Media Invited to Launch of NASA’s IXPE Mission

Media is invited to view the launch of NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), the first satellite mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources.

IXPE is scheduled to launch
Dec. 9, 2021, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. It is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization.

Click here for credentialing information and to read the full media advisory.

NASA’s IXPE Spacecraft to Launch Dec. 9

Artist rendition of NASA's IXPE
An artist’s rendition of NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), which is targeted to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 9, 2021.

NASA’s newest X-ray astronomy mission, Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), is scheduled to launch Dec. 9, 2021. IXPE will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy.

IXPE will study changes in the polarization of X-ray light through some of the universe’s most extreme sources, including black holes, dead stars known as pulsars, and more. Polarization contains clues to what those environments are like and helps scientists better understand these mysterious phenomena.

IXPE is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization.

NASA selected IXPE as a Small Explorer mission in 2017. The IXPE project is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the IXPE mission. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, manages spacecraft operations with support from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Lift Underway to Top Mega-Moon Rocket with Orion Spacecraft

Orion lifted atop SLS rocket in the VAB
Photo Credit: Chad Siwik

Final stacking operations for NASA’s mega-Moon rocket are underway inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the Orion spacecraft is lifted onto the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission. Engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs attached the spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the building and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT.

Next, teams will slowly lower it onto the fully stacked SLS rocket and connect it to the Orion Stage Adapter. This will require the EGS team to align the spacecraft perfectly with the adapter before gently attaching the two together. This operation will take several hours to make sure Orion is securely in place.

NASA will provide an update once stacking for the Artemis I mission is complete.

NASA Tests Landing Pad Materials For Future Lunar Missions

Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers—materials like sintered basalt rock pavers, carbon fiber blankets, and carbon fiber blankets filled with a lunar regolith simulant.
Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers—materials like sintered basalt rock pavers, carbon fiber blankets, and carbon fiber blankets filled with a lunar regolith simulant. Photo Credit NASA.
Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers.
Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s Large Vehicle Landing Surface Interaction project team is working to develop a landing pad concept for the Moon that could one day be constructed directly on the lunar surface. Researchers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida who are working on improving plume surface interaction models traveled to the Mojave Desert in California to conduct materials testing with Masten Space Systems late last year. Using hot gas from a rocket engine, they conducted a series of hot fire tests on samples of various materials similar to those found on the surface of the Moon. These tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers—materials like sintered basalt rock pavers, carbon fiber blankets, and carbon fiber blankets filled with a lunar regolith simulant. Data from the hot fire testing will be used to design landing pad concepts for future NASA and commercial human lunar missions.

Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers.
Hot fire tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers. Photo credit: NASA

In addition to hot fire test data, the team is developing models to better understand how a lander can affect the lunar surface. This data will allow NASA to identify safe locations for large landers and help enable the agency’s Artemis missions. NASA’s Large Vehicle Landing Surface Interaction project is a public-private partnership with SpaceX under the 2019 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity.

Launch Date Set for NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will launch aboard the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, targeted for Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The LCRD technology demonstration is a step towards making operational laser, or optical, communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to send it all back home. Laser communications will significantly benefit missions by increasing bandwidth 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.

LCRD will implement various laser experiments to test the technology’s functionality and capabilities. Technology demonstrations like LCRD will enable the use of laser communications systems for future missions as NASA works to establish a robust presence on the Moon and prepares for crewed missions to Mars.

STPSat-6 is part of the third Space Test Program, or STP-3. To learn more about STP-3, visit: www.ulalaunch.com.

To stay updated about LCRD and laser communications, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/lasercomms.

Orion ‘Powerhouse’ for Artemis II Arrives at Kennedy

The European Service Module (ESM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.
The European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Making the journey from the Airbus Facility in Bremen, Germany, aboard a Russian Antonov aircraft, the service module will be transferred to Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Built by teams at ESA (European Space Agency) and aerospace corporation Airbus, the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, aboard the Russian Antonov aircraft. This service module will be used for Artemis II, the first Artemis mission flying crew aboard Orion. Service module assembly was completed at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany, and the module traveled across the world on its journey to Kennedy.

The service module is the powerhouse that will fuel and propel Orion in space. It stores the spacecraft’s propulsion, thermal control, electrical power, and critical life support systems such as water, oxygen, and nitrogen.

The service module will be transferred from the Launch and Landing Facility to Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility where teams from NASA and Lockheed Martin will integrate it with the crew module adapter and crew module, already housed in the facility.

With Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface. Artemis II will be the first crewed flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion, paving the way for human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

NASA, Boeing Update Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 Status

Starliner
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is seen in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 12, 2021. Part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Photo credit: Boeing

Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 8 to reflect that the team is working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022 for Orbital Flight Test-2.

The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.

“I am proud of the work our integrated teams are doing,” said Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “This is a complex issue involving hazardous commodities and intricate areas of the spacecraft that are not easily accessed. It has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine.”

Boeing has demonstrated success in valve functionality using localized heating and electrical charging techniques. Troubleshooting on the pad, at the launch complex, and inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center has resulted in movement of all but one of the original stuck valves. That valve has not been moved intentionally to preserve forensics for direct root cause analysis.

Most items on the fault tree have been dispositioned by the team including causes related to avionics, flight software and wiring. Boeing has identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions, and although some verification work remains underway, our confidence is high enough that we are commencing corrective and preventive actions. Additional spacecraft and component testing will be conducted in the coming weeks to further explore contributing factors and necessary system remediation before flight.

Boeing completed a partial disassembly of three of the affected Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) thruster valves last month and plans to remove three valves from the OFT-2 spacecraft in the coming weeks for further inspection. The team also is evaluating additional testing to repeat the initial valve failures.

Boeing has identified several paths forward depending on the outcome of the testing to ultimately resolve the issue and prevent it from happening on future flights. These options could range from minor refurbishment of the current service module components to using another service module already in production. Each option is dependent on data points the team expects to collect in the coming weeks including a timeline for safely proceeding back to the launch pad.

“Safety of the Starliner spacecraft, our employees, and our crew members is this team’s number one priority,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Starliner program. “We are taking the appropriate amount of time to work through the process now to set this system up for success on OFT-2 and all future Starliner missions.”

Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range. The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022 pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.

Houston, We Have a Pepper

Four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit. Photo credit: NASA

Recently, the four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit – several peppers, in fact.

Peppers developed from flowers that bloomed in the Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

The peppers developed from flowers that bloomed over the past few weeks. Peppers are self-pollinating, and once pollination occurred, peppers started forming 24 to 48 hours later; however, not all pollinated flowers developed into peppers.

A unique feature of the APH is that it can be controlled remotely. To pollinate the flowers in orbit, the team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center instructed APH to run its fans at variable rates to create a gentle breeze in microgravity to agitate the flowers and encourage the transfer of pollen. The space station crew also provided assistance by hand pollinating some of the flowers.

GMT273_12_13_For Huntsville_Megan McArthur_1091_Plant Habitat 04

Studies of fruit development in microgravity are limited, and NASA researchers have noted lower fruit development versus ground observations in this experiment for reasons that are not fully understood at this point. Overcoming the challenges of growing fruit in microgravity is important for long-duration missions during which crew members will need good sources of Vitamin C – such as peppers – to supplement their diets.

The average length for this type of pepper is just over three inches in ground tests. Hatch chile peppers are a mild heat pepper that starts out as green and will ripen to red over time, but it’s unknown what effect microgravity will have on the length to which they grow and their potency.

Astronauts will perform two harvests this year – one at 100 days in late October, and one at 120 days in early November. At those times, astronauts will sanitize the peppers, eat part of their harvests, and return the rest to Earth for analysis.

Cargo Dragon Splashes Down in the Atlantic, Science Delivered to Kennedy

SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft
SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft is lifted aboard a recovery vessel after splashing down off the coast of Florida on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. The capsule, carrying cargo that flew aboard NASA’s SpaceX 23rd commercial resupply services mission, undocked from the International Space Station Thursday at approximately 9 a.m. The event marked the first time a Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft completed a successful parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 30. The capsule undocked from the station’s forward port of the Harmony module Thursday at 9:12 a.m., completing the voyage in approximately 14 hours.

This marked the first time Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity to the coast of Florida enabled quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers hours after splashdown. The shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.

Dragon launched Aug. 29 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station the following day. The spacecraft delivered more than 4,800 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.