Successful Launch for SpaceX Falcon 9, CRS-15

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch of the SpaceX CRS-15 mission took place at 5:42 a.m. EDT.
Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch of the SpaceX CRS-15 mission took place at 5:42 a.m. EDT. Image credit: NASA TV

Now in its preliminary orbit, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will begin its three-day pursuit of the International Space Station. It’s scheduled to arrive Monday, July 2. NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold will be the prime operator of the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm; he will be backed up by NASA astronaut Drew Feustel. Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor will keep watch over the spacecraft’s systems. Dragon will be installed on the station’s Harmony module.

SpaceX CRS-15 Set for Liftoff Early Friday

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 on July 18, 2017, at the start of the CRS-9 mission.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 on July 18, 2017, at the start of the CRS-9 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

SpaceX’s 15th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station is slated to begin before dawn Friday. Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for at 5:42 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Dragon is packed with more than 5,900 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware.

The launch forecast predicts a 90 percent chance of favorable weather, according to meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing.

Join us right here on NASA’s SpaceX launch blog for countdown updates beginning at 5:15 a.m.

Students Assist in Space Farming Challenges

Gioia Massa examines one of the plant samples for X-Hab 2018, on March 12, 2018
Gioia Massa examines one of the plant samples for X-Hab 2018, on March 12, 2018 when students from Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute came to Kennedy Space Center to meet with subject matter experts from NASA. The students’ design project focused on increasing the sustainability of crop production by using 3D printing. Photo credit: NASA

Astronauts have lived and worked on the International Space Station continuously for more than 17 years, expanding on the earlier short-duration missions of the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, but going beyond those achievements will require new technology. One way NASA is working to solve the challenges of extending human presence beyond Earth’s orbit is with the eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, which provides college students the opportunity to participate in the development of new technologies that increase the viability of long duration deep space missions.

For the past eight years, teams of students have submitted proposals for specific research questions posed by the X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge. Once selected, NASA awarded the schools grants ranging from less than $17,000 to more than $150,000 for supplies and necessities, which the university matched. Sponsoring programs included Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications, Human Research Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Advanced Exploration Systems. Then the students spent months working as a team with support from NASA subject matter experts as the team developed solutions to their topic. Four of the eight projects for the 2018 X-Hab involved students working with NASA researchers at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Research and Technology Programs’ Utilization and Life Sciences Office, developing new ideas for growing plants in space.

“What we’re really focusing our attention on right now is how do we get nutrition in play, and how do we get automation, and use smart systems,” said Charles Quincy, a NASA researcher at Kennedy.

It is vital to have autonomous systems capable of making decisions about growing plants because astronauts are unlikely to have much time to spend farming during deep space missions. Long distances also will delay communications, making it harder for ground crews to use remote commands to grow food for the crew. Microgravity, growing plants in a closed loop during the voyage, and an environment very different from Earth are all complications to growing food in space that challenged X-Hab 2018 participants.

Students from the University of Michigan worked on designing and prototyping a substrate, a material in which a plant grows, that uses 3D printing to achieve effective plant growth in microgravity. Students from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute attempted to improve the sustainability of food crop production by producing substrate using 3D printing technology and reusing the same substrate for multiple crops. Temple University students developed a fresh produce sanitation system to manage microbial growth in space. Finally, Utah State University students designed a 3D printed matrix system for integration into the Veggie growth platform on the space station to better understand providing water and nutrients to plants.

Quincy said the ideas and the entire experience of participating in X-Hab is a positive one for both the students and NASA. The teams develop design projects that have the potential of shaping future NASA missions. In turn, those teams must meet engineering milestones, conduct outreach, and attempt to leverage funding from other organizations, providing them with hands-on experience in cutting-edge research.

Kimberly Simpson, a NASA engineer at Kennedy, said that as the students reached out to experts at NASA, invariably there comes a point when the questions move beyond current knowledge, and the students had to go through the process of trying to find an answer.

One of the best things about X-Hab, from Simpson’s perspective, is that the challenge opens students to the possibility of doing research they had never considered before. In addition to bringing new ideas and technology to enable humans to travel deep into space to NASA, the challenge also develops a pipeline of young scientists and engineers.

On May 31, 2018, NASA and the National Space Grant Foundation announced the selection of 10 teams for X-Hab 2019. These teams will develop their projects during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Written by Leejay Lockhart

InSight Headed for Mars Following Launch on Atlas V

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, carrying NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, or InSight, Mars lander.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rises above a layer of thick fog blanketing central California during liftoff from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Atlas V carried NASA’s InSight spacecraft, which is embarking on a mission to land on Mars and study the planet’s interior. Liftoff was at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT). Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

NASA’s InSight spacecraft successfully launched Saturday, May 5, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California took place at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT), the mission’s earliest launch opportunity. Also on board were two CubeSats, together called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, a technology demonstration.

InSight NASA EDGE Live Webcast, Live Launch Coverage

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander is transported to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander is transported to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: USAF 30th Space Wing/Daniel Herrera.

Tune in for the following InSight launch activites:

NASA EDGE live webcast on NASA TV and social media, May 5, 2:30 a.m. EDT (May 4, 11:30 p.m. PDT)
NASA TV: www.nasa.gov/nasalive
NASA EDGE Facebook: www.facebook.com/nasaedgefan
NASA EDGE YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/NASAedge
NASA EDGE Ustream: www.ustream.tv/nasaedge

InSight Live Launch Coverage on NASA TV, May 5, 6:30 a.m. EDT (3:30 a.m. PDT)
Watch the InSight live launch coverage on NASA TV at: www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

NASA’s next mission to Mars – the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport spacecraft (InSight) – is scheduled to launch as early as Saturday, May 5, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. InSight’s liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 is targeted for 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:05 a.m. PDT) at the opening of a two-hour launch window, making it also the first interplanetary mission to take off from the West Coast.

This is the third mission in the robust schedule for NASA’s Launch Services Program this year, launching six missions in just six months, with six different rocket configurations, from six launch sites.

Space to Ground: Florida Students Learn About Growing Plants in Orbit

Trent Smith, Veggie project manager, speaks to high school students Wednesday about growing plants on the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. During the event, students in central Florida spoke to NASA researchers, while students in Miami who had participated in The Fairchild Challenge spoke in real time to astronauts on the space station about the challenges of living and growing food in space.
Trent Smith, Veggie project manager, speaks to high school students Wednesday about growing plants on the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. During the event, students in central Florida spoke to NASA researchers, while students in Miami who had participated in The Fairchild Challenge spoke in real time to astronauts on the space station about the challenges of living and growing food in space. Photo credit: NASA

Students in Florida asked questions of NASA scientists on the ground and astronauts on the International Space Station to learn more about how the agency is pioneering the cultivation of plants in space to supplement astronaut diets with fresh, nutritious food. These students have directly bolstered researchers’ knowledge in the field of space plant science by participating in the Growing Beyond Earth part of The Fairchild Challenge, which has promoted education focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by engaging students to test more than 100 varieties of edible plants during the past three years for their potential viability on the space station.

Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory use the Vegetable Production System, known as Veggie, to study plants. These experiments also have a practical side. Not only do the plants augment the astronauts’ diet with fresh food, according to astronauts, tending the crops is a source of enjoyment and a little piece of home for the crew.

Nicole Figueroa, a Pine Ridge High School student, speaks with Gioia Massa, a life sciences project scientist at KSC, after an event that highlighted NASA’s partnership with The Fairchild Challenge to efforts to identify plants suitable for growing in space.
Nicole Figueroa, a Pine Ridge High School student, speaks with Gioia Massa, a life sciences project scientist at KSC, after an event that highlighted NASA’s partnership with The Fairchild Challenge to efforts to identify plants suitable for growing in space. Photo credit: NASA

Hundreds of high school students from eight schools in central Florida came to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where NASA treated them to a presentation by Gioia Massa, a life sciences project scientist at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, and Trent Smith, Veggie project manager, along with university students who are interns at NASA also working on growing plants for space. The high school students then had the opportunity to ask the team questions, which covered topics as diverse as using Martian soil for growing plants, to the viability of growing trees in space.

As he answered questions, Smith said working with 150 schools nationwide through The Fairchild Challenge was a tremendous benefit to NASA. Students have identified several strong candidate crops including extra dwarf pak choi and dragoon lettuce, which are undergoing final testing to determine if they are suitable for space.

“I hope to send them up in a resupply spacecraft very soon, giving astronauts new selections to grow and eat in space,” Smith said.

Massa told the crowd that The Fairchild Challenge participants had not only evaluated other promising plant varieties including Shungiku, an edible Chrysanthemum, but they had also tested horticultural techniques like cut-and-come-again which is a repetitive harvest that can increase overall food yield. She said the entire program was “a wonderful collaboration” between NASA and students.

Attention then shifted to South Florida as hundreds of Miami students who had participated in the Growing Beyond Earth portion of the Fairchild Challenge visited the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for a live downlink with crew members aboard the space station.

As part of their Year of Education on Station activities, astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel fielded questions from the students and talked about some of the challenges of living in microgravity and trying to grow space plants.

Students including Ashton Santos from Colonial High School in Orlando expressed excitement for being able to come to the visitor complex and learning directly from the people behind the science. “This experience was really valuable to me, and it really piqued my interest about agriculture in space,” Santos said. “I hope that I can find out more, and maybe I can be one of the interns there,” he added.

Camile Mason, another Colonial High School student, had the opportunity to ask the Veggie team a question and said the visit was an exciting experience. “It was very insightful,” Mason said. “It was very interesting learning about how scientists developed and changed the way we can look at agriculture even here on Earth, and how we can study and mimic conditions out in space, here.”

Written by Leejay Lockhart

Video of activities at KSC

Video of NASA downlink activities

NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Attached to Atlas V Rocket for Launch

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander is transported to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander is transported to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: USAF 30th Space Wing/Daniel Herrera
Technicians and engineers position NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Technicians and engineers position NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars Lander atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: USAF 30th Space Wing/Leif Heimbold

NASA’s next Mars lander is one significant step closer to beginning its journey. Secured inside its payload fairing, the agency’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft was transported from the Astrotech facility to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The payload fairing was hoisted up inside the Vertical Integration Facility and attached to the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Liftoff is scheduled for May 5, 2018.

InSight will be the first mission to look deep beneath the Martian surface. It will study the planet’s interior by measuring its heat output and listening for marsquakes. InSight will use the seismic waves generated by marsquakes to develop a map of the Red Planet’s deep interior. The resulting insight into Mars’ formation will provide a better understanding of how other rocky planets, including Earth, were created.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the InSight mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver. Several European partners, including France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Étude Spatiales, and the German Aerospace Center, are supporting the mission. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, is providing the Atlas V launch service. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at its Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

Sustainability Takes Center Stage at Kennedy’s Earth Day Expo

 Employees stop by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences booth at Kennedy Space Center’s annual Earth Day celebration.
Employees stop by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences booth at Kennedy Space Center’s annual Earth Day celebration.

Sustainability innovations took center stage during Kennedy Space Center’s annual Earth Day celebration April 17 and 18.

The two-day event was held at two spaceport locations – one day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the next at the center’s Space Station Processing Facility – offering up plenty of opportunities for guests and employees alike to learn more about new, Earth-friendly technologies we can use to improve our own lives at work and at home.

Students from Rockledge High School in Rockledge, Fla., make “plarn” – plastic yarn -- out of used plastic bags during Kennedy Space Center’s annual Earth Day celebration.
Students from Rockledge High School in Rockledge, Fla., make “plarn” – plastic yarn — out of used plastic bags. The plarn was donated to be woven into mats for homeless veterans.

“Our Earth Day celebration is one of several means to educate and encourage the workforce to make environmentally sound decisions,” said Dan Clark, NASA Kennedy’s Sustainability Team lead. “Doing so reduces mission risk, saves money, and makes for a healthier place to live and work. For these reasons, both the White House and NASA HQ are supportive of center participation in outreach activities like this.”

The event featured an expo highlighted by 50 exhibitors who were ready to share their expertise on a wide range of topics, including electric vehicles, sustainable lighting, renewable energy, Florida-friendly landscaping tips, Florida’s biking trails and more.

Kennedy’s sustainability programs and initiatives improve green practices that have an environmental impact or benefit on center. These sustainability efforts help preserve, enhance and strengthen Kennedy’s ability to carry out its missions.

Photos by NASA/Frank Michaux

TESS Spacecraft Embarks on Planet-hunting Mission

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward after lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Liftoff was at 6:51 p.m. EDT.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward after lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Liftoff was at 6:51 p.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA will have a new tool in the search for habitable planets.

The agency’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was delivered to space this evening aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch occurred right on time at 6:51 p.m. EDT following an uneventful countdown highlighted by excellent weather and healthy hardware.

“Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying TESS, a planet-hunting spacecraft that will search for new worlds beyond our solar system,” NASA Launch Commentator Josh Finch said as the rocket thundered away from the launch complex.

TESS will be the first space-based, all-sky surveyor to search for exoplanets – planets outside of our own solar system. However, the spacecraft isn’t looking for just any planets. It’s specifically searching for those that are Earth-like, and close enough to our own celestial neighborhood that scientists can study them further.

“We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbor life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

this view from a camera mounted on the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage, NASA's TESS spacecraft separates from the vehicle, beginning its mission. Image credit: NASA TV
In this view from a camera mounted on the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, NASA’s TESS spacecraft separates from the vehicle, beginning its mission. Image credit: NASA TV

How will it find these planets? Like the Kepler mission before it, TESS will use the transit method – that is, it will stare intently at the stars in a given section of the sky, watching for the telltale flicker of a passing (transiting) planet. (Learn more about TESS and the transit method on the TESS Overview.) Kepler, which launched in 2009, focused on one portion of the sky and sought to find Earth-like planets. TESS, on the other hand, will look for stars 30 to 100 times brighter than those observed by Kepler. It also will scan a far larger area.

But first, TESS had to get off the ground. After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket performed well, sending the spacecraft on its way to orbit. At 7:53 p.m., the twin solar arrays that will power the spacecraft successfully deployed.

“Wow, are we excited. We just had a perfect countdown and perfect launch of the TESS mission,” said Tim Dunn of NASA’s Launch Services Program. “The Falcon 9 continues to demonstrate what a reliable vehicle it has become,” Dunn said.

Over the course of several weeks, TESS will use six thruster burns to travel in a series of progressively elongated orbits to reach the Moon, which will provide a gravitational assist so that TESS can transfer into its 13.7-day final science orbit around Earth. After approximately 60 days of check-out and instrument testing, the spacecraft will begin its work.

NASA, SpaceX Targeting Launch Today

Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight
Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.
Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA and SpaceX are targeting the launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for no earlier than 6:51 p.m. EDT.

Frequent updates from the countdown will begin at 6:30 p.m. on the TESS blog. You can also watch at http://www.nasa.gov/live.

TESS is the next step in the search for planets outside of our solar system. The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits. TESS will survey the nearest and brightest stars for two years to search for transiting exoplanets.