NASA’s Pegasus barge, with the 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder secured inside, departed the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 31, 2019.
The pathfinder is a full-scale mock-up of the rocket’s core stage. It was used by the Exploration Ground Systems Program and its contractor, Jacobs, to practice offloading, moving and stacking maneuvers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building using ground support equipment to train employees and certify all the equipment works properly. The pathfinder was at Kennedy for about a month.
The barge is carrying the pathfinder back to the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
NASA’s Pegasus Barge arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 27, carrying the 212-foot-long core stage pathfinder for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Weighing in at 228,000 pounds, the pathfinder is a full-scale mock-up of the rocket’s core stage and will be used to validate ground support equipment and demonstrate it can be integrated with Kennedy facilities.
After arriving at the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf – a docking area initially used during the Space Shuttle Program that has been modified to accommodate SLS hardware deliveries – the pathfinder was moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Sept. 30, where it will remain for testing for about one month.
While in the VAB, pathfinder will provide NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and contractor Jacobs with the opportunity to practice stacking maneuvers in the VAB’s High Bay 3 prior to the arrival of the SLS flight hardware that will be processed for the agency’s Artemis I mission.
“This will help ensure that all core stage engineers and technicians are trained and certified in preparation for the flight core stage processing,” said Jim Bolton, EGS core stage element operations manager at Kennedy. “It’s a very significant milestone that will demonstrate the capabilities and ability for KSC to receive, process and integrate that flight hardware.”
The core stage – the largest rocket stage in the world and the backbone of SLS – will provide the power necessary to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit and to the Moon. Before it can be brought to Kennedy for processing, the core stage will undergo its first full test with all flight hardware, known as a green run, at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Following this, Pegasus will make its return journey to Kennedy in 2020 – this time, delivering the SLS core stage for launch.
The Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will receive the solid rocket booster segments for final assembly of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The agency’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team successfully completed the system acceptance review and operational readiness review for the facility on July 25, 2019. This review evaluated the RPSF’s readiness to receive, process, integrate and launch flight hardware for Artemis 1 and beyond.
“The RPSF is the first processing facility at Kennedy to reach operational readiness status, and our team is looking forward to the arrival of the flight hardware so we can get to work preparing for the Artemis 1 launch,” said Mike Chappell, EGS associate program manager with lead contractor, Jacobs.
When the booster segments arrive at Kennedy, the pieces are inspected before two 200-ton cranes are positioned to lift the segments from a horizontal position to a vertical position. The RPSF also will receive the booster aft skirt from the Booster Fabrication Facility. During processing, the aft segment is attached to the aft skirt and aft exit cone.
All of the SLS solid rocket components processed in the RPSF will be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building for final assembly with the SLS core stage and Orion spacecraft on top of the mobile launcher for the agency’s Artemis missions.
The RPSF is part of the infrastructure at Kennedy that will help NASA launch the Artemis missions and send the first woman and next man back to the Moon by 2024.
Vice President Mike Pence will make multiple stops at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, July 20 — 50 years from the day NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed the first two humans on the Moon.
The vice president and second lady Karen Pence will arrive in Air Force Two at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The next stop is Launch Complex 39A, the site of the historic Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.
Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, will address invited guests, elected officials and NASA, Lockheed Martin and other industry leaders at Kennedy’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building (O&C). The vice president will recognize NASA’s history in honoring the Apollo 11 heroes, while examining NASA’s future plans, including the Artemis missions that are part of the agency’s Moon to Mars human space exploration efforts.
Tune in to NASA TV or the agency’s website at 1:05 p.m. to view Pence’s speech live from the O&C.
With weather at 80 percent go for launch and everything proceeding as planned, optimism and enthusiasm were high at Monday morning’s Ascent Abort-2 flight test preview news conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“We are incredibly excited,” said Jenny Devolites, Ascent Abort-2 crew module manager and test conductor. “It’s such an honor to be a part of this activity and to have this opportunity.”
The Ascent Abort-2 flight test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, featuring a test version of the crew module, will lift off from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Tuesday, July 2. The four-hour launch window opens at 7 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will broadcast launch activities, starting at 6:40 a.m. A postlaunch briefing is scheduled for approximately two hours after launch. Audio of this briefing will stream live on the agency’s website.
Orion will help pave the way for Artemis missions with astronauts to the Moon and then Mars.
“This test is extremely important,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager. “Our Launch Abort System is a key safety feature of the spacecraft — it will protect the crew members who fly onboard Orion during the most challenging part of the mission, which is the ascent phase.”
Ascent Abort-2 will verify Orion’s abort system can pull the crew module away from an emergency during its ascent to space. The two main objectives: execute the abort by demonstrating it can be completed end to end, and collect key data. There are approximately 900 sensors — including temperature sensors, pressure sensors and microphones —located throughout the vehicle.
At liftoff, the booster will provide about 500,000 pounds of thrust. It will take 55 seconds to ascend to 31,000 feet, traveling more than 800 mph, at which point the abort will be initiated and the abort motor will ignite. Also igniting will be the attitude control motor, which provides steering.
Twenty-seven seconds after the abort, the jettison motor will ignite, pulling away the Launch Abort System from the crew module. The crew module will then free-fall and descend back to the ocean. As a backup communication system, 12 ejectable data recorders eject into the water in pairs. The highest altitude reached will be about 45,000 feet.
“It’s certainly a very exciting test for us tomorrow because it is so important,” NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik said. “The neat part is the next time this whole Launch Abort System flies, there will be crew underneath it in Artemis 2.”
Engineers rolled a test version of the Orion spacecraft integrated with the Launch Abort System for the Ascent Abort-2 flight test from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility to Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in preparation for its launch this summer.
The 21.5 mile trek began around 6 p.m. on May 22, and finished at 3:18 a.m. on May 23. The team will be stacking all the AA-2 elements together at the launch pad over the next several weeks.
During the flight, planned for July 2, a test version of Orion will launch on a booster to more than six miles in altitude, where Orion’s launch abort system will pull the capsule and its crew away to safety if an emergency occurs during ascent on the Space Launch System rocket.
The test helps pave the way for Artemis missions at the Moon and will enable astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface by 2024.
The 46,000-pound flight test article that will be used for a test of Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) was lifted and mated to its transportation pallet inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 18, 2019. The flight test article includes the Orion test article, a separation ring created for this test, and the LAS. This operation marks the completion of the flight test article integration and checkout operations necessary for NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test scheduled for July. Next, the system will roll to Pad 46 where the team will be stacking all the AA-2 elements together at the launch pad over the next several weeks.
AA-2 will demonstrate the abort system can activate, steer the spacecraft, and carry astronauts to a safe distance if an emergency arises during Orion’s climb to orbit as the spacecraft faces the greatest aerodynamic pressure during ascent. AA-2 is an important test to verify Orion’s design to safely carry astronauts on deep space missions as NASA works to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024
During the three-minute test, the LAS with the Orion test article will launch atop a booster from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, to an altitude of about six miles and traveling at more than 1,000 mph. The abort motor will quickly whisk the crew module away from the booster, and the attitude control motor will maneuver the assembly into position to jettison the crew module. Test data from 890 sensors will be sent in real-time to ground sites as well as recorded on board by 12 data recorders. The 12 data recorders will eject from the crew module before Orion reaches the water and will be retrieved after the test.
With no astronauts on board, the test concludes after the data recorders are ejected and does not include parachutes or recovery of the test capsule. AA-2 is focused on testing Orion’s ability to abort during ascent, and NASA has already fully qualified the parachute system for flights with crew through an extensive series of 17 developmental tests and 8 qualification tests completed at the end of 2018.
The LAS was designed and built by NASA and Lockheed Martin with motors provided by Northrop Grumman and Aerojet Rocketdyne. NASA’s Orion and Exploration Ground Systems programs, contractors Jacob’s, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, in conjunction with the Air Force Space and Missile Center’s Launch Operations branch and the 45th Space Wing will perform flight operations for AA-2.
Even the toughest vehicles need regular maintenance to function at their best. Recently, William Vardaman and Pat Brown, both working under the Jacobs contracting team, performed engine maintenance on NASA’s crawler-transporter 2 in the crawler yard located in the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 area in Florida.
The massive, tracked vehicles are powered by large electrical power engines and two 16-cylinder American Locomotive Company (ALCO) engines. Vardaman and Brown, both mechanical technicians supporting the agency’s Test and Operations Support Contract, spent several days rebuilding the vehicle’s fuel pump assemblies on both ALCO engines. They also installed new oil pumps that will lubricate the ALCOs from the top down before they’re started, minimizing future wear.
This is one of two crawler-transporters that carried rockets and spacecraft, including the Apollo/Saturn V and space shuttle, from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad. Now, they’re getting ready for NASA’s accelerated return to the Moon.
Crawler-transporter 2 has been modified and upgraded to carry the mobile launcher and NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, topped by the Orion spacecraft, for Exploration Mission-1, which will launch in 2020. The agency’s Exploration Ground Systems oversaw extensive upgrades to crawler-transporter 2, including new generators, gear assemblies, roller bearings and brakes, as well as the hydraulic jacking, equalization and leveling (JEL) cylinders that keep its carrying surface level.
Last fall, crawler-transporter 2 carried the newly completed mobile launcher from its construction site north of the VAB, out to Launch Pad 39B, then into the VAB, where the mobile launcher continues extensive testing. The crawler is gearing up for another move of the mobile launcher back to the pad later this spring for more testing.
The team that tested the umbilical lines and launch accessories that will connect from the mobile launcher (ML) to NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission-1 celebrated their achievement during a banner signing at the Launch Equipment Test Facility (LETF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Engineers and technicians in the Engineering Directorate and the Exploration Ground Systems Program, along with contractor support, began the tests at the LETF about 2.5 years ago. The first to be tested was one of two aft skirt electrical umbilicals. Testing of the final umbilical, the second of two tail service mast umbilicals, was completed on June 27.
“The team of NASA test engineers and test managers, and contractor engineers and technicians, worked tirelessly six days a week, 10 hours a day, in order to meet the highly aggressive schedule and deliver the hardware to the mobile launcher for installation,” said Jeff Crisafulli, Test and Design branch chief in the Engineering Directorate.
In all, 21 umbilicals and launch accessories were tested on various simulators at the LETF that mimicked conditions during launch to ensure they are functioning properly and ready for installation on the ML. Most have been delivered and installed on the ML tower. These include the Orion service module umbilical, interim cryogenic propulsion stage umbilical, core stage forward skirt umbilical and core stage inter-tank umbilical. Two aft skirt electrical umbilicals, two aft skirt purge umbilicals, a vehicle stabilizer system, eight vehicle support posts and two tail service mast umbilicals were installed on the 0-level deck of the ML.
Before launch, the umbilical lines will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel to the rocket and spacecraft. Additional accessories will provide access and stabilization. During launch, each umbilical and accessory will release from its connection point, allowing the SLS and Orion to lift off safely from the launch pad.
“Design, fabrication and testing of the new mobile launcher’s umbilicals and launch accessories is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am proud to have been part of,” Crisafulli said.
The third and final aeroshell, at left, for Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) is in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building on July 12, 2018, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after its arrival from EMF Inc. on nearby Merritt Island. In the photo above, technicians prepare the aeroshell to be lifted off of the flatbed truck and transferred to slats. All three aeroshells will be stacked and prepared for a full-stress test of the LAS, called Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test, scheduled for April 2019.
During the test, a booster will launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a fully functional LAS and a 22,000-pound Orion test vehicle to an altitude of 31,000 feet and traveling at more than 1,000 miles per hour. The test will verify the LAS can steer the crew module and astronauts aboard to safety in the event of an issue with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during a rapid climb into space.
NASA’s Orion is being prepared for its first integrated uncrewed flight atop the SLS on Exploration Mission-1.