Into the Blue

This is a shot of the 18,000-pound Orion mock-up being tested in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the waves reached upward of nine feet, and the mock-up performed well. Engineers are taking a look at how the spacecraft acts in the water in order to better learn what the crew inside will experience as well as the recovery teams who will operate once Orion lands. The Orion testing will continue, and we will keep posting pictures as we get them.




Ares Motor on the Move

The first of five segments for the Ares I development motor (DM-1) was moved April 16 from ATK Space System’s production facility in Promontory, Utah, to the nearby test stand, in preparation for the first ground test, targeted for August. This next generation of solid rocket motor will be used to launch humans on future missions to the International Space Station, the moon, Mars and beyond.


Manufactured by ATK – prime contractor for the Ares I first stage – the motor is similar to the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster (RSRB) currently used by the Space Shuttle, although the new motor is one segment longer (five segments instead of four) and there have been modifications to accommodate the Ares mission objectives. Following ATK’s usual manufacturing procedure, the segments were cast and then went through a complete X-ray inspection.


The moving of segments to the test area will continue at a rate of one per week until the final segment arrives May 12. The week between segments allows for insertion into the test stand and assembly as each piece arrives.


The critical forward segment, which contains the propellant fins and igniter, took the longest to manufacture and was the first to arrive at the test stand. The DM-1 motor will be assembled there from the top down.


The forward segment is designed with “fins” or slots in the propellant that provide additional surface area for burning more of the solid fuel. This creates more power, or thrust, during launch. The Ares first stage team has added a twelfth fin as opposed to the eleven fins in the shuttle’s RSRB and made the fin area three-and-a-half feet longer. The fins are cast in the propellant by using a mold during the casting process.


When the historic DM-1 booster undergoes ground testing later this year, it will be the first full-scale booster test of the new Ares I crew launch vehicle.



Engineers Review Solutions to Thrust Oscillation on Ares I

This week, engineers from across NASA and partner contractors gathered at Marshall Space Flight Center to analyze designs to minimize vibrations in the Ares I rocket. During this three-day meeting of the minds, participants showcased tremendous progress toward understanding the physics of thrust oscillation, updates to several candidate mitigation solutions, and results from early subscale testing of candidate hardware. This was not a decision-making session, but an opportunity for engineers and managers to scrutinize proposed solutions.

Thrust oscillation may be felt for a few seconds at the end of first-stage powered flight. Also called “resonant burning,” thrust oscillation is a phenomenon in all solid propellant rockets forcing vibrations through the entire structure, in the case of Ares I, that includes the Orion crew module. 

To date, several promising mitigating systems have been identified to counteract vibrations stemming from thrust oscillations. Two primary options are actively under development:

Isolators are C-shaped springs that could be placed between the Ares I frustum and interstage to “detune” the vehicle resulting in less vibration for the crew while maintaining vehicle control stability. The design is based on an existing “soft-ride” technology developed by CSA Engineering, Mountain View, Calif. “Soft ride” technology, which has flown on 17 spacecraft, has been typically placed inside the payload shroud to protect payloads from oscillations.  The current  Ares design incorporates a ring of 136 C-shaped springs and attach hardware into an isolator module which measures 18.5 inches in height.  ATK Launch Systems, located near Brigham City, Utah, is the Ares I prime contractor and is working aggressively with CSA Engineering to mature the isolator design. Moving forward, engineering teams will continue to evaluate the performance of the C-shaped springs and supporting hardware. Engineering design units have been tested on a “shaker stand” which simulates the thrust oscillation loads and demonstrated functionality and effectiveness of this system. 

Tuned Oscillation Arrays:
An earlier active mitigation concept called Reaction Mass Actuators (RMA), has matured into a passive solution known as Tuned Oscillating Arrays (TOA). This system will be mounted inside the first stage aft skirt and includes an array of boxes that contain masses suspended on springs which absorb or soak up the vibration oscillation produced during first stage flight. Analysis of the aft skirt has indicated  that the existing skirt design can support the TOA approach. Following the recent STS-119 shuttle mission, engineers conducted a fit check with TOA volume simulators and found the solution to be feasible in the existing aft skirt design. Next steps include finalizing  bracket concepts to connect TOA boxes to the aft skirt and examining handling processes and equipment needed for ground support. The active RMA concept, which includes powered springs that actively cancel out the vibration, is on hold but available for restart if required later. 

Two other alternative thrust oscillation strategies under study as risk mitigation to the baseline include:

A “dual plane” solution:
A dual plane solution would employ two rings of isolators, one located at the interstage/frustum interface and another between Orion and the Ares upper stage. Having redundancy of isolator rings may provide increased “detuning” capability to ensure the Orion does not respond to the oscillations of the first stage motor.

LOX damper:
Engineers are also evaluating a concept called a LOX damper, which uses the fundamental physical properties of liquids to leverage the kinetic energy in the movement of the existing liquid oxygen in the upper stage tank to dampen out vibrations. The devices, installed within the liquid oxygen tank, can engage the mass of the liquid propellant to generate momentum in the fluid itself to counter the vehicle acoustic response and disrupt oscillation. Engineers are evaluating the effectiveness and applicability of this design.

Data analysis:
In addition to discussing specific design solutions, the thrust oscillation team is pouring over existing ground and new flight test data captured from recent shuttle missions STS-126 and STS-119.  During recent shuttle flights, sensors placed on both ATK-produced solid rocket boosters measured pressure oscillations, in addition to vibration measurements, on crew seats.  Measurements are helping engineers anticipate the magnitude of thrust oscillations forces that may be expected on future Ares I flights. 

NASA engineers and astronauts are also evaluating crew situational awareness under various vibration conditions in a simulator at the Ames Research Center. NASA is working to set the final requirements for acceptable crew vibrations – currently a 0.25g requirement that was developed during the Gemini era.

Next steps:
Testing of the isolators and TOA candidate mitigation hardware will march forward.  NASA teams will capture additional data from future shuttle flights and from the upcoming test flight of Ares I-X to better understand the risk to the Ares I vehicle and the Orion capsule. Considering all information, NASA will finalize vehicle designs in a thrust oscillation preliminary design review which will define which system, or combination of systems, works best to minimize vibrations on the Ares I vehicle. 

Where Things Stand with Constellation

Much has been said recently regarding the cost and schedule related to NASA’s successor program to the Space Shuttle.  However, this is a subject where considerably more heat than light has been generated, so let’s review the bidding as objectively as possible.


First, some facts:  NASA’s commitment has been and continues to be to achieve the first human launch of Orion by March 2015. We see that as eminently achievable, but it’s not a guarantee – there is no such thing in any large scale development program and especially for one where the available funding is never known more than one year in advance.


While there has been moderate growth relative to early cost estimates, these increases are contained within the projected budget profile to which the agency has worked to for the last three years. The development cost for achieving the first crewed flight today is roughly $30 billion, far short of estimates which have been recently bandied about.


How We Got Here


The Constellation Program, now in its fourth year, has nearly completed its ‘formulation’ phase – this is the phase in which concepts are developed, capabilities are defined, requirements are written, and contracts are established with industry.


When the program began, one of the many constraints it was called upon to honor was a ‘go as you pay’ plan – that is, the pace of the program would be dictated largely by the share of NASA’s annual budget that human spaceflight has historically been allocated.


Based on that constraint, it was always recognized that funding for a new development program would be exceedingly tight in the years 2008 thru 2010.


A second constraint, the key to achieving our exploration goals beyond low Earth orbit, was to make our early investments in Orion and Ares I so as to ensure that they could support missions to the moon, the near-Earth asteroids, and Mars, while nonetheless providing the capability to service the International Space Station


A third constraint embodied in legislative guidance was to use as much shuttle infrastructure and workforce as makes sense in the design of NASA’s new human spaceflight architecture.


All of this was in compliance with national policy. That policy, which was born out of the findings of the Columbia accident, started with a ‘vision’ from the Executive Branch in 2004, and then codified in two Congressional authorization acts in 2005 and 2008. 

An additional desire (regrettably, never a policy mandate) was to do whatever possible to ‘close the gap’ between the last shuttle flight and the start of Constellation launches from KSC.


In short, Constellation is not ‘NASA’s plan’ – it is the manifestation of national policy.


Moreover, Orion and Ares I are not standalone products – the Constellation Program is a collection of seven product lines to conduct operations in and beyond Low Earth Orbit… servicing the ISS, returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon, and enabling exploration beyond – to Mars, Near Earth Asteroids, or other destinations in the solar system. This entire range of product lines encompasses the Constellation architecture.


So with these constraints, and many more, NASA’s Constellation team has executed this early phase – called ‘formulation’ – at historically low cost for a human spaceflight development program. Compared to Apollo, and to Shuttle, and to Space Station, Constellation has been markedly leaner in its efforts to date.


So Why Can’t Orion Fly Sooner?


As we have openly discussed, it is true that inside NASA we challenged our team during this ‘formulation’ phase of Constellation to do better than March of 2015 for flying Orion for the first time with a crew.


Our earliest plans had the first crewed mission targeted for September of 2013. While none of the cost estimates showed that date to be likely, we still felt that being internally aggressive would help us clarify what was really necessary to do the job. In that respect, as a program management strategy, it has succeeded.


It is also true that over the last year, as we approached the end of this formative period, we have adjusted our internal schedules to align with the reasonable projection of our ever-improving cost estimates.


We have thus gained a level of understanding of the ‘work to go’ that is very rich in detail, and a depth in understanding of what each of our requirements costs in time and money – perhaps as well as NASA has ever done. I will leave that to others to judge, but I’m quite proud of what we have been able to achieve.


It is simply a matter of money at this point, not technology. Further, it is not merely a matter of total cost, but also of the time-phasing of when the money becomes available.


Of ‘Unk-Unks’ and Schedules


We have been asked consistently for the last three years ‘what would it take to fly as early as possible’? Study after study of that question has revealed roughly the same answer – not more money, but money earlier, is the key to flying sooner, more confidently, and ultimately with the smallest amount of delay due to ‘problems’. 


This is simply because, with sufficient early funding, engineers can investigate the riskiest parts of an emerging design for a spacecraft system or a rocket component and discover hidden problems early, before the design is ‘locked down’.


We call these ‘unknown unknowns’ or unk-unks, and if discovered early they can be accounted for in the design before building the final vehicle or system.


If discovered too late, after the design is ‘locked down’, then there is considerable cost required to rework the design, while the rest of the team waits until it is fixed.


We have done as much early risk mitigation as we have been able to afford in parallel with actually doing the design. But we have been forced to defer or eliminate some of that work in order to remain within our 2009 and 2010 funding limits – which have themselves changed as a result of Administration and Congressional decisions.


So those unk-unk’s we should be discovering now are lying in wait for us, and are of concern as we formulate our plan for achieving a March 2015 first crewed Orion launch, let alone anything earlier.


Keys to Success


NASA’s plans and programs are strictly a reflection of national policy. If the policy is to ‘go to the Moon by 2020’ and ‘go as you pay’, we respond with ‘here is how we propose to do it and, as best we can gauge it, here is how much it will cost’.


A few keys to success – and they are nothing new to program and project managers in any industry – are:


·         stable funding – don’t keep changing the money

·         stable requirements – don’t keep changing the plan

·         early investments to investigate the riskiest parts of a complex design such as a human spaceflight system will save billions in delays and overruns

·         a clear vision of the desired outcome – help the team ‘see’ the end game


NASA has done what it said it would do, indeed what it has been directed to do under national policy.


We have a functioning successor program to the shuttle. It is employing and re-invigorating the NASA institution across all of its 10 centers in California, Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Alabama and New Mexico.


We are today producing detailed designs and preparing to perform flight testing this year from test facilities in New Mexico and a shuttle launch pad in Florida.


We have laid out a plan and architecture, not just to replace the space shuttle, but to take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit. Not only are the Orion spacecraft and Ares I rocket progressing well in their designs, but early concept work is proceeding on the heavy-lift Ares V rocket, which will be more powerful than Apollo’s Saturn V, and the Altair Lunar Lander.


Construction is progressing at the Kennedy Space Center on launch pads, processing facilities and even the factory where Orion will be assembled.


Large scale facilities are being renovated or built anew in Utah, California, Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi and Louisiana to fabricate and test the major components. And orders are being placed with high technology suppliers in most states of the union.


NASA’s Constellation Program is rejuvenating an agency and an industry.


NASA’s value lies in the trails that it blazes, the things we do that are hard, so that industry can follow and create new markets.  Our role is to occupy the pinnacle of a $300B ‘space economy’ that generates products and services that bolster the nation’s broader economic productivity. We are doing so in a highly constrained ‘go as you pay’ environment, in parallel with meeting the nation’s commitment to completing the International Space Station, retiring the Space Shuttle, and mapping a course for human endeavor beyond our experience.


Contributed by Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program Manager



Same Choices,Same Story Here

There’ve been a lot of stories in the press lately about Constellation and its progress or supposed lack thereof. The alleged danger that the program is in. Could it be that when there’s nothing real to report that people try to stir up old news?


The fact is that Constellation is targeting March 2015 for the first crewed flight to the International Space Station, with Orion aboard the Ares I rocket. That date hasn’t changed for some time. We did originally give our teams a very tough challenge in the early days of the program of making this milestone in September 2013. And they worked hard toward it. But the fact is, we needed more money early on. Given the way budget cycles work, we were given a budget to initial operational capability, but the critical mass we would have needed to make that earlier date just wasn’t there right away.


So we made choices. We continue to make choices. About what to do and when. About sequencing and doing things in parallel that we might ideally do in a different fashion given every dollar we wanted when we wanted it. But who gets that? The reality is that we are very fortunate to have a budget that will enable us to get to a crewed flight in 2015, but we’re going to have to put off some other work until we get the Ares I and Orion system fully designed, tested and flown.


Our budgets are built to accommodate the change and contingency that any development program encounters. We have, after all, not created a new system for spaceflight in over 35 years. It’s an enormous challenge and one that we welcome. There have been varying budget numbers reported in the press. The bottom line is that we had some numbers early on that we used as estimates while the overall architecture we were going to use was still under discussion. Right now we’re targeting $36 billion for Constellation’s cost through initial operational capability. That’s for hardware, the stuff that will actually get us into space.  But we also need to budget for the people and ground operations, the upcoming work that must begin on Ares V and early development work on lunar systems. When you add that in, you get to around $44 billion for Constellation through 2015.


But those budgets are still being worked out with the new Administration. In the meantime, America should be proud of the exceptional work by teams across the country for the next generation of space vehicles. We’re working hard on them every single day.


The New Constellation Video

Take a look at the new Constellation video, which gives an overview of the progress that has been made. You can view it either on the Constellation multimedia page on or on the NASA Television YouTube page.


NASA Television on YouTube:



NASA and Orion Industry Team Conduct Ground Test Firing


Tuesday NASA and the Orion Industry Team successfully test fired a sub-scale attitude control motor thruster for the launch abort system (LAS) of NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle.


Conducted at ATK’s facility in Elkton, Md., the ground test firing is a milestone in the development of the Orion spacecraft and brings the Constellation Program another step closer to flight-ready status.

The test, referred to as High Thrust-8 (HT-8), was the fifth in a series of ground demonstrations of Orion’s attitude control motor system. This ground firing validated that several flight-weight subsystems are performing as designed. The final tests will be of increasing complexity in preparation for the Pad Abort 1 flight test scheduled for later this year, which will test the launch abort system’s capabilities using a full-scale crew module mockup.

Orion’s attitude control motor will provide steering for the launch abort system. In combination with the abort motor under development by ATK, the attitude control motor is designed to safely lift and steer the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle, pulling the crew to safety in an emergency on the launch pad or during the initial ascent phase.  


The attitude control motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator, with eight proportional valves/nozzles equally spaced around the circumference of the three-foot diameter motor.  In combination, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the crew module.  The valves are controlled by a redundant power and control system.  This test demonstrated one of the flight-weight valves at full thrust and at maximum stressing load.

ATK is responsible for the attitude control motor through a contract to Orbital Sciences Corporation, who is responsible for delivering the LAS motors for Lockheed Martin, NASA’S prime contractor for Orion. The Orion Project is managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The launch abort system is managed out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center.  


Image Credit: ATK

Space Shuttle Program Hands over Launch Platform to Constellation

The handover of Mobile Launcher Platform-1 from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program at a Kennedy Space Center ceremony on March 25 is the next step in returning people to the moon and exploring beyond.

The 4,625-ton, two-story steel structure will be modified for the first test flight of NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system. The Ares I-X rocket test, which is targeted for launch this summer, will provide important data for developing Ares I and support a critical design review next year.

“It truly is a historic day to be turning over a major piece of hardware from one manned spaceflight program to another,” Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said. “It really doesn’t happen very often.”

MLP-1 holds special memories for Leinbach, considering it has taken part in 51 shuttle launches — more than NASA’s other two launch platforms. Its rich history also includes three Apollo launches, including Apollo 11 that put humans on the moon; and three Skylab missions, making it the first mobile launcher platform to support space station, Apollo, space shuttle and Constellation programs.

The launch platform had just been used on March 15 to launch space shuttle Discovery on its STS-119 mission to the International Space Station.

After Leinbach shared some history of the launcher, the banner that read “Go Discovery” was changed to “Go Ares I-X” to reflect its new mission with the Constellation Program.

 “We are excited to have this mobile launcher platform turned over to us,” said Pepper Phillips, director of the Constellation Project office. “This is a real enabler for us.”

Constructed in 1964, Mobile Launcher-1, or ML-1, originally was used for transporting and launching the Saturn V rocket for Apollo lunar landing missions. For Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz, ML-1 was modified with a “milkstool” pedestal that allowed the shorter Saturn IB rocket to use the Saturn V tower and service arms. ML-1 was modified in 1975 for use in shuttle operations and was renamed Mobile Launcher Platform-1, or MLP-1.

  In support of the transition, United Space Alliance, Lockheed Martin and NASA collaborated to simplify design plans and capitalize on previous shuttle upgrades and existing infrastructure. 

The first modifications for MLP-1 began in May 2008, with the installation of 20 water bag cleats to the platform’s right-hand solid rocket booster hole, which will prevent any possible acoustic damage to the rocket during liftoff.

In December 2008, the ground control system hardware, which controls the ground equipment for checkout and launch, was installed onto MLP-1.

Next, MLP-1 will undergo ground control hardware testing at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B. Upon completion, the platform will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building’s High Bay 3 to begin its stacking with Ares I-X.

During the handover ceremony, Brett Raulerson, United Space Alliance manager for MLP operations, received a commemorative plaque that will be hung in the MLP shop. An identical plaque also will hang in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center.           

   “This MLP is the workhorse of the fleet,” Raulerson said. “It’s exciting to know it’s going to support three (space) programs before it is finished.” 

    Following the Ares I-X flight test, MLP-1 will be disassembled.


By Frank Ochoa-Gonzales

Constellation on the Move

A full-scale mock-up of NASA’s Orion launch abort system began a week-long flatbed trailer ride across the country Tuesday, en route to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Once at White Sands, the rocket-like structure will help NASA prepare for this year’s abort system test, called Pad Abort 1.

During its journey, the LAS pathfinder will break from the drive to visit museums along the way. Museum visits include:

* Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, March 4
* Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7
* Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo, Texas, on Sunday, March 8
* New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, N.M., on Monday, March 9

For more about the launch abort system pathfinder and updates during the road trip, visit: 

It's All About the Stars

What do the patches and pins that represent NASA’s Constellation Program and its projects symbolize? Most of you have seen the crew patches, similar to the shoulder patches worn by members of the military units, that are used to identify each NASA mission. 

Today, many of NASA’s programs and projects have informally adopted emblems — and make them into patches — to build team pride and identification. 


The Constellation emblem is intended to represent NASA’s effort to continue exploration from Earth to the Moon, Mars and beyond. According to Constellation patch designer Mike Okuda, the three crescents represent these three worlds, in order of distance, and in order of the increasing challenges that must be overcome to reach them. He says the crescents might also suggest worlds illuminated by the light of knowledge.


The emblem’s red vector suggests the outward direction of exploration, a symbol borrowed from the NASA agency insignia. Similarly, the dark blue background is deliberately suggests the NASA insignia. The 10 stars signify the 10 NASA centers working to return to the Moon.


Okuda says the outer equilateral triangle suggests simplicity and strength — the extraordinary engineering efforts it will take to achieve Constellation’s objectives.


The Orion crew exploration vehicle patch represents that project’s efforts to develop an advanced spacecraft that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, the Moon, and someday to Mars and beyond.  The patch also employs the equilateral frame, a unifying element in all of Constellation’s patches. The blue sphere is represents Earth. The red flight path illustrates the first missions to the space station, but then it shoots outward to the three large stars, implying the Moon, Mars, and worlds beyond. Okuda says the three stars also evoke the belt in the constellation Orion, while the other 10 other stars, arranged to suggest the same constellation, represent NASA’s 10 centers.


The Ares launch vehicles patch illustrates the sheer power needed for a spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity and reach for the stars. Okuda says the single bright star represents the launch vehicles, suggesting the dreams those vehicles will carry into the heavens. The light illuminates the crescent Earth, and once again, the 10 stars represent the NASA centers.


Okuda also designed the Altair lunar lander patch, which is based on the mission patch for the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. The eagle on the patch, of course, represents the United States. Eagle also was the name of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, the first human-piloted spacecraft to land on the moon. To distinguish the project patch, the eagle faces in the opposite direction, since it represents humankind’s return to the moon.


On the patch, the eagle carries an olive branch to represent peaceful exploration of space. The 10 stars are arranged to represent the constellation Aquila, or the eagle, of which the brightest star is Altair, translated as “the flying one.”  The “A” in the word “Altair” is based on NASA’s original mission patch for Project Apollo. According to Okuda, engineers working on Altair asked the eagle’s wing extend beyond the frame of the background triangle to signify their determination to use creative thinking to solve the many challenges they will face in such an ambitious effort.