Monthly Archives: October 2017

Growing Beyond Earth Challenge Germinates in South Florida

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Kennedy scientists Trent Smith, left, and Dr. Gioia Massa speak to middle and high school teachers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami during the kickoff of the 2017-2018 Fairchild Challenge-Growing Beyond Earth.

Kennedy scientists Trent Smith, left, and Dr. Gioia Massa speak to middle and high school teachers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami during the kickoff of the 2017-2018 Fairchild Challenge-Growing Beyond Earth. Photo credit: NASA

The annual 2017-2018 Fairchild Challenge Growing Beyond Earth recently kicked off at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami. For the past three years, plant researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have been partnering with Fairchild to create STEM-based challenges for teachers and students in the area. More than 130 middle and high school teachers participated in the opening workshop Sept. 30. Kennedy scientists Dr. Gioia Massa and Trent Smith taught teachers about food production in space and NASA’s Veggie plant growth system currently aboard the International Space Station.

Veggie is a system that allows astronauts to grow plants and crops — some of which they can eat. Veggie is an important demonstration of how NASA applies science across disciplines — in this case Space Biology to grow a healthy crop and Human Research to ensure astronauts remain healthy — to enable human space exploration.

At the end of the workshop, teachers received mini botany labs their students will use to participate in the project during the current school year. Each lab is meant to be managed like Veggie’s hardware on station. Students have to follow research protocols set forth by NASA and Fairchild while testing factors that could influence plant growth, flavor and nutrition — all so they can help NASA pick the next crops to grow for the astronauts aboard the station.

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Pegasus Rocket Prepared for NASA’s ICON Mission

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The Pegasus XL rocket second and third stages arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The second and third stages of the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket were offloaded from a transport vehicle at Building 1555 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: Randy Beaudoin

Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket is being prepared to launch NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON mission. The rocket is being prepared in a facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.

The rocket’s second and third stages, first stage motor and wing arrived at VAFB and were transported to Building 1555 for processing.

ICON will launch aboard Pegasus from the Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, on Dec. 9, 2017 (in the continental United States the launch date is Dec. 8).

ICON will study the frontier of space — the dynamic zone high in Earth’s atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above. The explorer will help determine the physics of Earth’s space environment and pave the way for mitigating its effects on our technology, communications systems and society.

The Pegasus XL wing arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Workers transfer the wing for the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket from a truck to a forklift at Building 1555 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: Randy Beaudoin

Liquid Oxygen Tanking Operations Begin at Launch Pad 39B

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A Praxair truck offloads liquid oxygen into a giant storage sphere at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Several Praxair trucks carrying their loads of liquid oxygen, or LO2, arrived at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A mist is visible as LO2 is offloaded from one of the trucks into the giant storage sphere located at the northwest corner of the pad. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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.

JPSS-1 Begins Final Preflight Processing

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NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, remains wrapped in a protective covering after removal from its shipping container at the Astrotech Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The spacecraft is being prepared for its upcoming liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex-2W. JPSS-1 is the first in a series four next-generation environmental satellites in a collaborative program between NOAA and NASA.

NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, remains wrapped in a protective covering after removal from its shipping container at the Astrotech Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The spacecraft is being prepared for its upcoming liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-2W. JPSS-1 is the first in a series four next-generation environmental satellites in a collaborative program between NOAA and NASA. Photo credit: NASA/Rodney Speed

NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-1 spacecraft has been removed from its shipping container in the Astrotech Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it is being prepared for its upcoming launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

The JPSS-1 satellite will go through a series of routine inspections, checkouts and testing before it is sealed inside the payload fairing and placed atop the Delta II rocket, already standing at Space Launch Complex-2W. Launch remains scheduled for Nov. 10.