. EST (2:37 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
Together, the Expedition 53 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, as well as Earth and other physical sciences aboard the orbiting laboratory. Their time aboard marked the first long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment of the International Space Station from three to four, allowing NASA to maximize time dedicated to research on the station.
Highlights from the research conducted while they were aboard include investigations of microgravity’s effect on the antibiotic resistance of E. coli, a bacterial pathogen responsible for urinary tract infection in humans and animals; growing larger versions of an important protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease; and delivering a new instrument to address fundamental science questions on the origins and history of cosmic rays.
The trio also welcomed three cargo spacecraft delivering several tons of supplies and research experiments. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at station in November as the company's eighth commercial resupply mission. One Russian ISS Progress cargo craft docked to the station in October. And a SpaceX Dragon completed its commercial resupply mission to station in August, the company’s twelfth resupply mission.
During his time on the orbital complex, Bresnik ventured outside the confines of the space station for three spacewalks. Along with NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, Bresnik lead a trio of spacewalks to replace one of two latching end effectors on the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2. They also spent time lubricating the newly replaced Canadarm2 end effector and replacing cameras on the left side of the station’s truss and the right side of the station’s U.S. Destiny laboratory.
Ryazanskiy conducted one spacewalk with fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin in August to deploy several nanosatellites, collect research samples, and perform structural maintenance.
The Expedition 54 crew continues operating the station, with Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos in command. Along with crewmates Mark Vende Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), are scheduled to launch Sunday, Dec. 17 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. NASA Television will broadcast the launch and docking.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Nozzle Assemblies Complete for Exploration Mission-1 Solid Rocket Boosters (News Release)
Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster prime contractor Orbital ATK recently completed work at its Utah facilities on the booster nozzles for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. SLS, the world’s most powerful rocket, and Orion will take humans on deep space missions, and the boosters provide most of the power to get the spacecraft off the ground. The powerhouse SLS five-segment solid rocket boosters are the largest ever built for flight and will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust during the first two minutes of spaceflight.
Here, technicians are putting the finishing touches on the exit cones’ paint, including photogrammetric markings that will help engineers assess clearances between the boosters and ground structures during the initial moments after liftoff. At Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the integration phase of the program, the exit cones will be mated with the rest of the nozzle assemblies, which are also complete. During spaceflight, the booster nozzles direct the expanding gases from the burning solid propellant downward, helping the heavy-lift vehicle escape Earth’s gravity and send Orion to lunar orbit.