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


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


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

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.

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.


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