NASA’s 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition Underway at Kennedy Space Center

The robotic miner from Mississippi State University digs in the mining arena during NASA's 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The robotic miner from Mississippi State University digs in the mining arena during NASA’s 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The robots are here. More than 40 teams of undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the U.S. have descended upon NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with their uniquely-designed robotic miners, in all shapes and sizes, to compete over three days in the agency’s 2017 Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).

Each team’s robot traverses and excavates simulated Martian dirt, seeking to move and collect the most regolith, or simulated Martian soil, within a specified amount of time. Other RMC competition categories include submission of a systems engineering paper, slide presentation and robot demonstration. Also factored in is how well each team has reached out to its community through social media and engagement with area schools and the general public.

The competition concludes tomorrow with an evening awards ceremony at the Apollo Saturn V Center. A list of winners will be available by May 30 at http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.

Watch RMC live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-dlinfo.

The Robotic Mining Competition is a NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate project designed to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields. The project provides a competitive environment to foster innovative ideas and solutions that could be used on NASA’s Journey to Mars.

For more information on the RMC, associated activities and social media, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.

Engineer’s LLAMA Design Aids Orion Recovery, Earns Innovation Award

Jeremy Parr with the LLAMA during Orion Underway Recovery Test 5 in the Pacific Ocean.
Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in Kennedy Space Center’s Engineering Directorate, monitors the Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, or LLAMA, on a U.S. Navy ship during Orion Underway Recovery Test 5 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Photo credit: NASA

What is a LLAMA? It’s a Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, designed by Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He designed the LLAMA to help U.S. Navy line handlers retrieve the Orion crew module after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

Parr is the lead design engineer for Orion Landing and Recovery, which is coordinated and led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Parr’s design recently earned him second place in the agency’s third Innovation Awards competition.

“The LLAMA concept came to me after watching the sailors fighting to control the Orion test capsule during Underway Recovery Test 1 in open water in February 2014,” Parr said.

The standard Navy line tending practice is to wrap their lines around the ship’s T-bits, or large solid columns with a crossbar that resemble the letter “t,” located near the stern, so that the sailors can control big loads with only a few people. This works for most operations they do since the hardware they handle is usually big and slower moving in the seas. But the crew module is a different beast when floating in the water than anyone on the recovery team expected, Parr said. Orion is easily pushed around by wind and waves.

“I came up with a design that helps the Navy line handlers to safely maintain high tension in the tending lines during recovery of Orion into the well deck of a ship. It also regulates the amount of tension in the lines to ensure equal loading on the vehicle.”

The LLAMAs are mounted on the ship’s T-bits, and the mechanisms provide all tending line control of the crew module once it enters the well deck and until it is secured on the recovery cradle pads.

“I am both excited and honored to be recognized for the LLAMA design,” Parr said. “This has been a team effort for a few years now to get where we are today. We worked through development and testing until we completed our successful test during Underway Recovery Test 5 off the coast of San Diego in the fall of 2016.”

The LLAMA-controlled tending lines are the baseline method for recovery of Orion after Exploration Mission-1 and all future missions.

Parr began working at Kennedy in 2007. Prior to that, he worked for SAIC at Johnson Space Center in Houston for four years.

Orion Processing Continues at Kennedy Space Center for First Flight with SLS

The Orion EM-1 crew module is moved from a clean room to a work station in the O&C Building at Kennedy Space Center.Work continues to prepare NASA’s Orion crew module for its first integrated flight atop the Space Launch System rocket. The crew module was moved from a clean room to a work station inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for the next additions to the spacecraft.

In the clean room, engineers and technicians completed the welding of the tanks to the propulsion and environmental control/life support systems (ECLSS) tubing. They also completed welding to install the propellant, pressurant and post-landing coolant tanks. The pressurant is used to maintain the flow of propellant and coolant in the propulsion and ECLSS systems, respectively.

Now secured in a work station, Orion will undergo additional processing to prepare it for launch in 2019. The crew module up-righting system, comprised of five up-righting bag assemblies, each with an inflation gas assembly, will be installed in the crew module’s forward bay. The up-righting bags are inflated after the crew module splashes down in the ocean and will turn the spacecraft upright if external forces cause it to roll over. The three main parachute assemblies also will be installed in the forward bay.

Orion’s crew module will be populated with avionics components, including control systems and communication and data units. Flight wire harnesses, which distribute power and data among the spacecraft’s systems, will be routed throughout the crew module’s forward bay, crew cabin and aft- and mid-bays.

The first flight of SLS and Orion will send the spacecraft beyond the moon before Orion returns to Earth and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated performance of the SLS rocket, Orion and ground support teams before a flight with crew in the early 2020s.

Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Final Brick Installed in Launch Complex 39B Flame Trench for NASA’s Space Launch System

Final brick is installed in the flame trench at Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center.
A construction worker installs the final brick on the north side of the flame trench walls May 9, 2017 at Launch Complex 39B. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Intense heat and fire will fill the north side of the flame trench beneath the pad when NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A project to upgrade the walls of the flame trench to withstand these conditions recently was completed.

All of the new heat-resistant bricks now are in place in the flame trench below the surface of the pad. Construction workers installed the final brick May 9, completing about a year’s worth of work on the walls on the north side of the flame trench to support the launch of the (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft on deep-space missions, including the Journey to Mars.

About 96,000 heat-resistant bricks, in three different sizes, now are secured to the walls using bonding mortar in combination with adhesive anchors. The flame trench will be able to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit at launch of the rocket’s engines and solid rocket boosters.

“The flame trench has withstood so many historical launches, and we are giving it new life to withstand many more,” said Regina Spellman, the launch pad senior project manager with the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.

The north side of the flame trench is about 571 feet long, 58 feet wide and 42 feet high.

A new flame deflector soon will be installed that will safely contain and deflect the plume exhaust from the massive rocket to the north during launch. Two side flame deflectors, repurposed from space shuttle launches, will be refurbished and reinstalled at pad level on either side of the flame trench to help reduce damage to the pad and SLS rocket.

Flown Orion Crew Module Moves to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Orion EFT-1 crew module is moved into the IMAX Theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The Orion crew module from Exploration Flight Test 1, secured on its custom-made ground support equipment, is moved into the IMAX Theater at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

The Orion crew module that traveled into space beyond low-Earth orbit on Exploration Fight Test 1 (EFT-1) completed a different kind of trip this week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Secured on a custom-made ground support equipment transporter, Orion was moved from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, less than three miles down the road. The crew module will become part of the NASA Now exhibit inside the IMAX Theater at the visitor complex.

The Orion spacecraft launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket Dec. 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft built for humans traveled 3,604 miles above Earth, and is the first U.S. spacecraft to go beyond low-Earth orbit in 42 years. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the shore of California.

New Ground Launch Sequencer Software Demonstrated in Launch Control Center

NASA engineers and test directors gather in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to watch a demonstration of the automated command and control software for the agency's Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. In front, far right, is Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Exploration Mission 1 launch director. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White
NASA engineers and test directors gather in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to watch a demonstration of the automated command and control software for the agency’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. In front, far right, is Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Exploration Mission 1 launch director. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

A demonstration of the automated command and control software for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, recently took place in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The software, called the ground launch sequencer, will be responsible for nearly all of the launch commit criteria during the final phases of launch countdowns.

The Ground and Flight Application Software Team, or GFAST, demonstrated the software for Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the first integrated flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. Also attending were representatives from the NASA Test Director’s Office.

The software is in the advanced stages of development. It includes nearly all of the core capabilities required to support the initial use during Ignition Over-Pressure / Sound Suppression and follow-on tests through launch of the agency’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. The suppression stage ensures the water dampening system initiates in the final second of launch countdown. It also produces the pattern and volume needed to dampen the pressure waves and acoustic environment caused by the firing of the SLS core stage RS-25 engines and solid rocket motors.

“We were pleased to be able to demonstrate the continued evolution of the ground launch sequencer for members of the launch team, and look forward to its first use in operations support,” said Alex Pandelos, operations project engineer for Launch Integration in the Ground Systems development and Operations Program (GSDO).

The software was developed by GSDO’s Command, Control and Communications teams at the center. Development of the software will continue, with a goal of beginning verification and validation of the software in summer 2017.

Pneumatic Systems Tested in Multi-Purpose Payload Facility for Orion

View of the service platform for Orion inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.
Engineers and technicians completed verification and validation testing of several pneumatic systems inside and outside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In view is the service platform for Orion spacecraft processing. The MPPF will be used for offline processing and fueling of the Orion spacecraft and service module stack before launch. Orion also will be de-serviced in the MPPF after a mission. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO) is overseeing upgrades to the facility. The Engineering Directorate led the recent pneumatic tests. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Testing of systems critical to preparing Orion for its first flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket were successfully completed in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The MPPF is the location where fuel and commodities will be provided for the Orion spacecraft prior to launch. Orion also will be defueled and prepared for its next mission in this facility.

Pneumatics test team with banner.
Pneumatics test team members gather to mark the successful verification and validation of pneumatics testing in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Bonni Mcclure

Engineers and technicians completed a series of verification and validation tests of the pneumatic systems inside and outside the facility and confirmed they are ready to become operational, and that the systems meet requirements to support flight and ground systems that use pneumatic commodities.

“Completion of verification and validation testing of the pneumatic systems helps ensure that ground systems at Kennedy are ready to support Orion spacecraft processing,” said Stephen Anthony, pneumatic design engineering lead in the Environmental and Life Support Systems branch in the center’s Engineering Directorate.

Four pneumatic systems supply high pressure gases to various locations in the MPPF. These include gaseous nitrogen, gaseous helium and gaseous oxygen. They will be used to pressurize flight tanks on the Orion spacecraft. Another system, the breathing air system, provides an air source for personnel using Self-Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensembles, or SCAPE suits, which protect them during hazardous operations inside and outside the facility.

Leak tests of all of the pneumatic hardware installed inside and outside the MPPF were performed. Checkouts included verifying proper function of valves, regulators, pressure gauges and other components; verifying that the systems can be operated by command and control software; and performing flow tests of the systems to validate analysis and demonstrate that the systems meet requirements. A simulation of Orion flight tank fill operations also was performed.

“The pneumatic systems at the MPPF provide high pressure gases to many other ground and flight systems, making them vital to successful ground processing operations,” Anthony said.

The vast majority of the testing was completed between August 2016 and January 2017. Additional testing is scheduled this spring.

A team of about 60 NASA and contractor workers supported the tests, including design, operations, systems and project engineers, mechanics, technicians, logistics, safety, quality, configuration management, and construction of facilities personnel.

Orbital ATK CRS-7 Mission Targeted for April 18 Launch

Orbital ATK's Cygnus module is mated to the Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The payload fairing containing the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module is mated to the Centaur upper stage, or second stage, of the United Launch Alliance rocket March 17 in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

NASA, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are now targeting April 18 for the launch of Orbital ATK’s seventh contracted commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. ULA has developed a plan to resolve an earlier booster hydraulic issue, and is moving forward with launch vehicle processing. Both the Atlas V rocket and Cygnus spacecraft remain secure. Several tons of cargo including crew supplies and science experiments packed aboard Cygnus remain in good shape.

Crawler-Transporter 2 Takes Test Drive along Crawlerway

Crawler-transporter 2 with MLP-1 atop moves slowly along the crawlerway at Kennedy Space Center.NASA’s crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) took a test drive along the crawlerway at Kennedy Space Center to determine the structural dynamics and loading environments of the crawler’s recent upgrades. The test was performed to ensure that the crawler is ready to support the first integrated flight of the agency’s Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System.

The unloaded CT-2 rolled from the crawler yard along the crawlerway to the Pad A/B split for the first leg of the trip and traveled back to the mobile launcher platform park site near the Vehicle Assembly Building. For the loaded test, the crawler picked up Mobile Launch Platform 1 at the park site and returned to the Pad A/B split. Engineers took measurements during the entire trek using accelerometers, strain gauges and pressure transducers. The data collected will be used to validate the dynamic model of the integrated SLS.

CT-2 is the vehicle that will carry the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on the mobile launcher to Pad B for launch. The behemoth vehicle recently was upgraded to support the heavier load of the SLS atop the mobile launcher.

Upgrades to the crawler included installation of new generators, gear assemblies, jacking, equalizing and leveling (JEL) hydraulic cylinders, roller bearings and brakes. Other systems also were upgraded.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades to facilities and ground support equipment necessary to support the launch and deep space missions, including the Journey to Mars.

Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Orbital ATK CRS-7 Launch Postponed

NASA, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have postponed Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. ULA discovered a new booster hydraulic issue during prelaunch testing. The ULA team is developing a plan to resolve the issue and a new launch date will be determined.

Orbital ATK has contracted with ULA for its Atlas V rocket for the launch service, which will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is packed with 7,600 pounds of supplies and research for crew aboard the orbiting laboratory. The Atlas V and Cygnus remain secure.