Crew Access Arm for Space Launch System Arrives at Kennedy

Two heavy-lift cranes are used to tilt and lower the Orion crew access arm onto a work stand in a storage location Oct. 17, 2017, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Two heavy-lift cranes are used to tilt and lower the Orion crew access arm onto a work stand in a storage location Oct. 17, 2017, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The access arm was transported from Precision Fabricating and Cleaning in Cocoa, Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.

The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.

For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.

New Umbilical Fitted for Mobile Launcher to Support NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Missions

A fit check of the core stage inter-tank umbilical is in progress on the mobile launcher tower at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
High up on the mobile launcher tower at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers assist as a crane moves the Core Stage Inter-tank Umbilical (CSITU) into place for a fit check of the attachment hardware. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Engineers lifted and installed a third umbilical on the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a fit check. The tower on the mobile launcher will be equipped with several connections or launch umbilicals like this one. After the fit check was completed, the umbilical was lowered down and will be installed permanently at a later date.

The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel. They will be used to connect the mobile launcher to the agency’s Space Launch System (made up of the core stage, twin solid rocket boosters, and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage) and the Orion spacecraft mounted on top of SLS.

An area on the SLS between the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks is known as the core stage inter-tank. The core-stage inter-tank umbilical is the third in a series of five new umbilicals for the mobile launcher. Its main function is to vent excess gaseous hydrogen from the rocket’s core stage. This umbilical also will provide conditioned air, pressurized gases, and power and data connection to the core stage.

The Orion service module umbilical and the core stage forward skirt umbilical were previously installed on the tower. The service module umbilical will connect from the mobile launch tower to the Orion service module. Prior to launch, the umbilical will transfer liquid coolant for the electronics and purge air/gaseous nitrogen for environmental control. The SLS core stage forward skirt is near the top of the core stage, and the forward skirt umbilical provides connections and conditioned air/gaseous nitrogen to the core stage of the rocket. All these umbilicals will swing away from the rocket and spacecraft just before launch.

Several other umbilicals were previously installed on the mobile launcher. These include two aft skirt purge umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS rocket at the bottom outer edge of each booster and provide electrical power and data connections, remove hazardous gases, and maintain the right temperature range with a nitrogen purge in the boosters until SLS lifts off from the launch pad.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program at Kennedy is preparing ground support equipment, including the launch umbilicals, for NASA’s deep space exploration missions.

Liquid Oxygen Tanking Operations Begin at Launch Pad 39B

A Praxair truck offloads liquid oxygen into a giant storage sphere at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Several Praxair trucks carrying their loads of liquid oxygen, or LO2, arrived at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A mist is visible as LO2 is offloaded from one of the trucks into the giant storage sphere located at the northwest corner of the pad. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The first major integrated operation at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida began with the initial tanking of a cryogenic fuel into a giant sphere at the northwest corner of the pad. The tanking operation is one of the steps needed to bring the center closer to supporting the launch of the agency’s Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System rocket on its first uncrewed test flight.

“When I think of launch operations, there are distinct pictures that come to mind,” said NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “One of them is during the tanking operations as the cryogenic propellants are loaded into the Space Launch System rocket.”

Several Praxair trucks arrived at the center and offloaded their liquid oxygen, or LO2, slowly, one at a time, into the cryogenic sphere to gradually chill it down from normal temperature to about negative 298 degrees Fahrenheit. Praxair, of Danbury, Connecticut, is the company that provides the agency with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Another wave of trucks arrived and offloaded their LO2 all at the same time. During the next several months, trucks will continue to arrive from Praxair and offload about 40,000 gallons of fuel two days per week into the sphere that can hold about 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen.

The procedure to fill the liquid hydrogen storage sphere will begin in November and will be completed in the same way. When both tanks are filled to about halfway, engineers in a firing room in the Launch Control Center will perform pressurization tests. Additional tests will be performed with the mobile launcher around mid-2018. The cryogenic fuels will remain in the tanks.

Blackwell-Thompson said it is not uncommon during tanking to see vapors and mist in the cryo storage area and near the vehicle. This week, she got a preview, when the trucks offloaded the first round of LO2 and once again, cryo vapors were visible. Because some of the liquid oxygen boils off during tanking, additional LO2 is required.

“This is a very important step in our path to launch, and we are thrilled to have cryo propellant return to the pad,” Blackwell-Thompson said.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is preparing the pad for the launch of Exploration Mission-1, deep space missions and the Journey to Mars. Significant upgrades to the pad include a new flame trench beneath the pad and a new flame deflector.

Service Platforms Arrive for Space Launch System Booster Engines

SLS booster engine platforms arrive at Kennedy Space Center in Florida
A flatbed truck carrying one of two new service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System booster engines arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31, 2017. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

New service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster engines arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The platforms were transported on two flatbed trucks from fabricator Met-Con Inc. in Cocoa, Florida. They were offloaded and stored inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The platforms will be used for processing and checkout of the engines for the SLS’ twin five-segment solid rocket boosters for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The boosters, in combination with the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, will produce more than 8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The first SLS mission, EM-1, will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the Moon and bring it back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated system performance of the rocket, Orion spacecraft and ground support teams prior to a crewed flight.

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Moves to Space Station Processing Facility

The ICPS is moved to the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, packed in its canister, exits the Delta Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for transport to the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) is the first segment for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to arrive at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was transported from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it had been undergoing final testing and checkout since arriving in February, to the Space Station Processing Facility at the center.

Stacking of the rocket will occur in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The ICPS will be located at the very top of the SLS, just below the Orion capsule. During Exploration Mission-1, NASA’s first test mission of the SLS rocket and Orion, the ICPS, filled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, will give Orion the big in-space push needed to fly beyond the Moon before returning to Earth.

The ICPS was designed and built by ULA in Decatur, Alabama, and Boeing in Huntsville, Alabama. The propulsion stage will be cleaned and maintained and remain in the high bay at the Space Station Processing Facility and moved to the VAB when it is time for stacking operations.

NASA’s 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition Underway at Kennedy Space Center

The robotic miner from Mississippi State University digs in the mining arena during NASA's 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The robotic miner from Mississippi State University digs in the mining arena during NASA’s 8th Annual Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The robots are here. More than 40 teams of undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the U.S. have descended upon NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with their uniquely-designed robotic miners, in all shapes and sizes, to compete over three days in the agency’s 2017 Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).

Each team’s robot traverses and excavates simulated Martian dirt, seeking to move and collect the most regolith, or simulated Martian soil, within a specified amount of time. Other RMC competition categories include submission of a systems engineering paper, slide presentation and robot demonstration. Also factored in is how well each team has reached out to its community through social media and engagement with area schools and the general public.

The competition concludes tomorrow with an evening awards ceremony at the Apollo Saturn V Center. A list of winners will be available by May 30 at http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.

Watch RMC live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-dlinfo.

The Robotic Mining Competition is a NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate project designed to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields. The project provides a competitive environment to foster innovative ideas and solutions that could be used on NASA’s Journey to Mars.

For more information on the RMC, associated activities and social media, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.

Engineer’s LLAMA Design Aids Orion Recovery, Earns Innovation Award

Jeremy Parr with the LLAMA during Orion Underway Recovery Test 5 in the Pacific Ocean.
Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in Kennedy Space Center’s Engineering Directorate, monitors the Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, or LLAMA, on a U.S. Navy ship during Orion Underway Recovery Test 5 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Photo credit: NASA

What is a LLAMA? It’s a Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, designed by Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He designed the LLAMA to help U.S. Navy line handlers retrieve the Orion crew module after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

Parr is the lead design engineer for Orion Landing and Recovery, which is coordinated and led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Parr’s design recently earned him second place in the agency’s third Innovation Awards competition.

“The LLAMA concept came to me after watching the sailors fighting to control the Orion test capsule during Underway Recovery Test 1 in open water in February 2014,” Parr said.

The standard Navy line tending practice is to wrap their lines around the ship’s T-bits, or large solid columns with a crossbar that resemble the letter “t,” located near the stern, so that the sailors can control big loads with only a few people. This works for most operations they do since the hardware they handle is usually big and slower moving in the seas. But the crew module is a different beast when floating in the water than anyone on the recovery team expected, Parr said. Orion is easily pushed around by wind and waves.

“I came up with a design that helps the Navy line handlers to safely maintain high tension in the tending lines during recovery of Orion into the well deck of a ship. It also regulates the amount of tension in the lines to ensure equal loading on the vehicle.”

The LLAMAs are mounted on the ship’s T-bits, and the mechanisms provide all tending line control of the crew module once it enters the well deck and until it is secured on the recovery cradle pads.

“I am both excited and honored to be recognized for the LLAMA design,” Parr said. “This has been a team effort for a few years now to get where we are today. We worked through development and testing until we completed our successful test during Underway Recovery Test 5 off the coast of San Diego in the fall of 2016.”

The LLAMA-controlled tending lines are the baseline method for recovery of Orion after Exploration Mission-1 and all future missions.

Parr began working at Kennedy in 2007. Prior to that, he worked for SAIC at Johnson Space Center in Houston for four years.

Final Brick Installed in Launch Complex 39B Flame Trench for NASA’s Space Launch System

Final brick is installed in the flame trench at Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center.
A construction worker installs the final brick on the north side of the flame trench walls May 9, 2017 at Launch Complex 39B. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Intense heat and fire will fill the north side of the flame trench beneath the pad when NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A project to upgrade the walls of the flame trench to withstand these conditions recently was completed.

All of the new heat-resistant bricks now are in place in the flame trench below the surface of the pad. Construction workers installed the final brick May 9, completing about a year’s worth of work on the walls on the north side of the flame trench to support the launch of the (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft on deep-space missions, including the Journey to Mars.

About 96,000 heat-resistant bricks, in three different sizes, now are secured to the walls using bonding mortar in combination with adhesive anchors. The flame trench will be able to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit at launch of the rocket’s engines and solid rocket boosters.

“The flame trench has withstood so many historical launches, and we are giving it new life to withstand many more,” said Regina Spellman, the launch pad senior project manager with the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.

The north side of the flame trench is about 571 feet long, 58 feet wide and 42 feet high.

A new flame deflector soon will be installed that will safely contain and deflect the plume exhaust from the massive rocket to the north during launch. Two side flame deflectors, repurposed from space shuttle launches, will be refurbished and reinstalled at pad level on either side of the flame trench to help reduce damage to the pad and SLS rocket.

New Ground Launch Sequencer Software Demonstrated in Launch Control Center

NASA engineers and test directors gather in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to watch a demonstration of the automated command and control software for the agency's Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. In front, far right, is Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Exploration Mission 1 launch director. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White
NASA engineers and test directors gather in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to watch a demonstration of the automated command and control software for the agency’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. In front, far right, is Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Exploration Mission 1 launch director. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

A demonstration of the automated command and control software for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, recently took place in Firing Room 3 in the Launch Control Center at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The software, called the ground launch sequencer, will be responsible for nearly all of the launch commit criteria during the final phases of launch countdowns.

The Ground and Flight Application Software Team, or GFAST, demonstrated the software for Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the first integrated flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. Also attending were representatives from the NASA Test Director’s Office.

The software is in the advanced stages of development. It includes nearly all of the core capabilities required to support the initial use during Ignition Over-Pressure / Sound Suppression and follow-on tests through launch of the agency’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. The suppression stage ensures the water dampening system initiates in the final second of launch countdown. It also produces the pattern and volume needed to dampen the pressure waves and acoustic environment caused by the firing of the SLS core stage RS-25 engines and solid rocket motors.

“We were pleased to be able to demonstrate the continued evolution of the ground launch sequencer for members of the launch team, and look forward to its first use in operations support,” said Alex Pandelos, operations project engineer for Launch Integration in the Ground Systems development and Operations Program (GSDO).

The software was developed by GSDO’s Command, Control and Communications teams at the center. Development of the software will continue, with a goal of beginning verification and validation of the software in summer 2017.

Pneumatic Systems Tested in Multi-Purpose Payload Facility for Orion

View of the service platform for Orion inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.
Engineers and technicians completed verification and validation testing of several pneumatic systems inside and outside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In view is the service platform for Orion spacecraft processing. The MPPF will be used for offline processing and fueling of the Orion spacecraft and service module stack before launch. Orion also will be de-serviced in the MPPF after a mission. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO) is overseeing upgrades to the facility. The Engineering Directorate led the recent pneumatic tests. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Testing of systems critical to preparing Orion for its first flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket were successfully completed in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The MPPF is the location where fuel and commodities will be provided for the Orion spacecraft prior to launch. Orion also will be defueled and prepared for its next mission in this facility.

Pneumatics test team with banner.
Pneumatics test team members gather to mark the successful verification and validation of pneumatics testing in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Bonni Mcclure

Engineers and technicians completed a series of verification and validation tests of the pneumatic systems inside and outside the facility and confirmed they are ready to become operational, and that the systems meet requirements to support flight and ground systems that use pneumatic commodities.

“Completion of verification and validation testing of the pneumatic systems helps ensure that ground systems at Kennedy are ready to support Orion spacecraft processing,” said Stephen Anthony, pneumatic design engineering lead in the Environmental and Life Support Systems branch in the center’s Engineering Directorate.

Four pneumatic systems supply high pressure gases to various locations in the MPPF. These include gaseous nitrogen, gaseous helium and gaseous oxygen. They will be used to pressurize flight tanks on the Orion spacecraft. Another system, the breathing air system, provides an air source for personnel using Self-Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensembles, or SCAPE suits, which protect them during hazardous operations inside and outside the facility.

Leak tests of all of the pneumatic hardware installed inside and outside the MPPF were performed. Checkouts included verifying proper function of valves, regulators, pressure gauges and other components; verifying that the systems can be operated by command and control software; and performing flow tests of the systems to validate analysis and demonstrate that the systems meet requirements. A simulation of Orion flight tank fill operations also was performed.

“The pneumatic systems at the MPPF provide high pressure gases to many other ground and flight systems, making them vital to successful ground processing operations,” Anthony said.

The vast majority of the testing was completed between August 2016 and January 2017. Additional testing is scheduled this spring.

A team of about 60 NASA and contractor workers supported the tests, including design, operations, systems and project engineers, mechanics, technicians, logistics, safety, quality, configuration management, and construction of facilities personnel.