The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.
The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.
Inside the Florida spaceport’s Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility, the NASA and Jacobs team completed a pin. The pinning activity involved using bolts to attach one of five segments that make up one of two solid rocket boosters for SLS to the rocket’s aft skirt. A crane crew assisted in mating the aft segments to the rocket’s two aft skirts.
A handful of the team members gained pinning experience on boosters for the space shuttle, while the rest were first-time pinners. Pablo Martinez, Jacobs TOSC handling, mechanical and structures engineer, inserted the first of 177 pins per joint to complete the first official step in stacking the SLS boosters.
Manufactured by Northrop Grumman in Utah, the 177-foot-tall twin boosters provide more than 75 percent of the total SLS thrust at launch. SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.
The SLS rocket will launch NASA’s Orion spacecraft and send it to the Moon for Artemis I — a mission to test the two as an integrated system, leading up to human missions to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
A legacy of the Apollo Program and shuttle era, Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the site of NASA’s return to the Moon and is now ready for Artemis I—an uncrewed mission around the Moon and back. For the past few years, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) has modified and upgraded the launch pad for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to help accomplish NASA’s lunar exploration goals.
“Getting the pad ready for Artemis I has transformed the site for a new generation of space exploration,” said Regina Spellman, EGS senior project manager for Pad 39B. “When I look back on when we first inherited it from the Space Shuttle Program to where we are today, I am so proud of all the amazing things that the team has accomplished.”
Engineers have replaced or upgraded pad subsystems used for Apollo and the Space Shuttle Program to support the powerful SLS rocket and multi-user spaceport. The guiding principle behind the upgrades and modifications has been to make the area a clean pad, one with no launch support structures on top, which will allow a variety of rockets to launch from the pad.
“The Ground Systems architecture with a clean pad concept minimizes the time the vehicle is out at the pad, exposed to the elements. It also minimizes the amount of exposed infrastructure that has to be maintained between launches,” Spellman said.
The basics that every rocket needs are in place, such as electrical power, a water system, flame trench and safe launch area. The other needs of individual rockets, including access for workers, can be met with the towers, such as a mobile launcher.
During the refurbishment projects, teams removed and replaced 1.3 million feet of copper cables with 300,000 feet of fiber cable. The water tower for the upgraded sound suppression system holds roughly 400,000 gallons of water, or enough to fill 27 average swimming pools. At ignition and liftoff, this water is dumped on the mobile launcher and inside the flame trench in less than 30 seconds. The three lightning towers surrounding the pad are each about 600 feet tall – taller than the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is 525 feet tall. They form a linked system of wires above the pad that will protect the launch vehicle during storms.
The refurbished flame trench — the size of one and a half football fields — and new flame deflector will be exposed to a peak temperature of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit during launch. Technicians installed more than 96,000 heat-resistant bricks on the walls of the flame trench during the refurbishment project.
“The EGS pad team has already ramped up to prepare the pad for the second Artemis mission when we will launch humans,” Spellman said. “Several projects are underway, some even under construction, which will support the flight crew.”
Work now is in progress on a new liquid hydrogen tank as well as an emergency egress system for Artemis II, the first crewed launch.
Apollo 10 was the first mission to begin at Launch Pad 39B when it lifted off May 18, 1969, to rehearse the first Moon landing. Three crews of astronauts launched from the pad to the Skylab space station in 1973. Three Apollo astronauts who flew the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission to link up in space also launched from the pad in 1975. In all, 53 space shuttle missions and the Ares I-X test flight launched from the pad between 1986 and 2011.
“The work and the team itself has evolved over the years, but one thing has always been constant, we have always been dedicated to getting Launch Pad 39B back to launching humans to space, farther and safer than ever before,” Spellman said.
NTDs within the Exploration Ground Systems program are in charge of flight and ground hardware testing in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center firing rooms 1 and 2, where activities involved with preparing rockets, spacecraft and payloads for space can be controlled from computer terminals. They are responsible for emergency management actions, helping lead the launch team during all facets of testing, launch and recovery.
NASA’s Artemis missions will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, beginning with Artemis I, the uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion.
“It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be responsible for setting up the building blocks of a new program which will eventually take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno.
Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. This includes proving the functionality of flight and ground systems for the assembled launch vehicle configuration, verifying the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals operate as expected at launch, and performing a simulated launch countdown with the integrated vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The 14-year NTD veteran relishes his hands-on role in successfully testing and launching SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.
“It’s very fulfilling,” Zeno said. “What excites me about the future is that the work I’m doing today is contributing to someday having humans living and working on other planets.”
There are 18 people in the NTD office — all of whom must undergo rigorous certification training in the management and leadership of test operations, systems engineering and emergency response. They are in charge of the people, hardware and schedule during active firing room testing.
“The NTD office is at the center of testing operations, which will ensure that we are ready to fly the Artemis missions,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “As we lay the foundation for exploring our solar system, the NASA test directors are on the front lines of making it happen.”
An NTD works from a console in the firing room during integrated or hazardous testing, guiding the team through any contingency or emergency operations. They lead critical testing on Launch Pad 39B and the mobile launcher, the 370-foot-tall, 11 million-pound steel structure that will launch the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars. This includes sound suppression, fire suppression and cryogenic fluid flow tests, as well as testing the crew access arm and umbilicals — connections that will provide communications, coolant and fuel up until launch.
While the majority of work for the ground and flight systems is pre-liftoff, the job certainly doesn’t end there.
“It culminates in a two-day launch countdown in which all of the groups, teams and assets are required to function together in an almost flawless performance to get us to launch,” said Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding.
Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. For Artemis I, he is leading the launch control team and support teams during the launch countdown for Blackwell-Thompson, who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of SLS.
Just over three miles from the launch pad, on launch day, Spaulding will be in the firing room running the final portion of cryogenic loading through launch. During this time, supercool propellants — called cryogenics — are loaded into the vehicle’s tanks. He will perform the same tasks for the wet dress rehearsal, which is a full practice countdown about two months before launch that includes fueling the tanks and replicating everything done for launch prior to main engine start.
At the end of the mission, part of the team will lead the recovery efforts aboard a Navy vessel after Orion splashdown. The NASA recovery director and supporting NTDs are responsible for planning and carrying out all operations to recover the Orion capsule onto a U.S. Navy ship. This includes working closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that teams coordinate recovery plans, meet requirements, and follow timelines and procedures to bring our heroes and spacecraft home quickly and safely.
“We are supported by numerous teams at Kennedy and elsewhere around the country that are helping us with our historic first flight as we blaze a path toward landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024,” Spaulding said.
Community leaders, business executives, partners, educators and government representatives gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Feb. 18, 2020, for an update on Kennedy Space Center’s accomplishments and what’s ahead for this year. Center Director Robert Cabana greeted the group and served as moderator of a panel discussion with senior leaders of NASA programs based at the center.
Gateway is NASA’s permanent lunar outpost that will be positioned in orbit around the Moon. Gateway will include a power and propulsion element and habitation modules, and eventually airlock capabilities. The center’s piece of the Gateway is logistics services, which will be used to deliver cargo, consumables and supplies for scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.
“This center assignment leverages Kennedy’s extensive experience in enabling commercial services, as well as our spacecraft and payload integration and processing expertise,” Lyons said.
Spaceport Integration and Services is maintaining an integrated master schedule of all launches and processing activities. Kennedy and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are on track to manage more than 40 launches this year. The team continues to build relationships with commercial and government partners. The future includes keeping up with the launch demand and operating in non-traditional roles.
“We can only be successful when commercial and government space are integrated,” Cabana said.
CPD is working on attracting more businesses to the spaceport. The goal is to enable companies to be successful; but the companies need to work on achieving that success. They are supporting one of the center’s core missions: enable companies to fly what they have to space. Currently, Boeing, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin are doing just that.
Food production–plants and habitats–and dust mitigation are two of the technologies being developed by ER&T. “Plant production has to be compact,” Brown said. Two growth chambers developed here are currently on the International Space Station: Veggie and the Advanced Plant Habitat. The team also is looking at regolith operations and how to dampen the effect of dust that is kicked-up as landers touchdown on surfaces such as the Moon.
“We have an amazing year ahead of us,” Cabana said. “It’s our community working together that makes it so successful.”
NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems team, including engineers, technicians and crane operators with contractor Jacobs, are practicing lifting and stacking operations with pathfinder segments of Northrup Grumman’s solid rocket boosters, which will provide extra thrust for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Practice took place in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
”The pathfinder training has gone extremely well,” according to Michael McClure, Jacobs’ lead engineer for the Handling, Mechanical and Structures Engineering Group. “This is part of a series of practice exercises, which are providing great experience, especially for our new technicians, engineers, quality control personnel and crane operators.”
Stacking rehearsals help prepare the team for actual processing of launch hardware for Artemis missions. These specific pathfinder segments are inert, full-scale replicas of the actual solid rocket boosters, with the same weight (300,000 pounds) and center of gravity.
During launch hardware processing, the booster segments will be shipped by train to Kennedy from the Northrup Grumman facility in Utah. They will arrive at a processing facility to be configured for final processing, then move to the VAB, where the launch processing team will stack them vertically on the mobile launcher. After the boosters are stacked, the SLS Core Stage will be lowered onto the mobile launcher and will be mated to the boosters.
At launch, the five-segment, 17-story-tall twin boosters will provide 3.6 million pounds of thrust each at liftoff to help launch the SLS carrying Orion on Artemis I, its first uncrewed mission beyond the Moon.
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.