Space Weather Focused ELaNa CubeSat Deploys from Cygnus Spacecraft

The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is pictured moments after its capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.
The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is pictured moments after its capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Cygnus and the International Space Station were orbiting 271 miles above the Indian Ocean south of Australia at the time this photograph was taken. Photo credit: NASA

The sole CubeSat of the 33rd Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission was deployed into space at 6:50 p.m. EDT June 29 from Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft hours following its departure from the International Space Station.

The CubeSat, Ionosphere-Thermosphere Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies (IT-SPINS), was stowed within the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer (eNRCSD) mounted on the exterior of the S.S. Katherine Johnson Cygnus spacecraft. Once the Cygnus departed the space station, it remained in orbit to deploy a total of 5 cube satellites, including IT-SPINS, which was deployed into a free-flying orbit at an altitude between 304 and 210 miles (490 and 500 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

A Nanoracks employee performing the final integration of IT-SPINS into the E-NRCSD
Jake Cornish, a Nanoracks employee, performs the final integration of the Ionosphere-Thermosphere Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies (IT-SPINS) CubeSat into the E-NRCSD. Photo credit: Nanoracks

This mission aims to improve space weather forecasting related to dynamic processes in Earth’s ionosphere. The 3U CubeSat is equipped with a sensitive photometric instrument to remotely sense ultraviolet emissions produced when oxygen ions combine with electrons in the ionosphere. This investigation plans to reveal the dynamics of a physical boundary region in Earth’s ionosphere where the oxygen-dominated ionosphere becomes proton dominated with increasing altitude, in a layer known as the Topside Transition Region (TTR).

IT-SPINS launched aboard Northrop Grumman’s 15th NASA contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on February 20.

IT-SPINS is the twelfth in a series of CubeSats developed by Montana State University’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory to advance CubeSat capabilities and conduct scientific investigations to answer question in the Geospace sciences. This mission is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which has supported it during its development and is supporting the beginning of operations. IT-SPINS was selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI), which is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) based at Kennedy Space Center. Since its inception in 2010, CSLI has selected 202 CubeSat missions from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and 119 CubeSat projects have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.

Stay connected with the ELaNa mission on social media by following LSP at @NASA_LSP on Twitter and @NASALSP on Facebook.

Next Element for NASA’s Moon Rocket Gets Stacked for Artemis I

The launch vehicle stage adapter for the Space Launch System rocket is integrated with the core stage inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs integrate the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the massive SLS core stage on the mobile launcher in the agency’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 22, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

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Workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have stacked the launch vehicle stage adapter atop the Space Launch System rocket’s core stage inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems used one of five VAB cranes to lift the adapter almost 250-feet in the air and then slowly lower it on to the core stage.

The adapter is the cone shaped piece that connects the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), which will provide the Orion spacecraft with the additional thrust needed to travel tens of thousands of miles beyond the Moon. Up next, the ICPS will be lifted from the VAB floor onto the stage adapter.

Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead missions with astronauts. Through the series of Artemis missions, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish a long-lasting presence on and around the Moon while preparing for human missions to Mars.

NASA, SpaceX Update Crew Launch and Return Dates

NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in April 23, 2021.
Crew-2 is more than a month into its mission aboard the International Space Station following an April 23 launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The four crew members will return after a handover with Crew-3 astronauts following their launch and arrival in late October. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA and SpaceX have adjusted target launch and return dates for upcoming crew missions to and from the International Space Station based on visiting vehicle traffic.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission now is targeting launch no earlier than Sunday, Oct. 31, with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer. Crew-3 will launch on a new Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin a six-month science mission at the space station.

Crew-3 astronauts will arrive at the space station for a short handover period with the Crew-2 astronauts and other crew members on Expedition 66. Crew-2 NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Aki Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet are targeting early-to-mid November for a return to Earth inside Crew Dragon Endeavour off the coast of Florida.

Following Crew-3, the next crew rotation mission is targeted for no earlier than mid-April 2022 with the partner spacecraft and launch vehicle to be determined at a later date.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with industry through a public-private partnership to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which will allow for additional research time and will increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

SpaceX’s 22nd Cargo Resupply Mission Underway as Dragon Journeys to Station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on June 3, 2021.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2021, on the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for the agency to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 1:29 p.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

More than 7,300 pounds of science and research, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware are on their way to the International Space Station, following the picture-perfect launch of SpaceX’s 22nd resupply services mission. SpaceX’s upgraded Dragon spacecraft launched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida, marking the first flight of this Dragon spacecraft. Liftoff occurred at 1:29 p.m. EDT.

An up-close view of the Dragon spacecraft atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A.
An up-close view of the Dragon spacecraft atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida ahead of the company’s 22nd commercial resupply services launch to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

“The vehicles that deliver our crews, they do a great job of getting our crews there safely to and from station, but their cargo capacity is very limited,” said Jeff Arend, manager of the International Space Station Office for Systems Engineering and Integration. “We couldn’t conduct all of the science we do, as well as provide for our crew members, without our cargo resupply vehicles. Our cargo flights are vital to maintaining and fully utilizing our orbiting laboratory.”

The second launch for SpaceX under NASA’s second Commercial Resupply Services contract, the mission will deliver a variety of science and research experiments, including one that could help develop better pharmaceuticals and therapies for treating kidney disease on Earth, a study of cotton root systems that could identify plant varieties that require less water and pesticides, and an experiment using bobtail squid as a model to examine the effects of spaceflight on interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.

Also included in the delivery are the first two of six new roll-out solar arrays. These will be extracted by a robotic arm and installed by astronauts during a series of spacewalks this summer.

The Falcon 9 rocket's second stage separates from the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft as it continues on the company's 22nd commercial resupply services mission.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage separates from the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft as Dragon continues on its journey to the International Space Station on the company’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission. In this view are the first two of six new solar arrays bound for the orbiting laboratory. Photo credit: NASA

“Over time, our solar arrays age. The first set of arrays have been up there over 20 years,” Arend said. “This augmentation is going to help us fully extend the life of the International Space Station and fully execute our full suite of research as we move forward. And probably most importantly, it allows us to power more science and research, especially in the form of future exploration systems and commercial users.”

About two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage separated from the rocket, and a few minutes later, successfully landed on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. Next, Dragon separated from the rocket completely. The spacecraft is now in orbit, traveling solo to the space station.

Dragon is slated to arrive at the orbiting laboratory on Saturday, June 5, and will autonomously dock to the space-facing port on the station’s Harmony module. Expedition 65 Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA will monitor docking operations, and live coverage will air on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT. Docking is targeted for 5 a.m.

Dragon will spend more than a month attached to the space station, after which it will return to Earth with up to 5,300 pounds of research and return cargo, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of Florida.

To stay updated on all station activities, follow @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts. Or, follow along the station blog at: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/.

NASA, SpaceX Ready for Tomorrow’s Cargo Resupply Launch to Station

A prelaunch news conference is held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 2, 2021, in preparation for SpaceX's 22nd cargo resupply mission.
A prelaunch news conference for SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station is held on June 2, 2021 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From left are Joel Montalbano, manager for International Space Station Program; Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for International Space Station Program; and Sarah Walker, director, Dragon mission management at SpaceX. The Dragon capsule atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at 1:29 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 3. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, topped with the company’s upgraded Dragon spacecraft, stands ready for launch at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. Following a prelaunch news conference held at Kennedy, NASA and SpaceX remain on track for the company’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

“Just a couple of months ago, the Crew-2 crew got on board, and now they’re waiting to receive all this science and do it, so it’s really exciting for us at SpaceX,” said Sarah Walker, director of Dragon Mission Management at SpaceX. “Thanks to NASA for your ongoing partnership; this is an exciting mission, and tomorrow is just one more example of a long history that we’re thankful for.”

The logo for SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station.

Liftoff is slated to occur at 1:29 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 3, and weather officials continue to predict a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. The primary weather concerns for liftoff are the cumulus cloud rule and flight through precipitation.

“It’s Florida, it’s summertime, and that means showers and storms; the main issue would be a few of those showers that come off of the coast and head toward our launch facility,” said Mark Burger, launch weather officer with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron. “However, given that there’s quite a lot of real estate between each one of those showers, I do think there’s still a better-than-average chance that we’ll be able to thread the needle and get in a good launch opportunity for tomorrow.”

Dragon will deliver more than 7,300 pounds of science and research investigations, supplies, and hardware to the orbiting laboratory and its crew. A few of the investigations arriving in Dragon’s pressurized capsule include an experiment that could help develop better pharmaceuticals and therapies for treating kidney disease on Earth, a study of cotton root systems that could identify plant varieties that require less water and pesticides, and an experiment using bobtail squid as a model to examine the effects of spaceflight on interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.

The first two of six new solar arrays for the International Space Station have been loaded into Dragon’s unpressurized spacecraft trunk for CRS-22.
The first two of six new solar arrays for the International Space Station have been loaded into Dragon’s unpressurized spacecraft trunk. SpaceX will deliver them to the orbiting laboratory during its next cargo resupply mission, targeted for June 3 at 1:29 p.m. Photo credit: SpaceX

Also included in that delivery are the first two of six new roll-out solar arrays, which will be installed during spacewalks later this month to upgrade the station’s power capabilities.

“With seven crew members on board, the team is really just knocking it out of the park,” said Joel Montalbano, program manager for NASA’s International Space Station Program Office. “The utilization and research that they’re able to do on board, the commercialization efforts, the technology developed for our lunar program – it’s really a pleasure to watch these guys. They’re excited for the mission, and they’re excited to see these two new solar arrays on board.”

About 12 minutes after launch, Dragon will separate from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, starting its solo journey to the space station. The uncrewed spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the station on Saturday, June 5. Upon its arrival, Dragon will autonomously dock to the space station’s Harmony module, with Expedition 65 Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA monitoring operations.

After spending about one month attached to the station, Dragon will autonomously undock to begin its journey home. Upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of Florida, bringing with it experiment samples and return cargo.

Tune in to NASA TV or the agency’s website at 1 p.m. EDT tomorrow, or follow along right here on the blog, for live launch countdown coverage. Learn more about the mission at: https://www.nasa.gov/content/spacex-22-mission-overview.

Hometown Heroes: Students Create Satellite Inspired by Gatlinburg Wildfires

Robertsville Middle School students and mentor working on the ELaNa 36 CubeSat, RamSat
Robertsville Middle School students and their mentor work on the ELaNa 36 CubeSat, RamSat. Photo credit: Robertsville Middle School

RamSat, a small research satellite, or CubeSat, developed by Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will launch aboard SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-22) mission. Lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3 at 1:29 p.m. EDT, CRS-22 will carry 7,300 pounds of cargo, science, and research to the International Space Station. The RamSat CubeSat onboard is on a mission to study forest regrowth in the Gatlinburg area following the 2016 wildfires.

This satellite will use small cameras to capture pictures of growing forests and radio communication to send those images to ground control in Robertsville Middle School’s STEM Classroom. Students will operate the mission using amateur radio frequencies to listen for RamSat flying overhead, send commands to control the spacecraft, and gather image data and information about the spacecraft’s health. RamSat’s mission, which could last up to 18 months, will begin when it deploys from the space station into its own orbit 250 miles above Earth.

The concept for RamSat was created by students, Tyler Dunham and Aidan Hilliard. During its approximately five-year development, over 150 students have had the opportunity to work on the CubeSat. Robertsville Middle School was selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) in 2018. CSLI enables the launch of CubeSats designed, built, and operated by students, teachers and faculty, as well as NASA centers and nonprofit organizations. Managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) missions provide a deployment opportunity or ride-share launch to space for CubeSats selected by CSLI. RamSat will launch as the sole CubeSat of the agency’s 36th ELaNa mission (ELaNa 36).

Stay connected with the mission on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program at @NASA_LSP on Twitter and NASA LSP on Facebook.

NASA, SpaceX Announce Target Launch Time for Next Resupply Services Mission

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and uncrewed Cargo Dragon just before liftoff at Kennedy's Launch Complex 39A.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and cargo Dragon spacecraft stand poised for launch moments before liftoff at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Dec. 6, 2020, for NASA and SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. The first launch for SpaceX under NASA’s CRS-2 contract, the mission blasted off the pad at 11:17 a.m. EST. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA and SpaceX are targeting 1:29 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 3, for the company’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, topped by the uncrewed Cargo Dragon spacecraft, is scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This will be the second SpaceX mission to deliver science investigations, supplies, and equipment for NASA under the agency’s second Commercial Resupply Services contract. To date, SpaceX has completed 21 cargo resupply missions to and from the space station, providing more than 100,000 pounds of supplies and approximately 80,000 pounds of return mass.

Tune in to NASA TV and the agency’s website for live coverage, beginning Wednesday, June 2, with prelaunch activities.

To learn more about the mission, visit https://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

Orion Spacecraft Adorned with Iconic NASA Worm Logo

The historic worm logo is visible on the Orion spacecraft's crew module adapter inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility.
NASA’s iconic worm logo has been added to the outward-facing wall of Orion’s crew module adapter (CMA) inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the background is the Space Launch System rocket’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, undergoing fueling and servicing inside the MPPF alongside the CMA. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

The Orion spacecraft receives another iconic NASA “worm” logo ahead of the Artemis I mission. On April 28 teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and lead contractor Jacobs completed painting the retro insignia on the outboard wall of the spacecraft’s crew module adapter (CMA) – the piece of hardware connecting the crew module to the European-built service module – inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

While a decal of the historic logo was added to the underside of the CMA in September 2020, having it painted on the siding of the spacecraft will make it visible as the spacecraft is poised atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, awaiting liftoff from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

The worm logo was officially introduced in 1975, retired in 1992, and then made a comeback in 2020, just as NASA entered a new era of human spaceflight. In addition to its appearance on the CMA, the bright red logo also was painted on the SLS twin solid rocket boosters in August 2020.

The Orion spacecraft and Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – the upper stage of the rocket responsible for sending Orion on its journey around the Moon – are currently being fueled and serviced in the MPPF. Once fueling is complete, Orion will move to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration of its launch abort system, while the ICPS will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be stacked on the mobile launcher.

Artemis I will be the first integrated test of SLS and Orion and will pave the way for landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. The mission will be a stepping stone for deep space exploration, leading the agency’s efforts under the Artemis program for a sustainable presence on the Moon and preparing for human missions to Mars.

Click here for a video of the logo being added to the CMA.

Telling the NASA Story: A Look Behind the Scenes

KSCTV personnel records a NASA launch broadcast at the NASA News Center.
Chris Swanson, part of the KSCTV team, stands behind the camera while recording one of the launch broadcasts hosted at the NASA News Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA

What goes into telling the NASA story? At the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, it’s more than pointing a camera and letting it roll. Behind the cameras are dedicated men and women continuously preparing to tell captivating stories like never before. With astronauts once again launching from American soil through the Commercial Crew Program, and preparations underway to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon as part of the Artemis program, we want you to have a first-class seat to all the action!

NASA has remained committed to capturing and sharing some of our nation’s greatest achievements with the rest of the world, and recent technology upgrades have allowed us to bring those to you in a whole new way.

Technical Upgrades for TV

A new fiber circuit, connecting video feeds from Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A to the NASA News Center, provides different camera views to better showcase human spaceflight and future launches. Along with being the first launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission in May 2020 also marked the first time this circuit was used. Additionally, teams at Kennedy implemented a live feed system just before launch, providing live footage of NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on their 10-mile ride to the launch pad prior to liftoff.

A behind-the-scenes look at the camera setup for a launch broadcast hosted at the NASA News Center at Kennedy Space Center.
A behind-the-scenes look at the camera setup for a launch broadcast hosted outside of the NASA News Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA

New fiber optic communication lines allow us to bring you UHD (ultra-high definition) coverage from unique locations, such as the Launch Control Center, countdown clock, crew quarters, crew walkout, Banana Creek viewing site, and even the launch pads. With these connections in place, commentators can host launch broadcasts and briefings outdoors in 4K resolution, placing you right in the middle of the action. We’ve used exterior sets to bring you some of our biggest launches, including Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test, NASA’s Mars 2020 launch, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission – which earned NASA and SpaceX an Emmy – as well as Demo-2, Crew-1, and Crew-2.

A behind-the-scenes look of master control during a NASA launch broadcast.
Amber Jean Watson, a member of the KSCTV team, processes imagery during a NASA launch broadcast at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA

Additional video and visual upgrades include a UHDTV video router that supports existing HD and future UHDTV imagery, painting a crystal-clear picture of everything going on, and a character generator that TV crews can use to create and display graphics showcasing the health of the rockets in real-time. Extra circuits also provide KSCTV (Kennedy Space Center TV) personnel with UHD video feeds of launch crews and VIP guest interviews.

KSCTV personnel working inside master control during a NASA launch broadcast.
KSCTV team members work in the TV master control room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a launch broadcast. Photo credit: NASA

While the visuals are important, what you see isn’t the whole story. More partnerships and collaborations throughout the country make behind-the-scenes communication critical to providing seamless coverage. With an expanded intercom system, we’re now able to communicate with teams at remote locations such as NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston or SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The system connects the TV producer, on-camera talent, camera operators, and master control team to bring you joint coverage from every angle.

Through these expanded capabilities, people all over the world can observe and be a part of NASA launches, missions, and scientific discoveries – an experience that is truly out of this world. This may not be rocket science, but it brings the rocket science to the palm of your hand.

Under Pressure! New Rainbird System Will Protect Artemis II

Water spraying out of a nozzle for rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Water flows through a small-scale, 3D-printed nozzle during prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

As NASA prepares for the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, teams at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center are also hard at work getting ready for the Artemis II mission that will send astronauts on a trip around the Moon ahead of a crewed lunar landing.

Water flows through large nozzles during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 24, 2021, that can be used for the crewed Artemis II mission to the Moon. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

This includes assessing a new prototype “rainbird” system designed to protect the mobile launcher – as well as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – when the engines roar to life. The March 24 tests included running various water pressures through small-scale, 3D-printed nozzles to capture data that can be used to develop full-scale hardware.

The rainbirds will release enough water to fill 40 swimming pools in 40 seconds. This massive volume will help absorb the heat and energy when SLS, the most powerful rocket the agency has ever built, lifts off with the Orion spacecraft from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

While upgraded rainbirds – large-scale water nozzles – have already been tested and installed on the mobile launcher for the Artemis I launch, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) found room for improvement. This led teams from EGS and supporting contractors to start testing another prototype system to distribute water more evenly to maximize performance ahead of the Artemis II launch.

Water flows through a nozzle during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Alongside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

“By running our prototype through a range of pressures, we can simulate what each of the rainbirds will see on the mobile launcher on launch day and have a better understanding of how they will perform when we scale them back up to full size,” said Dave Valletta, a design engineer at Kennedy working on the ignition overpressure protection and sound suppression (IOPSS) system.

A critical piece of the IOPSS system, the rainbird got its name decades ago when space shuttle developers noted that it looked like a garden sprayer.

“When we saw the pattern of the water discharge during the first test flow in the shuttle program, it reminded us of your common lawn sprinkler, only it did not rotate and was 100 times the size,” said Jerry Smith, a design engineer for mechanical-fluid systems at Kennedy.

Once prototype testing is complete, allowing better prediction of future spray patterns, the team will move forward with designing a preferred concept. That concept will be built and installed on the mobile launcher to undergo verification and validation testing, where the newly installed nozzles will be fully integrated with the launch pad to ensure they work as expected.

“The confidence check gained from these tests will lead us to developing full-scale nozzles for the mobile launcher,” said Gerald Patterson, IOPSS and fire suppression system operations engineer and test lead. “Once installed, they’ll provide more efficient water distribution across the deck and, ultimately, better protection to ground systems, the SLS rocket, and its crew for Artemis II and beyond.”