The booster and Centaur upper stage of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V vent gaseous propellant during a “wet dress rehearsal” test at Space Launch Complex 41 on Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket will boost NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on its way to the asteroid Bennu. Short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, OSIRIS-REx is to survey the asteroid closely before taking a sample from its surface and sending that small sample back to Earth for study.
Targeted for liftoff Sept. 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The asteroid may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are standing today at Space Launch Complex 40 awaiting liftoff. Launch is scheduled for 12:45 a.m. EDT. The weather forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Continuous countdown and launch coverage will begin at 11:30 p.m. EDT on the NASA Launch Blog and on NASA TV.
The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with about 5,000 pounds of experiments and materials for the International Space Station. The payloads include a docking adapter needed for future spacecraft headed to the station including those from partners Boeing and SpaceX for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft also carries hardware and experiment elements needed for dozens of research investigations that will take place in orbit during Expeditions 48 and 49. You can read details about the experiments here and details about the docking adapter, IDA-2, here. Photo credit: SpaceX
A spacecraft designed to sample an asteroid and return that sample to Earth will depend greatly on its communications systems with Earth to relay everything from its health and status to scientific findings from making a detailed survey of the asteroid known as Bennu. That’s why engineers from NASA’s Deep Space Network spent the past couple of weeks performing detailed tests of the various communications systems on the OSIRIS-REx spaceraft.
More than a simple on-off evaluation, the tests call for analyses that simulate the millions of miles of distance that signals from the spacecraft will have to traverse to reach the gigantic antennas of the Deep Space Network placed in California, Spain and Canberra, Australia. With dishes measuring up to 230 feet in diameter, the Earthbound communications network is geared to pick up faint transmissions from probes that are exploring the solar system.
The recent tests were completed inside a long, single-story building at Kennedy known as MIL-71. Its name harkens back to the time when Kennedy was known as the Merritt Island Launch Annex, or MILA. Communications systems allow only three letters, so it was shortened the MIL. In much the same way, the asteroid sampling mission called OSIRIS-REx by its management is known in Deep Space Network and communications circles by its own three-letter acronym, ORX.
It takes a roomful of specialized gear to perform the testing which calls for simulating the vast distances of space though the spacecraft and instruments are in buildings next door to each other. The team heads back to California soon to apply their work to the system and get ready to use it for launch.
They won’t know until about 20 minutes after liftoff whether their testing was performed correctly and the spacecraft will effectively communicate with Earth. It is around that time that the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket. Assuming they get a signal like they expect, the spacecraft will unfurl its solar arrays and head for the asteroid, keeping Earth updated to the progress throughout its journey. Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis
Removing hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and adding robust, new fixtures, SpaceX is steadily transforming Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use as a launch pad for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The launchers will lift numerous payloads into orbit, including the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts aboard bound for the International Space Station.
A horizontal integration facility was built at the base of the pad and rails installed running up the incline to the flame trench. Instead of arriving to the pad on the back of the crawler-transporters, SpaceX rockets will roll on a custom-built transporter-erector that will carry them up the hill and then stand the rocket up for liftoff. The fixed service structure at the pad deck will remain, although more than 500,000 pounds of steel has already been removed from it. SpaceX has already started removing the rotating service structure, which is attached to the fixed structure. Built for the need to load a shuttle’s cargo bay at the pad, it does not serve a purpose for Falcon launchers whose payloads are mounted on the top of the rocket.
SpaceX leased the historic launch pad from NASA in April 2014 and has been steadily remaking it from a space shuttle launch facility into one suited for the needs of the Falcon rockets and their payloads. It is the same launch pad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on July 16, 1969, to begin their Apollo 11 flight that would make history as the first to land people on the moon. Almost all signs of Apollo-era hardware were removed from the launch pad when it was rebuilt for the shuttle. Photos by NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts work side-by-side with Boeing and SpaceX engineers to evaluate their systems and trainers as they each prepare to return launches to the International Space Station from American soil. They have performed fit checks in mockup spacecraft, assessed the spacecraft’s display panel and controls among numerous other systems. http://go.nasa.gov/1tuHinI
Manufacturing bays and launch pads are scenes of careful activity midway through 2016 as Boeing and SpaceX, partners with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, build the prototype spacecraft that will precede assembly of the flight vehicles that will perform test flights. Both companies are building separate spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying astronauts some 250 miles into space where they will perform groundbreaking research aboard the International Space Station. Boeing’s Starliner is being assembled at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while SpaceX is manufacturing its Crew Dragon spacecraft at the company’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California.
Both companies are also hard at work modifying their respective launch pads. SpaceX is making numerous changes at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy so the former shuttle launch pad can instead host Falcon 9 rockets lofting Crew Dragons into orbit. A couple of miles south, at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Crew Access Tower has been constructed at Space Launch Complex 41, so astronauts will be able to climb inside the Starliner on launch day as it stands pointed to the sky atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Read more about the progress under way in commercial crew so far in 2016: http://go.nasa.gov/1TZLGAW
The last major element of a test version of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner arrived at the company’s spacecraft factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin assembly. The upper dome of the craft the company is calling Spacecraft 1 rolled through the doors of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy on May 20 so engineers and technicians could begin outfitting it with systems before joining the upper dome to the docking hatch and lower dome elements that arrived earlier in May. The spacecraft’s arrival points toward a time when the company routinely produces and launches Starliners on operational missions taking astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Machined into a honeycomb pattern to reduce weight while maintaining strength, the upper and lower domes will form the crew compartment of the Starliner once assembled together. Thermal shielding will encase the domes on the outside and a base heat shield will be connected to the bottom to complete the spacecraft ahead of its pad abort flight test. That flight test will not carry people, but will include an attached service module holding propellant and supply tanks along with four powerful launch abort engines. The test will be an automated demonstration of the launch escape system’s ability of to lift the Starliner out of danger in the unlikely event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb into orbit.
The work is taking place as the Starliner’s structural test article – a complete Starliner spacecraft designed only for tests on Earth – finishes its assembly and is readied for shipping to California for analysis in conditions similar to those found in space. Read much more about the spacecraft’s arrival and its importance to NASA’s goals for the Commercial Crew Program and enhanced research on the space station: http://go.nasa.gov/1UtFLU4. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
The spacecraft that will perform NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, will arrive at Kennedy Space Center from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver on May 20 aboard an Air Force C-17 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
OSIRIS-REx will come out of the shipping container May 21, go onto a rotation fixture on May 23, have a spin test May 24-25. It then will be hoisted onto a dolly May 26 for other upcoming activities. A partial solar array deployment test is scheduled on May 31.
OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled to launch Sept. 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT. As planned, the spacecraft will reach its near-Earth asteroid target, called Bennu (formerly 1999 RQ36), in 2018. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping.
The science team then will pick a location where the spacecraft’s arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect a 2.1-ounce sample for return to Earth in 2023. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
Bennu is about 1,640 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields. The asteroid, a little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system’s infancy.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the principal investigator at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
The upper dome of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner is lowered onto the lower dome May 2, completing the first hull of the Starliner’s Structural Test Article. Identical to the operational Starliners Boeing plans to build and fly in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the Structural Test Article is not meant to ever fly in space but rather to prove the manufacturing methods and overall ability of the spacecraft to handle the demands of spaceflight carrying astronauts to the International Space Station.
The work was performed inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is the first spacecraft to come together inside the former shuttle hangar since shuttle Discovery was moved out of the facility following its retirement and move to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C., in 2012. You can watch Boeing’s video about the spacecraft’s manufacturing here.
NASA selected Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, to begin negotiations on an agreement to use High Bay 2 in the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The prospective agreement will include a mobile launcher platform and reflects Kennedy’s transformation to a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial organizations.
“Over the past few years, the people of Kennedy have worked diligently to transform the center. We are now a true multi-user spaceport supporting a variety of different partners successfully,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy’s director. “We look forward to working with —- in the future to help expand the capabilities of this unique, historic asset.”
NASA will remain the primary user of the VAB for the Space Launch System and Orion programs. If an agreement is negotiated, NASA will act as the overall site operator for the facility. Details at http://go.nasa.gov/26hoG9a and on Kennedy’s Partnerships page at http://go.nasa.gov/26hpk6E Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett