Saturday, May 30, 2020

GO ENDEAVOUR! A New Era in Human Spaceflight Has Finally Begun...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 30, 2020.
SpaceX

NASA Astronauts Launch from America in Historic Test Flight of SpaceX Crew Dragon (Press Release)

For the first time in history, NASA astronauts have launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I thank and congratulate Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and the SpaceX and NASA teams for this significant achievement for the United States. The launch of this commercial space system designed for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”

Known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, the mission is an end-to-end test flight to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, which will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

"This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX,” said Elon Musk, chief engineer at SpaceX. “It is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the SpaceX team, by NASA and by a number of other partners in the process of making this happen. You can look at this as the results of a hundred thousand people roughly when you add up all the suppliers and everyone working incredibly hard to make this day happen.”

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.

“It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome – from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission – I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together. This is just the beginning; I will be watching with great anticipation as Bob and Doug get ready to dock to the space station tomorrow, and through every phase of this historic mission.”

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 spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California. NASA teams are monitoring 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 scheduled to dock to the space station at 10:29 a.m. Sunday, May 31. NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage of the Crew Dragon’s trip to the orbiting laboratory. Behnken and Hurley will work with SpaceX mission control to verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system, and by maneuvering the thrusters, among other things. The first docking maneuver began Saturday, May 30, at 4:09 p.m., and the spacecraft will begin its close approach to the station at about 8:27 a.m. Sunday, May 31. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously, but the crews onboard the spacecraft and the space station will diligently monitor the performance of the spacecraft as it approaches and docks to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module.

After successfully docking, the crew will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station, where they will become members of the Expedition 63 crew, which currently includes NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. NASA will continue live coverage through hatch opening and the crew welcoming ceremony. The crew will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Three astronauts aboard the International Space Station will participate in a live NASA Television crew news conference from orbit on Monday, June 1, beginning at 11:15 a.m. on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

Demo-2 Astronauts

Behnken is the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights. Behnken flew STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, performing three spacewalks during each mission. Born in St. Anne, Missouri, he has bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and earned a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Before joining NASA, he was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force.

Hurley is the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and has completed two spaceflights. Hurley served as pilot and lead robotics operator for both STS‐127 in July 2009 and STS‐135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011. The New York native was born in Endicott but considers Apalachin his hometown. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mission Objectives

The Demo-2 mission is the final major test before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. As SpaceX’s final flight test, it will validate all aspects of its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft, spacesuits, Falcon 9 launch vehicle, launch pad 39A and operations capabilities.

While en route to the station, Behnken and Hurley will take control of Crew Dragon for two manual flight tests, demonstrating their ability to control the spacecraft should an issue with the spacecraft’s automated flight arise. On Saturday, May 30, while the spacecraft is coasting, the crew will test its roll, pitch and yaw. When Crew Dragon is about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) below the station and moving around to the docking axis, the crew will conduct manual in-orbit demonstrations of the control system in the event it were needed. After pausing, rendezvous will resume and mission managers will make a final decision about whether to proceed to docking as Crew Dragon approaches 20 meters (66 feet).

For operational missions, Crew Dragon will be able to launch as many as four crew members at a time and carry more than 220 pounds of cargo, allowing for an increased number of crew members aboard the space station and increasing the time dedicated to research in the unique microgravity environment, as well as returning more science back to Earth.

The Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, and the specific mission duration will be determined once on station or based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

At the conclusion of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the crew will be picked up by the SpaceX recovery ship and returned to the dock at Cape Canaveral.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and Boeing 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.

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At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken pose with the Falcon 9 rocket that sent them on their way to the International Space Station...on May 30, 2020.
SpaceX

After getting seated inside their Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken pose for a photo before launch on May 30, 2020.
SpaceX

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Demo-2 Update: Photos from Today's Launch Attempt...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon Demo-2 capsule on top, sit quietly at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on May 27, 2020.
NASA

Earlier today, the launch of astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in almost 9 years was thwarted just 17 minutes before lift-off when inclement weather prevented the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage from being fully-fueled at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39A. Demo-2 crew members Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken waited a little over an hour after the countdown was halted to safely exit their Crew Dragon capsule at LC-39A, leave the pad, and head back to quarantine at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building a few miles away, and await the next launch attempt this weekend.

Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley confer with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 27, 2020.
NASA

The next opportunity for the Falcon 9 rocket to embark on the Demo-2 flight to the International Space Station will be this Saturday, May 30, at 3:22 PM, Eastern Daylight Time (12:22 PM, Pacific Daylight Time)—with back-up launch opportunities on May 31 and June 1, respectively. There is a 40% chance of bad weather postponing lift-off on Saturday. Stay tuned!

Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley greet the crowd at Kennedy Space Center's Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building before heading over to Launch Complex 39A to board their Crew Dragon vehicle for flight...on May 27, 2020.
NASA

At Launch Complex 39A, Demo-2 astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken head towards the Crew Access Arm (not visible) to board their Crew Dragon vehicle for flight...on May 27, 2020.
SpaceX

Demo-2 astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken walk down the Crew Access Arm towards the Crew Dragon vehicle (not visible) for flight at Launch Complex 39A...on May 27, 2020.
SpaceX

Demo-2 astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are seated for flight inside their Crew Dragon vehicle at Launch Complex 39A...on May 27, 2020.
SpaceX

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Orion Update: The European Space Agency Will Officially Build the Service Module for the Artemis 3 Moon Landing Mission...

An artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft flying over the Moon.
NASA / ESA / ATG Medialab

Third European Service Module for Mission to Land Astronauts on the Moon (News Release)

It’s official: when astronauts land on the Moon in 2024 they will get there with help from the European Service Module. The European Space Agency signed a contract with Airbus to build the third European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will ferry the next astronauts to land on the Moon.

NASA’s Artemis programme is returning humans to the Moon with ESA’s European Service Module supplying everything needed to keep the astronauts alive on their trip in the crew module – water, air, propulsion, electricity, a comfortable temperature as well as acting as the chassis of the spacecraft.

The third Artemis mission will fly astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite in 2024 – the first to land on the Moon since Apollo 17 following a hiatus of more than 50 years.

ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said: “By entering into this agreement, we are again demonstrating that Europe is a strong and reliable partner in Artemis. The European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this, allowing scientific research, development of key technologies and international cooperation – inspiring missions that expand humankind’s presence beyond Low Earth Orbit.”

Over 20,000 parts and components are used in each European Service Module, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life-support elements for the astronauts, as well as approximately 12 kilometres of cables.

“Our know-how and expertise will enable us to continue to facilitate future Moon missions through international partnerships,” says Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus. “By working together with our customers ESA and NASA as well as our industrial partner Lockheed Martin, we now have a reliable planning basis for the first three lunar missions. This contract is an endorsement of the joint approach combining the best of European and American space technologies.”

Development and construction drew on experience building the Automated Transfer Vehicles that flew to the International Space Station with regular deliveries of test equipment, spare parts, food, air, water and fuel.

Orion is the size of a small house with the European Service Module taking up the first floor at four meters in diameter and height. It has four solar wings that extend 19 meters across to generate enough energy to power two households. It carries 8.6 tonnes of fuel to power Orion’s main engine and 32 smaller thrusters that will keep it on course to the Moon and power the return home to Earth.

The first European Service Module is being handed over to NASA at their Kennedy Space Center for an uncrewed launch next year, and the second is in production at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany.

Source: European Space Agency

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Engineers work on the European Service Module for NASA's Artemis 2 mission at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany.
Airbus

Monday, May 25, 2020

SpaceX Update: The Demo-2 Mission Is Officially Clear to Launch!

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon Demo-2 capsule at the top, sit quietly at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on the evening of May 25, 2020.
SpaceX

Happy Memorial Day to America! NASA and SpaceX officials conducted the Launch Readiness Review several hours ago, and the launch of astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station this Wednesday is officially a GO! Lift-off is still scheduled for 4:33 PM, Eastern Daylight Time (1:33 PM, Pacific Daylight Time), with a 60% chance of the weather cooperating at Cape Canaveral for the afternoon launch. The Falcon 9 rocket—with the Crew Dragon at the top—sit quietly at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...waiting to ignite its nine Merlin 1D engines to send American astronauts to low-Earth orbit from American soil for the first time since 2011, and begin a new era of human spaceflight! Can't wait.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Artemis 1 Update: Work Resumes on Prepping the SLS Core Stage Booster for Green Run Tests...

The Space Launch System's (SLS) core stage booster is installed atop the B-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi...back in early January.
NASA / SSC

NASA's SLS Core Stage Green Run Tests Critical Systems For Artemis I (News Release - May 20)

NASA is resuming work on a series of tests to bring the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage to life for the first time, allowing engineers to evaluate the new complex stage that will launch the Artemis I lunar mission.

In January, engineers began activating the stage’s components one by one over several months through a series of initial tests and functional checks designed to identify any issues. Those tests and checks collectively called Green Run will culminate in a test fire replicating the stage’s first flight.

“Green Run is the step-by-step testing and analysis of the new SLS rocket core stage that will send astronauts to the Moon," said Richard Sheppard, the SLS Stages Green Run Test Lead from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “This testing will reduce risks for, not only the first flight, but also for the Artemis mission that will land astronauts on the Moon in 2024.”

The Green Run test series, conducted in the historic B-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a collaborative effort between the SLS program, the Stennis test team, core stage manufacturer Boeing and engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne. On March 18, work was temporarily suspended on Green Run when Stennis Space Center went to Stage 4 on the Agency Response Framework in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the area near Stennis.

Prior to pausing test operations, engineers completed the modal test, the first of the eight tests in the Green Run series, to understand the vibration characteristics of the core stage. Now, work is slowly and methodically starting back, as workers return to prepare the facility and resume testing.

“The team connected the facility with the rocket earlier this year, both electrically and mechanically,” said Ryan McKibben, Green Run test conductor at Stennis. “We are now preparing for the second test, which will power on the vehicle’s avionics and the three computers that control the rocket’s flight as it soars into space.”

The avionics are distributed throughout the stage. Engineers at Marshall designed software similar to the flight software for Green Run. A special stage controller will be used to simulate the Launch Control Center operations that will control the actual launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The core stage avionics along with Green Run software have successfully completed tests in our test laboratories at Marshall, said Lisa Espy, the core stage avionics lead at Marshall. “I am excited to see the flight systems come to life that will control the rocket as it sends the first Artemis mission to the Moon.”

Green Run tests minimize risk to the core stage and ensure the stage satisfies design objectives and validates design models:

Test 1- Modal Test: The first test in the Green Run series, a modal test was conducted in January. This test used shakers to impart dynamic forces on the suspended stage to identify primary bending modes of the stage. Information from the modal test will help engineers verify vehicle models needed for the operation of the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control systems.

Test 2- Avionics: The rocket’s avionics, which are distributed throughout the stage, will be turned on and checkout out. This includes not only flight computers and electronics that control the rocket but also those that collect flight data and monitor the overall health of the core stage.

Test 3- Fail-Safes: Engineers will check out all the safety systems that shut down operations during testing. To do this, they will simulate potential issues.

Test 4- Propulsion: This will be the first test of each of the main propulsion system components that connect to the engines. Command and control operations will be verified, and the core stage will be checked for leaks in fluid or gas.

Test 5- Thrust Vector Controls: Engineers will ensure that the thrust vector control system can move the four engines and check all the related hydraulic systems.

Test 6- Countdown: This test simulates the launch countdown, including step-by-step fueling procedures. Core stage avionics are powered on, and propellant loading and pressurization are simulated. The test team will exercise and validate the countdown timeline and sequence of events.

Test Case 7- “Wet” Dress Rehearsal: Engineers will demonstrate loading, controlling and draining more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic propellants into the two test stand run tanks and then returning the stage to a safe condition.

Test Case 8- Hot Fire: The core stage's four RS-25 engines will operate for up to 8 minutes, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust, the amount of thrust the engines produce at sea level on the launch pad at liftoff.

After the hot fire test, engineers will refurbish the core stage and configure it for its journey to Kennedy for launch preparations. The next time the RS-25 engines fire, the SLS will launch in an epic debut of Artemis I -- the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Engineers inspect the SLS core stage booster as it sits atop the B-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Boeing

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Photos of the Day #2: The Demo-2 Dry Dress Rehearsal Is Complete!

At Launch Complex (LC)-39A, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken pose in front of the Falcon 9 rocket that will send them to the International Space Station on May 27, 2020...weather permitting.
NASA

Earlier today, Demo-2 astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ventured out to Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39A to conduct a dry dress rehearsal for next Wednesday's hopeful and historic launch to the International Space Station (ISS). Wearing their white SpaceX-fabricated flight suits, Hurley and Behnken got seated inside their Crew Dragon capsule at LC-39A to practice all of the procedures that will be carried out during the May 27 countdown. With the dry dress rehearsal now complete, only the Launch Readiness Review (scheduled for this Monday) needs to be held before Demo-2 is finally ready to go.


As of right now, weather at Kennedy Space Center is 40% 'GO' for lift-off (according to the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral) by the Falcon 9 rocket that will send the Demo-2 crew on its way to the ISS this Wednesday. Stay tuned.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken walk down the hallway at their Kennedy Space Center crew quarter prior to heading to LC-39A for the Demo-2 dry dress rehearsal...on May 23, 2020.
NASA

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are suited up and ready to conduct the Demo-2 dry dress rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center's LC-39A...on May 23, 2020.
NASA

Flight controllers monitor Demo-2 dry dress rehearsal activities from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 23, 2020.
NASA

Flight controllers monitor Demo-2 dry dress rehearsal activities from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 23, 2020.
NASA

Inside their Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken go through procedures that they will carry out during launch day on May 27, 2020...weather permitting.
NASA

Friday, May 22, 2020

Photos of the Day: The Launch of Demo-2 Is Officially Set for May 27!

At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, the Falcon 9 rocket that will soar on next Wednesday's Demo-2 flight ignites its nine Merlin 1D engines during a static fire...on May 22, 2020.
SpaceX

Earlier today, NASA and SpaceX officials conducted a Flight Readiness Review for the Demo-2 flight at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...with both parties agreeing to stick with next Wednesday as the historic day when astronauts will launch from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011. Over two hours later—at 1:33 PM, Pacific Daylight Time—a static fire was successfully conducted by the Falcon 9 rocket that will send astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their momentous journey to the International Space Station.

With the launch date officially set, Hurley and Behnken will suit up and conduct a dry dress rehearsal inside their Crew Dragon capsule at Launch Complex 39A tomorrow...with a Launch Readiness Review scheduled for Memorial Day (May 25). Assuming all goes as planned on Saturday and next Monday, the excitement at Cape Canaveral will be palpable leading up to May 27 as America ushers in a new era of human spaceflight!

At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, the Falcon 9 rocket that will soar on next Wednesday's Demo-2 flight ignites its nine Merlin 1D engines during a static fire...on May 22, 2020.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, the Falcon 9 rocket that will soar on next Wednesday's Demo-2 flight ignites its nine Merlin 1D engines during a static fire...on May 22, 2020.
NASA / Joel Kowsky

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Photos of the Day: SpaceX's Demo-2 Launch Vehicle is on the Pad!

In preparation for its static fire (scheduled for tomorrow), SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket sits vertical on the pad at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on May 21, 2020.
NASA

Just thought I'd share these photos and video of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule at the top, sitting on the pad at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida after it was raised to vertical position this morning.


As of right now, the Flight Readiness Review by NASA and SpaceX officials to solidify the May 27 launch date for Demo-2 will conclude tomorrow...with the static fire for the Falcon 9 also scheduled to take place on the same day. The excitement is building!

The Falcon 9 Demo-2 rocket is rolled out of SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility to be transported to the pad at Launch Complex 39A...on May 21, 2020.
NASA

In preparation for its static fire, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is raised to vertical on the pad at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A...on May 21, 2020.
NASA

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

T-Minus 1 WEEK Till Astronauts Head to Low-Earth Orbit from American Soil Once More!

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken pose for the cameras at the Launch and Landing Facility after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 20, 2020.
NASA

Earlier today, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to make final preparations for their historic launch to the International Space Station (ISS) hopefully 7 days from now. The Demo-2 crew members made opening remarks at the Launch and Landing Facility (LLF) after a flight from their home base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 capsule is about to be rolled into SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex (LC)-39A.
SpaceX

A few miles from the LLF, final preps are also being made on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that will send Hurley and Behnken on their way to the ISS. As shown in the pics above and below, the Crew Dragon was transported to SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility a few days ago and is now attached to the Falcon 9. The stacked vehicle will be rolled out to Launch Complex 39A tonight to be readied for a static fire on Friday. A Flight Readiness Review between NASA and SpaceX officials to solidify next Wednesday's launch date will be held tomorrow. Stay tuned!

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 capsule prior to it being attached to its Falcon 9 rocket inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility...on May 20, 2020.
SpaceX

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 capsule is attached to its Falcon 9 rocket inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility...on May 20, 2020.
SpaceX

The completed Falcon 9 Demo-2 rocket prior to it being rolled from the Horizontal Integration Facility to the launch pad at LC-39A...on May 20, 2020.
SpaceX

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Artemis 1 Update: SLS Core Stage Booster to Resume Green Run Preps After Coronavirus-related Hiatus...

With the Space Launch System's core stage booster behind them, two engineers work atop the B-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
NASA / SSC

NASA Takes Preliminary Steps to Resume SLS Core Stage Testing Work (Press Release)

NASA resumed Green Run testing activities this week on the first flight stage of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the return of limited crews to perform work at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

“This is an important step toward resuming the critical work to support NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and the next man on the south pole of the Moon by 2024,” Stennis Center Director Rick Gilbrech said. “Though Stennis remains in Stage 4 of NASA’s COVID-19 Response Framework, we assessed state and local conditions and worked with agency leadership to develop a plan to safely and methodically increase critical on-site work toward the launch of the next great era of space exploration.”

Stennis moved to Stage 4 on March 20, with only personnel needed to perform mission-essential activities related to the safety and security of the center allowed on site. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and its Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, which are building SLS, also are in Stage 4.

“The test facility has been in standby mode, so we allotted two days to reestablish some facility support of mechanical and electrical systems that will also assist the vehicle contractors in performing their operations,” said Barry Robinson, project manager for the B-2 Test Stand SLS core stage Green Run testing at Stennis.

Reestablishing, or “waking up,” the Stennis B-2 Test Stand systems in the days ahead includes restoring facility power and controls, as well as ensuring pressurized gas systems are at proper levels for SLS operators to proceed with testing activities.

“Michoud has been cleaning and preparing the rocket manufacturing facility for critical production restart of the SLS core stage and the Orion capsule,” said Michoud Director Robert Champion.

According to Julie Bassler, SLS stages project manager responsible for the core stage work at Stennis, Michoud and Marshall, Marshall also is resuming critical flight software and hardware testing.

Returning workers were trained on general safety procedures, personal protective equipment requirements, and self-monitoring. Site personnel also installed signs and markings to indicate where employees should stand and sit during upcoming activities.

“We want to make sure employees are armed with the appropriate information to be effective on the job and return safely to their families,” Robinson said.

All sites are closely following CDC guidance to safely operate and protect the health and welfare of all employees. Michoud plans to transition to Stage 3 and operate in that stage for 30 days, in coordination with local government plans. Marshall remains at Stage 4.

Stennis plans for 30 days of limited crew activity on site in anticipation of the center’s transition from Stage 4 to Stage 3. Once that transition occurs, increases to on-site work will continue slowly and methodically. The focus then will shift to preparing for the avionics power-up test – the next in a series of core stage Green Run testing milestones. According to Robinson, it’s too early to calculate a precise schedule for the various test milestones.

“Like so many others, in so many places, we’re operating under a new normal. We’re working now to determine exactly what that looks like,” he explained. “The virus, and our knowledge of safety as it relates to the virus, will dictate any changes we consider and implement. We will adjust tasks based on the most current information and guidance.”

Green Run represents the first top-to-bottom integrated test of all flight core stage systems prior to its maiden Artemis I flight. All testing will be conducted on the B-2 Test Stand in the coming months and will culminate with an eight-minute, full-duration hot fire of the core stage with its four RS-25 engines, as during an actual launch.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Near the bottom of the B-2 Test Stand, an engineer stands next to the four RS-25 engines at the base of the Space Launch System's core stage booster...at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
NASA / SSC

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

T-Minus 2 WEEKS Till Astronauts Head to Low-Earth Orbit from American Soil Once More!

The Tesla Model X that astronauts will ride in on launch day is displayed with SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 39A in the background.
NASA

Today marks 14 days till astronauts launch to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil for the first time in almost 9 years (assuming that the weather cooperates and there are no technical glitches on May 27, of course)! In commemoration of this milestone, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted these great photos of the Tesla Model X that astronauts Douglas G. Hurley and Robert L. Behnken will ride in on a trip from their Kennedy Space Center crew quarters to Launch Complex 39A...where the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule will await them for their historic voyage to the ISS.

The Tesla Model X that astronauts will ride in on launch day is displayed with Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building in the background.
NASA

The excitement is building! I look forward to watching this historic launch via the SpaceX webcast two weeks from now. And of course, I look forward to viewing the first crewed launch of Boeing's Starliner capsule via NASA TV. Ditto with the maiden flight of NASA's Space Launch System later next year!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

SpaceShipTwo Update: VSS Unity Continues Testing as Powered Flights with Paying Passengers Aboard Loom Closer...

VSS Unity approaches the runway at New Mexico's Spaceport America after conducting a successful glide test.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Completes First Flight From Spaceport America (Press Release - May 1)

SpaceShipTwo goes solo in New Mexico airspace

LAS CRUCES, N.M.– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”) and The Spaceship Company (“TSC”) today announced the successful completion of its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America.

This glide flight marks the inaugural solo flight of VSS Unity in New Mexico and as such is an important flight test milestone in preparation for commercial service.

On SpaceShipTwo’s flight deck were Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow who, together with the team in Mission Control, executed some of the key elements of a spaceflight profile. These included take-off and landing along with high-altitude release from the mothership, VMS Eve, which was piloted by Michael Masucci and Kelly Latimer.

The flight took off from the Spaceport America runway, with VSS Unity attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. The vehicles climbed to an altitude of 50,000ft before Unity was released, at which point VSS Unity flew freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace. The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test-points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America.

This test flight was conducted under a set of stringent operational protocols to ensure safety against COVID-19. Its successful execution was made possible by a concerted effort to redesign all the operational elements required for safe flight test while meeting new health and wellness protocols. These protocols include changes to the work areas and procedures to enforce social distancing as advised by state guidelines as well as universal mask usage.

This flight milestone represents a major achievement which has been in the planning since SpaceShipTwo relocated to Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico commercial headquarters in February. Virgin Galactic also fully concluded the relocation of its spaceline operations team and their families to New Mexico.

This glide flight provided the first opportunity to test all the components required to fly the carrier aircraft and spaceship in glide configuration, from a new home base and in new airspace. Dave and CJ performed a series of maneuvers with VSS Unity designed to gather data about performance and handling qualities in order to enhance our aerodynamic modeling and verify against similar maneuvers that were performed earlier in Unity’s test flight program. The flight test also provided an opportunity for the pilots and spaceflight operations team to continue familiarization with the new airspace around the Gateway to Space and a chance to capture valuable in-flight data and conduct further pilot training.

Friday’s flight successfully completed all test objectives. Virgin Galactic would like to express its thanks to New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Albuquerque Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and the FAA Air Traffic Control Center in Albuquerque for smooth coordination and efficient integration.

Preparation for the next flight will now begin, starting with an in depth analysis of today’s flight data.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said, “I’d like to congratulate our team for reaching this flight milestone, especially during these challenging times. I am grateful for the commitment displayed by everyone involved, not only in helping to support relief efforts in both New Mexico and California, but also for the dedication and creativity which will allow us to continue safely towards our goal of commercial launch.”

“Today’s VSS Unity flight is another exciting milestone for Virgin Galactic’s progress in New Mexico. We are extremely happy and proud of Virgin Galactic, not only for today’s success but also for the exceptional way they have integrated into NM and supported the region and State during this stressful time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic have adhered to new guidelines set by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to include social distancing and wearing masks. A big thank you to our foundational partner at Spaceport America!” said Dan Hicks, Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

Source: Virgin Galactic

Friday, May 1, 2020

NASA Plants the Seeds for Future Deep Space Missions with the Space Launch System...

The Space Launch System's core stage booster that will fly on the Artemis 1 mission has all four of its RS-25 engines installed...as of November 6, 2019.
NASA / Eric Bordelon

NASA Commits to Future Artemis Missions with More SLS Rocket Engines (Press Release)

NASA has awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to manufacture 18 additional Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engines to support Artemis missions to the Moon.

The follow-on contract to produce 18 engines is valued at $1.79 billion. This includes labor to build and test the engines, produce tooling and support SLS flights powered by the engines. This modifies the initial contract awarded in November 2015 to recertify and produce six new RS-25 engines and brings the total contract value to almost $3.5 billion with a period of performance through Sept. 30, 2029, and a total of 24 engines to support as many as six additional SLS flights.

“This contract allows NASA to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the rocket engines needed for future missions,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The same reliable engines that launched more than 100 space shuttle missions have been modified to be even more powerful to launch the next astronauts who will set foot on the lunar surface during the Artemis missions.”

Each SLS rocket uses four RS-25 engines, providing a total of 2 million pounds of thrust to send SLS to space. The SLS rocket leverages the assets, capabilities, and experience of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, using 16 existing RS-25 shuttle engines for the first four SLS missions. These engines were updated with new controllers – the brains that control the engine – and upgraded and tested to fly at the higher performance level necessary to launch the SLS, which is much larger and more powerful than the shuttle.

The rocket engines are mounted at the base of the 212-foot-tall core stage, which holds more than 700,000 gallons of propellant and provides the flight computers that control the rocket’s flight. The engines for the Artemis I mission to the Moon have already been assembled as part of the core stage, which is undergoing Green Run testing.

“We’ve already begun production on the first six new RS-25 engines,” said Johnny Heflin, the SLS engines manager. “Aerojet Rocketdyne has restarted the production lines, established a supplier base and is building engines using advanced techniques that reduce both the cost and time for manufacturing each engine.”

The engines are built at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s factory in Canoga Park, California. Working with NASA, Aerojet has implemented a plan to reduce the cost of the engines by as much as 30% by using more advanced manufacturing techniques to modify some of the rocket components. Some of these modified components have already been tested during engine tests that replicate the conditions of flight.The new digital controllers are built by Honeywell Aerospace in Clearwater, Florida, a major subcontractor to Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Human Landing System are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work is well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets. The Artemis I core stage and its RS-25 engines are in the B-2 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Here, the stage is undergoing Green Run testing, an integrated test of the entire new stage that culminates with the firing of all four RS-25 engines. Upon completion of the test, NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the core stage to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket and Orion for Artemis I.

The Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration. It’s part of America’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which astronauts will explore the Moon and experience gained there to enable humanity’s next giant leap, sending humans to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Space Launch System's core stage booster is installed inside the B-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...during a process that took place on January 21 and 22, 2020.
NASA / SSC

Thursday, April 30, 2020

NASA Takes a Giant Leap Towards Landing a Crew on the Moon in 2024...

An artist's concept of two astronauts working on the surface of the Moon.
NASA

NASA Names Companies to Develop Human Landers for Artemis Moon Missions (Press Release)

NASA has selected three U.S. companies to design and develop human landing systems (HLS) for the agency’s Artemis program, one of which will land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history.

The human landing system awards under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) are firm-fixed price, milestone-based contracts. The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for the 10-month base period.

The following companies were selected to design and build human landing systems:

- Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.

- Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.

- SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.

“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”

Fifty years ago, NASA’s Apollo Program proved it is possible to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. When NASA returns to the Moon in four years with the Artemis program, it will go in a way that reflects the world today – with government, industry, and international partners in a global effort to build and test the systems needed for challenging missions to Mars and beyond.

“We are on our way.” said Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation’s goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed.”

NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions. NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems followed by sustainable demonstration missions. NASA intends to procure transportation to the lunar surface as commercial space transportation services after these demonstrations are complete. During each phase of development, NASA and its partners will use critical lessons from earlier phases to hone the final concepts that will be used for future lunar commercial services.

"I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon" said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.”

NASA experts will work closely with the commercial partners building the next human landing systems, leveraging decades of human spaceflight experience and the speed of the commercial sector to achieve a Moon landing in 2024.

The HLS program manager will assign NASA personnel to support the work of each contractor, providing direct, in-line expertise to the companies as requested in their proposals (e.g., design support, analysis, testing). The HLS program will also perform advanced development and risk reduction activities, working in parallel to better inform the approach for the 2024 mission and the necessary maturation of systems for the future sustaining architecture.

Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The human landing system is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Gateway.

NASA is returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities that allow robots and crew to travel greater distances and explore new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and much more to get ready for human exploration of Mars.

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Artist concepts of the human landing systems that will be built by Dynetics, SpaceX and Blue Origin, respectively.
Dynetics / SpaceX / Blue Origin

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

"America's Spaceplane" Gets Its Wings...

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

SNC’s Dream Chaser® Spaceplane Wings Arrive in Colorado (Press Release)

SPARKS, Nev., April 21, 2020 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, uncrated both wings for its Dream Chaser spaceplane this month at the company’s Louisville, Colorado production facility. The wings’ arrival kicks off the much-anticipated integration phase of a beautiful and critical differentiator for Dream Chaser, the world’s only spaceplane owned by a private company and under contract with NASA.

“The wings are here and now we truly have butterflies in anticipation of this integration phase for Dream Chaser,” said SNC President Eren Ozmen. “Our spaceplane looks and functions unlike anything else in space – more technologically advanced but with all the heritage of the space shuttle program in its design. Dream Chaser’s first flight will be a soaring moment for all of us.”

The arrival kicks off the integration of the complex Wing Deployment System (WDS) as part of the continued assembly and integration of the vehicle. With their innovative folding design, the wings are stowed in the fairing ahead of launch. After the launch vehicle separates, the WDS deploys the wings and locks them into place. Dream Chaser’s steeply angled wings function as stabilizers for the lift generated by the body of the vehicle.

“The wings for Dream Chaser presented an interesting design challenge,” said Dream Chaser program director John Curry. “Not only must they survive in low-Earth orbit like a satellite, but they need to be operational in Earth’s atmosphere, like an aircraft.” Just like the structural body for Dream Chaser, the wings were manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Texas, a subcontractor to SNC, and are single bonded composite structures. This state-of-the-art technology saves weight without compromising strength and stiffness.

Dream Chaser is under contract with NASA for at least six cargo resupply and return service missions to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. The Dream Chaser and attached Shooting Star transport vehicle can carry up to 12,000 pounds of supplies and other cargo, and returns delicate science to Earth with a gentle runway landing.

About Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Owned and operated by SNC, the Dream Chaser spacecraft is a reusable, multi-mission space utility vehicle. It is capable of transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit and is the only commercial, lifting-body vehicle capable of a runway landing. The Dream Chaser Cargo System was selected by NASA to provide cargo delivery and disposal services to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. All Dream Chaser CRS-2 cargo missions are planned to land at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility.

Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

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The two wings for the Dream Chaser are unveiled at Sierra Nevada's production facility in Louisville, Colorado.
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Friday, April 17, 2020

Counting Down to May 27: A Launch Date Is Set for the Crew Dragon's First Manned Flight to the ISS!

A composite image showing SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket (that launched the Crew Dragon capsule on Demo-1 last year) adorned with NASA's iconic 'worm' and 'meatball' logos that will fly on the side of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle on May 27.
NASA / SpaceX

NASA, SpaceX to Launch First Astronauts to Space Station from U.S. Since 2011 (News Release)

A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission. The specific duration of the mission is to be determined.

As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.

Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights. Behnken flew STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, and he performed three spacewalks during each mission. Born in St. Anne, Missouri, he has bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University and earned a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology. Before joining NASA, Behnken was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force.

Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and has completed two spaceflights. Hurley served as pilot and lead robotics operator for both STS‐127 in July 2009 and STS‐135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011. The New York native was born in Endicott but considers Apalachin his hometown. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Tulane University in Louisiana and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station. Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.

After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.

The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

Source: NASA.Gov

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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (foreground) train for the upcoming Demo-2 mission inside SpaceX's flight simulator.
SpaceX

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Image of the Day: Visualizing SpaceX's Demo-2 Launch Vehicle...

A composite image showing SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket (that launched the Crew Dragon capsule on Demo-1 last year) adorned with NASA's iconic 'worm' and 'meatball' logos that will fly on the side of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle sometime next month.
NASA / SpaceX

NASA recently released this composite picture of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket—with a Crew Dragon capsule sitting atop it—adorned with the NASA 'worm' and 'meatball' logos on its side. This is actually a photo of the Demo-1 launch vehicle that embarked on an unmanned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) over a year ago...but the U.S. space agency wanted the public to see how SpaceX's workhorse rocket will appear when it sends a Crew Dragon spacecraft (with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley riding aboard it) to the ISS sometime next month. Pretty cool!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

NASA Receives a New Batch of Applications by Aspiring Astronauts...

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly prepares for a spacewalk that he and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren conducted outside the International Space Station on October 28, 2015.
NASA

Thousands Apply to Join NASA’s Artemis Generation, #BeAnAstronaut (Press Release - April 1)

More than 12,000 people have applied to join NASA’s next class of astronauts, demonstrating strong national interest to take part in America’s plans to explore the Moon and take humanity’s next giant leap – human missions to Mars.

Applications were received from every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories. However, the process is just beginning for NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board, which will assess the applicants’ qualifications and invite the most qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and medical tests before making a final selection. NASA expects to introduce the new astronaut candidates in the summer of 2021.

“We’ve entered a bold new era of space exploration with the Artemis program, and we are thrilled to see so many incredible Americans apply to join us,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The next class of Artemis Generation astronauts will help us explore more of the Moon than ever before and lead us to the Red Planet.”

The application for the newest class of astronauts opened March 2 and closed March 31. The number of people who applied to be an astronaut represents the second-highest number of applications NASA has ever received, surpassed only by the record of 18,300 set by the most recent class of astronauts who graduated in January.

For this round of applications, NASA increased the education requirement for applicants from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree in a science, technology, math, or engineering field. In addition, the application period was shortened from two months to one.

“We’re able to build such a strong astronaut corps at NASA because we have such a strong pool of applicants to choose from,” said Anne Roemer, manager of the Astronaut Selection Board and director of human resources at Johnson. “It’s always amazing to see the diversity of education, experience and skills that are represented in our applicants. We are excited to start reviewing astronaut applications to identify the next class of astronaut candidates.”

Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space. With 48 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, more will be needed to serve as crew aboard spacecraft bound for multiple destinations and propel exploration forward as part of Artemis missions and beyond.

Once selected, the astronaut candidates will go through approximately two years of initial skills training, such as spacewalking, robotics, and spacecraft systems, as well as expeditionary behavior skills, such as leadership, followership, and teamwork. After completing training, the new astronauts could launch on American rockets and spacecraft -- developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program -- to live and work aboard the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth. There they will take part in experiments that benefit life at home and prepare us for the Moon and Mars.

This new class also may launch aboard NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions to the Moon. Beginning in 2024, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface and will establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028. Gaining insights from new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Artemis Update: A Blueprint for a Crewed Return to the Moon and an Eventual Manned Journey to Mars...

An infographic showing how NASA intends to return astronauts to the lunar surface and how this paves the way for an eventual manned trip to Mars.
NASA

NASA Outlines Lunar Surface Sustainability Concept (News Release - April 2)

When NASA sends astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024, it will be the first time outside of watching historical footage most people witness humans walking on another planetary body. Building on these footsteps, future robotic and human explorers will put in place infrastructure for a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon.

NASA recently proposed a plan to go from limited, short-term Apollo-era exploration of the 1960s, to a 21st Century plan in a report to the National Space Council. With the Artemis program, we will explore more of the Moon than ever before to make the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration – the development of a sustained presence on and around the Moon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the Moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars.”

On the surface, the core elements for a sustained presence would include an emphasis on mobility to allow astronauts to explore more of the Moon and conduct more science:

- A lunar terrain vehicle or LTV, would transport crew around the landing zone
- The habitable mobility platform would enable crews to take trips across the Moon lasting up to 45 days
-A lunar foundation surface habitat would house as many as four crew members on shorter surface stays

Astronauts working on the lunar surface also could test advanced robotics, as well as a wide set of new technologies identified in the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, focusing on tech development in the areas such as of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and power systems. Rovers will carry a variety of instruments including ISRU experiments that will generate information on the availability and extraction of usable resources (e.g., oxygen and water). Advancing these technologies could enable the production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, enabling sustainable surface operations with decreasing supply needs from Earth.

Another key difference from Apollo and Artemis will be use of the Gateway in lunar orbit, built with commercial and international partners. The lunar outpost will serve as a command and control module for surface expeditions and an office and home for astronauts away from Earth. Operating autonomously when crew is not present, it also will be a platform for new science and technology demonstrations around the Moon.

Over time, NASA and its partners will enhance the lunar Gateway’s habitation capabilities and related life support systems. Adding a large-volume deep space habitation element would allow astronauts to test capabilities around the Moon for long-duration deep space missions.

While the goal of Apollo was to land the first humans on the Moon, the Artemis program will use the Moon as a testbed for crewed exploration farther into the solar system, beginning with Mars. This is America’s Moon to Mars space exploration approach. A proposed multi-month split-crew operation at the Gateway and on the lunar surface would test the agency’s concept for a human mission to the Red Planet.

For such a mission, NASA envisions a four-person crew traveling to the Gateway and living aboard the outpost for a multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars. Later, two crew members would travel to the lunar surface and explore with the habitable mobility platform, while the remaining two astronauts stay aboard Gateway. The four crew members are later reunited aboard the lunar outpost for another multi-month stay, simulating the return trip to Earth. This mission would be the longest duration human deep space mission in history and would be the first operational test of the readiness of our deep-space systems.

The report also highlights a robotic return to the surface beginning next year for scientific discovery. The Moon is a natural laboratory to study planetary processes and evolution, and a platform from which to observe the universe. NASA will send dozens of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon with its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. Some of these robotic precursors, including the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER, will study the terrain, and metal and ice resources at the lunar South Pole.

The Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, human landing systems and modern spacesuits will round out the agency’s deep space systems. As part of the Artemis III mission, the first human expedition back on the Moon will last approximately seven days. NASA plans to send Artemis Generation astronauts on increasingly longer missions about once per year thereafter.

With strong support in NASA, America and its partners will test new technologies and reduce exploration costs over time. Supporting infrastructure including power, radiation shielding, a landing pad, as well as waste disposal and storage could be built up in the coming decades, too.

“The U.S. is still the only nation to have successfully landed humans on the Moon and spacecraft on the surface of Mars,” the report states. “As other nations increasingly move out into space, American leadership is now called for to lead the next phase of humanity’s quest to open up the future to endless discovery and growth.”

Read the full report:

NASA's Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Photos of the Day: A Classic NASA Logo Will Fly on SpaceX's First Crewed Flight to the International Space Station!

The NASA 'worm' is painted on the side of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the crewed Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station next month.
SpaceX

The Worm is Back! (News Release)

The original NASA insignia is one of the most powerful symbols in the world. A bold, patriotic red chevron wing piercing a blue sphere, representing a planet, with white stars, and an orbiting spacecraft. Today, we know it as “the meatball.” However, with 1970’s technology, it was a difficult icon to reproduce, print, and many people considered it a complicated metaphor in what was considered, then, a modern aerospace era.

Enter a cleaner, sleeker design born of the Federal Design Improvement Program and officially introduced in 1975. It featured a simple, red unique type style of the word NASA. The world knew it as “the worm.” Created by the firm of Danne & Blackburn, the logo was honored in 1984 by President Reagan for its simplistic, yet innovative design.

NASA was able to thrive with multiple graphic designs. There was a place for both the meatball and the worm. However, in 1992, the 1970s brand was retired - except on clothing and other souvenir items - in favor of the original late 1950s graphic.

Until today.

The worm is back. And just in time to mark the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil.

The retro, modern design of the agency’s logo will help capture the excitement of a new, modern era of human spaceflight on the side of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the Demo-2 flight, now scheduled for mid-to-late May.

And there’s a good chance you’ll see the logo featured in other official ways on this mission and in the future. The agency is still assessing how and where it will be used, exactly.

It seems the worm logo wasn’t really retired. It was just resting up for the next chapter of space exploration.

And don’t worry, the meatball will remain NASA’s primary symbol.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A collage showing the NASA worm as it was used throughout the history of the U.S. space program.
NASA

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Preparations Continue for Next Month's Launch of SpaceX's Demo-2 Mission to the International Space Station...

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (foreground) train for the upcoming Demo-2 mission inside SpaceX's flight simulator.
SpaceX

NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts (News Release - March 31)

Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Over the last several months, key members of flight control teams working from NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, simulated different phases of the upcoming mission while the Demo-2 astronaut crew practiced procedures from inside a realistic simulator of Crew Dragon.

“The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather,” said Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP. “Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss.”

Recent simulations saw teams execute timelines from hatch closure to undocking with the space station — as well as a free flight in preparation for re-entry and splashdown. In March, the control teams and crew ran through a simulated mission starting at prelaunch and continuing through ascent and eventual rendezvous with the station.

This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible, especially for the greater NASA team.

“What’s happening in commercial crew is a big deal,” Hess said. “It will be the first time to launch astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, and it will be the first time since STS-1 that we will launch astronauts in a new spacecraft. This new spacecraft, Crew Dragon, was designed and built by SpaceX, not by NASA and traditional contractor partnerships — another first. Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley) will definitely be earning their spacecraft test pilot wings with this mission. Also, the Space Station Program is really looking forward to another way to rotate crews to station to perform science and experiments to benefit all.”

As the countdown clock winds down, Crew Dragon is undergoing final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. All the activity is also kicking off “more simulations, final crew training and flight readiness reviews to ensure all of the mission systems and subsystems are ready for a crewed test flight,” Hess noted.

When Crew Dragon launches atop a Falcon 9 rocket with Behnken and Hurley strapped inside as early as mid-to-late May, it will herald a new era for human spaceflight, enabling greater access to low-Earth orbit and destinations beyond with the help of commercial partners.

The Demo-2 crew is proceeding with its scheduled training activities. Astronaut trainers, along with all NASA employees, are closely adhering to CDC recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. As all NASA centers are currently operating in a mode that requires any non-mission-essential work to be done remotely, the number of employees in contact with the crew is limited.

Source: NASA.Gov