Wednesday, March 27, 2019
NASA Begins Testing Habitation Prototypes (News Release)
Over the next several months, NASA will conduct a series of ground tests inside five uniquely designed, full-size, deep space habitat prototypes. The mockups, constructed by five American companies, offer different perspectives on how astronauts will live and work aboard the Gateway – the first spaceship designed to stay in orbit around the Moon, providing the critical infrastructure needed for exploration, science and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface.
NASA doesn’t plan to select one habitat prototype to advance to flight – rather, the tests will help NASA evaluate the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements for a future U.S. Gateway habitat module, while reducing risks for eventual flight systems.
“These tests were formulated so that we can do a side-by-side comparison of very different and innovative concepts from U.S. industry,” said Marshall Smith, who leads human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While we won’t dictate a specific design when we procure the U.S. habitat, we will enter the procurement phase with far less risk because of the knowledge we gain from these tests.”
NASA assembled a team from across the agency and from U.S. industry to conduct these tests. Engineers and technicians will analyze habitat system capabilities and performance proposed by each prototype concept, while human factors teams consider layout and ergonomics to optimize efficiency and performance. During the tests, future Gateway flight operators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will collect actual live telemetry streams from each prototype. Flight operators will monitor habitat performance and support realistic mission activities as astronauts conduct “day-in-the-life” procedures within each habitat prototype, providing their perspectives as potential crew members who may one day live and work aboard the Gateway.
In addition to the physical enclosure, each company has outfitted their prototype with the basic necessities to support humans during deep space expeditions—including environmental control and life support systems, avionics, sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, and communal areas.
The NextSTEP Habitation effort began in 2015 with four companies completing year-long concept studies. Those studies set the foundation for prototype development from 2016-2018—this time with five companies submitting concepts. Their prototype approaches are listed below, as well as a concept study outline from a sixth company, NanoRacks:
Lockheed Martin – Testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida
The Lockheed Martin prototype is based on a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), which was originally designed to provide logistics capabilities for the International Space Station. The design leverages the capabilities of Lockheed’s robotic planetary spacecraft and the Orion capsule that will transport astronauts to and from the Gateway. The prototype includes a reconfigurable space that could support a variety of missions, and combines hardware prototyping and software simulation during the test.
Northrop Grumman – Testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Texas
Northrop Grumman’s prototype leverages the company’s Cygnus spacecraft that delivers supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus took its maiden flight in 2013, and is already human-rated. Northrop Grumman’s habitat mockup focuses on providing a comfortable, efficient living environment as well as different internal configuration possibilities.
Boeing – Testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
Proven space station heritage hardware is the key ingredient in Boeing’s Exploration Habitat Demonstrator. Named the prime space station contractor in 1993, the company developed multiple space station elements. Their demonstrator will leverage heritage assets, with a focus on optimizing interior volume, with isolated areas offering the capability to use different atmospheres for payloads without impacting cabin atmosphere.
Sierra Nevada Corporation – Testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
Sierra Nevada’s Large Inflatable Fabric Environment (LIFE) habitat is designed to launch in a compact, “deflated” configuration, then inflate once it’s in space. The benefit of inflatables (also called expandables) is their final configuration is capable of providing much larger living space than traditional rigid structures, which are limited in size by the payload volume of the rocket used to launch it. The LIFE Prototype inflates to 27 ft in diameter and simulates three floors of living areas.
Bigelow Aerospace – Testing at Bigelow Aerospace, North Las Vegas, Nevada
Bigelow’s B330 prototype is an expandable module that expands in space, as its name suggests, to provide 330 cubic meters of livable area. Bigelow sent a smaller module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the space station in 2015, where astronauts expanded the structure live on NASA Television with compressed air tanks. The BEAM completed a two-year demonstration aboard the station, proving soft-goods resilience to the harsh space environment. Following its demonstration period, NASA extended BEAM's time aboard the station to become a storage unit.
NanoRacks – Concept Study
NanoRacks has proposed yet another concept to maximize habitable volume for Gateway astronauts. The company’s idea is to refurbish and repurpose a spent rocket propellant tank, leveraging the natural vacuum of space to flush the tank of residual propellants. The company completed a feasibility study outlining the concept and next plans to develop full-scale prototypes demonstrating robotics development, outfitting and systems integration to convert the tank into a deep space habitat.
Operational - Driven Engineering
“This prototyping approach allows us to design, build, test and refine the habitat long before the final flight version is developed,” said NASA astronaut Mike Gernhardt, principal investigator of the agency's habitation prototype test series. “We are using this operational-driven engineering approach to gain an early understanding of exactly what we need to address the mission, thereby reducing risk and cost."
Using this approach, the builders, operators, and future users of the Gateway work together to evaluate concepts earlier and more completely, which helps NASA move forward to the Moon as early as possible.
The Gateway will be a temporary home and office for astronauts farther in space than humans have ever been before, and will be a home base for astronaut expeditions on surface of the Moon, and for future human missions to Mars. The NextSTEP approach bolsters American leadership in space, and will help drive an open, sustainable and agile lunar architecture.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
NASA / Jude Guidry
SLS Engine Section Approaches Finish Line for First Flight (News Release)
NASA and Boeing have completed the majority of outfitting for the core stage engine section for the first flight of the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The engine section, located at the bottom of the 212-foot-tall core stage, is one of the most complex parts of the rocket. Technicians at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have installed more than 500 sensors, 18 miles of cables, and numerous other critical systems for mounting, controlling and delivering fuel to the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.
The core stage tanks hold cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that are combusted by the engines to produce 2 million pounds of thrust to help send SLS to space for missions to the Moon. On the exterior of the engine section, technicians attached cork insulation for thermal protection and painted it white as well as finishing up other systems including fittings where solid rocket boosters attach.
Next, NASA and Boeing, the SLS prime contractor, will add the boat-tail to the bottom of the engine section and finish up some outfitting, integration and avionics functional testing. The boat-tail is an extension that fits on the end of the engine section. The engines are inserted through openings in the boat-tail, which acts much like a fairing to cover and protect most of engines’ critical systems.
The engines are mounted inside the engine section, and only the RS-25 engine nozzles extend outside the boat-tail. The team is using lessons learned building and outfitting the engine section for the first integrated flight of SLS to accelerate outfitting of the engine section for the second SLS mission. The primary structure of the core stage engine section for the second SLS flight has been built and covered with primer as it prepares for its outfitting and is visible in this image, just behind the first engine section.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Multilateral Coordination Board Joint Statement toward the development of the Gateway (Press Release)
On March 5, 2019, the International Space Station (ISS) Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) met, where JAXA had participated in this board to assist the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) as a space agency. The ISS MCB oversees the management of the ISS to discuss periodically on important subjects related to the operation and utilization of the ISS.
At the MCB, representatives from the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and Japan reviewed the status on the technical assessment towards extending human presence further into our Solar System, as well as the progress of the ISS operation, scientific and technological outcomes through the use of ISS, and released the Joint Statement.
The International Space Station (ISS) Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), which oversees the management of the ISS, met on March 5th, 2019. Its members acknowledged the recent 20th anniversary of the launch of the first International Space Station module and celebrated the success of the ISS partnership. This international team has not only built the space station and risen to the challenges of its day-to-day dynamic operation, but - most importantly - delivered tangible benefits to humanity.
Important outcomes of the ISS include both new scientific knowledge and technical innovation. These advancements address sustainable development here on Earth and help preparations to extend human presence further into our Solar System. The MCB highlighted the fact that more than 100 countries have now used the space station for research or education. Furthermore, representatives noted with satisfaction that the ISS is nurturing a growing economy in Low Earth Orbit research, business and services.
Looking beyond the ISS, the MCB recalled the historic achievement almost fifty years ago of the first human landing on the Moon. It reviewed the extensive work carried out by the ISS partners to study concepts for extending human exploration to the Moon and subsequently to Mars. Emphasising the importance of affordable and sustainable exploration, the MCB discussed their common interest in deploying a human outpost in the lunar vicinity as the next step. Known as the Gateway, it will serve as a way station one thousand times more distant from Earth than today’s ISS, to support exploration of the lunar surface.
Within a broader open architecture for human lunar exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step. The Gateway will support human and robotic access to the lunar surface, and build invaluable experience needed for the challenges of later human missions to Mars. The unique location of the Gateway will offer a platform for important scientific discovery in a deep space environment very different from that of the ISS and enable lunar surface exploration. Its special orbit will also provide excellent visibility of both the Earth and the Moon’s surface for communications relay purposes. It will stimulate the development of advanced technologies, expand the emerging space economy, and continue to leverage the societal benefits of space exploration for citizens on Earth. Gateway will ultimately enable international and commercial partners to participate in human exploration, research and technology development and will be foundational for establishing a sustained human presence around and on the Moon.
Following several years of extensive study among the agencies culminating in a successful technical assessment, the MCB endorsed plans to continue the Gateway development. It welcomed each agency’s intention to proceed toward their respective stakeholders’ approval and funding processes for providing specific elements, modules, and capabilities to the Gateway and associated benefits based on a common concept (see Graphic)
The MCB welcomed with enthusiasm Canada’s announcement on February 28th, 2019, that it would participate in the Gateway and contribute advanced robotics, making the Canadian Space Agency the first partner agency to join NASA in the Gateway.
Finally, recalling the ambition and far-sighted decisions that led to the success of both Apollo and the ISS, MCB members affirmed their common hope that the Gateway should secure new achievements in the field of space exploration, serve as the next step on a sustainable path to the Moon and beyond, and inspire the next generation as a future success of international cooperation in science and technology.
 representing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Government of Japan’s Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the State Space Corporation Roscosmos
Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Friday, March 8, 2019
SpaceX Crew Dragon Splashdown Marks Success of First NASA Commercial Crew Flight Test (Press Release)
NASA passed a major milestone Friday in its goal to restore America’s human spaceflight capability when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon returned to Earth after a five-day mission docked to the International Space Station.
About 6 hours after departing the space station, Crew Dragon splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST approximately 230 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX retrieved the spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and is transporting it back to port on the company’s recovery ship.
“Today’s successful re-entry and recovery of the Crew Dragon capsule after its first mission to the International Space Station marked another important milestone in the future of human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I want to once again congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams on an incredible week. Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point.”
Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test designed to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began March 2, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of “firsts” in less than a week.
- First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station.
- First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station.
- First autonomous docking of a U.S. spacecraft to the International Space Station.
- First use of a new, global design standard for the adapters that connect the space station and Crew Dragon, and also will be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the Moon.
NASA and SpaceX teams gathered in the early morning hours at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to follow the spacecraft’s return journey and ocean splashdown.
“We were all very excited to see re-entry, parachute and drogue deploy, main deploy, splashdown – everything happened just perfectly. It was right on time, the way that we expected it to be. It was beautiful,” said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX.
A critical step in validating the performance of SpaceX’s systems, Demo-1 brings the nation a significant step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from U.S soil for the first time since 2011, when NASA flew its last space shuttle mission. However, NASA and SpaceX still have work to do to validate the spacecraft’s performance and prepare it to fly astronauts.
“If you just think about the enormity of this flight and all of the prep that went into it – getting the pad refurbished, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicle built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis and mission support that went into it – it’s just been a tremendous job. Our NASA and SpaceX teams worked seamlessly not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Crew Dragon carried a passenger on this flight test – a lifelike test device named Ripley, which was outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on humans traveling in the spacecraft. After SpaceX processes data from this mission, teams will begin refurbishing Crew Dragon for its next mission, an in-flight abort test targeted to take place this summer. Demo-2, the first crewed test flight, will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the spacecraft’s final flight to certify Crew Dragon for routine operational missions.
“For the first time, we’ve gotten to see an end-to-end test, and so now we’ve brought together the people, the hardware and all the processes and procedures, and we’ve gotten to see how they all work together, and that’s very important as we move toward putting people onboard,” said NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will crew SpaceX’s first operational mission to the space station following Demo-2. “I’m, personally, very anxious to hear how Ripley is feeling after they pull her out of the capsule and get her onto the recovery vehicle.”
Sunday, March 3, 2019
After an orbital pursuit that lasted 27 hours, SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked to the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:51 AM, EST (2:51 AM, PST) today. And at 8:07 AM, EST (5:07 AM, PST), Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko were the first ISS crew members to venture into the capsule to take air samples before it was safe to remove their oxygen masks and begin unloading 450 pounds (204 kilograms) of supplies from the SpaceX vehicle. During this activity, NASA astronaut Anne McClain entered Crew Dragon to hold a welcoming ceremony while sitting next to the capsule's two inanimate passengers: a sensor-laden mannequin dubbed Ripley (in honor of Sigourney Weaver's heroic character from the Alien film franchise) and a plush Earth toy that was used as a low-tech zero-g simulator after launch.
Crew Dragon will stay at the ISS till March 8...when it departs from the orbital outpost at 2:31 AM, EST (11:31 PM, PST on March 7), conduct a deorbit burn at 7:50 AM, EST (4:50 AM, PST) and then splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, at 8:45 AM, EST (5:45 AM, PST) that same morning. Assuming that everything goes as planned during this mission, and NASA and SpaceX like the data that they obtained from this flight, the next time Crew Dragon soars to the ISS will hopefully be this July—on Demo-2. Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will be on that historic mission. After an 8-year hiatus that began with the finale of space shuttle flight STS-135 in July of 2011, astronauts will soon be lifting off from U.S. soil once more.
Saturday, March 2, 2019
SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule Embarks on Its Historic First Flight to the International Space Station!
NASA, SpaceX Launch First Flight Test of Space System Designed for Crew (Press Release)
For the first time in history, a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket, which launched from American soil, is on its way to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off at 2:49 a.m. EST Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“Today’s successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
Known as Demo-1, SpaceX’s inaugural flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is an important uncrewed mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new system. It brings the nation one-step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from the United States for the first time since 2011 – the last space shuttle mission. Teams still have work to do after this flight to prepare the spacecraft to fly astronauts. The best way to advance the system design was to fly this spacecraft and uncover any other areas or integrated flight changes that might be required.
The program demonstrates NASA’s commitment to investing in commercial companies through public-private partnerships and builds on the success of American companies, including SpaceX, already delivering cargo to the space station. Demo-1 is a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory.
“I’d also like to express great appreciation for NASA,” said Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX. “SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”
The public-private partnership combines commercial companies’ unique, innovative approaches to human spaceflight and NASA’s decades-long experience in design, development and operations of a crew space system.
“We are watching history being made with the launch of the SpaceX Demo-1 mission,” said Steve Stich, launch manager and deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “SpaceX and NASA teams have been working together for years, and now we are side-by-side in control rooms across the country for launch, in-orbit operations and, eventually, splashdown of the Crew Dragon right here off Florida’s coast.”
SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control center. As Crew Dragon ascended into space, SpaceX commanded the Crew Dragon spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California. NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is on its way to the space station for a 6:05 a.m. Sunday, March 3 docking to the low-Earth orbit destination. Live coverage of the rendezvous and docking will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 3:30 a.m. Coverage will resume at 8:30 a.m. with the hatch opening, followed at 10:45 a.m. with a crew welcoming ceremony.
Teams in the space station mission center at Johnson will monitor station crew members’ opening of the spacecraft hatch, entering Crew Dragon and unpacking the capsule.
All the launch pad and vehicle hardware, and the launch day operations, were conducted in preparation for the next flight with crew aboard, including the control teams and ground crews. The mission and testing continues once the Falcon 9 lifts off the pad.
During the spacecraft’s approach, in-orbit demonstrations will include rendezvous activities from a distance of up to 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), known as far field, and activities within one mile (1.6 kilometers), known as near field. As the spacecraft approaches the space station, it will demonstrate its automated control and maneuvering capabilities by reversing course and backing away from the station before the final docking sequence.
The docking phase, as well as the return and recovery of Crew Dragon, include many first-time events that cannot be totally modeled on the ground and, thus, are critical to understanding the design and systems ability to support crew flights. Previous cargo Dragon vehicles have been attached to the space station after capture by the station’s robotic arm. The Crew Dragon will approach to dock using new sensor systems, new propulsion systems and the new international docking mechanism to attach to the station’s Harmony module forward port, fitted with a new international docking adapter. Astronauts installed the adapter during a spacewalk in August 2016, following its delivery to the station in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on its ninth commercial resupply services mission.
For Demo-1, Crew Dragon is carrying more than 400 pounds of crew supplies and equipment to the space station and will return some critical research samples to Earth. A lifelike test device named Ripley also will travel on the Crew Dragon, outfitted with sensors to provide data on potential effects on humans traveling in Crew Dragon.
For operational missions, Crew Dragon will be able to launch as many as four crew members and carry more than 220 pounds of cargo, enabling the expansion of the crew members, increasing the time dedicated to research in the unique microgravity environment, and returning more science back to Earth.
The Crew Dragon is designed to stay docked to station for up to 210 days, although the Crew Dragon used for this flight test will not have that capability. This spacecraft will remain docked to the space station only five days, departing Friday, March 8. After undocking from the station, Crew Dragon will begin its descent to Earth. Live coverage of the undocking will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 2 a.m., with deorbit and landing coverage resuming at 7:30 a.m.
Additional spacecraft mission objectives include a safe departure from the station, followed by a deorbit burn and parachute deployment to slow the spacecraft before splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Florida Space Coast. SpaceX’s recovery ship, Go Searcher, will retrieve Crew Dragon and transport it back to port. Teams will be closely monitoring the parachute system and entry control system operation, which have been changed from cargo Dragons to provide higher reliability for crew flights.
NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1, along with planned upgrades and additional qualification testing, to further prepare for Demo-2, the crewed flight test that will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. NASA will validate the performance of SpaceX’s systems before putting crew on board for the Demo-2 flight, currently targeted for July.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to design, build, test and operate safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation systems to low-Earth orbit. Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station. Both companies’ crewed flights will be the first times in history NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies.
NASA / Joel Kowsky