Tuesday, September 18, 2018

EM-1 Update: Europe's Contribution to Orion's 2020 Space Mission Achieves a Major Milestone...

Engineers are about to install the last radiator panel onto the Orion EM-1 service module at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany...in September of 2018.
ESA – A. Conigli

Orion’s First Service Module Integration Complete (News Release)

Last week at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, technicians installed the last radiator on the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft marking the module’s finished integration.

ESA’s European service module will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA’s Orion exploration spacecraft that will eventually fly beyond the Moon with astronauts. The European Service Module is now complete for Orion’s first mission that will do a lunar flyby without astronauts to demonstrate the spacecraft’s capabilities.

Much like closing the bonnet on a car, with the radiators in place technicians can no longer access the internals of the European service module, symbolically ending the assembly and integration of the module that will fly further into our Solar System than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever flown before.

Technicians worked 24 hours a day in three shifts to complete the service module’s assembly which is now going through the last stages of its extensive testing. Engineers will put the module through its paces with functional tests that include checking the newly installed radiators and testing the propulsion system with its intricate pipelines that deliver fuel and oxidiser to the spacecraft’s 33 engines.

Once complete the service module will be packed and flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. Orion’s solar wings will be shipped separately, also from Bremen. In the USA the module will be stacked together with NASA’s Crew Module Adaptor and Crew Module, the first time the complete spacecraft will be on display.

More tests await the Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Plum Brook facility where it will be put in the world’s largest vacuum chamber to simulate spaceflight as well as being subjected to acoustic tests to simulate the intense vibrations Orion will endure when launched on the world’s largest rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System.

Second Module Getting Ready

Meanwhile technicians in Bremen are not resting as work on the second European Service Module is already well under way. The structure is complete and over 11 km of cables are being meticulously placed in preparation for the computers and equipment that will keep astronauts alive and well for the second Orion mission called Exploration Mission-2.

Source: European Space Agency

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Wiring has begun on the Orion EM-2 service module at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany...in September of 2018.
ESA – A. Conigli

Monday, September 17, 2018

SpaceX Has Revealed Its First Passenger to Fly Aboard the Company's Big Falcon Rocket!

An artist's concept of SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) soaring into the sky.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

Just a few hours ago, SpaceX revealed to the world that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa will fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) no earlier than 2023. Maezawa, who was originally supposed to do a lunar flyby aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket later this year (Musk cancelled the flight after deciding that the Falcon Heavy won't be human-rated, and instead launch passengers aboard the BFR instead), bought all seats aboard the spaceship so 6 to 8 fellow artists can fly 404,000 miles [the maximum distance the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) will travel as it circumnavigates the Moon during the 2023 voyage] into space with him. The down payment that Maezawa put down is supposedly substantial enough to cover most of the developmental costs for the first BFS...while as a whole, the development program for BFR is expected to have a $5 billion price tag.

Yusaku Maezawa created a project known as #dearMoon, which is meant to inspire artists such as filmmakers, painters, photographers, architects and other creative individuals to join him on BFS' 4 to 5-day journey around the Moon. Totally inspiring!

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa is set to fly with 6 to 8 fellow artists toward the Moon aboard SpaceX's first BFR as early as 2023.
SpaceX

Another artist's concept of SpaceX's BFR soaring into the sky.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of SpaceX's Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) separating from the BFR above the Earth.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of a woman playing a viola while floating inside the cabin of the BFS above Earth.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

An artist's concept of the BFS doing a flyby of the Moon.
Elon Musk / SpaceX

A photo of a main cylinder section for the BFR.
SpaceX

A side-view infographic for the BFS.
SpaceX

A rear-view infographic for the BFS.
SpaceX

A side-view infographic for the BFR.
SpaceX

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Orion Update: The Capsule's Parachutes Are Now Qualified for Flight After Completing Their Final Drop Test Today...

The Orion test article is about to touch down on the desert floor after its three main parachutes successfully deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona...on September 12, 2018.
NASA

NASA Completes Orion Parachute Tests for Missions with Astronauts (News Release)

NASA has completed the final test to qualify Orion’s parachute system for flights with astronauts, checking off an important milestone on the path to send humans on missions to the Moon and beyond.

Over the course of eight tests at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, engineers have evaluated the performance of Orion’s parachute system during normal landing sequences as well as several failure scenarios and a variety of potential aerodynamic conditions to ensure astronauts can return safely from deep space missions.

“We’re working incredibly hard not only to make sure Orion’s ready to take our astronauts farther than we’ve been before, but to make sure they come home safely,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich. “The parachute system is complex, and evaluating the parachutes repeatedly through our test series gives us confidence that we’ll be ready for any kind of landing day situation.”

The system has 11 parachutes, a series of cannon-like mortars, pyrotechnic bolt cutters, and more than 30 miles of Kevlar lines attaching the top of the spacecraft to the 36,000 square feet of parachute canopy material. In about 10 minutes of descent through Earth’s atmosphere, everything must deploy in precise sequence to slow Orion and its crew from about 300 mph to a relatively gentle 20 mph for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The parachute system is the only system that must assemble itself in mid-air and must be able to keep the crew safe in several failure scenarios, such as mortar failures that prevent a single parachute type to deploy, or conditions that cause some of the parachute textile components to fail.

During the final test, which took place Sept. 12, a mock Orion was pulled out from the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft flying higher than 6.5 miles. The protective ring around the top of Orion that covers the parachute system was jettisoned and pulled away by the first set of Orion’s parachutes, then the remaining parachutes were deployed in precise sequence.

Additionally, Orion parachute engineers have also provided considerable insight and data to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners. The knowledge gained through the Orion program has enabled NASA to mature computer modeling of how the system works in various scenarios and help partner companies understand certain elements of parachute systems. In some cases, NASA’s work has provided enough information for the partners to reduce the need for some developmental parachute tests, and the associated expenses.

Orion will first fly with astronauts aboard during Exploration Mission-2, a mission that will venture near the Moon and farther from Earth than ever before, launching atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket—which will be the world’s most powerful rocket. The parachutes for Orion’s upcoming uncrewed flight test, Exploration Mission-1, already are installed on the vehicle at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Orion test article lies on the desert floor after its three main parachutes successfully deployed above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona...on September 12, 2018.
NASA

Monday, September 10, 2018

SLS Update: The Mobile Launcher Is Now Inside the VAB...

The Space Launch System's (SLS) Mobile Launcher is about to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

Two days ago, the Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket made its way into the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Florida's Kennedy Space Center after being situated at Launch Complex (LC)-39B for a week. According to online sources, the launcher will remain inside the VAB for seven months of testing before heading back out to LC-39B for another four months of tests. The launcher will then head back into the VAB to have the first SLS booster and Orion stacked on this platform for 2020's Exploration Mission (EM)-1. The Mobile Launcher and its 321-foot-tall rocket payload will then head back out to Pad 39B for a Wet Dress Rehearsal. The launcher will then return to the VAB before rolling back out to the pad one month before the SLS lifts off on EM-1 in June of 2020! Things are getting more exciting for human spaceflight by the day...

The SLS Mobile Launcher is about to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

The SLS Mobile Launcher prepares to enter the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

The SLS Mobile Launcher enters the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 8, 2018.
NASA

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Photos of the Day: The SLS Mobile Launcher Ventures Out to Pad 39B...

The Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket sits atop the platform at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39B...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

A few days ago, the 380-foot-tall Mobile Launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket made its way to Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. On Thursday, August 30, the Mobile Launcher began its trek from a park site near KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)...traveling at a leisurely speed of 1 MPH on the Crawlerway before it completed its 4.4-mile journey the following day (August 31). The Mobile Launcher is scheduled to stay at Pad 39B till September 7. It will then be rolled into the VAB for the first time to complete final tests and assembly for the remainder of 2018. And sometime next year, the launcher will be prepped as KSC engineers begin stacking the twin solid rocket boosters and core stage for the first SLS rocket onto the 11 million-pound platform. Late 2019 will be an exciting time for space enthusiasts as Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of SLS, starts taking shape prior to its inaugural launch in mid-2020! Stay tuned.

The SLS Mobile Launcher rolls past the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as it makes its way to LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 30, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

SpaceX's facilities at LC-39A are visible in the distance as the SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way to LC-39B (near the left side of this photo) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 30, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way toward LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way toward LC-39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

The SLS Mobile Launcher approaches the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

With the VAB visible in the background, the SLS Mobile Launcher makes its way up the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Cory Huston

The SLS Mobile Launcher sits atop the LC-39B platform at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 31, 2018.
NASA / Jamie Peer

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Image of the Day: A Great Way to Honor Apollo 11 on Its 50th Anniversary Next Year...

A composite image depicting SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules orbiting the Earth.
SpaceX / Boeing

So who else thinks that the first crewed flights of either SpaceX's Crew Dragon or Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules should launch on July 16 or July 20, 2019?

Just me? Nevermind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, Prepares for Orion's Next Flight...

Flight controllers inside Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, conduct a series of tests to ensure future compatibility with the Orion spacecraft's communications system.
NASA

Testing Verifies Communications for Orion Missions Beyond the Moon (News Release)

Engineers recently completed a series of tests of the Orion communications system to ensure the spacecraft and mission controllers in Houston can flawlessly communicate through NASA’s satellite networks in space and on the ground when Orion and its crew are far from Earth on missions to the Moon and beyond.

The most recent evaluations in the series, known as SpaceCom, took place in mid-August and involved testing between a lab at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver that replicates Orion’s computer, wiring and avionics systems configurations, and NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Spacecraft telemetry, files, commands and video were sent and received through the Deep Space Network (DSN) to and from mission control. The DSN is typically used for communications with deep space robotic spacecraft but has not been used for human spaceflight missions since the Space Shuttle Program.

The testing included communications during Exploration Mission-1 scenarios such as from the pre-launch countdown through the point at which Orion data is relayed through the DSN, operations in lunar orbit, handover between the DSN and the Space Network during Orion’s trajectory from the Moon back toward Earth, and post-splashdown operations. Previous testing as part of the SpaceCom series also verified communications through the Space Network satellites and Near Earth Network ground station at Cape Canaveral, and also included support from personnel at the Huntsville Operations Support Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to very they can receive data from the Space Launch System rocket. The testing also marked a busy time for communications tests for deep space human exploration missions – engineers at the SLS Engineering Support Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recently concluded voice tests to ensure teams across the country included flight controllers in Houston, launch controllers in Florida and engineer teams at several locations including in Huntsville can communicate by voice.

The testing was the final checkout of communications between Orion and NASA’s networks before testing with the vehicle for EM-1 is conducted in the fall at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

EM-2 Update: A Huge Milestone for the Orion Capsule That Will Fly Astronauts Towards the Moon...

The container holding the pressure vessel for the Orion EM-2 capsule is about to be moved into the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 24, 2018.
NASA / Christopher Swanson

Lockheed Martin Begins Final Assembly on NASA's Orion Spaceship That Will Take Astronauts Further Than Ever Before (Press Release)

Core of World's Only Exploration-Class Spaceship Delivered to Cape Canaveral

DENVER, Aug. 28, 2018 -- Technicians have completed construction on the spacecraft capsule structure that will return astronauts to the Moon, and have successfully shipped the capsule to Florida for final assembly into a full spacecraft. The capsule structure, or pressure vessel, for NASA's Orion Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) spacecraft was welded together over the last seven months by Lockheed Martin technicians and engineers at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans.

Orion is the world's only exploration-class spaceship, and the EM-2 mission will be its first flight with astronauts on board, taking them farther into the solar system than ever before.

"It's great to see the EM-2 capsule arrive just as we are completing the final assembly of the EM-1 crew module," said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion. "We've learned a lot building the previous pressure vessels and spacecraft and the EM-2 spacecraft will be the most capable, cost-effective and efficient one we've built."

Orion's pressure vessel is made from seven large, machined aluminum alloy pieces that are welded together to produce a strong, light-weight, air-tight capsule. It was designed specifically to withstand the harsh and demanding environment of deep space travel while keeping the crew safe and productive.

"We're all taking extra care with this build and assembly, knowing that this spaceship is going to take astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in four decades," said Matt Wallo, senior manager of Lockheed Martin Orion Production at Michoud. "It's amazing to think that, one day soon, the crew will watch the Sun rise over the lunar horizon through the windows of this pressure vessel. We're all humbled and proud to be doing our part for the future of exploration."

The capsule was shipped over the road from New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center, arriving on Friday, Aug. 24. Now in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Lockheed Martin technicians will immediately start assembly and integration on the EM-2 crew module.

Source: Lockheed Martin

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The container holding the pressure vessel for the Orion EM-2 capsule is moved into the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 24, 2018.
NASA / Christopher Swanson

Friday, August 17, 2018

SpaceX Update: Preparations for Crew Dragon's First Manned Flight to the Space Station Next Year Continue to Fall into Place...

An artist's concept of a Crew Dragon capsule about to dock with the International Space Station...with a berthed Dragon cargo freighter in the foreground.
SpaceX

NASA, SpaceX Agree on Plans for Crew Launch Day Operations (News Release)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX are finalizing plans for launch day operations as they prepare for the company’s first flight test with astronauts on board. The teams are working toward a crew test flight to the International Space Station, known as Demo-2, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in April 2019.

A key question the program and the company have been assessing is whether the astronauts will climb aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft before or after SpaceX fuels the Falcon 9 rocket. NASA has made the decision to move forward with SpaceX’s plan to fuel the rocket after the astronauts are in place. While the agreement makes this plan the baseline for operations, it is contingent upon NASA’s final certification of the operation.

“To make this decision, our teams conducted an extensive review of the SpaceX ground operations, launch vehicle design, escape systems and operational history,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Safety for our personnel was the driver for this analysis, and the team’s assessment was that this plan presents the least risk.”

Additional verification and demonstration activities, which include five crew loading demonstrations of the Falcon 9 Block 5, will be critical to final certification of this plan. These loading demonstrations will verify the flight crew configuration and crew loading timeline prior to Demo-2. After these conditions have been met, NASA will assess any remaining risk before determining that the system is certified to fly with crew.

If all goes according to plan, on launch day, the Falcon 9 composite overwrap pressure vessels, known as COPVs, will be loaded with helium and verified to be in a stable configuration prior to astronaut arrival at the launch pad. The astronauts then will board the spacecraft about two hours before launch, when the launch system is in a quiescent state. After the ground crews depart the launch pad, the launch escape systems will be activated approximately 38 minutes before liftoff, just before fueling begins. SpaceX launch controllers then will begin loading rocket grade kerosene and densified liquid oxygen approximately 35 minutes before launch. The countdown and launch preparations can be stopped automatically up to the last moment before launch. In the unlikely event of an emergency at any point up to and after launch, the launch escape systems will allow the astronauts to evacuate safely.

This timeline is consistent with the fueling procedures SpaceX uses for its commercial resupply missions and satellite launches.

The crew launches of NASA’s Commercial Crew partners SpaceX and Boeing will return the nation’s ability to launch our astronauts from the United States to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A group photo of the 9 astronauts who will fly aboard the first flights of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner capsules to the International Space Station as early as next year.
NASA

Thursday, August 16, 2018

EM-1 Update: NASA's Next Orion Capsule Has Moved One Step Closer to Flight...

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers install the Orion EM-1 spacecraft's heat shield...on July 25, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

On July 25, workers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida made tremendous progress on the march towards launching Exploration Mission (EM)-1 when Orion's heat shield was attached to the capsule. Re-designed from the heat shield that flew on Orion during Exploration Flight Test-1 almost four years ago, the silver, saucer-shaped component was connected to the Orion crew module using 68 bolts. The work was done inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the KSC Industrial Area.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers install the Orion EM-1 spacecraft's heat shield...on July 25, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Much progress is being made on Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will loft it towards the Moon on EM-1 in 2020...as well as the ground systems and launch infrastructure at KSC itself. The next two years will be a busy period for human spaceflight as astronauts resume lifting off from American soil aboard Boeing and SpaceX vehicles sometime in 2019, and the SLS will embark on its heralded mission from Cape Canaveral as well about a year later. If you're a space enthusiast like I am (you should be... Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this), you'd know that fun times lie ahead!

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers install the Orion EM-1 spacecraft's heat shield...on July 25, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Mars (upper-left) shines bright high above the Vehicle Assembly Building and the Space Launch System's (SLS) Mobile Launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on July 30, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

The Crew Access Arm on the SLS Mobile Launcher is tested at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 2, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

The Crew Access Arm on the SLS Mobile Launcher is tested at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 2, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Friday, August 3, 2018

NASA Has Selected 9 Astronauts to Fly on the First Flights of Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsules!

A group photo of the 9 astronauts who will fly aboard the first flights of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner capsules to the International Space Station as early as next year.
NASA

NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft (Press Release)

NASA introduced to the world on Friday the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.”

Starliner Test Flight Astronauts

Eric Boe was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta. He came to NASA from the Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot and rose to the rank of colonel. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and piloted space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.

Christopher Ferguson is a native of Philadelphia. He is a retired Navy captain, who piloted space shuttle Atlantis for STS-115, and commanded shuttle Endeavour on STS-126 and Atlantis for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-135. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral part of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner program.

Nicole Aunapu Mann is a California native and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Crew Dragon Test Flight Astronauts

Robert Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He has a doctorate in engineering and is a flight test engineer and colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours.

Douglas Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127 and Atlantis for STS-135, the final space shuttle mission.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.

Starliner First Mission Astronauts

Josh Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.

Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.

Crew Dragon First Mission Astronauts

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California. He is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft. He made 400 carrier landings and flew 24 combat missions. He was selected as part of the 2013 astronaut candidate class, and this will be his first spaceflight.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA’s international partners at a later date.

NASA’s continuous presence on the space station for almost 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences. This research has led to dramatic improvements in technology, infrastructure and medicine, and thousands of spinoff technologies that have improved quality of life here on Earth.

The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. The public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson gets suited up prior to taking part in an emergency egress system demonstration at the Atlas V launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 19, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, Suni Williams and Nicole Mann get suited up prior to taking part in an emergency egress system demonstration at the Atlas V launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 19, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Commercial crew astronauts take part in an emergency egress system demonstration at the Atlas V launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 19, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Commercial crew astronauts take part in an emergency egress system demonstration at the Atlas V launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 19, 2018.
NASA / Frank Michaux

Astronauts Chris Ferguson and Suni Williams take part in an emergency egress system demonstration at the Atlas V launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 19, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Launch Dates for Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon's Flight Tests Have Been Updated...

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule approaching the International Space Station.
Boeing

Flight Tests to Prove Commercial Systems Fit for Human Spaceflight (News Release)

The first test flights for new spacecraft designed by commercial companies in collaboration with NASA to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station from the United States are known as Demo-1 for SpaceX and Orbital Flight Test for Boeing.

NASA’s goal in collaborating with Boeing and SpaceX is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from station on the companies’ spacecraft. Both companies have matured their designs, are making significant progress through their extensive testing campaigns, and are headed toward flight tests to validate their systems.

An uncrewed flight test was not a NASA requirement for certifying these systems for human spaceflight. Boeing and SpaceX volunteered to perform these tests to demonstrate their systems are safe for crew.

“This was above and beyond the NASA requirement in the contract,” said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager at NASA Kennedy. “Both partners said they really wanted to have an uncrewed flight test to make sure the integrated rockets, spacecraft and re-entry systems are all working as designed to be able to ensure the integrated system is functioning.”

Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Tomorrow we will meet the astronauts who will be the first to fly the CST-100 Starliner. Our commitment has always been to provide NASA and those crews the highest level of mission assurance,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew effort. “We believe the earliest time we can confidently do that will be in mid-2019 after flying an uncrewed flight test late this year or early next year. I’m incredibly proud of the progress our team has made, and it has been inspiring to watch them work through challenges quickly, while developing a brand new human-rated spacecraft that Boeing, NASA and the nation can be proud of.”

SpaceX designed its Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX,” said Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX. “We look forward to launching Crew Dragon—designed to be one of the safest, most-advanced human spaceflight systems ever built—and returning human-spaceflight capabilities to the United States for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program retired in 2011. SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission and April 2019 for Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission, which will carry two NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.”

NASA is making crew assignments now for the Boeing Crew Flight Test and SpaceX Demo-2 to support flight training as we return to launching our astronauts from American soil. As a partner approaches its target readiness date, NASA will work with the company and the Eastern Range to identify launch dates within the busy International Space Station schedule to ensure science investigations, as well as logistics activities and critical operations continue while these new spacecraft are tested.

Many of the team members leading the unique public-private partnership believe the agency is on the cusp of something life changing with its Commercial Crew Program.

“I’m excited to be part of the future of space travel,” said Jon Cowart, acting deputy manager for the Commercial Crew Program’s Mission Management and Integration office at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “When we get to this point the companies will have tested every piece of the spacecraft individually, but there is so much more learning that occurs when the spacecraft is actually operated in space. The systems will be operated in the actual environment to test it and ensure it’s ready for crew.”

The hardware for these uncrewed missions is being prepared for launch. Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is being outfitted at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on the Kennedy and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V dual engine Centaur that will launch Starliner will be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in August to prepare for the upcoming flight. Separately, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-1 arrived to the Cape in July for final processing. Falcon 9’s first and second stages for the Demo-1 mission are targeted to ship from SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to the company’s rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas for additional testing in August.

Once the uncrewed flight tests are complete and the data reviews have validated the spacecraft systems, NASA astronauts will have their first opportunity to fly in the spacecraft. Crew for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test and SpaceX’s Demo-2 flights will each include at least a flight commander and pilot aboard to test out the systems.

These flight tests will have similar configurations to the uncrewed tests, but the crew will have the ability to interface with spacecraft displays, communicate with mission control, and practice manual controls during flight. Starliner and Crew Dragon will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before returning the crew safely home.

“The crew right now is actually working on integrated crew simulations on the flight systems,” said Lueders. “They are providing input to the partners to help ensure the interior of the cabin is appropriately located and set up so crew can function and conduct key activities. They’re verifying crew layout, doing simulations where they’re actually practicing their maneuvers, and also checking out the software and the display systems, and everything else for the crew to be functioning safely in the spacecraft.”

After successful completion of the flight tests with crew, NASA will review flight data to verify the systems meet the agency’s safety and performance certification requirements and are ready to begin regular servicing missions to the space station.

“I see parallels between commercial crew and the early aviation industry, when government nurtured that commercial innovation,” said Cowart. “In similar fashion, NASA is empowering private industry to gain solid footing in low-Earth orbit, which will allow NASA to explore new frontiers in deep space.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of a Crew Dragon capsule about to dock with the International Space Station...with a berthed Dragon cargo freighter in the foreground.
SpaceX

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

EM-1 Update: The Space Launch System's Forward Skirt Is Ready To Be Mated To Other Core Stage Hardware...

An avionics box in front of the Space Launch System's forward skirt at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Eric Bordelon

First SLS Core Stage Flight Hardware Complete, Ready for Joining (News Release)

The first major piece of core stage hardware for NASA's Space Launch System rocket has been assembled and is ready to be joined with other hardware for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. SLS will enable a new era of exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, launching crew and cargo on deep space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The backbone of the world's most powerful rocket, the 212-foot-tall core stage, will contain the SLS rocket's four RS-25 rocket engines, propellant tanks, flight computers and much more. Though the smallest part of the core stage, the forward skirt will serve two critical roles. It will connect the upper part of the rocket to the core stage and house many of the flight computers, or avionics.

"Completion of the core stage forward skirt is a major step in NASA's progress to the launch pad," said Deborah Bagdigian, lead manager for the forward skirt at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We're putting into practice the steps and processes needed to assemble the largest rocket stage ever built. With the forward skirt, we are improving and refining how we'll conduct final assembly of the rest of the rocket."

On July 24, forward skirt assembly was wrapped up with the installation of all its parts. As part of forward skirt testing, the flight computers came to life for the first time as NASA engineers tested critical avionic systems that will control the rocket’s flight. The construction, assembly and avionics testing occurred at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Located throughout the core stage, the avionics are the rocket's "brains," controlling navigation and communication during launch and flight. It is critical that each of the avionics units is installed correctly, work as expected and communicate with each other and other components, including the Orion spacecraft and ground support systems.

"It was amazing to see the computers come to life for the first time" said Lisa Espy, lead test engineer for SLS core stage avionics. "These are the computers that will control the rocket as it soars off the pad for Exploration Mission-1."

The forward skirt test series was the first of many that will verify the rocket's avionics will work as expected during launch. The tests show the forward skirt was built correctly, and that all components and wiring on the inside have been put together and connected properly and are sending data over the lines as expected.

The avionic computers ran "built-in tests" that Espy compares to the internal diagnostic tests performed by an automobile when first started. All of the health and data status reports came back as expected. The tests were a success and did not return any error codes. Such error codes would be similar to a check engine light on a car.

The successful tests give the team the confidence needed to move forward with avionics installations in the core stage intertank and engine section. With more hardware and more interfaces, the installation in the intertank will be more complex, and the complexity will ramp up even more as the team moves to the engine section, introducing hydraulics and other hardware needed for the rocket's engines.

"Each piece of hardware and each test builds to the next," Espy said. "That's why we're excited about the successful forward skirt tests. They lay a solid foundation as we continue to build more and more complex components and get the rocket ready for its first launch."

The forward skirt is now ready to be joined with the rest of the rocket's core stage. Integration of the massive core stage will take place in two joins, the forward join -- including the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank and intertank -- and the aft join -- including the liquid hydrogen tank and the engine section.

Engineers will perform standalone tests on each component as they are completed. Once the forward and aft joins are integrated, they will perform a final integrated function test, testing all the core stage's avionics together.

The fully integrated core stage and its four RS-25 engines will then be fired up during a final test before launch. At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the core stage will be stacked with the upper part of the rocket, including Orion, and joined to the rocket's twin solid rocket boosters, in preparation for EM-1.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Space Launch System's forward skirt on display at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Eric Bordelon

Monday, July 30, 2018

5 Factoids About Orion...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Top Five Technologies Needed for a Spacecraft to Survive Deep Space (News Release)

When a spacecraft built for humans ventures into deep space, it requires an array of features to keep it and a crew inside safe. Both distance and duration demand that spacecraft must have systems that can reliably operate far from home, be capable of keeping astronauts alive in case of emergencies and still be light enough that a rocket can launch it.

Missions near the Moon will start when NASA’s Orion spacecraft leaves Earth atop the world’s most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System. After launch from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Orion will travel beyond the Moon to a distance more than 1,000 times farther than where the International Space Station flies in low-Earth orbit, and farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever ventured. To accomplish this feat, Orion has built-in technologies that enable the crew and spacecraft to explore far into the solar system.

Systems to Live and Breathe

As humans travel farther from Earth for longer missions, the systems that keep them alive must be highly reliable while taking up minimal mass and volume. Orion will be equipped with advanced environmental control and life support systems designed for the demands of a deep space mission. A high-tech system already being tested aboard the space station will remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and humidity from inside Orion. Removal of CO2 and humidity is important to ensure air remains safe for the crew breathing. And water condensation on the vehicle hardware is controlled to prevent water intrusion into sensitive equipment or corrosion on the primary pressure structure.

The system also saves volume inside the spacecraft. Without such technology, Orion would have to carry many chemical canisters that would otherwise take up the space of 127 basketballs (or 32 cubic feet) inside the spacecraft—about 10 percent of crew livable area. Orion will also have a new compact toilet, smaller than the one on the space station. Long duration missions far from Earth drive engineers to design compact systems not only to maximize available space for crew comfort, but also to accommodate the volume needed to carry consumables like enough food and water for the entirety of a mission lasting days or weeks.

Highly reliable systems are critically important when distant crew will not have the benefit of frequent resupply shipments to bring spare parts from Earth, like those to the space station. Even small systems have to function reliably to support life in space, from a working toilet to an automated fire suppression system or exercise equipment that helps astronauts stay in shape to counteract the zero-gravity environment in space that can cause muscle and bone atrophy. Distance from home also demands that Orion have spacesuits capable of keeping astronaut alive for six days in the event of cabin depressurization to support a long trip home.

Proper Propulsion

The farther into space a vehicle ventures, the more capable its propulsion systems need to be to maintain its course on the journey with precision and ensure its crew can get home.

Orion has a highly capable service module that serves as the powerhouse for the spacecraft, providing propulsion capabilities that enable Orion to go around the Moon and back on its exploration missions. The service module has 33 engines of various sizes. The main engine will provide major in-space maneuvering capabilities throughout the mission, including inserting Orion into lunar orbit and also firing powerfully enough to get out of the Moon’s orbit to return to Earth. The other 32 engines are used to steer and control Orion on orbit.

In part due to its propulsion capabilities, including tanks that can hold nearly 2,000 gallons of propellant and a back up for the main engine in the event of a failure, Orion’s service module is equipped to handle the rigors of travel for missions that are both far and long, and has the ability to bring the crew home in a variety of emergency situations.

The Ability to Hold Off the Heat

Going to the Moon is no easy task, and it’s only half the journey. The farther a spacecraft travels in space, the more heat it will generate as it returns to Earth. Getting back safely requires technologies that can help a spacecraft endure speeds 30 times the speed of sound and heat twice as hot as molten lava or half as hot as the Sun.

When Orion returns from the Moon, it will be traveling nearly 25,000 mph, a speed that could cover the distance from Los Angeles to New York City in six minutes. Its advanced heat shield, made with a material called AVCOAT, is designed to wear away as it heats up. Orion’s heat shield is the largest of its kind ever built and will help the spacecraft withstand temperatures around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry though Earth’s atmosphere.

Before reentry, Orion also will endure a 700-degree temperature range from about minus 150 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Orion’s highly capable thermal protection system, paired with thermal controls, will protect Orion during periods of direct sunlight and pitch black darkness while its crews will comfortably enjoy a safe and stable interior temperature of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Radiation Protection

As a spacecraft travels on missions beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, it will be exposed to a harsher radiation environment than in low-Earth orbit with greater amounts of radiation from charged particles and solar storms that can cause disruptions to critical computers, avionics and other equipment. Humans exposed to large amounts of radiation can experience both acute and chronic health problems ranging from near-term radiation sickness to the potential of developing cancer in the long-term.

Orion was designed from the start with built in system-level features to ensure reliability of essential elements of the spacecraft during potential radiation events. For example, Orion is equipped with four identical computers that each are self-checking, plus an entirely different backup computer, to ensure Orion can still send commands in the event of a disruption. Engineers have tested parts and systems to a high standard to ensure that all critical systems remain operable even under extreme circumstances.

Orion also has a makeshift storm shelter below the main deck of the crew module. In the event of a solar radiation event, NASA has developed plans for crew on board to create a temporary shelter inside using materials on board. A variety of radiation sensors will also be on the spacecraft to help scientists better understand the radiation environment far away from Earth. One investigation called AstroRad, will fly on Exploration Mission-1 and test an experimental vest that has the potential to help shield vital organs and decrease exposure from solar particle events.

Constant Communication and Navigation

Spacecraft venturing far from home go beyond the Global Positioning System (GPS) in space and above communication satellites in Earth orbit. To talk with mission control in Houston, Orion’s communication and navigation systems will switch from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) system used by the International Space Station, and communicate through the Deep Space Network.

Orion is also equipped with backup communication and navigation systems to help the spacecraft stay in contact with the ground and orient itself if it’s primary systems fail. The backup navigation system, a relatively new technology called optical navigation, uses a camera to take pictures of the Earth, Moon and stars and autonomously triangulate Orion’s position from the photos. Its backup emergency communications system doesn’t use the primary system or antennae for high-rate data transfer.

Source: NASA.Gov