Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) chilled out recently with a pressurization test of the liquid oxygen (LO2) tank at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – Pad 39B, recently upgraded by the EGS team for the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket.
The six-hour test of the giant sphere checked for leaks in the cryogenic pipes leading from the tank to the block valves, the liquid oxygen sensing cabinet, and new vaporizers recently installed on the tank.
The SLS will use both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. During tanking, some of the liquid oxygen, stored at minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit, boils off and vapor or mist is visible. While the tank can hold up to 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen; during the test it only contained 590,000 gallons of the super-cooled propellant.
The test was monitored by engineers and technicians inside Firing Room 1 at the Launch Control Center, a heritage KSC facility also upgraded by the EGS team in preparation for the upcoming mission. Results of the test confirmed that the fill rise rate was acceptable, the tank pressurization sequence works and that only one of the two vaporizers was needed to accomplish pressurization.
Another system is “go” for the first integrated launch of SLS and the Orion spacecraft!
Nearly the last of several large connection lines, called umbilicals, was installed on the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The umbilical was lifted by crane and attached high on the tower of the mobile launcher at about the 240-foot level, bringing the steel structure one step closer to supporting processing and launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The launcher is designed to support the assembly, testing, check out and servicing of the rocket, as well as transfer it to the pad and provide the platform from which it will launch.
This particular umbilical will supply propellants, environmental control systems, pneumatics and electrical connections to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) of the SLS rocket and will swing away before launch. The umbilical also will provide hazardous gas leak detection while the rocket is on the pad. The ICPS is located between the core stage of the rocket and the Orion capsule, and will provide propulsion for Orion while in space and give the spacecraft the big push needed to fly beyond the moon.
To install the umbilical, construction workers with JP Donovan prepared the rigging lines and attached the umbilical to a large crane. The ICPS umbilical was slowly lifted up and bolted to the mobile launcher. The entire process took about four hours.
With the umbilical in place, workers will install additional equipment on the tower, as well as electrical wiring, environmental control system tubing, hydraulics and other commodities will be routed to the umbilical arm before testing. Tests of the swing arm also will be performed as part of the verification and validation process.
Exploration Ground Systems is overseeing installation of the launch umbilicals and launch accessories on the mobile launcher to prepare for the first integrated test flight of Orion atop the SLS on Exploration Mission-1. A pair of tail service mast umbilicals are slated for installation later this year and will be the last of the twenty umbilicals and launch accessories to be installed on the mobile launcher. With this test flight, NASA is preparing for missions to send astronauts to deep space destinations, including the Moon, Mars and beyond.
NASA’s Recovery Team from Kennedy Space Center just finished a week at sea, testing and improving their processes and ground support hardware to recover astronauts in the Orion capsule once they splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Aboard the USS Anchorage, NASA and the U.S. Navy worked together to run through different sea conditions, time of day and equipment scenarios—putting hardware and the people through their paces.
Astronaut Stephen Bowen was aboard as an observer to better understand the recovery procedures and to offer an astronaut’s perspective. As a former Navy captain, Bowen has a wealth of knowledge to impart to the team—helping them better understand what the crew will be going through as they are bobbing up and down in the capsule after spending time in microgravity.
“I understand what it’s like to be on a boat that doesn’t have a keel (a structural beam that runs in the middle from bow to stern to give it stability) in the open ocean,” Bowen said. “It’s not necessarily the friendliest of places to be.” And add that to the physical manifestations of re-entering a gravity environment after several weeks, Bowen’s first-hand knowledge will be paramount for the team as they hone their plans to make recovery smooth.
During the weeklong testing, the team made strides in developing the final recovery plan and even shaved 15 minutes off their best time. “When the astronauts return to Earth, we are required to retrieve them within two hours,” said NASA Recovery Director Melissa Jones, “but our goal is to get to them as quickly and safely as possible—we are shooting for half that time.”
The team still has several tests scheduled between now and Orion’s first uncrewed flight atop the new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1. The mission will pave the way for future crewed missions and enable future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. During the flight, Orion will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon before splashing down into the Pacific, where NASA’s Recovery Team will be ready and waiting for her.
NASA’s new deep space exploration systems will send crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return them safely home. After traveling through space at 25,000 miles per hour, the Orion spacecraft will slow to 300 mph after it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then slows down to 20 mph before it safely splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
When astronauts come back from deep space, they will need to be picked up as quickly as possible. That’s where Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team comes in.
Under the auspices of Exploration Ground Systems, Melissa Jones, NASA’s recovery director, and her team will recover the Orion capsule and crew. NASA and the U.S. Navy are working together to ensure they are ready before the first uncrewed Orion mission aboard the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1.
This week, the integrated NASA and U.S. Navy team are aboard the USS Anchorage, testing out new ground support equipment and practicing their procedures.
After Orion completes its mission out past the Moon and heads to Earth, Jones will get the call Orion is coming home. Then, it is her job to get the joint NASA and U.S. Navy team to the capsule’s location quickly and bring it and the astronauts safely aboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship.
“We are testing all of our equipment in the actual environment we will be in when recovering Orion after Exploration Mission-1,” Jones said. “Everything we are doing today is ensuring a safe and swift recovery when the time comes for missions with crew.”
When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.
The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.
For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.
Engineers lifted and installed a third umbilical on the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a fit check. The tower on the mobile launcher will be equipped with several connections or launch umbilicals like this one. After the fit check was completed, the umbilical was lowered down and will be installed permanently at a later date.
The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel. They will be used to connect the mobile launcher to the agency’s Space Launch System (made up of the core stage, twin solid rocket boosters, and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage) and the Orion spacecraft mounted on top of SLS.
An area on the SLS between the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks is known as the core stage inter-tank. The core-stage inter-tank umbilical is the third in a series of five new umbilicals for the mobile launcher. Its main function is to vent excess gaseous hydrogen from the rocket’s core stage. This umbilical also will provide conditioned air, pressurized gases, and power and data connection to the core stage.
The Orion service module umbilical and the core stage forward skirt umbilical were previously installed on the tower. The service module umbilical will connect from the mobile launch tower to the Orion service module. Prior to launch, the umbilical will transfer liquid coolant for the electronics and purge air/gaseous nitrogen for environmental control. The SLS core stage forward skirt is near the top of the core stage, and the forward skirt umbilical provides connections and conditioned air/gaseous nitrogen to the core stage of the rocket. All these umbilicals will swing away from the rocket and spacecraft just before launch.
Several other umbilicals were previously installed on the mobile launcher. These include two aft skirt purge umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS rocket at the bottom outer edge of each booster and provide electrical power and data connections, remove hazardous gases, and maintain the right temperature range with a nitrogen purge in the boosters until SLS lifts off from the launch pad.
The first major integrated operation at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida began with the initial tanking of a cryogenic fuel into a giant sphere at the northwest corner of the pad. The tanking operation is one of the steps needed to bring the center closer to supporting the launch of the agency’s Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System rocket on its first uncrewed test flight.
“When I think of launch operations, there are distinct pictures that come to mind,” said NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “One of them is during the tanking operations as the cryogenic propellants are loaded into the Space Launch System rocket.”
Several Praxair trucks arrived at the center and offloaded their liquid oxygen, or LO2, slowly, one at a time, into the cryogenic sphere to gradually chill it down from normal temperature to about negative 298 degrees Fahrenheit. Praxair, of Danbury, Connecticut, is the company that provides the agency with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
Another wave of trucks arrived and offloaded their LO2 all at the same time. During the next several months, trucks will continue to arrive from Praxair and offload about 40,000 gallons of fuel two days per week into the sphere that can hold about 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen.
The procedure to fill the liquid hydrogen storage sphere will begin in November and will be completed in the same way. When both tanks are filled to about halfway, engineers in a firing room in the Launch Control Center will perform pressurization tests. Additional tests will be performed with the mobile launcher around mid-2018. The cryogenic fuels will remain in the tanks.
Blackwell-Thompson said it is not uncommon during tanking to see vapors and mist in the cryo storage area and near the vehicle. This week, she got a preview, when the trucks offloaded the first round of LO2 and once again, cryo vapors were visible. Because some of the liquid oxygen boils off during tanking, additional LO2 is required.
“This is a very important step in our path to launch, and we are thrilled to have cryo propellant return to the pad,” Blackwell-Thompson said.
The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is preparing the pad for the launch of Exploration Mission-1, deep space missions and the Journey to Mars. Significant upgrades to the pad include a new flame trench beneath the pad and a new flame deflector.
New service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster engines arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The platforms were transported on two flatbed trucks from fabricator Met-Con Inc. in Cocoa, Florida. They were offloaded and stored inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
The platforms will be used for processing and checkout of the engines for the SLS’ twin five-segment solid rocket boosters for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The boosters, in combination with the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, will produce more than 8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
The first SLS mission, EM-1, will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the Moon and bring it back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated system performance of the rocket, Orion spacecraft and ground support teams prior to a crewed flight.
The Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical (CSFSU) recently was installed on the tower of the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to prepare for the first launch of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft atop.
The mobile launcher tower will be equipped with a number of lines, called umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS and Orion spacecraft and provide commodities during processing and preparation for launch of Exploration Mission-1.
Cranes and rigging were used to lift the CSFSU and install it at about the 220-foot-level on the tower. The CSFSU will swing into position to provide connections to the core stage forward skirt of the SLS rocket, and then swing away before launch. Its main purpose is to provide conditioned air and gaseous nitrogen to the SLS core stage forward skirt cavity.
What is a LLAMA? It’s a Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, designed by Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He designed the LLAMA to help U.S. Navy line handlers retrieve the Orion crew module after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
Parr is the lead design engineer for Orion Landing and Recovery, which is coordinated and led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Parr’s design recently earned him second place in the agency’s third Innovation Awards competition.
“The LLAMA concept came to me after watching the sailors fighting to control the Orion test capsule during Underway Recovery Test 1 in open water in February 2014,” Parr said.
The standard Navy line tending practice is to wrap their lines around the ship’s T-bits, or large solid columns with a crossbar that resemble the letter “t,” located near the stern, so that the sailors can control big loads with only a few people. This works for most operations they do since the hardware they handle is usually big and slower moving in the seas. But the crew module is a different beast when floating in the water than anyone on the recovery team expected, Parr said. Orion is easily pushed around by wind and waves.
“I came up with a design that helps the Navy line handlers to safely maintain high tension in the tending lines during recovery of Orion into the well deck of a ship. It also regulates the amount of tension in the lines to ensure equal loading on the vehicle.”
The LLAMAs are mounted on the ship’s T-bits, and the mechanisms provide all tending line control of the crew module once it enters the well deck and until it is secured on the recovery cradle pads.
“I am both excited and honored to be recognized for the LLAMA design,” Parr said. “This has been a team effort for a few years now to get where we are today. We worked through development and testing until we completed our successful test during Underway Recovery Test 5 off the coast of San Diego in the fall of 2016.”
The LLAMA-controlled tending lines are the baseline method for recovery of Orion after Exploration Mission-1 and all future missions.
Parr began working at Kennedy in 2007. Prior to that, he worked for SAIC at Johnson Space Center in Houston for four years.