Under Pressure! New Rainbird System Will Protect Artemis II

Water spraying out of a nozzle for rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Water flows through a small-scale, 3D-printed nozzle during prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

As NASA prepares for the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, teams at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center are also hard at work getting ready for the Artemis II mission that will send astronauts on a trip around the Moon ahead of a crewed lunar landing.

Water flows through large nozzles during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 24, 2021, that can be used for the crewed Artemis II mission to the Moon. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

This includes assessing a new prototype “rainbird” system designed to protect the mobile launcher – as well as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – when the engines roar to life. The March 24 tests included running various water pressures through small-scale, 3D-printed nozzles to capture data that can be used to develop full-scale hardware.

The rainbirds will release enough water to fill 40 swimming pools in 40 seconds. This massive volume will help absorb the heat and energy when SLS, the most powerful rocket the agency has ever built, lifts off with the Orion spacecraft from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

While upgraded rainbirds – large-scale water nozzles – have already been tested and installed on the mobile launcher for the Artemis I launch, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) found room for improvement. This led teams from EGS and supporting contractors to start testing another prototype system to distribute water more evenly to maximize performance ahead of the Artemis II launch.

Water flows through a nozzle during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Alongside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

“By running our prototype through a range of pressures, we can simulate what each of the rainbirds will see on the mobile launcher on launch day and have a better understanding of how they will perform when we scale them back up to full size,” said Dave Valletta, a design engineer at Kennedy working on the ignition overpressure protection and sound suppression (IOPSS) system.

A critical piece of the IOPSS system, the rainbird got its name decades ago when space shuttle developers noted that it looked like a garden sprayer.

“When we saw the pattern of the water discharge during the first test flow in the shuttle program, it reminded us of your common lawn sprinkler, only it did not rotate and was 100 times the size,” said Jerry Smith, a design engineer for mechanical-fluid systems at Kennedy.

Once prototype testing is complete, allowing better prediction of future spray patterns, the team will move forward with designing a preferred concept. That concept will be built and installed on the mobile launcher to undergo verification and validation testing, where the newly installed nozzles will be fully integrated with the launch pad to ensure they work as expected.

“The confidence check gained from these tests will lead us to developing full-scale nozzles for the mobile launcher,” said Gerald Patterson, IOPSS and fire suppression system operations engineer and test lead. “Once installed, they’ll provide more efficient water distribution across the deck and, ultimately, better protection to ground systems, the SLS rocket, and its crew for Artemis II and beyond.”

Rocket Women: Q&A with Mechanical Interface Systems Team Lead Notlim Burgos

During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the contributions of trailblazers at NASA who inspire the next generation of women. As we continue to celebrate women’s accomplishments, meet Notlim Burgos, Mechanical Interface Systems Team Lead for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Burgos supports NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which is the agency’s first planetary defense mission, and Landsat 9, the ninth Earth-observing satellite mission in the Landsat series. She was inspired from a young age to pursue STEM, leading to her 15-year career at NASA. Hear Burgos’ story and her advice for future generations.

Notlim Burgos was inspired from a young age to pursue STEM, leading to her 15-year career at NASA.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love working alongside a range of amazing people who bring diverse expertise and perspectives, which provide a wide variety of solutions for the challenges that we face daily I learn something new from everybody every day. I enjoy having the opportunity to follow the spacecraft and the launch vehicles through the whole mission lifecycle.

Who inspires you most?

My family – especially my nieces and goddaughter. At a young age, they are demonstrating a special interest in STEM and space. One wants to be an astronaut and dreams of going to the Moon and to Mars. When I see their enthusiasm and think of the possibilities of what they can become, it inspires me to want to be the best role model that I can be. I want them to feel encouraged to follow their dreams and see the many career opportunities that women can pursue.

When did you first realize you had a passion for STEM?

I found my passion for STEM when I was in the ninth grade on an educational trip during which we visited Disney World and Kennedy. We got behind-the-scene tours where we met Disney “Imagineers,” the park’s engineers, who explained how they used the power of science to develop park attractions. That gave me a glance for the first time at how much you can do with STEM.

At Kennedy, I saw the Shuttle at Launch Pad 39A, and I was flabbergasted. We slept under the 363-foot Saturn V moon rocket at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Also, we met astronaut Charles Duke, the youngest person to walk on the Moon. These experiences convinced me that traveling through space was possible. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to be part of NASA’s team to see how far we can reach. When I returned from the trip, I told my parents I wanted to be a NASA engineer!

What advice would you give to young girls considering a STEM career?

Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of failure. Always be yourself, be passionate, and always do your best. You may face challenges that seem impossible to conquer, but believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to. After failing a math course early in engineering school, I told my dad I didn’t think engineering was for me. I will never forget my dad’s words. He said, “You knew engineering wasn’t going to be easy. Remember where you want to be – NASA! I know you can do it; you just need to study harder.”

I appreciated his kind words and unconditional support. I retook and passed the course the following semester, and I graduated engineering school with honors. The easy route was giving up; the hardest was facing the challenges with conviction in pursuit of my dreams. I will forever be grateful for my father’s encouragement during those challenging times.

What advice would you give someone who wants to work at NASA?

A common misconception is that NASA only hires STEM professionals. My advice is to research the different opportunities that NASA offers. There are opportunities for professionals with various levels of expertise and experience. Become familiar with the NASA centers, the Pathways Program, and usajobs.com. The Pathways Program offers opportunities to work at NASA while attending school, and through usajobs.com you can build your resume and apply for positions. Lastly, do not give up, be patient but persistent; you never know when you are going to receive that call for an interview.

What is your favorite part about working for NASA?

My favorite part is that I can leverage my experiences to mentor others. I owe part of my success to my mentors. It is important to me to share what I have learned so that others achieve their goals. There is nothing more rewarding than to see somebody succeed and see how they evolve into influential mentors for others. I also enjoy supporting educational outreach, which is a great platform to inspire others to pursue careers in STEM.

NASA Offers Public a Virtual Stamp for Agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 Launch


The public can participate in NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 launch by registering for NASA’s virtual guest program. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission with astronauts is targeted to launch no earlier than 6:11 a.m. EDT Thursday, April 22, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Members of the public can participate in the launch by registering for NASA’s virtual guest program. Organizations coordinating launch events also are encouraged to register. Registrants receive mission updates, interactive opportunities, and a stamp for your NASA virtual passport following launch. All resources, participation, and registration are FREE.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is headed to the International Space Station. It will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and  Megan McArthur – who will serve as the mission’s spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively – along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will serve as mission specialists.

Whether it’s your first stamp or your eighth, NASA hopes you’ll print, fold, and get ready to fill your virtual passport. Following launch, stamps will be emailed to all registered virtual attendees.

NASA’s virtual guest program started in 2020 as a way for the public to join the excitement and inspiration of NASA launches and milestones.

Click here to learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

Rocket Women: Q&A with Diana Calero, Launch Vehicle Certification Manager

Diana Calero, of NASA’s Launch Services Program, works with emerging commercial space flight launch companies as they develop their launch vehicles. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for pairing the agency’s scientific and robotic missions with launch services from commercial partners. From launching Mars rovers to Earth-observing satellites, LSP has enabled exploration since 1998. As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month, get to know one woman making LSP missions possible.

With a career spanning 30 years, Diana Calero, launch vehicle certification manager, works with emerging commercial space flight launch companies as they develop their launch vehicles, such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn, ULA’s Vulcan, and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. Her responsibility as the certification manager is to work closely with these companies to assure their launch vehicles can be certified to launch future NASA payloads.

Additionally, Calero is working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as the LSP mission manager. In this role, she is providing expertise to integrate and launch the telescope on a European Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

Diana Calero is working on the James Webb Space Telescope as the Launch Services Program mission manager. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy being able to learn about the new launch vehicles that are being designed by private companies that will eventually provide NASA with more flexibility in accessing space. The highlight of my job, and what I have always enjoyed, is working with such a large group of diverse individuals from all over the world. This includes launch vehicle contractors, spacecraft customers and builders, inter-agency personnel, foreign governments and industry. I enjoy getting to know different people, their customs, and learning from them.

Who inspires you most?

I’m constantly being inspired with every mission we launch, knowing that I had a role to play with each success and, more importantly, that it helped advance technology and well-being in our world.

When did you first realize you had a passion for STEM?

As early as elementary school, science and math grasped my curiosity. I always wanted to know how and why things worked. It was not surprising that my favorite television show was Star Trek, where I envisioned myself on that spaceship exploring and learning.

What advice would you give to young girls considering a career in STEM?

Take as many challenging science and math classes as you can. Consider involvement in school clubs that work in STEM related activities, such as robotics. Be curious about everything, and ask lots of questions. Always know that you can do whatever you set your mind to, and don’t let anyone make you feel that you can’t.

What advice would you give someone who wants to work at NASA?

As early as high school, inquire within multiple technical companies about performing an internship. NASA has a great program that allows you to work for them while in school, and that can help steer you into the field you want to study.

What types of challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

The challenge that I enjoy over and over in my career is becoming part of a new team and helping it reach goals that were thought to be unachievable. The diverse teams that I have been fortunate to be a part of bring different personalities, backgrounds, culture, work experience, capabilities and ideas. Being able to discern these qualities and use them as strengths within the team have allowed them to be incredibly successful and bring about amazing results.

What is your favorite part about working for NASA?

Knowing that my work makes an impact in our nation’s pursuit of science exploration.

Delta II Added to Historic Line-up at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Rocket Garden

A ribbon-cutting ceremony welcomes the last United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket to the lineup of historic launch vehicles in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, on March 23, 2021. Cutting the ribbon, from left are Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Tim Dunn, launch director, Launch Services Program, and Therrin Protze, chief operating officer, Delaware North/KSCVC.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony welcomes the last United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket to the lineup of historic launch vehicles in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, on March 23, 2021. Cutting the ribbon, from left are Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Tim Dunn, launch director, Launch Services Program, and Therrin Protze, chief operating officer, Delaware North/KSCVC. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The last United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket became a permanent resident of the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on March 23, 2021. Representatives from the Visitor Complex, ULA, Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s Launch Services Program, and the 45th Space Wing gathered for a ribbon cutting to commemorate the addition of the rocket to the line-up.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the last United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket joins the lineup of historic launch vehicles in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, on March 23, 2021.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the last United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket joins the lineup of historic launch vehicles in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, on March 23, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“It’s great having this ULA Delta II take its place among the other historic vehicles in our Rocket Garden,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. “The Delta II launched so many critical NASA science missions throughout our solar system as well as to planet Earth, and now it begins its second career on a mission of inspiration for all our future rocket scientists and engineers visiting the Kennedy Space Center.”

Delta II took its place among iconic giants, joining an original Delta, Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas, Gemini-Titan, the Junos, Atlas-Agena and Saturn 1B.

Following the Delta II’s final mission in 2018, ULA selected Kennedy’s Visitor Complex to receive a remaining vehicle for an outdoor display to inspire current and future generations to learn about the rocket’s history.

“Today is a historic day for our ULA team. We are excited to honor the legacy of this rocket that was so instrumental in delivering critical missions for NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial customers,” said Ron Fortson, director and general manager of United Launch Alliance, “Today we honor not only the Delta II’s historical impact, but also the men and women who designed, built, and launched it for nearly three decades.”

For nearly 30 years, the Delta II was the industry workhorse for NASA and civilian scientists, the U.S. military, and commercial clients. The Delta II launched more than 230 satellites on 155 flights to deploy the Global Positioning System (GPS), explore the solar system, and serve the medium-class commercial space launch market. Delta II soared into space from both coasts of the United States, launching from two side-by-side pads at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex (SLC)-17 in Florida, and the SLC-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA’s Launch Services Program launched the ICESat-2 spacecraft on the final Delta II launch on Sept. 15, 2018, from Vandenberg.

“I was excited to see Delta II in the Rocket Garden against a beautiful blue sky. I am so thankful for the ULA/Delaware North collaboration that made this display possible,” said Tim Dunn, Launch Services Program launch director. “When I think of Delta II, I think of the launch team, the engineers, analysts, and technicians who contributed to this rocket’s unprecedented record of success, consistent performance, and its appropriate nickname, ‘The Workhorse.’ I believe the success of this rocket has left a huge ripple effect on the launch systems we have today.”

McDonnell Douglas created the rocket in the late 1980s to fulfill the U.S. Air Force’s need for a launch vehicle to carry the GPS first generation of operational satellites into space and create a worldwide precision navigation network.

NASA Announces Lunar Delivery Challenge Winners

An illustration of astronauts on the Moon.
An illustration of astronauts on the Moon. Photo credit: NASA

With the Artemis program, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon, construct a lunar orbiting outpost, and establish a sustainable presence. This will require deliveries of supplies and equipment to the lunar surface, but how to unload the cargo once it arrives is an open question. NASA created the Lunar Delivery Challenge to seek ideas from the public for practical and cost-effective solutions to unload payloads onto the surface of the Moon.

The challenge received 224 entries before the submission period closed Jan. 19, 2021. The ideas came from various types of space enthusiasts who share a passion for human space exploration, and participants varied from student teams, to individuals from the private sector, to parent-child duos.

NASA awarded $25,000 in total prizes to six teams, including one first place winner with a prize of $10,000; two second place winners with prizes of $4,500 each; and three third place winners with prizes of $2,000 each:

  • First Place – Lightweight Inflatable Delivery System (LIDS) by Lauren Fell
  • Second Place – OO.A – mOOngoAt by Team FRD
  • Second Place – Scalable Payload Delivery System (SPaDeS) by Team SPaDeS
  • Third Place – Transporter and Gantry (L-TAG) by Team AA-Star
  • Third Place – Modular Lunar Cargo Handling System by Team Sparkletron
  • Third Place – Truss Manipulator by Wendell Chun

For a link to the full story, and to read about each of the winning concepts, click here.


Kennedy Scientist Journeys to End of Earth for Plant Research: Astrobotanist Log 1

Neumayer III Station in Antarctica.
Neumayer III Station in Antarctica. Photo credit: DLR/NASA/Jess Bunchek

After training for months in Germany, Jess Bunchek, a plant scientist with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, departed Dec. 20, 2020, for the German Neumayer III Station in Antarctica, operated by the Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI). Working at the EDEN ISS greenhouse managed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Bunchek will research growing food crops in a remote, harsh setting, similar to what astronauts experience in space. Here is her account of the journey to EDEN ISS.

The 2021 overwintering team in front of Polarstern upon arrival in Antarctica.
The 2021 overwintering team in front of Polarstern upon arrival in Antarctica. Back row L-R: mechanical engineer Florian Koch, chef Tanguy Doron, station leader and surgeon Peter Jonczyk, meteorologist Paul Ockenfuss, electrical engineer Markus Baden, geophysicist Lorenz Marten. Front row L-R: atmospheric chemist Linda Ort, IT and radio specialist Theresa Thoma, geophysicist Timo Dornhoefer, agronomist/astrobotanist Jess Bunchek. Photo credit: AWI/Tim Heitland

In a typical year, you can reach the Neumayer III Station in Antarctica by air, but as we all know, the past year has been anything but typical. With countries restricting travelers and flights being cancelled, the institute that runs Neumayer came up with an alternative: go by ship. The icebreaker RV Polarstern, German for “polar star,” already travels annually from Germany to Neumayer to resupply the station, so adding a few passengers to this year’s transit was a logical and COVID-safe solution for AWI.

Icebreaker RV Polarstern that transported the team from Germany to Antarctica on a non-stop trip.
Icebreaker RV Polarstern that transported the team from Germany to Antarctica on a non-stop trip. Credit: DLR/NASA/Jess Bunchek

Our month-long voyage started with a storm in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay. The ship cut through 16-foot (5-meter) waves in spectacular fashion, although inside the ship, many of us rookies looked a bit, well, green from seasickness. Fortunately, we found ourselves in calmer seas with beautiful weather by the time we passed the Grand Canary Islands, which gave us the chance to fully appreciate the purpose and privilege of our voyage. That we are still able to overwinter while the world has come to a halt due to the pandemic has not been lost on us in the slightest.

The temperature quickly dropped as we approached the Antarctic Circle at 60 degrees south latitude, and soon we found ourselves in polar day where the Sun does not set, and sea ice is common. The latter was no problem for Polarstern, which is designed to navigate such an environment. In the Antarctic, orcas are the greatest predatorial threat to seals and penguins, which prefer to stay on the ice as we pass by than risk diving into the water. On multiple occasions, the large ship had to navigate around sunbathing seals.

We awoke early one morning parked next to the Ekstrøm Ice Shelf. Welcome to Antarctica! The next step was to unload Polarstern of passengers and cargo and move to Neumayer, still 12 miles (20 km) away. In the absence of buildings, trees, or mountains, our landmarks were now the colossal icebergs in nearby Atka Bay.

Navigating polar regions goes beyond the design of an icebreaker ship. In thick sea ice, helicopters are crucial for surveying the surrounding area and determining the best route for Polarstern. They also can quickly run temperature-critical and fragile supplies – such as seeds for EDEN ISS – from the ship to Neumayer while checking the long-term condition of the shelf ice.

However, all other transit is done on the ice. Snowmobiles are the ideal option for shorter, lighter trips, while tracked plows are better for heavy-duty jobs such as hauling, plowing, or longer travel.

Without further ado, I present AWI’s 41st overwintering team. Our 10-person crew consists of mechanic and electrical technician support, a cook, an IT and radio specialist, a surgeon, and scientists in the areas of geophysics, atmospheric chemistry, meteorology, and me, an agronomist and astrobotanist. Although my area of research focuses on supplying fresh crops to the crew while testing capabilities for space crop production, I would be remiss to not mention the role that marine and polar science play in climate change research. Traveling the length of the Atlantic Ocean reinforced a seemingly obvious but noteworthy theme: Our oceans and poles are humbling and marvelous. From the dark hues of icy, choppy waters to the velvet-smooth waves and warm, vibrant blue-greens near the Equator, to the frozen shelf ice that the 10 of us will call home for the next year, our Earth sure is a beautiful planet.

Now, we’re preparing the EDEN ISS greenhouse for the upcoming season, and I will post again soon.

Click here to view the story and additional photos on Instagram.

Mammoth Artemis I Rocket Boosters Stacked on Mobile Launcher

The Space Launch System boosters are stacked on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The Space Launch System twin solid rocket boosters are fully assembled and stacked on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 3, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Leerlo en español aquí.

Stacking is complete for the twin Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Artemis I mission. Over several weeks, workers used one of five massive cranes to place 10 booster segments and nose assemblies on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems placed the first segment on Nov. 21, 2020, and continued the process until the final nose assembly was placed on March 2.

Prior to the arrival of the core stage, the team will finish installing electrical instrumentation and pyrotechnics, then test the systems on the boosters. When the SLS core stage arrives at Kennedy, technicians will transport it to the VAB and then stack it on the mobile launcher between the two boosters.

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world, producing up to 8.8 million pounds of thrust during its Artemis I launch.

“Seeing the Space Launch System solid rocket boosters stacked completely on the Mobile Launcher for the first time makes me proud of the entire team especially  the Exploration Ground Systems crew at Kennedy who are assembling them and also the teams at Marshall and Northrop Grumman who designed, tested and built them,” said Bruce Tiller, the SLS boosters manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “This team has created the tallest, most powerful boosters ever built for flight, boosters that will help launch the Artemis I mission to the Moon.”

Artemis I will be an uncrewed test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.

Kennedy Announces Winner for 2020 Best of KSC Software Competition

Members of the development team that redesigned the SpecsIntact software at Kennedy Space Center.
The development team that redesigned the SpecsIntact software at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is made up of NASA and contractor employees from across the center. In the front row, from left is Candy Thomas, Tammy Edelman, and Martha Muller. Middle row, from left is Carly Helton, Marcelo Dasilva, Eric Lockshine, Cheryl Fitz-Simon, and Maria Zamora. Back row, from left is Jim Whitehead, Pierre Gravelat, Stephan Whytsell. Members of the team not pictured are Dan Evans, Belle Graziano, Eric Hall, Lelia Hancock, Justin Junod, John Merrick, Jim Morrison, Julie Nicely, Phil Nicholson, Gerard Sczepura, Daniel Smith, and Jeanne Yow. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a premier multi-user spaceport, uses research and innovation to support the future of space exploration. Kennedy’s annual Best of KSC Software competition is an employee-driven contest that fosters creativity and enables new discoveries to improve the quality of life on Earth and the exploration of our solar system and beyond.

Close-up view of the flame trench and flame deflector and Launch Pad 39B.
A close-up view of the flame trench and flame deflector at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 26, 2018. The launch pad has undergone upgrades and modifications to accommodate NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft for Artemis I and other deep space missions. New heat-resistant bricks have been installed on the walls and a new flame deflector is in place. Photo Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The 2020 winner of Best of KSC Software was SpecsIntact 5. The development team, made up of NASA employees and contractors from across the center, earned this distinction by redesigning the SpecsIntact software. This automated specification management system is used in construction projects worldwide. The upgraded system reduces the time and cost required to produce facility specifications with an easy and intuitive interface that assists with quality control.

The team at Kennedy Space Center manages the SpecsIntact system, which also is used by many federal and state agencies, including the U.S. military. At Kennedy, NASA used previous versions of the software for the design, construction, and upgrades of several facilities, including modification of the spaceport’s headquarters building and upgrades to the main flame deflector in the flame trench at Launch Pad 39B.

A view looking up at the 10 levels of work platforms in High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The work platforms will surround and provide access for service and processing of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

The software was also instrumental to the renovation of High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building in preparation for NASA’s first integrated launch of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

The SpecsIntact system has evolved significantly since first conceived at NASA in 1965 to support applications across both the government and private sector. NASA’s Technology Transfer Program ensures that innovations developed for exploration and discovery are broadly available to the public, maximizing the benefit to the nation. The program enables U.S. industry efforts to find new applications for NASA technologies on Earth and for human space exploration, including deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.

Shoreline Restoration Protects Kennedy Infrastructure, Wildlife

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center occupies a scenic stretch of land along Florida’s east coast, including miles of pristine beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. A restoration project has shored up the dunes that create a natural barrier from the waves. Native coastal vegetation has been added to stabilize the rebuilt dune and offer a habitat for Kennedy’s coastal wildlife. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Situated beside the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of central Florida, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has critical space facilities, launch infrastructure, a world-class workforce, and wildlife to protect from the unique weather threats posed by tropical cyclones. The elevated sandbank along the spaceport’s shoreline is the crucial first line of defense against these storms and the resulting erosion.

Click the photo to view full size. This aerial view of Kennedy’s Atlantic Ocean coastline reveals the rebuilt sand dune planted with rows of native vegetation. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Kennedy recently completed the second phase of an ongoing project to plant vegetation on the dune, which has been replenished with additional sand to rebuild its natural structure. The addition of native plants helps prevent erosion while providing habitats for some of the vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species that have settled at the Florida spaceport.

The shoreline restoration project successfully rebuilt about four-and-a-half miles of dune during two construction phases. Workers trucked in nearly 38,000 loads of sand to strengthen the dune and roads around the space center, which has frequent brushes with severe weather, especially during the June to November hurricane season. Added vegetation provided the finishing touch to help protect the dunes.

Native coastal plants such as sea oats, sea grape, and railroad vine were selected because they’re specifically adapted to grow in the coastal environment, which includes loose, shifting, sandy soils, along with salt water and salt spray. Additionally, their deep root systems serve as an anchor, stabilizing dune systems. The plantings were carefully planned and installed as each section of dune replenishment was completed.

“It takes a year or so for the plants to reach maturity, and that’s also dependent on rainfall once they’re established,” said Don Dankert, technical lead for Kennedy Space Center Environmental Planning. “You can see the succession of plants as you look down the dune from north to south. The vegetation in the northern section is much more robust – it was planted first.”

Kennedy’s Environmental Management Branch, part of the center’s Spaceport Integration and Services directorate, planned the placement of the vegetation to mimic the clusters and open spaces found in a natural dune system.

“Some of the federally threatened and endangered species that live in our coastal areas are gopher tortoises, southeastern beach mice, indigo snakes, and sea turtles,” Dankert said. “The newly created dune provides habitat for these species. For example, for sea turtles, the dune helps to protect our beach from light intrusion, which in turn aids nesting and hatchling turtles by reducing disorientation during the nesting season.”

The dune has held up well since the restoration project began in 2018, with only minor loss of sand on the dune’s eastern side when Hurricane Dorian passed along the coast.

The Environmental Management Branch will continue to monitor the dune for signs of erosion, including pre- and post-storm assessments during hurricane season. The team also will track the health of the vegetation as well as the use of the dune environment by wildlife throughout the next two years.