Preparations continue toward launch of the eleventh SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station on Thursday, June 1. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket is targeted for an instantaneous window at 5:55 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The forecast from the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron shows a 70 percent chance of favorable weather.
NASA Television will provide multiple broadcasts highlighting some of the launch activities beginning today, including the “What’s on Board” science briefing at 1 p.m. and the prelaunch news conference at 4 p.m. These events also will stream live on the agency’s website at www.nasa.gov/live. See the full briefings and events schedule here.
Live launch coverage begins tomorrow at 5:15 p.m. EDT right here on the launch blog and on NASA Television.
The eighth annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition wrapped up Friday. Teams of undergraduate and graduate students from more than 40 colleges and universities across the nation showed off their excavating prowess during the three-day competition, May 24-26. The teams had to design and build either remote-controlled or autonomous excavator robots that traversed a simulated Martian terrain, scoop up the dirt and return it to a hopper within 10 minutes.
The competition is a NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate project designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM fields by expanding opportunities for student research and design. The project provides a competitive environment to foster innovative ideas and solutions that could potentially be used on NASA’s journey to Mars.
The robots are here. More than 40 teams of undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the U.S. have descended upon NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with their uniquely-designed robotic miners, in all shapes and sizes, to compete over three days in the agency’s 2017 Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).
Each team’s robot traverses and excavates simulated Martian dirt, seeking to move and collect the most regolith, or simulated Martian soil, within a specified amount of time. Other RMC competition categories include submission of a systems engineering paper, slide presentation and robot demonstration. Also factored in is how well each team has reached out to its community through social media and engagement with area schools and the general public.
The competition concludes tomorrow with an evening awards ceremony at the Apollo Saturn V Center. A list of winners will be available by May 30 at http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.
The Robotic Mining Competition is a NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate project designed to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields. The project provides a competitive environment to foster innovative ideas and solutions that could be used on NASA’s Journey to Mars.
The CubeSats that make up NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative ELaNa 17 mission have begun their research in earnest. All three have been dispatched in orbit from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer on the International Space Station. Orbiting on their own on separate paths, the individual spacecraft will relay data to researchers on Earth as they conduct their flights.
The CubeSats were packed inside a Cygnus spacecraft that was launched to the space station loaded with supplies and experiments for the astronauts.
Despite being not much bigger than a coffee cup, each satellite is packed with the devices needed to carry out their research. Each of the three spacecraft will tackle different research. IceCube is equipped with a sensor that will survey levels of ice in the clouds above Earth. CXBN-2 further refines observation techniques of cosmic background radiation for clues into the formation of the universe. CSUNSat1 will not look out for its research. Instead, the CubeSat is testing energy storage devices in space. For more about the three CubeSats dispatched this morning, go to https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-elana-xvii-mission-launches-three-cubesats
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.
Work continues to prepare NASA’s Orion crew module for its first integrated flight atop the Space Launch System rocket. The crew module was moved from a clean room to a work station inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for the next additions to the spacecraft.
In the clean room, engineers and technicians completed the welding of the tanks to the propulsion and environmental control/life support systems (ECLSS) tubing. They also completed welding to install the propellant, pressurant and post-landing coolant tanks. The pressurant is used to maintain the flow of propellant and coolant in the propulsion and ECLSS systems, respectively.
Now secured in a work station, Orion will undergo additional processing to prepare it for launch in 2019. The crew module up-righting system, comprised of five up-righting bag assemblies, each with an inflation gas assembly, will be installed in the crew module’s forward bay. The up-righting bags are inflated after the crew module splashes down in the ocean and will turn the spacecraft upright if external forces cause it to roll over. The three main parachute assemblies also will be installed in the forward bay.
Orion’s crew module will be populated with avionics components, including control systems and communication and data units. Flight wire harnesses, which distribute power and data among the spacecraft’s systems, will be routed throughout the crew module’s forward bay, crew cabin and aft- and mid-bays.
The first flight of SLS and Orion will send the spacecraft beyond the moon before Orion returns to Earth and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated performance of the SLS rocket, Orion and ground support teams before a flight with crew in the early 2020s.
Intense heat and fire will fill the north side of the flame trench beneath the pad when NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A project to upgrade the walls of the flame trench to withstand these conditions recently was completed.
All of the new heat-resistant bricks now are in place in the flame trench below the surface of the pad. Construction workers installed the final brick May 9, completing about a year’s worth of work on the walls on the north side of the flame trench to support the launch of the (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft on deep-space missions, including the Journey to Mars.
About 96,000 heat-resistant bricks, in three different sizes, now are secured to the walls using bonding mortar in combination with adhesive anchors. The flame trench will be able to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit at launch of the rocket’s engines and solid rocket boosters.
“The flame trench has withstood so many historical launches, and we are giving it new life to withstand many more,” said Regina Spellman, the launch pad senior project manager with the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.
The north side of the flame trench is about 571 feet long, 58 feet wide and 42 feet high.
A new flame deflector soon will be installed that will safely contain and deflect the plume exhaust from the massive rocket to the north during launch. Two side flame deflectors, repurposed from space shuttle launches, will be refurbished and reinstalled at pad level on either side of the flame trench to help reduce damage to the pad and SLS rocket.
Yesterday, one of our spaceport partners, the U.S. Air Force, successfully landed their X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at the Space Florida-operated Shuttle Landing Facility here at Kennedy Space Center. I am proud to congratulate the Air Force on their program accomplishment and welcome them as a member of the KSC multiuser spaceport family. What an outstanding use of a runway and processing facilities that once supported NASA’s space shuttle and now support a new orbital vehicle.
This achievement is just one more example of how KSC is a vibrant spaceport full of activity. We continue to forge new relationships with commercial space industry and other partners to expand the spaceport. We enable organizations to achieve mission success through a comprehensive range of resources unmatched anywhere in the world. Having industry partners enables NASA, to do what we do best, explore the unknown and forge the path to send humankind farther into deep space than we have ever been, including Mars.
— Bob Cabana,
Director, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
A small gathering of current and former NASA officials and space journalists gathered in the newsroom at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the unveiling of six new names on the facility’s “Chroniclers” wall.
Bruce Hall, Scott Harris, Bill Johnson, Warren Leary, Bob Murray and Phil Sandlin were selected by a committee of their peers to be the 2017 Chroniclers. Brass strips engraved with their names have been added to the list, which recognizes retirees of the news and communications business who helped spread news of American space exploration from Kennedy Space Center for ten years or more. All are known for their excellence in communicating spaceflight’s stories to a global audience.
“I think it’s great to add six more names to the 66 names on the wall behind me,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said as he gestured at the list above, where the names of current and past honorees are joined by a sign that reads, “Recording History.”
“It’s really important, the ability to communicate to the public what we do,” he added.
Hall was a veteran CBS News and NBC News correspondent and producer who covered space for more than two decades, from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 through the early years of the shuttle program, including the Challenger accident and return to flight, as well as the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Hall passed away May 2, just three days before the Chroniclers ceremony. CBS News correspondent Bill Harwood accepted Hall’s award on behalf of his family.
An Orlando TV reporter and anchor for more than 40 years, Harris was widely regarded for his live coverage of space shuttle launches from Kennedy. He worked both the first shuttle launch in April 1981 and the liftoff of the final shuttle mission in July 2011. He passed away one month later at age 64. Harris’s son, Emery McGough, accepted his award.
Johnson began his career at Kennedy in 1965 and spanned more than 45 years. He served for many years as Kennedy’s chief of Media Services, with responsibility for the timely release of NASA news and operation of the space center’s bustling newsroom. Johnson was an awardee of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
Leary served as a science writer and correspondent for The Associated Press and The New York Times for more than 35 years. An award-winning journalist, Leary covered spaceflight, technology, engineering, aeronautics, and medical science, as well as the investigation into the cause of the 2003 Columbia accident.
Murray was NASA’s first videographer to provide live, airborne TV coverage of space shuttle launches and landings. For more than 23 years, his aerial imagery was seen on television networks and stations, as well as in publications worldwide.
A photographer for United Press International and then The Associated Press, Sandlin covered the U.S. space program from the Apollo missions to the moon through the shuttle program until his retirement in 2001. Sandlin was winner of the National Press Photographers Association’s prestigious Joseph Costa Award in 2016.
The theme for the 48th Earth Day could have been “making space for nature” as NASA’s Kennedy Space Center hosted about 40 exhibitors who shared information on renewable energy, electric cars and Florida-friendly landscaping.
The event kicked off at the Operations and Support Building II on April 20, then moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on April 21, allowing employees and visitors to learn and benefit from an array of sources.
“Kennedy Space Center is dedicated to being really good stewards of the planet,” said Jeanne Ryba of Kennedy’s Environmental Management Branch. “Everyone seemed to enjoy and appreciate the caliber of vendors.”
The celebration was designed to spread awareness of innovations that can contribute to sustainable living at work and at home.
Among the vendors was HomeBiogas who showed a biogas digester system that could convert any organic waste into clean cooking gas and high-quality liquid fertilizer.
“We are trying to get everyone to think more futuristically,” said Rhiannon Roberts, the Internship Coordinator for the Patel College of Global Sustainability. “We eventually are shooting for galactic sustainability because that is where the future is at.”
There also were natural conservation specialists showing ways to protect wildlife and Florida waters. Many employees took home plants that will help the environment.
Also included were representatives of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, Brevard Zoo and General Motors. Other vendors shared information on Florida’s expanded biking and hiking trails. Representatives from the Brevard Zoo showed the zoo’s efforts to achieve sustainability, including a recycling program, enhanced sustainability signage within the zoo and assisting with special events to minimize waste.
Earth Day in the United States, first celebrated April 22, 1970, is held nationally each April to promote environmental awareness and appreciation. For more than four decades, NASA has been using the vantage point of space to increase the understanding of Earth and safeguard the future while improving lives.
“We like to think every day is Earth Day at Kennedy Space Center,” Ryba said.