Sunday, October 17, 2021

Photos of the Day: Two Major Flight Components Have Arrived in Florida for the Artemis 2 and 3 Missions!

The payload canister carrying Orion's pressure vessel for NASA's Artemis 3 mission is transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center's Industrial Area.
NASA

Last week, two major milestones were attained in NASA's Artemis program when the Orion pressure vessel for the Artemis 3 mission, as well as the European Service Module for Artemis 2, arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to complete final assembly.

The Artemis 3 pressure vessel was sent to Florida from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, while the Artemis 2 service module was transported to Cape Canaveral from Bremen, Germany, respectively.

Both major flight hardware will soon finish construction inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the KSC Industrial Area.

Artemis 2—the first crewed flight of Orion—is currently scheduled for launch in late 2023. Artemis 3, which will see astronauts set foot on the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972, is targeted for liftoff no earlier than 2024.

And as soon as tomorrow night, the Orion spacecraft for Artemis 1 will be transported to KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building to finally be stacked with the Space Launch System rocket! Stay tuned.

The payload canister carrying the European Service Module for NASA's Artemis 2 mission is about to be transported from the Launch and Landing Facility to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center's Industrial Area...on October 14, 2021.
NASA

Thursday, October 14, 2021

SpaceShipTwo Update: VSS Unity's Next Suborbital Flight Will Take Place in 2022...

A remote camera image, which was taken from the top of VSS Unity's fuselage, showing the vehicle near the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Begins Planned Vehicle Enhancement and Modification Period; Unity 23 Test Flight Rescheduled to Follow Completion of This Program (Press Release)

Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.

The enhancement program is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability for VMS Eve and VSS Unity. In preparation for this work, Virgin Galactic has been performing routine tests and analyses to update its material properties database. This data predicts how materials are expected to perform under certain load and environmental conditions and is used to inform the design and manufacturing enhancements that will support increased flight frequency. One of these recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection.

As is standard in aerospace test and evaluation practices, Virgin Galactic ships are designed to withstand forces that are substantially higher than those experienced in regular use, providing additional margin and layers of safety. The enhancement program is designed to further increase margins that will enable improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements when in commercial service. While this new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles, our test flight protocols have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will assess whether any additional work is required to keep them at or above established levels. Given the time required for this effort, the Company has determined the most efficient and expedient path to commercial service is to complete this work now in parallel with the planned enhancement program.

Following the enhancement period, the Company intends to complete the vehicle testing program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, including the planned research test flight with the Italian Air Force, before starting commercial flights.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Our decisions are driven by detailed and thorough analysis, and we fly based on the most accurate and comprehensive data available. Virgin Galactic vehicles are designed with significant margins for safety, providing layers of protection that far exceed loads experienced and expected to occur on our flights. The re-sequencing of our enhancement period and the Unity 23 flight underscores our safety-first procedures, provides the most efficient path to commercial service, and is the right approach for our business and our customers. We are deeply appreciative of the Italian Air Force Research Mission and grateful for their continued partnership with us in this test flight program.”

This schedule update is unrelated to the Company’s recent inquiry into a potential defect in a supplier component announced on September 10, 2021, which has been successfully resolved. While the supplied component in question was not on either VMS Eve or VSS Unity, in accordance with safety protocols, Virgin Galactic completed detailed inspections and scans which found all components met quality and safety standards and were ready for flight. The enhancement period is now beginning approximately one month later than anticipated, and commercial service is now expected to commence in Q4 2022.

Source: Virgin Galactic

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Photos of the Day #2: Captain Kirk Ventures into the REAL Final Frontier...

A pre-flight group photo of NS-18 crewmembers Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries.
Blue Origin

Congratulations to William Shatner and his fellow passengers Chris Boshuizen, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries on this morning's successful New Shepard launch on Blue Origin's NS-18 flight!

At the age of 90, Shatner is now the oldest individual to have ventured beyond the Kármán line...the internationally-accepted boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space.

With Star Trek's most famous actor now having gotten a taste of actual spaceflight, when will a Star Wars icon like Mark Hamill follow suit?

I'm a bigger fan of that "galaxy far far away" than I am of the United Federation of Planets, so I would really like to know!

William Shatner is in awe during his NS-18 flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule above Texas...on October 13, 2021.
Blue Origin

William Shatner looks out the window during his NS-18 flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule above Texas...on October 13, 2021.
Blue Origin

William Shatner confers with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after the New Shepard capsule safely touched down at Launch Site One in Texas...on October 13, 2021.
Blue Origin

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Photos of the Day: Orion Is Finally Ready to be Mated to the Space Launch System!

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion stage adapter is mated to the Space Launch System rocket...on October 9, 2021.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Last weekend, engineers attached the Orion stage adapter (OSA) to the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

This important milestone—which occurred on Saturday, October 9—sets the stage for the Orion spacecraft itself to be mated to NASA's newest Moon rocket inside KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) within the next week or so.

Now aboard SLS, thanks to the installation of OSA, are 10 CubeSats that will venture into deep space along with Orion after launch.

Originally, there were supposed to be 13 CubeSats that would hitch a ride to the Moon and beyond on the Artemis 1 mission...but unfortunately, 3 CubeSats (including NASA's Lunar Flashlight) were unable to meet the deadline for delivery to KSC.

Within the next several days, Orion will be transported from KSC's Launch Abort System Facility to the VAB to complete assembly of the rocket that will embark on Artemis 1.

Once stacking is finished, the SLS will be rolled over to KSC's Launch Complex 39B to undergo a Wet Dress Rehearsal next month. Artemis 1 is now scheduled to lift off no earlier than January of next year.

Stay tuned!

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion stage adapter is mated to the Space Launch System rocket...on October 9, 2021.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion stage adapter is mated to the Space Launch System rocket...on October 9, 2021.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion stage adapter is mated to the Space Launch System rocket...on October 9, 2021.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

CST-100 Update: Two Starliner Astronauts Will Now Fly to Space Aboard a Crew Dragon Vehicle Later Next Year...

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will head to the International Space Station on SpaceX's Crew-5 mission in late 2022.
NASA

NASA Announces Astronaut Changes for Upcoming Commercial Crew Missions (Press Release)

NASA has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

Mann and Cassada will serve as spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively, for the Crew-5 mission. Additional crew members will be announced later.

Crew-5 is expected to launch no earlier than fall 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The duo and their crewmates will join an expedition crew aboard station for a long duration stay to conduct science activities for the benefit of humanity and exploration.

“Nicole and Josh have done a tremendous job pioneering the training and path forward for astronauts to fly on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. They have gained experience that they will take forward as they train to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and serve aboard the International Space Station,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The NASA team is fortunate to have two commercial crew partners and will continue to work with Boeing and SpaceX to prepare NASA astronauts and our international partners to fly to and from the International Space Station on U.S. spacecraft.”

Mann and Cassada previously were assigned to missions on NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test and NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, respectively. NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, Mike Fincke, and Suni Williams will continue to provide experience for Boeing as the agency prepares for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. Additional Boeing flight assignments will be made in the future.

Mann is a California native and a colonel in the Marine Corps. She earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the United States Naval Academy and a Master of Science in mechanical engineering with a specialty in fluid mechanics from Stanford University. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. NASA selected Mann as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.

“It has been the opportunity of a lifetime to train on a brand-new spacecraft, the Boeing Starliner, and it has been fantastic to work with the Boeing team,” Mann said. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to train on another new spacecraft – the SpaceX Crew Dragon – and appreciate the teams at NASA who have made that possible. I am ready to fly and serve on the International Space Station.”

Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and is a physicist and U.S. Navy test pilot. He attended college in Michigan and then completed his Ph.D. research at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory before becoming a naval aviator. Cassada has accumulated more than 4,000 flight hours in over 45 different aircraft. NASA selected him as an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.

“It has been great to spend the last few years training with the joint Boeing and NASA team, and I am really looking forward to now have a chance to also train with SpaceX on a new spacecraft. Cross training on both programs is a unique opportunity to learn, but also to provide valuable insight to future astronauts flying these spacecraft,” Cassada said. “And, of course, Nicole and I are incredibly excited to get to work aboard the International Space Station, executing current operations and also contributing to future exploration beyond low-earth orbit.”

For more than 20 years, NASA has continuously had astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 242 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries.

The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and to expand commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit. As commercial companies focus on providing human space transportation services and developing a robust low-Earth orbit economy, NASA is free to focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

SLS Update: NASA's Newest Launch Vehicle Achieves a Developmental Milestone on Its Way to First Flight...

A low-angle view of NASA's Space Launch System rocket inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on September 20, 2021.
NASA / Frank Michaux

NASA’s Mega Moon Rocket Passes Key Review for Artemis I Mission (News Release)

NASA has completed the design certification review (DCR) for the Space Launch System Program (SLS) rocket ahead of the Artemis I mission to send the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. The review examined all the SLS systems, all test data, inspection reports, and analyses that support verification, to ensure every aspect of the rocket is technically mature and meets the requirements for SLS’s first flight on Artemis I.

“With this review, NASA has given its final stamp of approval to the entire integrated rocket design and completed the final formal milestone to pass before we move forward to the SLS and Artemis I flight readiness reviews,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program Manager who chaired the DCR board held at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

In addition to the rocket’s design, the review certified all reliability and safety analyses, production quality and configuration management systems, and operations manuals across all parts of the rocket, including interfaces with the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) hardware. With the completion of the SLS DCR, NASA has now certified the SLS and Orion spacecraft designs, as well as the new Launch Control Center at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for the mission.

The DCR is part of the formal review system NASA employs as a systematic method for manufacturing, testing, and certifying space hardware for flight. The process starts with defining what the rocket needs to do to achieve missions, such as its performance; these are called systems requirements. Throughout this process the design of the hardware is refined and validated by many processes: inspection, analysis, modeling, and testing that ranges from single components to major integrated systems. As the design matures, the team evaluates it during a preliminary design review, then a critical design review, and finally after the hardware is built and tested, the design certification review. The review process culminates with the Artemis I Flight Readiness Review when NASA gives a “go” to proceed with launch.

“We have certified the first NASA super heavy-lift rocket built for human spaceflight in 50 years for missions to the Moon and beyond," said David Beaman, the manager for SLS Systems Engineering and Integration who led the review team. “NASA’s mature processes and testing philosophy help us ask the right questions, so we can design and build a rocket that is powerful, safe, and makes the boldest missions possible.”

Artemis I will be the first integrated flight test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. In later Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone on the way to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Orion stage adapter sits at the middle of High Bay 4 inside Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building on October 4, 2021...waiting to be mated to NASA's Space Launch System rocket.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Inspiration4 Astronauts Have Received Their Wings!

The Inspiration4 crewmembers pose with the astronaut wings that they received during a surprise ceremony at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on October 1, 2021.
Inspiration4

Congratulations to Inspiration4 crewmembers Christopher Sembroski, Dr. Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux for receiving their astronaut wings yesterday!

The all-private crew received its dragon-shaped award during a visit to SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...in a surprise ceremony held by the company's employees.

It remains to be seen if the Federal Aviation Administration will bestow its own commercial astronaut wings onto the Inspiration4 crewmembers—since they were designated as 'spaceflight participants' by SpaceX (due to FAA regulation) while the mission was being conceived earlier this year.

In the meantime, these four pioneers should celebrate the fact that they'll hopefully be the first group of many who'll receive this beautiful recognition by SpaceX after flying aboard its Crew Dragon (and someday Starship) vehicle on a journey above the Earth and beyond. That is all.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

SLS Update: NASA Completes RS-25 Testing Campaign That Paves the Way for Missions Beyond Artemis 4...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on September 30, 2021.
NASA / SSC

NASA Readies for Future Artemis Moon Missions with Rocket Engine Test Series (Press Release)

NASA marked a significant milestone Sept. 30 in its plans for future missions to the Moon and, eventually, Mars with completion of an RS-25 single-engine Retrofit-2 test series at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

A full-duration hot fire of RS-25 developmental engine No. 0528 on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis culminated a seven-test series to support development and production of new engines for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on future missions.

“This successful test series for the Space Launch System RS-25 engine puts us one step closer to manufacturing the first new set of engines for future Artemis missions to the Moon,” said Johnny Heflin, manager of the SLS liquid engines office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We are testing engine parts made with advanced manufacturing techniques that can reduce the cost of each engine by more than 30 percent yet still maintain the RS-25 engine’s reliability and high performance.”

During the Sept. 30 hot fire, operators fired RS-25 developmental engine No. 0528, used for each of the seven tests in the series, for more than eight minutes (500 seconds), the same time required during an actual launch.

The test series provided valuable information to Aerojet Rocketdyne, lead contractor for the SLS engines, as it produces engines for use after the Artemis IV mission to the Moon. Operators collected hot fire data to demonstrate and verify various engine capabilities, and to evaluate new engine components manufactured with cutting-edge and cost-saving technologies and reduce operational risk.

Tested components included a 3D-printed pogo accumulator to dampen pressure oscillations that can cause flight instability and a main combustion chamber fabricated using a hot isostatic pressure (HIP) bonding technique. These components are significant early milestones in NASA’s and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s effort to maximize state-of-the-art manufacturing methods to significantly reduce the cost and time needed to build new RS-25 engines.

The Sept. 30 test was delayed from its original date due to impacts from Hurricane Ida, which struck the Gulf Coast region on Aug. 29. The storm initially impacted propellant deliveries to the center, necessitating a delay as suppliers recovered full capabilities.

“I am proud to see how the test team and our propellant suppliers overcame the impacts of Hurricane Ida to get us back to testing the RS-25,” Stennis RS-25 Project Manager Chip Ellis said. “With each test we learn more and more about the RS-25 engine and how it operates. And it is exciting to know that what we are doing contributes to the safety of the astronauts that will fly on SLS.”

Four RS-25 engines, along with a pair of solid rocket boosters, will help power SLS at launch. Firing simultaneously, the engines will generate a combined 1.6 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and 2 million pounds during ascent.

Previous RS-25 testing at Stennis began Jan. 9, 2015, and concluded April 4, 2019. During this period, NASA completed acceptance testing of former space shuttle main engines that will help power the first four SLS missions, conducted developmental and flightworthiness testing for all 16 new controllers (plus one spare) to be used on the heritage RS-25 engines, and demonstrated the ability of RS-25 engines to perform at the higher power level required to launch the super-heavy SLS rocket.

The first hot fire of the most current series was conducted on Jan. 28, 2021. Over the course of the seven-part test series, which coincided with Green Run testing of the SLS core stage at Stennis, developmental engine No. 0528 underwent 3,650 seconds of hot fire. The schedule included six full-duration, hot fire tests of more than eight minutes (500 seconds) and one hot fire of just under 11 minutes (650 seconds). A full-duration test refers to the time the engine must fire during an actual launch in order to power SLS towards orbit. Longer duration hot fires are conducted to test the limits of engine performance.

The Retrofit-2 test series followed major maintenance and upgrade projects on the A-1 Test Stand, including installation of a new NASA-designed-and-manufactured thrust vector control system on the structure that allows operators to “gimbal” test RS-25 engines, moving them on a tight circular axis. Gimbaling is a critical capability that ensures SLS can maintain a proper flight trajectory.

Operators are scheduled to begin a follow-up Retrofit-3 test series, using RS-25 developmental engine No. 0525, on the A-1 Test Stand later this fall. The new series will continue to collect data for new engine production.

NASA is building SLS as the world’s most powerful rocket. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and the Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. The agency is working towards the launch of the Artemis I uncrewed flight test in upcoming months, which will pave the way for future missions.

RS-25 tests at Stennis are conducted by a combined team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services operators. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

SpaceShipTwo Update: Launch Preparations for UNITY 23 to Resume Following a Weeks-Long Federal Investigation Into Last July's UNITY 22 Flight...

VSS Unity soars 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) above the Earth during the Unity 22 flight...on July 11, 2021.
Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Cleared to Fly Following Conclusion of FAA Inquiry (Press Release)

Virgin Galactic today announced that it is cleared to fly FAA-licenced spaceflights following the conclusion of an FAA inquiry that focused on air traffic control clearance and real-time mission notification related to the Unity 22 flight in July.

The FAA today advised Virgin Galactic that the corrective actions proposed by the Company have been accepted and concluded the FAA inquiry, which began August 11, 2021. They include:

- Updated calculations to expand the protected airspace for future flights. Designating a larger area will ensure that Virgin Galactic has ample protected airspace for a variety of possible flight trajectories during spaceflight missions.

- Additional steps into the Company’s flight procedures to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA Air Traffic Control.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Our entire approach to spaceflight is guided by a fundamental commitment to safety at every level, including our spaceflight system and our test flight program. We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry. Our test flight program is specifically designed to continually improve our processes and procedures. The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience.”

Virgin Galactic continues to focus on its pre-flight readiness for Unity 23. For the latest updates regarding flight timing, please view the Company’s statement on September 10, 2021.

Source: Virgin Galactic

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Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson and his three Unity 22 crewmembers float around inside VSS Unity's cabin during their 53.5-mile (86-kilometer) journey into space...on July 11, 2021.
Virgin Galactic

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Photos of the Day: Nauka Begins One of Its Roles as the Space Station's Newest Docking Port...

The Soyuz MS-18 vehicle is docked to the Nauka module at the International Space Station (ISS)...on September 28, 2021.
ESA / Thomas Pesquet

Several hours ago, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet took these amazing photos showing the Soyuz MS-18 capsule relocating from its docking port on the International Space Station's (ISS) Rassvet module to Russia's brand-new Nauka science laboratory.

The Soyuz spacecraft—which carried cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei—docked to Nauka at 9:04 AM, Eastern Daylight Time (6:04 AM, Pacific Daylight Time) today.

The relocation clears the way for next month's arrival of the Soyuz MS-19 capsule...whose crew consists of cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, film director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild, respectively.

Shipenko and Peresild will shoot scenes for a Russian movie [titled Vyzov (or The Challenge)] aboard the ISS after their Soyuz launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, October 5, and then docks to the Rassvet module later that day.

The Soyuz MS-18 vehicle departs from Russia's Rassvet module at the ISS...on September 28, 2021.
ESA / Thomas Pesquet

The Soyuz MS-18 vehicle in the process of relocating from the Rassvet module to the new Nauka science laboratory at the ISS...on September 28, 2021.
ESA / Thomas Pesquet

Orbiting above the night side of the Earth, the Soyuz MS-18 vehicle is about to dock with the Nauka module at the ISS...on September 28, 2021.
ESA / Thomas Pesquet

The current locations of all visiting vehicles at the ISS...as of September 28, 2021.
NASA