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


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.

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.

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’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


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

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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