Monday, February 24, 2020

Remembering a Beloved "Hidden Figure"...

Katherine Johnson played an integral role in calculating and analyzing the flight paths of various spacecraft (from the Mercury capsule to the space shuttle) during her more than three decades at NASA.

NASA Administrator Statement on Passing of Katherine Johnson (Press Release)

The following is a statement from Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the passing of NASA legend Katherine Johnson, who worked for the agency from 1953 to 1986.

“NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson. Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space. Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars. Her Presidential Medal of Freedom was a well-deserved recognition.

“At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her. We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”


Thursday, February 13, 2020

SpaceShipTwo Update: VSS Unity Has Moved to Her New Home in the Land of Enchantment...

The VSS Unity, attached to her mothership VMS Eve, flies over New Mexico's Spaceport America...their new home.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Welcomes SpaceShipTwo Unity to Spaceport America, New Mexico (Press Release)

Virgin Galactic Captive Carry Test Flight Marks Relocation of Spaceflight Operations to Spaceport America

Virgin Galactic has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

VSS Unity, attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, made the journey from Mojave, California, where the Company’s manufacturing facilities are based. The vehicle landed at 15:49MT, where it was greeted by an enthusiastic group of teammates who will operate the spaceship in New Mexico.

This captive carry flight provided an opportunity for engineers to evaluate VSS Unity for over three hours at high altitude and cold temperatures, a longer period of time than is experienced during missions to space. These environmental evaluations of system performance are difficult to replicate at ground level, making captive carry missions a vital component of VSS Unity’s flight test plan.

The flight also provided a valuable opportunity to conduct pilot training and familiarization, with veteran Italian Air Force Test Pilot Nicola ‘Stick’ Pecile joining Chief Pilot Dave ‘Mac’ Mackay in the cockpit of the spaceship for the first time. Nicola is the fifth pilot to complete a flight in VSS Unity. VMS Eve was piloted by Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci and Frederick ‘CJ’ Sturckow.

The move of the spaceship to Spaceport America marks a key step in the relocation of Virgin Galactic’s to the state of New Mexico. In May 2019, Virgin Galactic announced that as part of this move, approximately 100 teammates would move to New Mexico from Mojave, California, Spaceport America would become operational and the vehicles would be transferred to the Gateway to Space. Today, nearly all of those team members have relocated, the spaceport is operationally ready, and both VMS Eve and VSS Unity have now arrived. Of Virgin Galactic’s total current New Mexico work force, more than 70 team members have been hired locally, the result of a conscious effort to attract New Mexico-based talent.

“New Mexico is going to be the world’s launch pad for commercial spaceflight,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “Today marks another step closer: We will have a genuine Space Valley in Southern New Mexico, a hotbed of innovation and achievement and space tourism development. I congratulate Virgin Galactic’s workers, George Whitesides and Sir Richard Branson on today’s successful flight – and once again I say to them: Welcome to New Mexico, we’re very glad to have you!”

“When Virgin Galactic started moving to New Mexico last year, everyone felt the sheer magnitude of the task ahead, but we were encouraged and excited by the team’s confidence and strong vision for the future,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic. “Today we realized the next step in that dream by bringing our beautiful spaceship to New Mexico. We still have significant work ahead, but we are grateful to all our teammates who have made this day a reality.”

The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the Company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program. This will begin with a number of initial captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico, allowing the spaceflight operations team to familiarize themselves with the airspace and ground control. Once these tests are complete, the team will carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity’s performance. During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.

The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s design, testing and manufacturing arm, remains firmly rooted in Mojave, California. While VMS Eve and VSS Unity are now based in New Mexico, they will make periodic journeys back to Mojave to support ground and flight tests of new spaceships, as well as for vehicle maintenance and upgrade activities. There is significant progress being made on the next two spaceships, including achieving the Weight on Wheels milestone for the second spaceship and completing over 50% of the structural and system part fabrication for the third spaceship, which were announced in January.

Dan Hicks, Spaceport America’s Executive Director, congratulated the Virgin Galactic team, saying “This truly is the dawn of a new era for the commercial space sector. We are tremendously proud of our foundational partner Virgin Galactic – as we see and support their historic progress in making human space flight a reality for our beautiful world. The New Mexico and Spaceport America leadership will continue our strong support for our visionary Virgin Galactic teammates; and we are looking forward to an exciting 2020!”

Source: Virgin Galactic

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Milestone Is Achieved for Future SLS Missions...

Four RL10 rocket engines – shown here at Aerojet Rocketdyne's facility in West Palm Beach, Florida – were recently delivered to NASA to fly aboard the Space Launch System on future missions.
Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne Delivers RL10 Engines That Will Help Send NASA Astronauts to Deep Space (Press Release)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Feb. 03, 2020 -- Aerojet Rocketdyne recently delivered four RL10 upper stage engines to NASA’s Stennis Space Center that will help power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket as it carries astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to deep space. These missions are part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and next man on the Moon, and set the stage to send astronauts to Mars.

“Nearly 500 Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines have powered launches into space,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to upgrade and improve this highly-reliable, flight-proven engine. The RL10’s we just delivered to NASA will power the SLS upper stage on missions that safely launch our astronauts to explore deep space destinations.”

A single RL10 engine will provide nearly 25,000 pounds of thrust and serve as the main propulsion for the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) that will fly atop the SLS rocket Block 1 in support of each of the first three Artemis missions. Later Artemis missions will use the evolved SLS Block 1B rocket configuration that includes the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) powered by four RL10 engines to send Orion and large cargos to the Moon. The four RL10 engines on EUS provide more than 97,000 pounds of thrust.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is under contract to deliver 10 RL10 engines to NASA to support the Artemis program. One of the four engines that were recently delivered will be used to support the Artemis II mission that will use the ICPS upper stage, while the other three are slated to support future Artemis missions aboard the EUS. Delivery of the remaining six engines will be completed by 2021.

“The EUS is really a game changer for SLS and NASA’s lunar exploration program in terms of payload mass,” said Steve Wofford, Space Launch System Program Liquid Engines manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “These RL10 deliveries are a key stepping stone toward that future success.”

Evolving the SLS rocket to the Block 1B version that uses EUS significantly increases the amount of payload that can be carried to lunar orbit; up to 40 metric tons compared to the 26 metric ton capability provided by the SLS Block 1 configuration. It also provides the option for “co-manifested” payloads such as large components for NASA’s Gateway orbiting lunar outpost, landers, or surface systems.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed engine qualification testing for EUS and all other engineering activities, including providing NASA with the information necessary for the agency to human rate the RL10 engines. Qualification of the engines for ICPS will be completed in 2020.

Source: Aerojet Rocketdyne