Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Another Successful Powered Flight for SpaceShipTwo...

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the second time on May 29, 2018.

Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight (News Release)

Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams this morning, on the Mojave Air and Space Port flight line, to witness VSS Unity’s second successful, supersonic, rocket powered test flight.

“It was great to see our beautiful spaceship back in the air and to share the moment with the talented team who are taking us, step by step, to space” Branson said. “Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking. We are getting ever closer to realizing our goals. Congratulations to the whole team!”

The focus of today’s flight was to expand our understanding of the spaceship’s supersonic handling characteristics and control system’s performance with vehicle parameters that were closer to the ultimate commercial configuration. This involved shifting the vehicle’s center of gravity rearward via the addition of passenger seats and related equipment. The rocket motor burned for the planned 31 seconds and propelled Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 ft. As will be the case for future commercial flights, Unity’s unique re-entry feathering system was deployed for the initial descent before the final glide home to a smooth runway landing.

Once in commercial service, Virgin Galactic’s spaceships are designed to be turned around and flown at a higher frequency than has traditionally been the case for human spaceflight. The flight today brought that vision a little closer, coming less than two months after Unity’s first rocket powered flight. Great credit goes to the engineering and maintenance teams for working through the first flight’s data diligently and efficiently before preparing Unity again for flight.

Richard Branson was on the runway tarmac to greet this flight’s VSS Unity pilots Dave Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky. In addition to the pilots of VSS Unity, Branson recognized CJ Sturckow and Nicola Pecile, the pilots of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.

“Today we saw VSS Unity in her natural environment, flying fast under rocket power and with a nose pointing firmly towards the black sky of space” he said. “The pathway that Unity is forging is one that many thousands of us will take over time, and will help share a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity’s toughest challenges on planet Earth.”

The teams will now conduct flight data review for this flight and continue planning preparations for the next flight.

While in Mojave, Richard Branson also toured the facilities of The Spaceship Company (TSC), Virgin’s Galactic sister company. TSC is focused on manufacturing next generation aerospace vehicles, with a primary focus on new spaceships for Virgin Galactic’s future fleet. Branson viewed the next two spaceships on the TSC’s manufacturing line, as well as the production facilities for TSC’s spaceship rocket motors.

Source: Virgin Galactic

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VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's thirteenth test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the second time on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity glides back to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her second rocket-powered test flight on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity touches down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after her second rocket-powered test flight on May 29, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

As the VSS Unity continues her march towards the first commercial flight to suborbital space, two of her sister ships progress in their construction at The Spaceship Company in California's Mojave Desert.
Virgin Galactic



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Remembering Alan Bean (1932-2018)...

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean holds a soil sample container while walking on the surface of the Moon...on November 20, 1969.
NASA / Charles Conrad

NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy Record-Breaking Skylab, Apollo Astronaut (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the passing of Apollo and Skylab astronaut Alan Bean:

“Alan Bean once said ‘I have the nicest life in the world.’ It’s a comforting sentiment to recall as we mourn his passing.

“As all great explorers are, Alan was a boundary pusher. Rather than accepting the limits of technology, science, and even imagination, he sought to advance those lines -- in all his life’s endeavors. Commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1955, he chose the challenging pursuit of flight training and, after four years as a Naval pilot, decided to challenge himself further by attended the Navy Test Pilot School and becoming a test pilot.

“He joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1963 and, just six years later, was piloting the lunar module for the Apollo 12 mission. During that mission, he walked on the Moon. Yet he pushed farther. In 1973, Alan commanded the Skylab Mission II and broke a world record with a 59-day flight traversing 24.4 million miles. In all, he had a hand in breaking 11 world records in the areas of space and astronautics.

“After logging 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space, Alan passed the baton to the next generation of astronauts and changed fronts, looking to push the boundaries of his own imagination and ability as an artist. Even in this endeavor, his passion for space exploration dominated, as depicted most powerfully is his work ‘Hello Universe.’ We will remember him fondly as the great explorer who reached out to embrace the universe.”


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A snapshot of Alan Bean shaving aboard the Skylab space station...on August 8, 1973.
NASA

Friday, May 25, 2018

Photo of the Day: The Space Launch System's Mobile Transporter Takes a 3-Mile Trip to LC-39B...

Crawler-transporter 2 is parked atop the pad at Launch Complex 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 22, 2018.
NASA / Nick Moss

Crawler-Transporter-2 Checked Out During Test Drive to Launch Pad 39B (News Release)

Crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) arrives on the surface of Launch Pad 39B for a fit check on May 22, 2018, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test drive to the pad confirms that all of the recent modifications to CT-2 and Pad 39B are operational to support the launch of the agency's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission-1.

In view, at right, is one of three lightning protection towers positioned around Pad 39B. Exploration Ground Systems managed the modifications and upgrades to CT-2 and Pad 39B to prepare for EM-1 and deep space exploration missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, May 21, 2018

ISS Update: A Cygnus Freighter Has Launched to the Orbital Outpost on Flight OA-9...

Orbital ATK's Antares rocket carrying the company's Cygnus freighter launches toward the International Space Station from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia...on May 21, 2018.
NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

NASA Sends New Research on Orbital ATK Mission to Space Station (Press Release)

Astronauts soon will have new experiments to conduct related to emergency navigation, DNA sequencing and ultra-cold atom research when the research arrives at the International Space Station following the 4:44 a.m. EDT Monday launch of an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft.

Cygnus lifted off on an Antares 230 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. The spacecraft is carrying about 7,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations underway on the space station.

NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus when it arrives at the station Thursday, May 24. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 3:45 a.m. Installation coverage is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Included in the cargo in the pressurized area of Cygnus is a centuries-old method of celestial navigation. The Sextant Navigation investigation will explore the use of a hand-held sextant for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans look to travel farther from Earth. The ability to sight angles between the Moon or planets and stars offers crews another option to find their way home if communications and main computers are compromised.

Monitoring crew health and the biological environment of the space station, and understanding long-term effects of space travel on both, are critical to NASA’s plans for long-duration, deep space exploration. The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) study is the agency’s next step toward advancing in-space DNA sequencing technologies that can identify microbial organisms living on the space station and understanding how the DNA of humans, plants and microbes are affected by microgravity. BEST will use a process that sequences DNA directly from a sample, with minimal preparation, rather than using the traditional technique of growing a culture from the sample.

In the realm of modern physics, the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) on Cygnus could help answer some big questions. CAL creates a temperature 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless. In the microgravity environment of the space station, CAL can observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer than possible on Earth. Results of this research could lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.

Cygnus is scheduled to depart the station in July with several tons of trash and burn up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, over the Pacific Ocean. The vehicle is named after James “J.R.” Thompson, a leader in the aerospace industry.

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 2,400 research investigations from researchers in 103 countries.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Photo of the Day: The First Spaceflight-Worthy Crew Dragon Capsule is Revealed!

About two hours ago, Elon Musk tweeted this image of the first spaceflight-worthy Crew Dragon capsule as it underwent Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) testing inside an echo-free chamber at SpaceX. After completing the EMI test, Crew Dragon will be shipped to NASA's Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio to be tested under spaceflight conditions inside its vacuum chamber. Crew Dragon won't be the only human-rated spacecraft to be analyzed at Plum Brook over the next year or so; NASA's Orion capsule for Exploration Mission-1 will be sent to this facility to also undergo similar tests once it is attached to its European Service Module—which is scheduled to be shipped to the United States from Airbus Defence and Space in Germany sometime this summer.

The first unmanned orbital flight of Crew Dragon is currently set to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than this August...aboard SpaceX's newest Block 5 version of its Falcon 9 rocket. Can't wait!

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule undergoes electromagnetic interference testing inside an echo-free chamber.
Elon Musk

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

NASA and Its Partners Achieve a Significant Milestone in Developing a Power Source for Manned Missions to Deep Space...

An artist's concept of a kilopower nuclear reactor on the surface of the Moon.
NASA

Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System Can Provide Space Exploration Power (Press Release)

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment,during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experiment was conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run several average households - continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

According to Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn, the pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth.

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson. “When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.”

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.

According to David Poston, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the purpose of the recent experiment in Nevada was two-fold: to demonstrate that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said Poston.

The Kilopower team conducted the experiment in four phases. The first two phases, conducted without power, confirmed that each component of the system behaved as expected. During the third phase, the team increased power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase. The experiment culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission, including reactor startup, ramp to full power, steady operation and shutdown.

Throughout the experiment, the team simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, showing that the system could continue to operate and successfully handle multiple failures.

“We put the system through its paces,” said Gibson. “We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well.”

The Kilopower project is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. The project will remain a part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020.

Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, including missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials.

The Kilopower project is led by Glenn, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama,and NNSA, including its Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and Y-12 National Security Complex.

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NASA and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) engineers prepare to conduct a test of the kilopower nuclear reactor at the Nevada National Security Site.
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Friday, April 13, 2018

Photo of the Day: Work Continues on a Major Space Launch System Component...

The liquid hydrogen fuel tank for NASA's Space Launch System makes a move for its next step in processing at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
NASA / Michoud / Jude Guidry

SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Readied to be Primed for Thermal Protection (News Release)

The liquid hydrogen tank for NASA’s deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, makes a move for its next step in processing. Technicians at the agency’s rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, place the tank into Cell P to be primed before its thermal protection systems application. The hardware requires protection due to extreme temperatures it will face during launch.

The liquid hydrogen tank measures more than 130 feet tall, comprises almost two-thirds of the core stage and holds 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Propellant will flow from the tank to four RS-25 engines that will power the massive rocket on its first integrated flight with the Orion spacecraft: Exploration Mission-1.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Orion Update: An Exploration Mission-1 Component for the Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral...

The Orion Stage Adapter that will fly aboard NASA's Space Launch System on 2020's Exploration Mission-1 is transported to Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 3, 2018.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Space Launch System Flight Hardware Arrives at Kennedy Space Center (News Release)

The second piece of flight-hardware for NASA’s new exploration-class rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on April 3. The Orion Stage Adapter (OSA) traveled to Kennedy aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft from the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where it was built.

The stage adapter will connect the Orion spacecraft to the upper part of the SLS rocket known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, or ICPS. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based upper space stage that will give the spacecraft the push needed to go to deep space.

On its first launch, the OSA will double as a secondary payload carrier, delivering 13 mini ships on as many deep space missions. These small but mighty scientific investigations include 10 satellites from U.S. industry, government, and commercial partners, as well as the three CubeSats being built by international partners.

Both the OSA and ICPS are being stored for processing in Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility in preparation for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated launch of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

CST-100 Update: NASA May Have 3 Astronauts Launch on the Boeing Capsule's First Crewed Flight...

An artist's concept of an Atlas V rocket launching Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule into space.

NASA, Boeing May Evolve Flight Test Strategy (News Release - April 5)

NASA has updated its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with Boeing, which provides flexibility in its commercial flight tests. Boeing, one of the agency’s two commercial crew partners, approached NASA last year and proposed adding a third crew member on its Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station.

The change includes the ability to extend Boeing’s CFT from roughly two weeks to up to six months as well as the training and mission support for a third crew member. Cargo capabilities for the uncrewed and crewed flight tests were also identified.

Exact details of how to best take advantage of the contract modification are under evaluation, but the changes could allow for additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while Starliner is docked to station. Adding a third crew member on Boeing’s flight test could offer NASA an additional opportunity to ensure continued U.S. access to the orbital laboratory.

“This contract modification provides NASA with additional schedule margin if needed,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts. Commercial space transportation to low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil is critical for the agency and the nation.”

The current commercial crew flight schedules provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before NASA’s contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.

“Turning a test flight into more of an operational mission needs careful review by the technical community,” said Gerstenmaier. “For example, the spacecraft capability to support the additional time still needs to be reviewed. Modifying the contract now allows NASA and Boeing an opportunity to tailor the duration to balance the mission needs with vehicle and crew capabilities.”

This would not be the first time NASA has expanded the scope of test flights. NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial cargo demonstration flight to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. As part of its normal operations planning, NASA has assessed multiple scenarios to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. The agency is working closely with its commercial partners and is preparing for potential schedule adjustments normally experienced during spacecraft development.

“Our partners have made significant progress on the development of their spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground systems,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Their rigorous testing and analysis are verifying each system performs and reacts as planned as they prepare to safely carry our astronauts to and from the station.”

Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station this year prior to test flights with a crew onboard. After each company’s test flights, NASA will evaluate the in-flight performance in order to certify the systems and begin regular post-certification crew rotation missions.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule preparing to dock with the International Space Station.
Boeing

Thursday, April 5, 2018

SpaceShipTwo Update: The VSS Unity Finally Lights Her Engine in Flight!

Above the Mojave Desert in California, the VSS Unity fires her rocket motor for the first time on April 5, 2018.

Today was a memorable day for Virgin Galactic as the VSS Unity finally lit her rocket motor during a flight above the Mojave Desert in California today. Unity separated from her mothership White Knight II 46,500 feet above the desert before igniting the engine that brought SpaceShipTwo (SS2) to an altitude of 84,271 feet before shutting down as planned. Unity reached a speed of Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds that her engine was fired—and activated her tail boom (a.k.a. "feather system") before descending back to her landing site at the Mojave Air & Space Port. The tail boom was brought back to its landing configuration 50,000 feet above the ground as Unity began her final glide back to the runway.

VSS Unity rides under the belly of White Knight II during Unity's twelfth test flight above California's Mojave Desert, on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

With today's momentous flight, the VSS Unity is that much closer to finally ferrying paying passengers to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Boeing and SpaceX will soon make manned commercial spaceflight a reality with the impending launches of the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively; it's time for Virgin Galactic to do so as well with SS2. This would obviously be the latest way to honor the memory of the VSS Enterprise and Michael Alsbury, the co-pilot who tragically lost his life in the spacecraft's crash on October 31, 2014. Ad astra.

The VSS Unity begins her glide back to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity is about to touch down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first rocket-powered test flight on April 5, 2018.
Virgin Galactic



Monday, April 2, 2018

SpaceX Update: Another Dragon Heads to the ISS...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 2, 2018...beginning the CRS-14 mission.
SpaceX

New Research Heading to Space Station Aboard 14th SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station soon will receive a delivery of experiments dealing with how the human body, plants and materials behave in space following the 4:30 p.m. EDT launch Monday of a SpaceX commercial resupply mission.

A SpaceX Dragon lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai and NASA astronaut Scott Tingle will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station Wednesday, April 4. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 5:30 a.m. April 4. Installation coverage is set to begin at 8:30 a.m.

Among the research arriving on Dragon is a new facility to test materials, coatings and components, or other large experiments, in the harsh environment of space. Designed by Alpha Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) provides a platform for testing how materials react to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen, ionizing radiation, ultrahigh vacuum, charged particles, thermal cycles, electromagnetic radiation, and micro-meteoroids in the low-Earth orbit environment.

The Canadian Space Agency’s study Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White (MARROW) will look at the effects of microgravity on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces – an effect likened to that of long-term bed rest on Earth. The extent of this effect, and bone marrow’s ability to recover when back on Earth, are of interest to space researchers and healthcare providers alike.

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity also is important for future long-duration space missions and the crews that will need to grow their own food. The Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) arriving on Dragon uses a newly-developed passive nutrient delivery system and the Veggie plant growth facility currently aboard the space station to cultivate leafy greens. These greens will be harvested and eaten by the crew, with samples also being returned to Earth for analysis.

Dragon also is carrying an Earth observatory that will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, as well as upgrade equipment for the station’s carbon dioxide removal system, external high-definition camera components, and a new printer for the station’s crew.

This is SpaceX’s 14th cargo mission to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in May and return to Earth with more than 3,500 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 2,300 research investigations from researchers in more than 100 countries.

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The Dragon spacecraft moments after separating from its Falcon 9 second stage motor...following launch on April 2, 2018.
SpaceX

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Major Milestone Achieved for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule...

Three main parachutes that will be used on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner successfully deploy from a dart module above Yuma, Arizona last month.
NASA

Parachute Testing Lands Partners Closer to Crewed Flight Tests (News Release)

Crew safety is paramount in the return of human spaceflight launches from Florida’s Space Coast, and the latest round of parachute testing is providing valuable data to help industry partners Boeing and SpaceX meet NASA’s requirements for certification.

On March 4, SpaceX performed its 14th overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development. This exercise was the first of several planned parachute system qualification tests ahead of the spacecraft’s first crewed flight and resulted in the successful touchdown of Crew Dragon’s parachute system.

During this test, a C-130 aircraft transported the parachute test vehicle, designed to achieve the maximum speeds that Crew Dragon could experience on reentry, over the Mojave Desert in Southern California and dropped the spacecraft from an altitude of 25,000 feet. The test demonstrated an off-nominal, or abnormal, situation, deploying only one of the two drogue chutes and intentionally skipping a deployment stage on one of the four main parachutes, proving a safe landing in such a contingency scenario.

In February, the first in a series of reliability tests of the Boeing flight drogue and main parachute system was conducted by releasing a long, dart-shaped test vehicle from a C-17 aircraft over Yuma, Arizona. Two more tests are planned using the dart module, as well as three similar reliability tests using a high fidelity capsule simulator designed to simulate the CST-100 Starliner capsule’s exact shape and mass. These three tests involve a giant helium-filled balloon that lifts the capsule over the desert before releasing it at altitudes above 30,000 feet to test parachute deployments and overall system performance.

In both the dart and capsule simulator tests, the test spacecraft are released at various altitudes to test the parachute system at different deployment speeds, aerodynamic loads, and or weight demands. Data collected from each test is fed into computer models to more accurately predict parachute performance and to verify consistency from test to test.

Mark Biesack, a lead NASA engineer at Kennedy Space Center overseeing parachute testing for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program said, “We test the parachutes at many different conditions for nominal entry, ascent abort conditions including a pad abort, and for contingencies, so that we know the chutes can safely deploy in flight and handle the loads.”

SpaceX will conduct its next parachute system test in the coming weeks in the California desert, again using a C-130 to drop the parachute test vehicle from about 25,000 feet. The test will be similar to the one conducted earlier this month, but with a different deployment configuration. The test will intentionally skip deployment of one drogue parachute and one main parachute to further demonstrate SpaceX’s ability to safely land the vehicle in an off-nominal situation. The ongoing testing verifies the safety of the parachute system for our astronauts.

Boeing is scheduled for its third of five planned qualification tests of its parachute system in May, using the same type of helium-filled balloon that will be used in the reliability tests. For the qualification test, the balloon lifts a full-size version of the Starliner spacecraft over the desert in New Mexico before releasing it. The balloon lifts the spacecraft at more than 1,000 feet per minute before it is dropped from an altitude of about 40,000 feet. A choreographed parachute deployment sequence initiates, involving three pilot, two drogue and three main chutes that slow the spacecraft’s descent permitting a safe touchdown.

Both Boeing and SpaceX’s parachute system qualification testing is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. The partners are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast this year, and are currently scheduled to begin flight tests late this summer.

“The partners are making great strides in testing their respective parachute systems, and the data they are collecting during every test is critical to demonstrating that their systems work as designed,” said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program Manager at Kennedy Space Center. “NASA is proud of their commitment to safely fly our crew members to the International Space Station and return them home safely.”

NASA’s Orion Program, which is nearing completion of its parachute tests to qualify the exploration-class spacecraft for missions with crew, has provided Commercial Crew Program partners with data and insight from its tests. 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.

The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station from the United States through a public-private approach.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Three main parachutes that will be used on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule successfully deploy from a test vehicle above the Mojave Desert in Southern California...on March 4, 2018.
SpaceX

Friday, March 23, 2018

Photo of the Day: The Interior of an SLS Rocket Component...

A snapshot of the interior of the launch vehicle stage adaptor that will be used on the Space Launch System rocket flying on Exploration Mission-1 in 2020.
NASA / MSFC - Amy Buck

Look Inside NASA's Exploration Mission-1 Rocket (News Release)

While the outside of NASA’s new deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) often gets all the glory, the inside works hard too. NASA is busy outfitting the rocket with what it needs for Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated mission of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. Engineers installed two sets of work platforms inside the rocket’s launch vehicle stage adapter. The adapter connects the rocket’s core stage with the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, which will fire its engine to send Orion into lunar orbit.

SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion with its crew to the Moon. Future upgrades to SLS will enable the rocket to launch both Orion with its crew and a large amount of cargo to lunar orbits on a single mission. This picture shows platforms inside the launch vehicle stage adaptor that will allow technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida access to the stage while the rocket is on the launch pad. The cone-shaped adapter, which measures 28 feet tall and tapers from about 27.5 feet at the bottom to 16.5 feet at the top, was built by SLS prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering in an advanced manufacturing facility at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the adapter to Kennedy for launch where it will join the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, which was delivered in 2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

NASA Continues to Seek Ideas for Its Proposed Lunar Space Station...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.
NASA

Scientists Share Ideas for Gateway Activities Near the Moon (News Release)

NASA is looking at how the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway can create value for both robotic and human exploration in deep space.

In late 2017, the agency asked the global science community to submit ideas leveraging the gateway in lunar orbit to advance scientific discoveries in a wide range of fields. NASA received more than 190 abstracts covering topics human health and performance, Earth observation, astrophysics, heliophysics, and lunar and planetary sciences, as well as infrastructure suggestions to support breakthrough science.

Although it is too early to select specific research for the gateway, the workshop marks the first time in more than a decade the agency’s human spaceflight program brought scientists from a variety of disciplines together to discuss future exploration.

“We are in the early design and development stages for the gateway, and we were curious about the level of interest in using this platform for science including the scale and scope of instrumentation scientists might want to see onboard,” said Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We were impressed by the breadth of the abstract responses and invited scientists and engineers to a workshop to learn more.”

Gateway assembly is targeted to begin in 2022, with the launch of the power and propulsion element. Habitation, logistics, and airlock capabilities would follow incrementally and establish the gateway’s core functionalities. Initially, NASA will send crew to the gateway once per year, so most investigations will require high levels of autonomy, and/or teleoperations.

Most concepts were based on the gateway’s location in lunar orbit, outside of Earth’s magnetosphere. This locale permits interesting observations, not possible in Earth orbit, in the fields of astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science. At the same time, exposure to the deep space environment introduces risk to astronauts, electronics, and hardware, due to high-energy radiation and space debris exposure. Understanding and mitigating these risks was a topic often discussed across scientific domains.

Science Opportunities Abound

“Science investigations are a critical element of our agency-wide exploration initiatives to the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We’ve studied our Earth companion for decades with robotic spacecraft and we’re eager for new innovative lunar research opportunities that also will help us learn more about our solar system and beyond.”

Scientists identified a broad range of instruments that could be used inside the gateway, as well as attached to the outside of the spacecraft, or free-flying nearby. Inside, the gateway could be outfitted with instruments to evaluate radiation effects on electronics and other susceptible materials. Monitors could be activated during crew visits, to evaluate behavioral health, neurocognitive functions, and radiation and microgravity effects. Robotic helpers were discussed to support visiting crews, and also maintain operations when the gateway is uncrewed.

Outside the gateway, scientists suggested materials research platforms as permanent, fixed panels that could host interchangeable experiments with standardized attachments. Earth observation experts saw opportunities to use Earth as proxy for exoplanet detection, and noted the capability for “full disk” imaging of Earth, as well as regular views of polar regions. With a view to the Sun, advanced solar activity characterizations are possible, and could improve our understanding of solar cycles and their effects on Earth as well as the possible risks to astronauts and spacecraft systems.

The gateway also could be used to deploy increasingly more capable CubeSats to conduct a multitude of experiments. The gateway’s infrastructure could support nearby spacecraft servicing, wide-aperture telescope assembly, and serve as a communications relay for large data returns to Earth from small probes or satellites in the lunar environment.

Other ideas included robotically collecting lunar samples to investigate aboard the gateway or preserve for return to Earth, and astronauts aboard the gateway could remotely operate rovers on the surface to characterize resources, or venture to the never-before explored lunar far side.

All-in-all, the workshop provided NASA’s human spaceflight team what they needed: a basic understanding of the science that could be conducted from the vantage point of lunar orbit, and the potential spacecraft resources that would be required to do so.

“The gateway will help us return humans to the lunar surface, and expand human presence into the solar system. We now see the endless opportunities for it to play an important role for science in cislunar space as well,” said Crusan. “The enthusiasm from this workshop was awesome, and we look forward to keeping the conversation going.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Another art concept of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.
NASA

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

EM-1 Update: A Major Milestone at Kennedy Space Center for the Space Launch System's Maiden Flight...

The crew access arm for the Orion capsule is about to be installed onto the mobile launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket...at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Bill White

Orion Crew Access Arm Installed on Mobile Launcher (News Release)

As astronauts prepare for trips to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, their last steps before boarding an Orion spacecraft will be across a crew access arm on the mobile launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This week, the agency reached an important milestone on the path to Exploration Mission-1 with the installation of the crew access arm at about the 274-foot level on the mobile launcher tower.

The Exploration Ground Systems team at Kennedy has been overseeing installation of umbilicals and other launch accessories on the 380-foot-tall mobile launcher in preparation for stacking the first launch of the Space Launch System rocket, called the SLS, with an Orion spacecraft. The SLS will be the largest launch vehicle in the world, designed for missions beyond low-Earth orbit carrying crew and cargo to the Moon or beyond. The initial configuration for what SLS can carry past low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon is more than 26 metric tons, with a final configuration of at least 45 metric tons.

The crew access arm installation marks the completion of 17 of the 20 major launch accessories and umbilicals that provide access, power, communication, coolant, fuel and other services to the launch vehicle and spacecraft. The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Umbilical and a pair of Tail Service Mast Umbilicals are slated for installation in the spring/summer timeframe.

The crew access arm is made up of two major components — the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, known as "white room." It is given that name not only because it is painted white, but also because it is kept clean to avoid contaminants entering the spacecraft prior to flight. The crew access arm is designed to rotate from its retracted position and line up with Orion's crew hatch. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into and out of the Orion spacecraft.

Although there will be no crew on the first flight, the crew access arm provides a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft and allows the ground crew access for processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and at Launch Pad 39B.

After technicians check out the crew access arm and complete the many other ground support equipment installations, the crawler-transporter will move the mobile launcher out to Launch Pad 39B for a fit-check and then inside the VAB for validation and verification tests.

The mobile launcher’s massive steel tower is engineered to withstand the loads of the umbilicals that will connect to the SLS rocket, as well as to endure the natural forces such as wind, temperature, and vibration. Similar to skyscrapers and other large structures, engineers designed the mobile launcher to withstand the movements associated with predicted loads and compensate for anticipated forces. As each piece of hardware is installed, teams precisely measure the structure to ensure the required alignment of the swing arms and umbilicals with the vehicle interface are within the design tolerances.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The crew access arm for the Orion capsule is installed onto the mobile launcher for NASA's Space Launch System rocket...at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Image of the Day: The Components of the Space Launch System...

While SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is now the most powerful heavy-lift launch vehicle in the U.S. inventory as of February 6, that title will soon be bestowed upon another behemoth—NASA's own Space Launch System (SLS)—as early as late 2019. Just as the infographic below shows, the SLS will be comprised of various components that, on their own, are of immense size compared to a human being. Look at the very bottom of this illustration...where a person is placed near one of the rocket's twin Solid Rocket Boosters for scale. Along with the Falcon Heavy, having the SLS at America's disposal should obviously bring its space program that much closer to making a manned flight to Mars a reality. Or at least bring a lunar space station to fruition.

An infographic showing all of the components that comprise the Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
NASA

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NASA's Deep Space Gateway Gets a New Name...

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.
NASA

NASA’s Lunar Outpost will Extend Human Presence in Deep Space (News Release)

As NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon, and preparing for Mars, the agency is developing new opportunities in lunar orbit to provide the foundation for human exploration deeper into the solar system.

For months, the agency has been studying an orbital outpost concept in the vicinity of the Moon with U.S. industry and the International Space Station partners. As part of the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s.

The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. While specific technical and mission capabilities as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space.

“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”

The power and propulsion element will be the initial component of the gateway, and is targeted to launch in 2022. Using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion, the element will maintain the gateway’s position and can move the gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize science and exploration operations. As part of the agency’s public-private partnership work under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, five companies are completing four-month studies on affordable ways to develop the power and propulsion element. NASA will leverage capabilities and plans of commercial satellite companies to build the next generation of all electric spacecraft.

The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems.

Habitation capabilities launching in 2023 will further enhance our abilities for science, exploration, and partner (commercial and international) use. The gateway’s habitation capabilities will be informed by NextSTEP partnerships, and also by studies with the International Space Station partners. With this capability, crew aboard the gateway could live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days at a time.

Crew will also participate in a variety of deep space exploration and commercial activities in the vicinity of the Moon, including possible missions to the lunar surface. NASA also wants to leverage the gateway for scientific investigations near and on the Moon. The agency recently completed a call for abstracts from the global science community, and is hosting a workshop in late February to discuss the unique scientific research the gateway could enable. NASA anticipates the gateway will also support the technology maturation and development of operating concepts needed for missions beyond the Earth and Moon system.

Adding an airlock to the gateway in the future will enable crew to conduct spacewalks, enable science activities and accommodate docking of future elements. NASA is also planning to launch at least one logistics module to the gateway, which will enable cargo resupply deliveries, additional scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.

Following the commercial model the agency pioneered in low-Earth orbit for space station resupply, NASA plans to resupply the gateway through commercial cargo missions. Visiting cargo spacecraft could remotely dock to the gateway between crewed missions.

Drawing on the interests and capabilities of industry and international partners, NASA will develop progressively complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of a human return. NASA’s exploration missions and partnerships will also support the missions that will take humans farther into the solar system than ever before.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are the backbone of the agency’s future in deep space. Momentum continues toward the first integrated launch of the system around the Moon in fiscal year 2020 and a mission with crew by 2023. The agency is also looking at a number of possible public/private partnerships in areas including in-space manufacturing and technologies to extract and process resources from the Moon and Mars, known as in-situ resource utilization.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Another art concept of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway above the Moon.
NASA

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Photo of the Day: A Milestone for Orion's Abort Test in 2019...

A full-size Orion mock-up is about to be transported from NASA's Langley Research Center to the adjacent Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on January 26, 2018...to undergo a paint job for Orion's 2019 Ascent Abort 2 test.
NASA / David C. Bowman

Orion AA-2 Crew Module Painted for Flight (News Release - February 6)

The Orion crew module for the Ascent Abort Test 2 (AA-2) was transported from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to the Joint Base Langley-Eustis Friday, Jan. 26, for a fresh coat of paint before final testing and shipment to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Specific flight test markings are being painted on the crew module to allow for attitude and trajectory data collection during launch. Next, it will be tested to determine the module's mass and weight, and also its center of gravity or balance, and then delivered to Johnson for integration and additional testing.

The crew module to be used for the test, fabricated at Langley, is a simplified representation designed to match the outer shape and approximate mass distribution of the Orion crew module that astronauts will fly in. During the test, planned for April 2019, the launch abort system will be activated during challenging ascent conditions at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Dream Chaser Is Set to Launch to the ISS Two Years from Now...

An artist's concept of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cargo ship docked to the International Space Station (ISS).
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Sierra Nevada Corporation Receives Official NASA Launch Window for Dream Chaser® Spacecraft (Press Release)

First Launch to International Space Station Slated for Late 2020

SPARKS, Nev. , February 07, 2018 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) received NASA’s Authority to Proceed for the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s first mission, with a launch window for late 2020. The mission will provide cargo resupply to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services Contract 2 (CRS2).

“SNC has been successfully completing critical design milestones as approved by NASA, and having a timetable for the first launch is another important step achieved for us,” said Fatih Ozmen, owner and CEO of SNC. “The team has worked so hard to get to this point and we can’t wait to fulfill this mission for NASA.”

Key Mission Capabilities:

- Delivers up to 5,500 kg (12,125 lb) of pressurized and unpressurized supplies and scientific research payloads

- Remains attached to the space station for extended periods so crew can transfer cargo and perform science laboratory operations

- Flying laboratory that allows scientists to send commands, receive data in real-time

- Powered payload science experiments can operate continuously during the mission

- Critical science is conducted from the pressurized cabin (crew-tended or autonomous)

- Unpressurized cargo/experiments are transferred to or from the space station via robotic operations

- Returns up to 2000kg of cargo via pinpoint landing at NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) for immediate post-landing handover to customer, maximizing the integrity of data collected on-orbit

“The Dream Chaser is going to be a tremendous help to the critical science and research happening on the space station,” said Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area. “Receiving NASA’s Authority to Proceed is a big step for the program. We can’t wait to see the vehicle return to Kennedy Space Center to a runway landing, allowing immediate access to the science payloads being returned from the station.”

Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

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Another artist's concept of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cargo ship docked to the ISS.
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Historic Day for SpaceX (and Space Exploration in General): The Falcon Heavy Finally Lifts Off!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off on its maiden flight from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

Earlier today, at 3:45 PM, EST (12:45 PM, PST), the Falcon Heavy rocket roared to life and soared into sunny skies after flawlessly lifting off from Launch Complex (LC)-39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flight was initially delayed from its initial 1:30 PM, EST (10:30 AM, PST) T-0 due to high-altitude wind shear. Once the upper-level wind speeds reached acceptable limits for lift-off, SpaceX gave the 'go' to begin loading propellant onto Falcon Heavy at LC-39A...and it was smooth sailing during the countdown from there. 13 minutes after launch, the maiden flight of the world's newest and most powerful rocket was almost a monumental success. Both previously-flown side boosters safely and simultaneously touched down at SpaceX's twin landing zones near Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and cameras placed around the soon-to-be-interplanetary Tesla Roadster were giving us astonishing footage of the car as its upper stage motor prepared to boost it (and Starman, the Tesla's onboard passenger) onto a heliocentric trajectory that will take the red sports coupe past Mars' orbit.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket soars into the sky during its maiden flight on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

The only hiccup that occurred during Falcon Heavy's historic first flight was its core booster not landing on a drone ship stationed out in the Atlantic Ocean after launch. According to SpaceX founder Elon Musk a few hours later, two of the booster's three landing engines ran out of igniter fluid during the final descent—causing the rocket to not generate the thrust needed to prevent it from slamming into the ocean at 300 MPH. But with this minor setback aside, SpaceX scored a huge victory successfully launching a heavy-lift vehicle of this caliber on its first attempt. Considering the fact that SpaceX only succeeded twice in five tries to send its Falcon 1 rocket to Earth orbit almost a decade ago, this is definitely something that SpaceX can be proud of as it begins launching operational satellites aboard the Falcon Heavy. The next flight of this vehicle (possibly carrying a U.S. Air Force payload dubbed STP-2, and LightSail, a privately-funded solar sail developed by The Planetary Society...a non-profit space advocacy group) will be several months from now. Here's hoping that the second flight of Falcon Heavy will be almost as flawless and exciting as its first one. It was a great day for rocket science!

The Falcon Heavy's two side boosters are about to simultaneously touch down at SpaceX's landing pads near Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

A Tesla Roadster carrying a passenger nicknamed Starman prepares to be boosted (via upper stage motor) onto a final trajectory towards Mars' orbit after the Falcon Heavy's first launch... on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

A Tesla Roadster carrying a passenger nicknamed Starman prepares to be boosted (via upper stage motor) onto a final trajectory towards Mars' orbit after the Falcon Heavy's first launch... on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

A Tesla Roadster carrying a passenger nicknamed Starman prepares to be boosted (via upper stage motor) onto a final trajectory towards Mars' orbit after the Falcon Heavy's first launch... on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX


Monday, February 5, 2018

Falcon Heavy Update: Less Than 13 Hours Till Launch...

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is in vertical position for its maiden flight from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida...on February 5, 2018.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd share these two photos as well as the cool SpaceX video below to commemorate the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket tomorrow. This mammoth heavy-lift vehicle is set to lift off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39A in Florida between 1:30 - 4:00 PM, EST (10:30 AM - 1:00 PM, PST). If all goes well, rocket fans along the Florida coastline will get a treat watching the Falcon Heavy's two previously-used side boosters simultaneously come in for a touchdown (complete with multiple sonic booms) at SpaceX's landing pads several miles from LC-39A, minutes after lift-off. And in deep space, Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster—which is ferrying a passenger dubbed Starman—will head towards Mars' orbit while playing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on its radio during the voyage. That's if everything goes as planned. If things don't, well— I don't even want to discuss 'em here.

So godspeed Falcon Heavy! May your first flight be SpaceX's finest hour...to paraphrase flight director Gene Kranz from the Oscar-winning film Apollo 13. Carry on.

A Tesla Roadster carrying a passenger named Starman is ready to be launched towards Mars' orbit...courtesy of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.
SpaceX / Elon Musk


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Falcon Heavy Gets an Official Launch Date!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket ignites her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

Earlier today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a tweet (shown below) that revealed when his company will attempt a launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which successfully conducted a static-fire test last Wednesday. According to Musk, the Falcon Heavy will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, February 6. According to other sources, SpaceX is actually aiming for February 6 or 7 to send its newest rocket on its inaugural flight beyond Earth's atmosphere. The launch window would be between 1:30 to 4:30 PM, EST (10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, PST) for both days. I'll be at my laptop watching the SpaceX webcast of the launch on either of those dates! This will be the most powerful rocket in the world, after all—until late 2019 or mid-2020, that is. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

NASA's Day of Remembrance...

The crew of mission STS-51L.

This Sunday, it will be 32 years since the 7 astronauts of space shuttle Challenger lost their lives 73 seconds into flight on a cold January day. On Saturday, it will be 51 years since the 3 astronauts of Apollo 1 perished in a terrible fire during a ground launch rehearsal at Cape Canaveral, Florida. And a week from today, it will be 15 years since the crew of space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere above Texas. May all these folks rest in peace. Today is NASA's official day of honoring these fallen heroes and pioneers.

The crew of mission STS-107.

The crew of Apollo 1.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Falcon Heavy Finally Comes to Life!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is about to ignite her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

Congratulations to SpaceX for successfully conducting a static-fire test on the world's most powerful rocket today! At 9:30 AM, Pacific Standard Time, the 27 Merlin 1D engines came to life on the Falcon Heavy at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Complex 39A in Florida. While the engine test "only" lasted between 6-7 seconds (online sources stated that the static fire would span 12 seconds), it was long enough for SpaceX to receive enough data to conclude that a second engine test won't be necessary for its newest vehicle. And to make things better, SpaceX received enough data to also conclude that—in the words of Elon Musk himself—Falcon Heavy will finally soar into the sky in about a week or so! Very great news.

A large plume of smoke rises from SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket after she ignites her 27 Merlin 1D engines during a static-fire test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on January 24, 2018.
SpaceX

So by the first week of February, Musk's Tesla Roadster will hopefully be making its way towards Mars' orbit (not to Mars itself) if all goes well at KSC. Considering how diligent SpaceX was in making sure that Falcon Heavy was in tip-top shape before igniting her three core boosters today, I think it will. Carry on!