Tuesday, December 24, 2019
NASA / Ben Smegelsky
Mobile Launcher Returns to Vehicle Assembly Building (News Release - December 20)
On Dec. 19 and 20, 2019, NASA’s mobile launcher, carried atop the crawler-transporter 2, trekked toward the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It arrived at the iconic facility – traveling nearly four miles – on Dec. 20, after spending months at Launch Pad 39B undergoing final validation and verification testing. Standing 380 feet tall, the mobile launcher will be used to assemble, process and launch the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions to the Moon.
The mobile launcher will remain inside the VAB until the Artemis I stack – the Orion spacecraft atop the SLS rocket – is ready to return to the pad for the “wet dress rehearsal” for launch. During this rehearsal, the rocket will roll out to the pad to be completely fueled and drained ahead of that first integrated launch of SLS and Orion.
Sunday, December 22, 2019
NASA / Aubrey Gemignani
NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test (Press Release)
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.
“Congratulations to the NASA and Boeing teams on a bullseye landing of the Starliner. The hardest parts of this orbital flight test were successful,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is why we conduct these tests, to learn and improve our systems. The information gained from this first mission of Starliner will be critical in our efforts to strengthen NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and return America’s human spaceflight capability.”
Although Starliner did not reach its planned orbit and dock to the International Space Station as planned, Boeing was able to complete a number of test objectives during the flight related to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, including:
- Successful launch of the first human-rated United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket
- Checked out the Starliner propulsion systems
- Tested space-to-space communications
- Confirmed Starliner tracker alignments using its navigation system
- Tested Starliner’s NASA Docking System
- Validated all environment control and life support systems
- Completed a positive command uplink between the International Space Station and Starliner
“Today’s successful landing of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is a testament to the women and men who have dedicated themselves to ensuring Starliner can safely transport crews to low-Earth orbit and back to Earth,” said Boeing Senior Vice President of Space and Launch Jim Chilton. “The Starliner Orbital Flight Test has and will continue to provide incredibly valuable data that we, along with the NASA team, will use to support future Starliner missions launched from and returning to American soil.”
“This mission has only strengthened the resolve of the NASA, ULA, and Boeing teams," said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. "Systems were tested, but more importantly the teams were tested. The hardest parts of this mission were a tremendous success. The Commercial Crew Program is strong. But keep in mind, this is a great reminder that human exploration is not for the faint of heart. We are just getting started!”
The Starliner that landed today will be refurbished for Boeing’s first operational crewed mission, following the Crew Flight Test. NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will fly on that mission, dubbed the spacecraft “Calypso” after the ship of famed explorer Jacques Cousteau.
“I love what the ocean means to this planet,” said Williams. “We would not be this planet without the ocean. There’s so much to discover in the ocean, and there’s so much to discover in space.”
The uncrewed Starliner spacecraft launched on the ULA Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA / Bill Ingalls
Friday, December 20, 2019
CST-100 Update: Starliner Finally Heads to Space! But Will Head Home Early Due to an Orbital Insertion Issue...
NASA Statement on Boeing Orbital Flight Test (Press Release)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released the following statement regarding the Boeing Orbital Flight Test:
“I am incredibly proud of the NASA, Boeing, and United Launch Alliance teams and their ongoing work in a dynamic situation to ensure the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is safe on its Orbital Flight Test. The teams continue their work to meet as many mission objectives as possible and return safely to Earth. We continue to gather critical data that will help us ensure safety and reliability for future human space flight missions.
“Early this morning, NASA and Boeing successfully launched Starliner on the first human-rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida.
“The plan was for Starliner to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station and return home safely to Earth. While a lot of things went right, the uncrewed spacecraft did not reach the planned orbit and will not dock to the International Space Station.
“This is in fact why we test. Teams worked quickly to ensure the spacecraft was in a stable orbit and preserved enough fuel to ensure a landing opportunity.
“Boeing, in coordination with NASA, is working to return Starliner to White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday.
“At NASA we do really difficult things, and we do them all the time. I spoke to Vice President Pence, Chairman of the National Space Council, and he remains very optimistic in our ability to safely launch American astronauts from American soil. We remain positive even though we did face challenges today. We’ll be getting a lot more data in the coming days.
“One of the biggest successes today was watching NASA, Boeing, ULA teams work to make the right decisions for our astronauts and country. We will continue to share information. It’s in the interest of the nation. We’ll share data as soon as possible.”.
This video shows a key #Starliner Orbital Flight Test objective: separation from ULA Centaur second-stage. Sep happened just before the Mission Elapsed Timing anomaly.— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) December 21, 2019
See more OFT mission objectives accomplished: https://t.co/GH4mO7fFW8 pic.twitter.com/tQRmDP3Acg
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
NASA / Kim Shiflett
Aft Exit Cones for NASA’s Space Launch System Arrive for Artemis I (News Release)
The two Northrop Grumman-manufactured aft exit cones for the Space Launch System’s solid rocket boosters arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The left aft exit cone (in the background) arrived Nov. 4 and the right aft exit cone (in front) arrived Dec. 9, 2019. Both were shipped by truck from Promontory, Utah. Upon arrival, the exit cones were transported to the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) where they will be checked out and prepared for the Artemis I uncrewed test flight.
The aft exit cones sit at the bottommost part of each of the twin boosters and are attached to the nozzle. The exit cones help provide added thrust for the boosters, while protecting the aft skirts from the thermal environment during launch.
Other booster segment hardware currently at Kennedy are the forward assemblies which include: a forward skirt, frustum and nose cap, which house the avionics and the aft skirt assemblies, which contain the thrust vector control system. Each assembly also contains four booster separation motors. The forward and aft assemblies are nearing the end of assembly operations in the Booster Fabrication Facility and will be ready for integration in the RPSF soon.
Friday, December 6, 2019
NASA / Dennis Olive
NASA Engineers Break SLS Test Tank on Purpose to Test Extreme Limits (News Release)
Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on Dec. 5 deliberately pushed the world’s largest rocket fuel tank beyond its design limits to really understand its breaking point. The test version of the Space Launch System rocket’s liquid hydrogen tank withstood more than 260% of expected flight loads over five hours before engineers detected a buckling point, which then ruptured. Engineers concluded the test at approximately 11 p.m.
“We purposely took this tank to its extreme limits and broke it because pushing systems to the point of failure gives us additional data to help us build rockets intelligently,” said Neil Otte, chief engineer of the SLS Stages Office at Marshall. “We will be flying the Space Launch System for decades to come, and breaking the propellant tank today will help us safely and efficiently evolve the SLS rocket as our desired missions evolve.”
The test version of the tank aced earlier tests, withstanding forces expected at engine thrust levels planned for Artemis lunar missions, showing no signs of cracks, buckling or breaking. The test on Dec. 5 -- conducted using a combination of gaseous nitrogen for pressurization and hydraulics for loads -- pushed the tank to the limits by exposing it to higher forces that caused it to break as engineers predicted. Earlier tests at Marshall certified the tank for both the current version of the SLS -- called Block 1, which will use an upper stage called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage -- and the Block 1B version that will replace the ICPS with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage.
“This final tank test marks the largest-ever controlled test-to-failure of a NASA rocket stage pressurized tank,” said Mike Nichols, Marshall’s lead test engineer for the tank. This data will benefit all aerospace companies designing rocket tanks.”
For all the tests, NASA and Boeing engineers simulated liftoff and flight stresses on a test version of the Space Launch System liquid hydrogen tank that is structurally identical to the flight tank. Throughout the tests in Marshall’s 215-foot-tall test stand, they used large hydraulic pistons to deliver millions of pounds of punishing compression, tension and bending forces on the robust test tank.
The test tank was fitted with thousands of sensors to measure stress, pressure and temperature, while high-speed cameras and microphones captured every moment to identify buckling or cracking in the cylindrical tank wall.
“The initial tank buckling failure occurred at the same relative location as predicted by the Boeing analysis team and initiated within 3% of the predicted failure load,” said Luke Denney, qualification test manager for Boeing’s Test & Evaluation Group. “The accuracy of these predictions against real life testing validates our structural models and provides high confidence in the tank design.”
Teams at Michoud are wrapping up functional testing of the assembled SLS core stage for the Artemis I mission and already are building the core stage for the Artemis II mission. The 212-foot-tall core stage is the largest, most complex rocket stage NASA has built since the Saturn V stages that powered the Apollo missions to the Moon.
Monday, December 2, 2019
NASA / Marvin Smith, Alcyon Technical Services
Orion Spacecraft for Artemis I Prepared for Thermal Test at NASA's Plum Brook Station (News Release)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft–the crew module and European-built service module—is being lifted into a thermal cage and readied for its move on Tuesday into the vacuum chamber at NASA’s Plum Brook Station for testing. Testing begins with a 60-day thermal test, where the spacecraft will be subjected to temperatures ranging from -250 to 300-degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it can withstand the harsh environment of space during Artemis missions. These extreme temperatures simulate flying in-and-out of sunlight and shadow in space using Heat Flux, a specially-designed system that heats specific parts of the spacecraft at any given time. Orion will also be surrounded on all sides by a set of large panels, called a cryogenic-shroud, that will provide the cold background temperatures of space.