Artemis I Launch Team Fires Up Fueling Simulation

The Artemis I launch team rehearses loading the SLS rocket with propellants on Aug. 18, 2020.
Inside the Launch Control Center’s Firing Room 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the Artemis I launch team rehearse the procedures for fueling the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with super cold propellants, or cryogenics, on Aug. 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Chad Siwik

The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.

The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.

Orion Window Panel Complete for Front-Row View on Artemis Moon Mission

As NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaches the Moon on the Artemis III mission to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface, the crew will get a glimpse through the spacecraft’s windows.

The first element machined for the Artemis III Orion crew module – a cone panel with openings for windows which will provide that spectacular view – was designed by Orion’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, and manufactured by AMRO Fabricating Corp., of South El Monte, California. The completed panel is on its way to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, where engineers will weld it with other panels as part of Orion’s pressure vessel.

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NASA Begins Installing Orion Adapter for First Artemis Moon Flight

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are working to install an adapter that will connect the Orion spacecraft to its rocket for the Artemis I mission around the Moon. This is one of the final major hardware operations for Orion inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building prior to integration with the Space Launch System rocket.

The spacecraft adapter cone (seen at the bottom of the stack pictured above) connects to the bottom of Orion’s service module and will later join another adapter connected to the top of the rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage. During the process to install the cone on Orion, the spacecraft is lifted out of the Final Assembly and Systems Testing, or FAST, cell and placed into the Super Station support fixture.

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NASA Motor Test Helps Evaluate New SLS Materials

A test firing with a 24-inch solid rocket booster on Aug. 6 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will help engineers evaluate a new cleaning solvent for Space Launch System (SLS) booster nozzles. Tests with the smaller motor segment provides data so that engineers can determine if the new material warrants further pursuit for use on future SLS rockets. (NASA/Tyson Eason)

Every detail that goes into space exploration matters. While habitat design or making sure a rocket is powerful enough to launch supplies are obviously important, what may be less apparent are the smaller things, including the solvents used in manufacturing materials for spaceflight.

On Aug. 6, a 22-second hot fire test in the East Test Area at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, helped NASA and Northrop Grumman Corporation in Promontory, Utah – the solid rocket booster prime contractor – evaluate a new nozzle material for the Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters. These boosters produce more than 75 percent of the power to launch the rocket.

The nozzle construction enables the boosters to provide consistent performance while withstanding the 5,000 degree Fahrenheit flame produced as the solid fuel is burned to launch the rocket.  Such material changes are checked out in phases from sub-scale to full-scale tests and this 24-inch motor was a significant step in that process. Using a 24-inch-diameter, 20-foot-long sub-scale test motor that burned nearly 1,800 pounds of propellant and produced 23,000 pounds of thrust, the team collected data to help verify use of the solvent on future SLS flights beyond Artemis III.

“This 24-inch motor test is to evaluate the material in a solid rocket motor environment and make sure that we don’t get any unexpected changes in how it performs,” said Tim Lawrence, manager for motor and booster separation motor systems at Marshall.

While the solid rocket boosters that will be used on NASA’s Space Launch System – which this test supports – are 177 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, the motor used in the test is still large enough to produce valuable data.

“This booster is only 24-inches but the ability to fire it in a test stand helps us get the data we need to confirm that we want to test it in a larger, full-scale test,” Dennis Strickland, the test conductor said.

In addition to data about the solvent’s effects on the material during motor operation, engineers also collected information about its behavior during booster assembly.

“The 24-inch motor is large enough that we were able to use the same processes to manufacture the nozzle as are used on the full-scale motor and that gives us confidence it will provide a good indication of full-scale performance,” Lawrence explained.

While the verification test was to primarily support the SLS rocket, the test data may also be used by other government agencies to help advance their solid rocket propulsion technology as NASA and the agencies routinely share data with other government agencies and industry. Data sharing enhances capabilities and maximizes the return on investment for the taxpayer.

NASA’s SLS booster is based on three decades of knowledge and experience gained with the space shuttle boosters and has been updated with the latest technology. The agency is working to design, develop, and test next-generation boosters that will power SLS flights after all available shuttle-era hardware is expended. NASA has cast segments for the Artemis I and Artemis II lunar missions, the first two SLS flights, and has begun casting the Artemis III mission. Northrop Grumman delivered the segments for Artemis I to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 15.

SLS and the Orion spacecraft, along with the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration and the Artemis program, which will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon on a single mission.

Four Down, Four to Go: Artemis I Rocket Moves Closer to Hot Fire Test

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is completing the Green Run test for the rocket’s core stage, shown installed on the top left side of the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Credits: NASA/Stennis

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage for the Artemis I lunar mission has successfully completed its first four Green Run tests and is building on those tests for the next phase of checkout as engineers require more capability of the hardware before hot-firing the stage and its four powerful engines.

On Aug. 5, engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St Louis, Mississippi, where the stage is loaded into the B-2 Test Stand, completed the fourth of eight planned tests of the 212-foot-tall core stage. For Test 4, engineers performed the initial functional checkout of the main propulsion system components to verify command and control operability (valve response, timing, etc.) and performed leak checks on the core stage-to-facility umbilical fluid and gas connections.

Green Run is a demanding series of eight tests and nearly 30 firsts: first loading of the propellant tanks, first flow through the propellant feed systems, first firing of all four engines, and first exposure of the stage to the vibrations and temperatures of launch.

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First Pieces of Future Gateway Living Quarters

The first pieces of flight hardware for Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) have arrived at Thales Alenia Space Italy (TASI) sent by NASA’s HALO contractor Northrop Grumman. These forgings are the base metal that is used to create the pressure shell, barrel sections, and interface rings for HALO. The manufacturing process is based on the same process employed by TASI in support of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, which is currently being used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. HALO will be the initial pressurized living quarters where astronauts spend their time during expeditions aboard the orbiting Gateway. About the size of a small studio apartment, it can support a crew of four for up to 30 days when NASA’s Orion spacecraft is docked to the Gateway.

Learn more about Gateway.

Key Connection for Artemis I Arrives at Kennedy

Technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems move the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on July 30, 2020, for processing.

The second to last piece of hardware for the Artemis I test flight around the Moon has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) connects the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. The cone-shaped connector also helps protect the RL10 engine housed in the upper stage, which will provide the power necessary to leave Earth’s orbit and send the Orion spacecraft on its journey to the Moon.

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NASA Teams Load Artemis I Rocket Hardware on Barge for Trip to Kennedy

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s launch vehicle stage adapter. Credits: NASA/Fred Deaton

Teams at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, moved the Artemis I launch vehicle stage adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket onto the agency’s Pegasus barge July 17.

The adapter is the cone shaped piece that connects the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS). Pegasus will transport the flight hardware to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket in preparation for launch.

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Heat Shield Milestone for First Artemis Mission with Crew

Image Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft set to carry astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II.

The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when coming home from lunar velocities.

Prior to installation, several large blocks of the ablative material called AVCOAT were produced at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They were then shipped to Kennedy and machined into 186 unique smaller blocks before being applied by the technicians onto the heat shield’s underlying titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin.

To continue preparing the heat shield, engineers will conduct non-destructive evaluations to look for voids in the bond lines, as well as measure the steps and gaps between the blocks. The gaps will be filled with adhesive material and then reassessed. The heat shield will then undergo a thermal test after which it will be sealed, painted and then taped to help weather on-orbit thermal conditions. Once all testing has been completed, later this year the heat shield will be installed and bolted to the crew module.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Orion, along with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission of Orion atop the SLS rocket.