Kennedy Gains New Eyes in the Skies

An Airbus H135 helicopter arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 30, 2020.
A new Airbus H135 (T3) helicopter arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 30, 2020. A second H135 helicopter also was delivered on Sept. 30, and a third is expected to arrive in early 2021. The three H135 helicopters will replace the Bell Huey 2 aircraft in service now, maintained by Kennedy’s Flight Operations team. The H135 helicopters provide a number of technological and safety advantages over the Hueys, such as more lifting power, greater stability in the air, and expanded medical capabilities. Photo credit: NASA/Amber Jean Watson

The safety and security of the world-class workforce and unique facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is critical to the agency’s missions. This week, Kennedy took delivery of two new, state-of-the-art helicopters to upgrade the center’s fleet and provide improved capabilities to protect the spaceport from the air.

An Airbus H135 helicopter arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 30, 2020.
A new Airbus H135 (T3) helicopter arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 30, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Amber Jean Watson

The two Airbus H135 (T3) helicopters arrived at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility runway on Sept. 30, after traveling from the company’s helicopter production center near Columbus, Mississippi.

Kennedy’s Flight Operations team maintains three security helicopters in its fleet and is in the process of replacing its trio of Bell Huey 2 aircraft. These new aircraft provide several technological and safety advancements, including a twin-engine system that provides a backup in the event of the loss of one engine, as well as more lifting power and expanded medical capabilities, such as better patient transportation and additional equipment and personnel in the event of a medical evacuation. It also offers increased stability when hovering at any altitude, which aids in aerial photography and other observation efforts.

The helicopters serve a variety of important uses at Kennedy. The center’s security forces use the aircraft to patrol the sky and provide protection from above during launch operations, ensuring the area is clear. Additionally, Kennedy’s environmental experts benefit from the ability to monitor wildlife and view and access difficult-to-reach locations across the 144,000-acre spaceport, which shares boundaries with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The team expects to be fully transitioned to flying these first two new helicopters later this year. A third new H135 is expected to arrive at the spaceport in early 2021, completing the fleet’s upgrade.

Orion Spreads its Wings

Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in preparation for installation on the Artemis I spacecraft, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings for inspection on Sept. 10, 2020, to confirm that it unfurled properly and all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings on Sept. 10, 2020. Prior to installation on the Orion spacecraft, the team performed an inspection to confirm proper extension and to ensure all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The pictured solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.

The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

Preparations Continue for SpaceX First Operational Flight with Astronauts

Mission specialist Shannon Walker, left, pilot Victor Glover, Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins – all NASA astronauts – and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, right, will launch to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission.
Mission specialist Shannon Walker, left, pilot Victor Glover, Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins – all NASA astronauts – and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, right, will launch to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Norah Moran

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the company’s first operational flight with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program arrived in Florida Tuesday, Aug. 18. The upcoming flight, known as NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission, will be the first of regular rotational missions to the space station following completion of NASA certification.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than Oct. 23, 2020. The spacecraft made its journey from the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California over the weekend and is now undergoing prelaunch processing in the company’s facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Preparations are also underway for the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX completed a successful static fire test of the rocket’s second stage at its facility in McGregor, Texas, also on Tuesday. The Falcon 9 first stage booster arrived at the launch site in Florida in July to begin its final launch preparations.

The Crew-1 mission will send Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, all of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi to the orbiting laboratory for a six-month science mission.

Artemis I Launch Team Fires Up Fueling Simulation

The Artemis I launch team rehearses loading the SLS rocket with propellants on Aug. 18, 2020.
Inside the Launch Control Center’s Firing Room 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the Artemis I launch team rehearse the procedures for fueling the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with super cold propellants, or cryogenics, on Aug. 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Chad Siwik

The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.

The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.

SpaceX Crew Dragon on the Path Home

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, undocks from the International Space Station on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission passed a significant milestone this evening as the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station at 7:35 p.m. EDT after more than two months of docked operations in orbit. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, traveling aboard the spacecraft they named “Endeavour,” will spend one more night in space before beginning their journey back to Earth on Sunday in the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are seated inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Aug. 1, 2020.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are seated inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft prior to undocking from the International Space Station on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

With the spacecraft on its path home, the astronauts will settle in for an eight-hour sleep period. While they’re asleep, a six-minute departure phasing burn at 1:48 a.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 2 will set the Dragon Endeavour on the proper orbital path to a planned splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

The deorbit burn, which slows the spacecraft’s forward speed enough to begin its descent, is scheduled for 1:51 p.m. EDT on Sunday, with splashdown at 2:48 p.m. EDT. Teams continue to closely monitor Hurricane Isaias and evaluate impacts to the landing sites in the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida Panhandle. Teams have several weather decision milestones ahead of and after undocking to adjust the splashdown location and time based on the forecasted conditions for recovery.

Follow along with the return and recovery activities here on the blog and on NASA Television.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

Behnken and Hurley arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During their 63 days aboard the station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware.

These activities are a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been working with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Ready for its Ride to Mars

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) payload fairing with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover secured inside is positioned on top of the ULA Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) payload fairing with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover secured inside is positioned on top of the ULA Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is now attached to the rocket that will carry it on its seven-month journey to the Red Planet for the agency’s Mars 2020 mission.

On Tuesday, July 7, a team of engineers fastened the payload fairing, containing the rover and remainder of the spacecraft – the aeroshell backshell, descent stage and cruise stage – to a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The rocket’s upper stage and spacecraft will remain attached until about 55 minutes after launch, after which the two will separate, sending Perseverance on its solo journey to Mars.

With the spacecraft and booster now connected, final testing of the two – separately and together as one unit – can begin. Once those tests are complete, the rocket will leave the VIF on the morning of July 28 for its journey to the launch pad – just 1,800 feet away.

NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Thurs., July 30, at 7:50 a.m. ET, with a two-hour window, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission. The team identified the cause of the issue with the liquid oxygen sensor line found during Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR). A small leak was located in the weld of the line, which has been repaired and tested.

The rover, carrying seven different scientific instruments, is slated to arrive at the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021, regardless of what day it lifts off during the launch period. During its time on Mars, Perseverance will search for signs of past microbial life and collect rock and soil samples of the Martian surface for future return to Earth.

The mission, managed by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), will provide key insight into some of the challenges associated with future human exploration of Mars. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center is managing the launch.

For more information, visit the mission website.

NASA and Boeing Complete Orbital Flight Test Reviews

An artist's illustration of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit.
An artist’s illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have completed reviews of the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that flew in December 2019 and are working toward a plan to refly the mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review team completed their final assessments of issues that were detected during the first test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Following this conclusion, the team identified a total of 80 recommendations that Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, is addressing. A launch date has not been set yet for the second flight test, dubbed OFT-2.

To read the full article, click here.

NASA, ULA Targeting NET July 30 for Mars 2020 Launch

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center
More than 10 million names were etched onto a microchip, which was placed aboard Perseverance on March 16, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

Due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations, NASA and United Launch Alliance have moved the first launch attempt of the Mars 2020 mission to no earlier than July 30. A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate. Flight analysis teams have expanded the mission launch opportunities to August 15 and are examining if the launch period may be extended further into August.

NASA and SpaceX Leaders Continue to Monitor Weather for Tomorrow’s SpaceX Demo-2 Launch

Agency leaders hold a press briefing on May 29, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 launch, now scheduled for Saturday, May 30.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks to members of the media during a press briefing May 29, 2020, near the Press Site countdown clock at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch. Behind him are Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (far left), NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Nicole Mann, and NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard (far right). The launch, initially scheduled for May 27, was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions. The next launch attempt is Saturday, May 30. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Weather is one thing everyone has been keeping a close eye on ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The first launch attempt on May 27 was rescheduled due to unfavorable weather conditions around Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With the launch now targeted for 3:22 p.m. EDT tomorrow, May 30, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine remains hopeful for tomorrow’s launch, but stressed the importance protecting the test flight crew members, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

“Our highest priority is and always has been Bob and Doug. And of course, a couple of days ago, we had too much electricity in the atmosphere,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a press briefing at Kennedy on May 29. “This is certain though: We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and we will do it with the absolute priority being the safety of our astronauts.

“The president and vice president were proud of the NASA team and the SpaceX team for making the right call for the right reasons. When we do this again Saturday, if we do this again Sunday, we will feel no pressure. We will go when we are ready.”

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren speaks to members of the media during a press briefing May 29, 2020, near the Press Site countdown clock at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch. Behind him is NASA astronaut Nicole Mann. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is predicting a 50% chance of favorable weather conditions for tomorrow’s launch, with the primary concerns for launch revolving around flight through precipitation, anvil and cumulus clouds.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who flew on a Soyuz rocket in 2015, also participated in the press briefing, touching on his own experience with delayed launches.

“You certainly get excited about the launch; you’re prepared, your mindset is such that you’re ready to fly, and certainly Bob and Doug were ready to do that on Wednesday,” he said. “The scrub, the delay, just represents an opportunity for the team to learn and is an opportunity for them to reunite with their families. I know they’re spending time with their families and enjoying this little bit of time before they get ready to fly again.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A, carrying Behnken and Hurley to the space station to join astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner – the Expedition 63 crew members already onboard – making this the first launch of NASA astronauts from American soil in nearly a decade.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with partners SpaceX and Boeing to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to members of the media during a press briefing May 29, 2020, near the Press Site countdown clock at Kennedy ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch. Behind him is NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“I can’t tell you what it’s going to mean to me to see a U.S. rocket launching crews again off that pad out there,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. “We went to the Moon from that pad; I launched three times off that pad. To see Bob and Doug launch off it, and then to get Boeing launching, we are on the verge of a new era in human spaceflight. This is just the beginning; it’s only going to get better.”

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 will be the company’s final flight test, providing critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon capsule, as well as the ground systems at the launch pad that will be supporting the launch. NASA and SpaceX teams will review data from all stages of launch, from liftoff to in-orbit, docking and landing operations – all paving the way for the agency to certify the crew transportation system for regular, crewed flights to the orbiting laboratory.

“What Elon Musk has done for the American space program is, he has brought vision and inspiration that we hadn’t had since the retirement of the space shuttles,” said Bridenstine. “When I talk to him, when I meet with him, he gives me a commitment and he delivers on that commitment. That has happened every single time.”

“We started out as a partnership, and in many respects, it’s become a friendship,” added NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.

Starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 30, NASA and SpaceX will provide coverage of launch activities, airing on NASA TV and the agency’s website. This will include live shots of Behnken and Hurley as they put on their spacesuits, their arrival at historic Launch Complex 39A and liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket. Coverage will continue through Crew Dragon’s docking to the space station, scheduled for 10:29 a.m. EDT on Sunday, May 31.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts Rehearse for Launch Day

Demo-2 crew members Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley walk down the hallway of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a dry dress rehearsal ahead of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 launch.
On May 23, 2020, Demo-2 crew members Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley walk down the hallway of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as they prepare to be transported to Launch Complex 39A during a full dress rehearsal ahead of launch. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
On May 23, 2020, Demo-2 crew members Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building as they prepare to be transported to historic Launch Complex 39A during a dress rehearsal ahead of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 launch.
On May 23, 2020, Demo-2 crew members Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley (left) walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for transport to Launch Complex 39A during a full dress rehearsal ahead of launch. Photo credit: NASA/Brandon Garner

Today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley participated in a countdown dress rehearsal of the launch day events. The crewmates are preparing to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and fly to the International Space Station. Demo-2 will be the first crewed mission for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Behnken and Hurley began their day in the Astronaut Crew Quarters inside Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. The pair put on their black-and-white SpaceX spacesuits, took the elevator down to the ground level and exited through a pair of double doors, where their transport vehicle – a Tesla Model X — waited. With smiles and waves, they climbed in for the 20-minute ride to Launch Complex 39A.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft have been in place on the launch pad since Thursday morning, May 21. Behnken and Hurley entered the Crew Dragon by way of the pad’s Crew Access Arm and checked their communications systems before the hatch was closed. The rehearsal concluded with the go/no-go poll for Falcon 9 propellant loading, which normally occurs 45 minutes before launch.

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken (right) participate in a dress rehearsal for launch at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken (right) participate in a dress rehearsal for launch at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.  Launch is scheduled at 4:33 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 27, from Launch Pad 39A. The primary weather concerns for launch are flight through precipitation, thick and cumulus clouds.

FORECAST DETAILS

Clouds                      Coverage           Bases (feet)               Tops (feet)
Cumulus                    Scattered            3,000                          15,000
Altostratus                Broken                10,000                        17,000

Weather/Visibility:  Rain showers/5 miles
Temperature:  80 degrees

A strong high pressure ridge near Bermuda is creating east winds across Central Florida today. This flow may create morning coastal showers, but the cells will be inland of the Spaceport by the time they can develop into thunderstorms.  A low pressure area moving off the mid-Atlantic states stalls as it nudges into the ridge. Tomorrow, the low pressure area will weaken the ridge enough to allow an increase in moisture along its western periphery and into South Florida. Monday will see the clouds infiltrate the Space Coast as the ridge fully breaks down. Easterly winds will increase as a low pressure area develops over the Gulf of Mexico. Rain showers will be prevalent off and on all day. Tuesday will continue the cloudy, rainy conditions over the Spaceport. On launch day, continued extensive cloudiness is expected with rain showers and isolated thunderstorms expected throughout the day.