Cygnus Pressurized Module Arrives for Launch Processing

ORB-4The pressurized cargo module of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday at 7:20 p.m. to begin processing ahead of a launch slated for Dec. 3 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Teams of Orbital ATK and NASA engineers will inspect the module in the coming days and then ready it for loading.

The cylindrical cargo module, which will carry about four tons of research materials and supplies for the International Space Station, will be joined in October to the Cygnus’ service module. The service module houses a pair of power-generating solar arrays along with a maneuvering thruster and instrumentation for the automated spacecraft. The spacecraft will guide itself to within reach of the station’s 57-foot-long robotic arm. The arm will pull the Cygnus to a connecting point on the station so astronauts can unload the spacecraft. At the end of the mission, the Cygnus will be released from the station to safely burn up in the atmosphere.

Partnership May Lead to Advanced Communication Technology

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, right, signed a Space Act agreement with John Pederson, Board Chairman and CEO of Light Visually Transceiving (LVX) System Corp., to facilitate a collaboration in developing a potentially ground-breaking technology in electronic communications. Photo credit: NASA/ Kim Shiflett
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, right, signed a Space Act agreement with John Pederson, Board Chairman and CEO of Light Visually Transceiving (LVX) System Corp., to facilitate a collaboration in developing a potentially ground-breaking technology in electronic communications. Photo credit: NASA/ Kim Shiflett

NASA at the Kennedy Space Center has entered into a partnership with Light Visually Transceiving (LVX) System Corp. to collaborate in developing a potentially ground-breaking technology in electronic communications. Similar to high-speed communication known as Wi-Fi, visible light communication, or VLC, is a wireless method using light-emitting diodes referred to as Li-Fi.

On July 30, 2015, Kennedy Director Bob Cabana signed a Space Act agreement with LVX Board Chairman and CEO John Pederson to license researchers at Kennedy to study and develop new applications for visual light communication. Space Act Agreements are legal understandings empowering NASA to work with any organization that helps fulfill the agency’s mandate. This effort, coordinated by Center Planning and Development, is a continuation of Kennedy’s transition to a diverse, multi-user spaceport.

With LVX System now headquartered at Kennedy, the Space Act Agreement will facilitate their researchers and NASA experts to study and develop new applications for VLC, including use on future deep-space missions and innovations that have the potential to benefit daily life.

During the five year agreement between NASA and LVX, Kennedy will perform reimbursable services to further research and technology development of VLC and lighting system augmentation. NASA will provide a final prototype at its conclusion consisting of a camera, microphone and speaker technologies. Additionally, NASA and LVX are studying enhancements to lighting system capabilities in hopes of improving Global Positioning Satellite routing systems.

Pederson has been working with lighting specialist Eirik Holbert of Kennedy’s Flight Technology Branch and other scientists and engineers in the space center’s Swamp Works laboratory. Together, they are evolving the technology of visible light communication fixtures for ground and potential space-based applications.

Kennedy’s Swamp Works establishes rapid, innovative and cost-effective exploration mission solutions through leveraging of partnerships across NASA, industry and academia. Concepts start small and build up fast, with lean development processes and a hands-on approach.

Li-Fi can be used as standalone communication technology, as well as a supplement to radio-frequency or cellular networks. One of the primary advantages of VLC over radio-frequency bandwidth limitations is the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger.

A VLC network provides a wireless or “fibreless” light photon medium with virtually unlimited data transfer and significantly reduced security risks. VLC also operates with reduced energy requirements, thus making it a “green” technology.

Innovations such as VLC and Li-Fi are additional ways NASA is investing in the future. The agency continually seeks technology solutions that dramatically improve its capabilities while generating tangible benefits that create jobs, earn revenue and save lives.

Exploration Goes Airborne with Swamp Works Craft

LTFF_EDF_30The exact form of the Extreme Access Flyer isn’t known yet, but engineers at Swamp Works are steadily progressing through prototype designs to invent a flying robotic prospector that can be launched to other worlds and take samples from areas rovers can’t reach. The craft would fly hundreds of short sorties from a lander to gather samples from surrounding areas to find out where the valuable resources are on Mars, asteroids or the moon. The Flyer could also explore giant lava tubes on other worlds to find out whether they are suitable for astronauts and habitation modules. Find out the details in this feature story out today, and take a look at the video below to see an Asteroid Prospector Flyer prototype in testing.

Students Test Rover at Kennedy for Potential Lunar Mission


KSC-315D-0308_0093KSC-315D-0308_0117A team of students working with Earthrise Space Foundation evaluated a rover of their own design in the regolith simulant bin at Swamp Works at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently as the team pushes toward a flight-ready version they hope to launch to the moon on a private mission competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. The rover, parts of which are 3D printed, is 18 inches long and uses four wheels for movement. It also features a pair of lenses and a head that lifts and lowers. It is powered by batteries and solar arrays built into it its chassis.

The regolith simulant bin offers a lunar-like environment for evaluating a myriad of machines Kennedy researchers are developing that could be incorporated into future designs or exploration projects such as those required for astronauts to safely make the eventual journey to Mars.

The students that designed and assembled the rover are from the University of Central Florida and are part of the Omega Envoy Team competing to be the first privately-funded and operated mission to land an automated exploration craft on the moon. They came to Kennedy to test their machine in a massive box filled with material that has the same properties and behavior as lunar soil, known as regolith. The rover’s traction over the regolith was evaluated as well as its optical system. An engineer wrapped in protective garb to prevent breathing in the dusty soil was on-hand in case the rover ran into trouble. The little vehicle was also driven up an incline during the evaluation.

The team’s proposal is to launch a lander with the rover inside. Once on the moon, the rover would ride down a ramp and look around the lunar surface. A number of teams are official competitors in the contest which offers $30 million awards for the first privately funded and run group to land a robot on the moon and traverse the surface.

Photos credit: NASA/Glenn Benson



Astronauts Plant Second Crop of Lettuce on Station

veggie 1 The second series of vegetable growth experiments known as Veggie is underway today after astronaut Scott Kelly watered and placed the seed-filled pillows into the Veggie unit.  The specialized space garden provides light to the plants and wicks moisture to the plant pillows as means to provide water simply.

Scott Kelly will take photos of his space plants and beam them back to ground-based researchers at Kennedy who are monitoring the experiment and will soon perform identical work on Earth as the ground control group for the space-borne seeds.  The seeds on the station are expected to sprout in a few days and about a month from now the station crew is expected to have enough lettuce to complement their meal.  Five of the plant pouches are functioning correctly, leaving one that experienced difficulties.

The research is considered vital to future plans to send astronauts to deep space and eventually to Mars. Crews on long-duration trips far from Earth can get vitamins from leafy vegetables during the flight and also enjoy the reminders of home.

Plant Growth Experiment To Get Underway on Station

Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA project scientist in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs, discusses the Veggie plant growth facility with media representatives touring the Space Station Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Astronauts will water a series of lettuce seeds and turn on special LED lights Wednesday to begin the next round of vegetable production on the International Space Station. Known as Veggie, the experiment is aimed at validating the plant growth chamber and equipment developed to grow plants in weightlessness. It is the second phase of research performed a year ago that saw lettuce grow in similar conditions. The problem then was that enough water did not reach the growing plants. Working with scientists from Kennedy, where the research team is located, astronauts intervened to water the plants directly and the lettuce recovered, then flourished.

This time, researchers want to see whether modifications to the watering protocols for the water reservoir and “pillows” create and maintain a column of water for the growing plants. Astronauts will still have to water the pillows holding the seeds. In a week, the lettuce plants will be thinned to allow the biggest and strongest more room and resources to get larger. It will take approximately 28 days to complete the experiment, depending on growth. The astronauts will even get to eat half of the crop as they orbit Earth. The other half will be returned to Earth to be studied.

The implications off the Earth and on the Earth could be immense. For future astronauts speeding away from home on missions to deep space and journeys to Mars, fresh-gown vegetables, even in small amounts, can provide valuable nutrients. For farming on Earth, the techniques developed to make plants grow better in space may be used to grow plants more efficiently on our planet with less water and fertilizer and in smaller volumes.

For more details about Veg-01, go here and for more about all the research taking place off the Earth for the Earth and for the Journey to Mars, go to


Jason-3 Processing Paused

Processing of the Jason-3 spacecraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California continued last week up to the point at which the satellite normally would be fueled. Preparations have been suspended following the SpaceX Falcon 9 mishap that occurred at Cape Canaveral during the liftoff of CRS-7, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The Jason-3 spacecraft test team for the French-built satellite will return to France on Tuesday, July 7 until a more definitive launch date for the mission can be determined.

Jason-3 Satellite Arrives at California Launch Site

18746717838_ff647c5ebf_oThe Jason-3 satellite arrived today at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base after a journey from France in preparation for launch Aug. 8, 2015, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Jason-3 will continue a 23-year effort to monitor Earth’s global ocean, tracking sea level rise, ocean heat content and sea-surface height. Additionally, Jason-3 data will help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accurately predict when tropical cyclones will intensify.



Future Lettuce: Planting the Seeds for Veg-03

Gioia Massa glue seeds in place in a lab at Kennedy. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

A small team of researchers glued the seeds into place Thursday on Earth so astronauts may grow them into lettuce and cabbage plants in space later this year. Working at a lab at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the scientists spent the week packing sterile soil and specialized fertilizer into Teflon and Kevlar envelopes they call pillows before placing the seeds carefully inside. The seeds are not planted, but rather glued into their optimal position using a common food ingredient known as guar gum. They are positioned so roots can quickly find their water supply and the above-ground portion of the lettuce can sprout as efficiently as possible. The pouches will be enclosed in a transport bag for flight to the International Space Station then moved to a special container that includes lights, a camera and other essentials when the experiment beings in orbit. Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory will water the seeds daily while researchers on the ground do the same thing to provide a control group.

The seeds, placed inside 18 plant pillows, will be carried into space on the CRS-7 mission due to launch next week on a SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9. The experiment will be the latest version of the Veggie research that began last year with a lettuce crop grown on the orbiting laboratory.  The ultimate goal is a system that will reliably grow plants for astronauts as they traverse deep space and make a journey to Mars. The plants would be a supplement to their food and would provide unique nutritional value to astronauts.

SpaceX Work Continues on 39A Hangar



SpaceX released a new photo showing the progress the company is making on an assembly hangar at Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A. The company says the building will be big enough to house five Falcon rockets at once. The launch pad is being outfitted for missions by the Falcon Heavy and for Commercial Crew flights using the Falcon 9 rocket launching Crew Dragons to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts onboard.