NASA and Northrop Grumman are now targeting Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, for the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON. The spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 90 minutes starting at 4 a.m. EDT and ICON will be launching off the coast of Daytona at 39,000 ft. at a heading of 105.0 degrees. The launch was postponed from Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, to allow time to address a quality issue with a vendor-supplied electrical connector on the launch vehicle, which has been resolved.
Photo Credit: NASA
NASA Kennedy Space Center’s use of a technology widely employed in sophisticated manufacturing supports the agency’s space exploration efforts and also has led to improvements in the product’s design.
The technology is a sensor called a residual gas analyzer/mass spectrometer, or RGA. At each step in the process of producing complex items like semi-conductors, which can involve thousands of RGAs for process control, the devices can rapidly detect vacuum leaks as well as contamination that, if left unchecked, could result in manufacturing defects. RGAs also can determine the type and location of a leak by identifying its chemical composition.
A team at Kennedy leveraged their experience working with RGAs while they worked with members of industry to troubleshoot Kennedy’s thermal vacuum chamber, or TVAC. The chamber can simulate various space environments to test and prepare hardware for flight.
The NASA researchers, members of the Water Analysis and Volatile Extraction (WAVE) team, are developing RGAs as payloads for landers to detect resources on the Moon, such as water that astronauts can drink or convert to rocket fuel. During testing of the TVAC, engineers had detected pressure spikes indicative of small, invisible leaks. The WAVE team and members of industry demonstrated how to use a RGA sensor to troubleshoot the leaks by identifying gases present in the chamber which would indicate the source of a leak, thus avoiding a costly and time-consuming delay to operations.
This was not their first collaboration.
The NASA researchers had already put their RGA through numerous flight verifications, and had worked with the vender to resolve issues that arose when adapting the technology for space. Vibration testing, in particular, highlighted several ways in which RGA manufacturers could make their devices more robust. Ken Wright, chief scientist and instrument development lead for sensor manufacturer Inficon, said working with NASA produced at least three direct improvements to the company’s residual gas analyzer. “Our main product is now better because of this collaboration,” Wright said.
Janine Captain, a researcher at Kennedy, said the work was beneficial to everyone involved. “This collaboration makes the center stronger and better equipped to provide testing facilities to our customers,” she said. “Working with commercial providers enables us to continue expanding our capabilities.”
Employing the RGA sensor to troubleshoot Kennedy’s thermal vacuum chamber while preparing the same equipment for use in space is another example of harnessing innovation to develop the agencies capabilities and using technology to drive exploration.
Today, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida celebrates U.S. Constitution Day, the official birthday of our country’s government. With the theme “Freedom Needs Space,” a remembrance poster makes appearances in various locations around the multi-user spaceport, including the crawlerway, Vehicle Assembly Building and Shuttle Landing Facility.
Constitution Day is an American federal observance. It recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. Constitution Day is observed on Sept. 17, the day in 1787 that 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, representing the 13 original colonies, met for the last time and signed the document in Philadelphia.
NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to delay the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to allow time to address a quality issue with a vendor-supplied electrical connector on the launch vehicle. Northrop Grumman does not expect an extended delay and will work with the range to determine a new launch date. The ICON spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA and United Launch Alliance launch and mission partners are gathered at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the final week of final prelaunch activities for the agency’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2. The three-year mission is scheduled to launch at 8:46 a.m. EDT (5:46 a.m. PDT) on Saturday, Sept. 15, with liftoff aboard a ULA Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-2 (SLC-2).
Launch of the ICESat-2 spacecraft also will mark the final flight of the Delta II, which has served as a workhorse for NASA, the U.S. military and other customers since its 1989 debut.
Several significant prelaunch milestones are complete. The ICESat-2 spacecraft has been transported from the Astrotech payload processing facility to SLC-2, where it has since been lifted, mated atop the rocket, and encapsulated inside the payload fairing that will protect it during the first minutes of flight.
Tune in Thursday for the prelaunch briefing at 4 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. PDT) on NASA TV, and be sure to follow NASA’s Launch Blog or NASA TV for countdown coverage beginning Saturday at 8:10 a.m. EDT (5:10 a.m. PDT).
NASA and Northrop Grumman are now targeting Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, for the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON. The spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 90 minutes starting at 4:00 a.m. EDT and ICON will be launching off the coast of Daytona at 39,000 ft. at a heading of 105.0 degrees. The June launch was postponed after off-nominal data was detected during the ferry flight of Pegasus. The root cause was traced to a faulty sensor, which has been replaced.
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying NASA’s Parker Solar Probe lifted off at 3:31 a.m. EDT on Sunday, Aug. 12, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona, about 4 million miles from our star’s surface.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to lift off atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy at 3:53 a.m. EDT, at the opening of a 65-minute window, on Saturday, Aug. 11. Live launch coverage begins at 3 a.m. on NASA TV and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Launch Blog.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made his first official visit to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 6 and 7 for an up-close look at the premier, multi-user spaceport.
Bridenstine’s visit began with Center Director Bob Cabana giving the administrator a helicopter tour of the bustling Florida spaceport.
During an all hands meeting for Bridenstine to speak with employees, Cabana commented on the spaceport’s shift.
“The transition that you all have made in the last seven years since (space shuttle) Atlantis made its final fight has been nothing short of phenomenal,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege the past two days to share the work that you all have accomplished with our new NASA administrator, who is passionate about what we do.”
Bridenstine also thanked Kennedy employees for their part in the recent changes.
“You have transitioned splendidly,” Bridenstine said. “When you look at how Kennedy has handled the challenge and how you have turned this into a multi-user spaceport with commercial and other partners, I’m inspired and in awe.”
For nearly half a century, Kennedy operated as a NASA-only space center. As the Space Shuttle Program came to an end, Kennedy began preparing to support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. Anticipation of an emerging commercial space industry resulted in center leadership developing an innovative concept of a multi-user spaceport to change focus from a big government, NASA-only space center to the agency partnering with other organizations.
The administrator also spoke of the crucial role NASA plays in everyday life around the globe.
“Space is important to our everyday lives,” he said. “Look at how space has transformed all of our lives. You look at the way we communicate, the way we navigate, the way we produce food, the way we produce energy, the way we do disaster relief in this country and the world, the way we provide national security and defense, every person in our country and every human on the planet has benefited from what NASA has done.”
In addition to touring Kennedy facilities, Bridenstine participated in an Industry Roundtable hosted by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast and Space Florida. He later met with members of the news media in the center’s Space Florida’s Space Life Sciences Lab facility.
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.