Welcome to Our New Pad…

Check out the news release:


RELEASE: 09-127




CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The May 31 transfer of Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program is the next step in preparing the first flight test of the agency’s next-generation spacecraft and launch system. The Constellation Program is developing new spacecraft — including the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule, and the Altair lunar lander — to carry humans to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond.


Since the late 1960s, pad B has been instrumental in human spaceflight programs, such as Apollo, Skylab and the space shuttle. The pad originally was built for the Saturn V rockets to launch the Apollo capsules to the moon. In July 1975, the pad was modified to support space shuttle operations. The first space shuttle to lift off from pad B was Challenger in January 1986.


The handover took place Sunday after space shuttle Endeavour was moved to Launch Pad 39A. The ground operations team will finish modifying pad B for the Ares I-X rocket launch. Modifications will include removing the orbiter access arm and a section of the gaseous oxygen vent arm and installing access platforms and a vehicle stabilization system.



Fitting It All Together

Take a look at the new Constellation video that aired on NASA TV during the recent STS-125 shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. In it, astronaut Pam Melroy guides you through Constellation and our hopes and goals for exploration. Click on the image below, and you will be taken to the interactive feature where you can learn about it all. To see the full length video, click on “Play Video” in the middle of the screen once you access the Web feature, and let us know what you think.

Constellation On The Move for Orion's Launch Abort System Test

The Orion crew exploration vehicle team is getting ready for the first flight test of its launch safety system. Components are continuing to arrive at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico where the test, called Pad Abort 1, will take place in November.

The abort motor for the test was shipped from ATK in Salt Lake City last week. Read more about it here: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/orion/las_may2009.html

Watch video of it moving out here, courtesy of ATK: http://mfile.akamai.com/18566/wmv/etouchsyst2.download.akamai.com/18355/wm.nasa-global/MARSHALL/LAS_ShiptoWS_240.asx

Constellation on the Move

NASA is one step closer to launching a flight test of the Constellation Program with Tuesday’s send-off of the Orion jettison motor, a solid rocket motor engineered for the launch abort system of the next-generation spacecraft Orion.


Built for NASA by Aerojet, the jettison motor was shipped from Sacramento, Calif. to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for the first test of the launch abort system, called Pad Abort-1. Orion’s abort system will be capable of pulling the crew module away from the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle within milliseconds in the event of an emergency on the pad or during the initial ascent phase.

jettison motor


The jettison motor, a key component of the launch abort system, is designed to separate the spacecraft’s abort system from the crew module after it is no longer needed during launch. A jettison motor function will be needed on every Orion mission.


“The delivery of the jettison motor is a significant milestone for the launch abort system program,” said Kevin Rivers, Orion launch abort system manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Delivering this rocket motor is a great reflection of the intense and focused work by the entire jettison motor team.”


The NASA Orion Project is managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. manages the Orion Launch Abort System element development and integration in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.


The components of the abort system are being delivered by Orbital Sciences Corporation, for Lockheed Martin Corporation, the prime contractor for Orion. Aerojet is the subcontractor responsible for the jettison motor.


Wow! How Tall is That?

The Ares V replica, in the photo, is 1/15 the size of the heavy lift cargo launch vehicle that’s being developed for the Constellation Program — and it stands more than 25 feet tall.

The actual Ares V will stand 380 feet tall. That’s taller than a football field is long.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, recently installed  the scale model replica of an Ares V cargo launch vehicle. Glenn’s Ares V role is leading the design and development of the payload shroud, which is a large structure at the top of the rocket that protects the main payload, a moon lander, during launch. Once clear of the Earth’s atmosphere, the payload shroud will separate from Ares V enabling the lander to dock with Orion in low Earth orbit.

Glenn will also oversee the design and development of several vital subsystems, including the system that steers the vehicle during flight, the electrical power system, development flight instrumentation, and the purge and hazardous gas detection system.  Glenn is also contributing to the design of the Ares V upper stage, the Earth departure stage.  In addition, Glenn expects to play a major role in the environmental testing of the Earth departure stage and its main engine, the J-2X.

The Ares V is being designed by a team of NASA centers and contractors around the country.

Into the Blue (Foam Walls)

An Orion model recently went through some testing here at the Johnson Space Center in an anechoic chamber. Orion’s antennas were being tested out in the chamber, which absorbs all soundwaves and other electromagnetic energy. This is done to more closely mimic the environment of space, and NASA conducted similar testing during Apollo and shuttle. NASA has several of these chambers at different centers, one of which makes an appearance during the movie “Armageddon.”





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