Asteroid Sampler Comm System Testing Complete

deepspacenetwork2015A spacecraft designed to sample an asteroid and return that sample to Earth will depend greatly on its communications systems with Earth to relay everything from its health and status to scientific findings from making a detailed survey of the asteroid known as Bennu. That’s why engineers from NASA’s Deep Space Network spent the past couple of weeks performing detailed tests of the various communications systems on the OSIRIS-REx spaceraft.

More than a simple on-off evaluation, the tests call for analyses that simulate the millions of miles of distance that signals from the spacecraft will have to traverse to reach the gigantic antennas of the Deep Space Network placed in California, Spain and Canberra, Australia. With dishes measuring up to 230 feet in diameter, the Earthbound communications network is geared to pick up faint transmissions from probes that are exploring the solar system.

The recent tests were completed inside a long, single-story building at Kennedy known as MIL-71. Its name harkens back to the time when Kennedy was known as the Merritt Island Launch Annex, or MILA. Communications systems allow only three letters, so it was shortened the MIL. In much the same way, the asteroid sampling mission called OSIRIS-REx by its management is known in Deep Space Network and communications circles by its own three-letter acronym, ORX.

It takes a roomful of specialized gear to perform the testing which calls for simulating the vast distances of space though the spacecraft and instruments are in buildings next door to each other. The team heads back to California soon to apply their work to the system and get ready to use it for launch.

They won’t know until about 20 minutes after liftoff whether their testing was performed correctly and the spacecraft will effectively communicate with Earth. It is around that time that the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket. Assuming they get a signal like they expect, the spacecraft will unfurl its solar arrays and head for the asteroid, keeping Earth updated to the progress throughout its journey. Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis

Platform D North Arrives at Kennedy Space Center for NASA’s Space Launch System

Platform D North arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.The second half of the D-level work platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), D North, arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center on June 27. The D work platforms are the seventh set of new platforms to arrive at Kennedy. A total of 10 levels of work platforms will surround the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and provide access for processing.

The platform was transported from Sauer Corp. in Orlando, Florida, by Tillett Heavy Haul of Titusville, Florida. Sauer is a subcontractor to VAB general contractor Hensel Phelps. Tillett Heavy Haul is a subcontractor to Sauer. The platform was placed on a stand in a staging area near the VAB, where some final assembly will be performed before it is transferred into the building.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to the VAB, including installation of the new platforms, to prepare for Exploration Mission 1, deep-space missions and the journey to Mars.

Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

Fourth Set of New Work Platforms Installed in Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3

The g-level work platforms are installed in the Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3.The G-level work platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, were installed this week in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. A heavy-lift crane was used to raise G south and G north platforms up from the transfer aisle, then over and down to about the 14th floor level for installation.

The G-level work platforms are the fourth of 10 levels of work platforms that will surround and provide access to the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission 1. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3, including installation of the new work platforms, to prepare for deep space missions, including NASA’s journey to Mars.

Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

OSIRIS-REx Processed for Asteroid Sample Return Mission

KSC-20160604-PH_DNG0001_0057AAt NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, preparations are underway to launch a mission to an asteroid that may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security–Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, spacecraft arrived at the spaceport from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver aboard an Air Force C-17, touching down on May 20 at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Since that time, the spacecraft was moved to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility where technicians and engineers removed it from its shipping container the next day and connected it to a rotation fixture for spin balance testing.

A test of the OSIRIS-REx solar array deployment mechanism recently was conducted along with inspection, cleaning and functional testing of the arrays. An interface test with the Deep Space Network currently is underway.

Targeted for liftoff at 7:05 p.m. EDT, Sept. 8, 2016, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve surface material and return it to Earth for study.

After OSIRIS-REx arrives within three miles of the asteroid, Bennu, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive study and mapping of the surface.

The science team then will select a location where the spacecraft’s arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect at least a 2.1-ounce sample for return to Earth in 2023.

Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis

Modifications Transforming Pad A for Falcon Launches

Pad 39A - Commercial Crew ProgramPad 39A - Commercial Crew ProgramRemoving hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and adding robust, new fixtures, SpaceX is steadily transforming Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use as a launch pad for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The launchers will lift numerous payloads into orbit, including the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts aboard bound for the International Space Station.

Shots of Pad 39A for Commerical Crew Program (CCP).

A horizontal integration facility was built at the base of the pad and rails installed running up the incline to the flame trench. Instead of arriving to the pad on the back of the crawler-transporters, SpaceX rockets will roll on a custom-built transporter-erector that will carry them up the hill and then stand the rocket up for liftoff. The fixed service structure at the pad deck will remain, although more than 500,000 pounds of steel has already been removed from it. SpaceX has already started removing the rotating service structure, which is attached to the fixed structure. Built for the need to load a shuttle’s cargo bay at the pad, it does not serve a purpose for Falcon launchers whose payloads are mounted on the top of the rocket.

SpaceX leased the historic launch pad from NASA in April 2014 and has been steadily remaking it from a space shuttle launch facility into one suited for the needs of the Falcon rockets and their payloads. It is the same launch pad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on July 16, 1969, to begin their Apollo 11 flight that would make history as the first to land people on the moon. Almost all signs of Apollo-era hardware were removed from the launch pad when it was rebuilt for the shuttle. Photos by NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Tail Service Mast Umbilicals Prepared to Support NASA’s Journey to Mars

A Tail Service Mast Umbilical at Precision Fabrication Cleaning in Cocoa, Florida.
A crane lowers a segment of one of the Tail Service Mast Umbilicals to its other segment at Precision Fabrication Cleaning in Cocoa, Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

Several connections, called launch umbilicals, will connect from the mobile launcher tower and provide power, communications, coolant and fuel to NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for their first integrated mission. Among them are two umbilicals, called tail service mast umbilicals (TSMUs). They are being cleaned and assembled at Precision Fabrication Cleaning in Cocoa, Florida, before they are transported to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for testing.

Technicians are cleaning the two segments of each umbilical to remove any dirt or debris that may hinder their functionality, checking them for any defects, and then assembling the parts to form two complete umbilicals. They will be transported to Kennedy’s Launch Equipment Test Facility where they will undergo testing to ensure their readiness to support prelaunch operations leading up to launch.

The umbilicals will connect from the zero-level deck on the base of the mobile launcher to the SLS rocket core stage aft section. The 33-foot-tall structures will provide liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fluid lines and electrical cable connections to the SLS core stage engine section to support propellant handling during prelaunch operations.

At the LETF, engineers and technicians will use liquid nitrogen to simulate the liquid oxygen for the TSMU that will provide liquid oxygen. They will test the umbilical’s arm performance across the full range of SLS core stage motions and simulate a vehicle launch using the Vehicle Motion Simulator test fixture. The same series of tests will be performed with the second TSMU that will provide liquid hydrogen, using the actual liquid hydrogen commodity.

Before launch, both TSMUs will tilt back to ensure a safe and reliable disconnect and retract of all umbilical hardware away from the rocket during liftoff.

Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate, along with the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, are supporting processing activities of the umbilicals for missions to deep space, including NASA’s journey to Mars.

Astronauts Provide Vital Feedback in Spacecraft Development


NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts work side-by-side with Boeing and SpaceX engineers to evaluate their systems and trainers as they each prepare to return launches to the International Space Station from American soil. They have performed fit checks in mockup spacecraft, assessed the spacecraft’s display panel and controls among numerous other systems.

Commercial Crew Gains Momentum from Manufacturing, Launch Facilities


Manufacturing bays and launch pads are scenes of careful activity midway through 2016 as Boeing and SpaceX, partners with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, build the prototype spacecraft that will precede assembly of the flight vehicles that will perform test flights. Both companies are building separate spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying astronauts some 250 miles into space where they will perform groundbreaking research aboard the International Space Station. Boeing’s Starliner is being assembled at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while SpaceX is manufacturing its Crew Dragon spacecraft at the company’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California.

Both companies are also hard at work modifying their respective launch pads. SpaceX is making numerous changes at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy so the former shuttle launch pad can instead host Falcon 9 rockets lofting Crew Dragons into orbit. A couple of miles south, at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Crew Access Tower has been constructed at Space Launch Complex 41, so astronauts will be able to climb inside the Starliner on launch day as it stands pointed to the sky atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Read more about the progress under way in commercial crew so far in 2016:

Platform D South Arrives at Kennedy Space Center for NASA’s Space Launch System

Platform D South arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.A heavy load transport truck from Tillett Heavy Hauling in Titusville, Florida, arrived at the north entrance gate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 6, carrying the first half of the D-level work platforms, D south, for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The platform will be delivered to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) staging area in the west parking lot. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3 to support processing of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. A total of 10 levels of new platforms, 20 platform halves altogether, will surround the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft and provide access for testing and processing to prepare for Exploration Mission 1.

Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Spacecraft 1 Major Components Arrive for Assembly

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, Spacecraft-1 Upper Dome being lifted and moved to work stand inside the C3PF Highbay.The last major element of a test version of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner arrived at the company’s spacecraft factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin assembly. The upper dome of the craft the company is calling Spacecraft 1 rolled through the doors of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy on May 20 so engineers and technicians could begin outfitting it with systems before joining the upper dome to the docking hatch and lower dome elements that arrived earlier in May. The spacecraft’s arrival points toward a time when the company routinely produces and launches Starliners on operational missions taking astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Machined into a honeycomb pattern to reduce weight while maintaining strength, the upper and lower domes will form the crew compartment of the Starliner once assembled together. Thermal shielding will encase the domes on the outside and a base heat shield will be connected to the bottom to complete the spacecraft ahead of its pad abort flight test. That flight test will not carry people, but will include an attached service module holding propellant and supply tanks along with four powerful launch abort engines. The test will be an automated demonstration of the launch escape system’s ability of to lift the Starliner out of danger in the unlikely event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb into orbit.

The work is taking place as the Starliner’s structural test article – a complete Starliner spacecraft designed only for tests on Earth – finishes its assembly and is readied for shipping to California for analysis in conditions similar to those found in space. Read much more about the spacecraft’s arrival and its importance to NASA’s goals for the Commercial Crew Program and enhanced research on the space station: Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis