Launch Readiness Review Complete Ahead of NASA’s DART Mission

A team of launch managers for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission have authorized approval to proceed to launch countdown at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California ahead of a scheduled launch on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 10:21 p.m. PST (Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 1:21 a.m. EST) from the SpaceX Space Launch Complex 4.

During the Launch Readiness Review on Nov. 22, launch managers from NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), SpaceX, and DART mission team received an update on the mission status and any close-out actions from the previously held Flight Readiness Review. Signing the Certificate of Flight Readiness at the conclusion of the LRR were NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance; LSP’s chief engineer,  launch director, and program manager; the U.S. Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 30 commander; the DART project manager; Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory director; and the SpaceX Launch Director.

DART is the first mission to test technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid. DART’s target asteroid in not a threat to Earth.

Teams also recently completed integration of the Falcon 9 rocket and its payload. After moving the DART spacecraft, encapsulated in its payload fairings, from the payload processing facility to the Falcon 9 Hangar, SpaceX technicians horizontally integrated the encapsulated spacecraft to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket over a two-day period, Nov. 20 to 21.

“The payload mate onto the launch vehicle is an important milestone for DART because it is the final verification to ensure the spacecraft is communicating with its ground team,” said Notlim Burgos, LSP payload mechanical engineer. “This milestone also is significant for the LSP mechanical team because it integrates the last components of the launch vehicle, completing the build of the Falcon 9 in support of NASA’s first planetary defense mission.”

NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is managing the launch. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office. The agency provides support for the mission from several centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

 

NASA’s Landsat 9 ‘Go’ For Launch

Landsat 9
Encapsulated within the United Launch Alliance (ULA) payload fairing, the Landsat 9 spacecraft undergoes final preparations before launch inside the Integrated Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Aug. 25, 2021. Photo credit: USSF 30th Space Wing/Chris Okula

With two days to go until liftoff of Landsat 9, the NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) joint mission to monitor Earth’s land and coastal regions, everything is on track for Monday’s planned launch, with the 30-minute launch window starting at 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT).

The launch team adjusted the launch window by one minute to avoid the CloudSat and Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft, which are circling the globe in an orbit near the one planned for Landsat 9.

“Landsat is the ninth mission in a series, and it is an absolutely critical piece of NASA’s science portfolio,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate. “NASA has had an amazing year of science, launching a lot of technologies to Mars and deep space, and this mission is one of those dedicated to looking at our most beautiful planet.”

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 30 is predicting an 90% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch. The primary weather concerns are ground winds.

The historic mission has remained on track, despite challenges from a worldwide pandemic, including current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen that impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency and its supplier Airgas. Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequence.

“We certainly had our challenges with the pandemic and liquid nitrogen supply chain issues causing a seven-day delay,” said Launch Director Tim Dunn of NASA’s Launch Services Program. “We’re back on track, and I’m personally thrilled to be the launch director for Landsat 9. The NASA engineers and analysts, working alongside our United Launch Alliance colleagues, take great pride in launching this mission.”

Landsat 9 is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, is managing the launch.

“The 9th Landsat will contribute a great understanding of what’s happening to the surface of our Earth,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA Earth Science Division. “It will provide vital foundational knowledge. Its power is really released when we combine the data from Landsat with our other Earth science missions. The data can tell us not just what is happening, but why.”

Landsat 9, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will carry two instruments: the Operational Land Imager 2, which collects images of Earth’s landscapes in visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared light, and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2, which measures the temperature of land surfaces.

“There’s no doubt that the Landsat mission is at the core of the Department of the Interior’s important work,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for Water and Science that the Department of the Interior. “We work every day to protect our natural resources and cultural heritage and provide scientific information about those resources that our communities can rely on.”

When it launches, Landsat 9 will join its predecessors in helping scientists track changes to Earth’s land surfaces at a scale that shows natural and human-caused change. Currently, both Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 are in a near-polar orbit of our planet. Each satellite repeats its orbital pattern every 16 days, with the two spacecraft offset so that each spot on Earth is measured by one or the other every eight days. Landsat 9 will join Landsat 8 in orbit and will replace Landsat 7, taking its place in orbit.

“For nearly 50 years, Landsat satellites have documented Earth’s changing landscapes, said Michael Egan, Landsat 9 program executive for NASA’s Earth Science Division. “As the Earth’s population approaches 8 billion people, Landsat 9 will continue to provide consistent data about the changing land cover and land use of our planet.”

Tune in to NASA TV or the agency’s website at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT) Monday, or follow along right here on the mission blog, for live launch countdown coverage. Learn more about the mission at: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/landsat.

Hitching a Ride on Landsat 9: ELaNa 34 CubeSats Fly First Class

CuPID CubeSat ELaNa 34
Emil Atz, a Boston University mechanical engineering PhD candidate, and Jacqueline Bachrach, Boston University, mechanical engineering junior, work on the CuPID spacecraft. Photo credit: Boston University Photography/Cydney Scott

Two small research satellites that are launching as part of NASA’s 34th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission promise exciting insights for the university researchers that developed them. The CubeSats will launch as secondary payloads when Landsat 9 lifts off at 11:11 a.m. PDT (2:11 p.m. EDT) Monday, Sept. 27, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Landsat 9, launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, is a joint mission between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey and will continue a nearly 50-year legacy of Earth-observing Landsat satellites. The two CubeSats will hitch a ride in the spacecraft’s secondary payload adapter.

The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector (CuPID) from Boston University, are shoebox-sized spacecraft, each measuring approximately 8 inches by 4 inches by 13 inches.

CUTE aims to provide a better understanding of atmospheric loss on all types of planets by measuring atmospheric escape rates from giant exoplanets. Atmospheric escape is the loss of mass from a planet’s atmosphere over time. This phenomenon can affect a planet’s long-term physical properties, including the sizes of extrasolar planets and the habitability of rocky planets.

CUTE will target 10 to 12 exoplanets during its eight-month science mission, conducting a survey of heavy elements, such as iron and magnesium, escaping from the atmospheres of the most extreme planets in the galaxy.

“Measuring atmospheric escape rates allows astronomers and planetary scientists to better understand the physics behind atmospheric loss,” said Dr. Kevin France, associate professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and principal investigator of the CUTE mission. “This in turn allows us to better understand the atmospheres of known planets and predict the properties of extrasolar planets we have not yet discovered.”

CUTE CubeSat for ELaNa 34
Project Manager Rick Kohnert and graduate student Arika Egan show the CUTE spacecraft during dispenser installation testing at the University of Colorado. Photo credit: University of Colorado/Kevin France

The spacecraft will carry out its mission using a magnifying spectrograph fed by a rectangular Cassegrain telescope. CUTE is sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division.

CuPID will study how energy from the Sun is deposited into the Earth’s magnetosphere – a protective bubble around our home planet. This mission could solve long-standing questions on space weather and solar wind magnetosphere coupling. CuPID will measure X-rays in space using a novel wide field-of-view telescope to image reconnection signatures in the magnetosphere. Reconnection occurs when the Sun is active enough that its magnetic field fuses with the Earth’s. Using this soft X-ray telescope, CuPID will generate first-of-their-kind images of this phenomenon.

“Launch is scheduled to occur during a lecture of an orbital dynamics course I’m teaching this fall. I plan to have the class online watching. I’m not sure I could think of a better real-world example of the material,” said Dr. Brian Walsh, CuPID’s principal investigator, and professor of Mechanical Engineering and member of the Center for Space Physics at Boston University.

The CuPID mission, led by Boston University in Massachusetts, is a collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Merrimack College, North Andover, Massachusetts; Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Heliophysics Division and Small Satellite Project Office.

NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) selected the CubeSats assigned to the ELaNa 34 mission by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. LSP manages the ELaNa manifest, and CSLI provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations.

To date, NASA has selected 202 CubeSat missions, 122 of which have been launched into space, with 43 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. The selected CubeSats represent participants from 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 102 unique organizations. CSLI’s 2021 Announcement of Partnership Opportunity is open for CubeSat proposals until Nov. 19, 2021.

Stay connected with these CubeSat missions on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program on Facebook and Twitter.

NASA, Boeing Continue to Work Toward Understanding Starliner Service Module Valve Performance Issue

Boeing Starliner spacecraft
On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is shown on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket in ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility.

NASA continues to work side-by-side with Boeing to understanding the CST-100 Starliner’s service module valve performance, including the unexpected indications some of the valves were in the closed position during its Aug. 3 launch attempt of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2).

With troubleshooting ongoing in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Starliner will be powered and run through various procedures to help understand the issue, NASA will move forward with the launch and berthing of an important cargo mission to the International Space Station.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch on the company’s Antares rocket at 5:56 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, with capture and berthing scheduled two days later at about 6:10 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 12.

In parallel, managers and engineers with NASA and Boeing will continue to evaluate schedules based on where the troubleshooting efforts take them before deciding when the next official launch for the OFT-2 mission will take place.

NASA, Boeing Continue Starliner Data Analysis

Atlas V rocket with Starliner on launch pad
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad on Thursday, July 29, 2021, at Space Launch Complex 41 in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

NASA and Boeing are continuing to work through steps to determine what caused the unexpected valve position indications on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V with the Starliner spacecraft on top will be returned to its Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Thursday where engineers will have direct access to Starliner for continued troubleshooting.

The data will drive any corrective measures that may be necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for launch. When NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing Space agree the issue is resolved, a new launch opportunity will be selected, taking into account the readiness of all parties involved.

“The Boeing and NASA teams are working methodically to understand what caused the valve indications on the Starliner service module propulsion system,” Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program, said. “The troubleshooting in the Vertical Integration Facility will help focus on potential causes and next steps before we fly the OFT-2 mission.”

Early in the launch countdown for the Tuesday, Aug. 3 launch attempt, engineers detected indications that not all of Starliner’s propulsion system valves were in the proper configuration needed for launch of the company’s second uncrewed orbital flight test to the International Space Station, a mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the crew-capable system as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Mission teams decided to halt the countdown to further analyze the issue, which was conducted later Tuesday via several steps to troubleshoot the incorrect valve indications, including cycling the service module propulsion system valves.

After presenting the data to NASA and Boeing managers, it was decided to relocate the Atlas V and Starliner to the VIF for further inspection and testing where access to the spacecraft is available. Engineering teams have ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, and the direct access is required to continue the assessment.

“This mission is extremely important for the Commercial Crew Program on the path to the Boeing Crewed Flight Test,” Stich said. “We will fly the mission when we are ready. I am extremely proud of the NASA and Boeing teams for their professionalism, perseverance, and methodical approach to solving complex problems.”

NASA and Boeing will take whatever time is necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for its important uncrewed flight test to the space station and will look for the next available opportunity after resolution of the issue.

NASA, Boeing Standing Down on Aug. 4 Starliner Launch Attempt

NASA and Boeing are standing down from the Wednesday, Aug. 4, launch attempt of the agency’s Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station as mission teams continue to examine the cause of the unexpected valve position indications on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

Early in the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 attempt, mission teams detected indications that not all valves were in the proper configuration needed for launch. Mission teams decided to halt the countdown to further analyze the issue.

NASA and Boeing worked through several steps to troubleshoot the incorrect valve indications, including cycling the service module propulsion system valves, within the current configuration of the Starliner and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Mission teams have decided to roll the Atlas V and Starliner back to the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) for further inspection and testing where access to the spacecraft is available. Boeing will power down the Starliner spacecraft this evening. The move to the VIF is expected to take place as early as tomorrow.

Engineering teams have ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, but additional time is needed to complete the assessment.

NASA and Boeing will take whatever time is necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for its important uncrewed flight test to the space station and will look for the next available opportunity after resolution of the issue.