Orion Spacecraft Recovery Rehearsal Underway

Orion Underway Recover Test 6 aboard the USS Anchorage in the Pacific Ocean.
As part of Underway Recovery Test 6, the Orion test article is pulled in by a winch line at the rear of the USS Anchorage’s well deck that brings the capsule into the ship, along with four manned LLAMAs (Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly) that control the capsule’s side-to-side movement and a tending line attached to a rigid hull inflatable boat for controlling Orion’s movement behind the ship. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA’s new deep space exploration systems will send crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return them safely home. After traveling through space at 25,000 miles per hour, the Orion spacecraft will slow to 300 mph after it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then slows down to 20 mph before it safely splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

When astronauts come back from deep space, they will need to be picked up as quickly as possible. That’s where Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team comes in.

Under the auspices of Exploration Ground Systems, Melissa Jones, NASA’s recovery director, and her team will recover the Orion capsule and crew. NASA and the U.S. Navy are working together to ensure they are ready before the first uncrewed Orion mission aboard the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1.

This week, the integrated NASA and U.S. Navy team are aboard the USS Anchorage, testing out new ground support equipment and practicing their procedures.

After Orion completes its mission out past the Moon and heads to Earth, Jones will get the call Orion is coming home. Then, it is her job to get the joint NASA and U.S. Navy team to the capsule’s location quickly and bring it and the astronauts safely aboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship.

“We are testing all of our equipment in the actual environment we will be in when recovering Orion after Exploration Mission-1,” Jones said. “Everything we are doing today is ensuring a safe and swift recovery when the time comes for missions with crew.”

Prototype Design Lab Completes Liquid Oxygen Test Tank

Workers hold a banner during the Tardis test tank completion in the Prototype Development Laboratory.
Engineers and technicians inside the Prototype Development Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space in Florida hold a banner marking the successful delivery of a liquid oxygen test tank called Tardis. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Engineers and technicians gathered in the Prototype Development Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2017, to sign a banner marking the successful delivery of a liquid oxygen test tank, affectionately named “Tardis” due to its large rectangular shape. The tank, made of aluminum, was built at the lab to support cryogenic testing at Johnson Space Center’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The liquid oxygen test tank was completed in the Prototype Development Laboratory at Kennedy Space Center.
A liquid oxygen test tank was completed in the Prototype Development Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The tank is close to 12 feet tall and weighs 3,810 pounds. One side of the tank is curved to simulate the shape of a rocket for testing.

Engineers and technicians came together to work on the tank. It was designed by Robert Whited, a mechanical engineer at Kennedy. Following a critical design review in July 2017, construction of the tank began in August. Large sheets of aluminum were used to make the tank. All of the parts were welded together by Phil Stroda, a professional welder with NASA.

“This is a tremendous example of Kennedy’s engineering infrastructure being able to investigate and solve problems for major space programs,” said Pat Simpkins, Kennedy Engineering director.

Todd Steinrock, who is the chief of the Fabrication and Development Branch, and manager of the Prototype Development Lab, said this is a great example of the value of collaboration between engineers and engineering technicians.

“The technical input from the Prototype Lab technicians, especially our welder, had a huge impact on the design of the tank,” Steinrock said. “We refer to it as ‘Design for Manufacturability.’ The technician’s advice led to an improved design and fast fabrication.”

The test tank was loaded into a truck on Dec. 11 and transported to White Sands. At White Sands, the test tank will be filled with cryogenic fluids and simulate processing of flight hardware. The tank will be instrumented and the data that is collected will assist engineers in validating various structure, thermal and fluid models.

The Prototype Development Lab has been operating at Kennedy for more than 50 years.

SpaceX CRS-13 Launch Set For No Earlier Than Dec. 12

The Canadarm 2 reaches out to grapple a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and prepare it to be pulled into its port on the International Space Station. Dragon was installed on the Harmony module where remained for the next five weeks. Photo credit: NASA
The Canadarm 2 reaches out to grapple a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and prepare it to be pulled into its port on the International Space Station. Dragon was installed on the Harmony module where remained for the next five weeks.
Photo credit: NASA

NASA and our commercial cargo provider SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST for their 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. This new launch date takes into account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics. Carrying about 4,800 pounds of cargo including critical science and research, the Dragon spacecraft will spend a month attached to the space station.

Crew Access Arm for Space Launch System Arrives at Kennedy

Two heavy-lift cranes are used to tilt and lower the Orion crew access arm onto a work stand in a storage location Oct. 17, 2017, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Two heavy-lift cranes are used to tilt and lower the Orion crew access arm onto a work stand in a storage location Oct. 17, 2017, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The access arm was transported from Precision Fabricating and Cleaning in Cocoa, Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.

The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.

For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.

Energy Action Day Focuses on Harnessing Solar Power

Energy Action Day Panel Discussion at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Chuck Tatro of NASA’s Launch Services Program discusses the use of solar arrays on space science missions during the Energy Action Day employee event held Oct. 25, 2017, in Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility. Part of Energy Awareness Month, the event featured subject matter experts in the area of solar energy, its connections to the space program and options for residential solar power. Photo credit: NASA/Michelle Stone

The solar focus of NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Energy Action Day was a perfect fit for a facility located in the middle of the Sunshine State.

Employees from the Florida spaceport spent their lunchtime in the center’s Space Station Processing Facility conference room on Oct. 25 to hear from a panel of subject-matter experts from NASA, power utilities and other institutions regarding the use of solar energy in space, at Kennedy and even at home.

Chuck Tatro of NASA’s Launch Services Program explained the role of solar arrays in spaceflight, such as the Juno mission to Jupiter, and Kennedy Space Center’s Sam Ball discussed the 1.5-megawatt solar expansion in progress at the center. Bill McMullen of Southern Power, John Sherwin of the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, and Lorraine Koss of the Brevard County Solar Co-op spoke about community and residential solar energy, as well as ways to reduce energy loads at home.

“On Juno, there are almost 19,000 solar cells on three array wings,” Tatro said of the Juno spacecraft, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 5, 2011, and slipped into orbit around our solar system’s largest planet on July 4, 2016. “These are the largest solar arrays ever deployed on a far-reaching planetary probe.”

The event was held in conjunction with Energy Action Month, historically a nationwide effort to underscore how important energy management is to our national prosperity, security and environmental sustainability.

Sherwin pointed out that homeowners can evaluate and reduce their power usage even if they haven’t made the switch to solar.

“It’s no surprise that, here in Florida, most of it is in cooling,” Sherwin said. “But homeowners should look beyond air conditioners and appliances, because even small items such as DVRs, aquariums or landscape fountains outside will contribute to the energy load.

“You should look at all of this and say, where is my energy being used? And look for ways to reduce loads,” he said.

New Umbilical Fitted for Mobile Launcher to Support NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Missions

A fit check of the core stage inter-tank umbilical is in progress on the mobile launcher tower at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
High up on the mobile launcher tower at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers assist as a crane moves the Core Stage Inter-tank Umbilical (CSITU) into place for a fit check of the attachment hardware. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Engineers lifted and installed a third umbilical on the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a fit check. The tower on the mobile launcher will be equipped with several connections or launch umbilicals like this one. After the fit check was completed, the umbilical was lowered down and will be installed permanently at a later date.

The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel. They will be used to connect the mobile launcher to the agency’s Space Launch System (made up of the core stage, twin solid rocket boosters, and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage) and the Orion spacecraft mounted on top of SLS.

An area on the SLS between the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks is known as the core stage inter-tank. The core-stage inter-tank umbilical is the third in a series of five new umbilicals for the mobile launcher. Its main function is to vent excess gaseous hydrogen from the rocket’s core stage. This umbilical also will provide conditioned air, pressurized gases, and power and data connection to the core stage.

The Orion service module umbilical and the core stage forward skirt umbilical were previously installed on the tower. The service module umbilical will connect from the mobile launch tower to the Orion service module. Prior to launch, the umbilical will transfer liquid coolant for the electronics and purge air/gaseous nitrogen for environmental control. The SLS core stage forward skirt is near the top of the core stage, and the forward skirt umbilical provides connections and conditioned air/gaseous nitrogen to the core stage of the rocket. All these umbilicals will swing away from the rocket and spacecraft just before launch.

Several other umbilicals were previously installed on the mobile launcher. These include two aft skirt purge umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS rocket at the bottom outer edge of each booster and provide electrical power and data connections, remove hazardous gases, and maintain the right temperature range with a nitrogen purge in the boosters until SLS lifts off from the launch pad.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program at Kennedy is preparing ground support equipment, including the launch umbilicals, for NASA’s deep space exploration missions.

Pegasus Rocket Prepared for NASA’s ICON Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liquid Oxygen Tanking Operations Begin at Launch Pad 39B

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

The first major integrated operation at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida began with the initial tanking of a cryogenic fuel into a giant sphere at the northwest corner of the pad. The tanking operation is one of the steps needed to bring the center closer to supporting the launch of the agency’s Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System rocket on its first uncrewed test flight.

“When I think of launch operations, there are distinct pictures that come to mind,” said NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “One of them is during the tanking operations as the cryogenic propellants are loaded into the Space Launch System rocket.”

Several Praxair trucks arrived at the center and offloaded their liquid oxygen, or LO2, slowly, one at a time, into the cryogenic sphere to gradually chill it down from normal temperature to about negative 298 degrees Fahrenheit. Praxair, of Danbury, Connecticut, is the company that provides the agency with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Another wave of trucks arrived and offloaded their LO2 all at the same time. During the next several months, trucks will continue to arrive from Praxair and offload about 40,000 gallons of fuel two days per week into the sphere that can hold about 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen.

The procedure to fill the liquid hydrogen storage sphere will begin in November and will be completed in the same way. When both tanks are filled to about halfway, engineers in a firing room in the Launch Control Center will perform pressurization tests. Additional tests will be performed with the mobile launcher around mid-2018. The cryogenic fuels will remain in the tanks.

Blackwell-Thompson said it is not uncommon during tanking to see vapors and mist in the cryo storage area and near the vehicle. This week, she got a preview, when the trucks offloaded the first round of LO2 and once again, cryo vapors were visible. Because some of the liquid oxygen boils off during tanking, additional LO2 is required.

“This is a very important step in our path to launch, and we are thrilled to have cryo propellant return to the pad,” Blackwell-Thompson said.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is preparing the pad for the launch of Exploration Mission-1, deep space missions and the Journey to Mars. Significant upgrades to the pad include a new flame trench beneath the pad and a new flame deflector.

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Makes Grand Finale Plunge

Rings of Saturn as viewed by the Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini gazes across the icy rings of Saturn toward the icy moon Tethys, whose night side is illuminated by Saturnshine, or sunlight reflected by the planet. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

The spacecraft that revealed the remarkable planet Saturn to the world and sent back stunning images of its rings and nearby moons has completed its mission. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its final grand finale plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere Sept. 15, 2017.

Cassini made distant flybys of Saturn moons Janus, Pan, Pandora and Epimetheus before making its last dive.

The spacecraft and its attached Huygens probe launched aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket on Oct. 15,1997, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on its seven-year, 2.2-billion mile journey.

Cassini arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004, and began a four-year mission to study the giant planet, its rings, moons and magnetosphere. The spacecraft made 22 weekly dives between the planet and its rings. It continued to beam back to Earth hundreds of gigabytes of scientific data. The Huygens probe made the first landing on a moon (Titan) in the outer solar system.

The Cassini-Huygens mission was a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

For more information on Cassini’s mission finale, visit: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale.

Service Platforms Arrive for Space Launch System Booster Engines

SLS booster engine platforms arrive at Kennedy Space Center in Florida
A flatbed truck carrying one of two new service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System booster engines arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31, 2017. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

New service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster engines arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The platforms were transported on two flatbed trucks from fabricator Met-Con Inc. in Cocoa, Florida. They were offloaded and stored inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The platforms will be used for processing and checkout of the engines for the SLS’ twin five-segment solid rocket boosters for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The boosters, in combination with the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, will produce more than 8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The first SLS mission, EM-1, will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the Moon and bring it back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated system performance of the rocket, Orion spacecraft and ground support teams prior to a crewed flight.