NASA and Northrop Grumman have postponed the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. ICON, which will study the frontier of space, was targeted to launch on a Pegasus XL rocket June 14 from the Kwajalein Atoll in Marshall Islands.
During a ferry transit, Northrop Grumman saw off-nominal data from the Pegasus rocket. While ICON remains healthy, the mission will return to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for rocket testing and data analysis. A new launch date will be determined at a later date.
Astronauts have lived and worked on the International Space Station continuously for more than 17 years, expanding on the earlier short-duration missions of the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, but going beyond those achievements will require new technology. One way NASA is working to solve the challenges of extending human presence beyond Earth’s orbit is with the eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, which provides college students the opportunity to participate in the development of new technologies that increase the viability of long duration deep space missions.
For the past eight years, teams of students have submitted proposals for specific research questions posed by the X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge. Once selected, NASA awarded the schools grants ranging from less than $17,000 to more than $150,000 for supplies and necessities, which the university matched. Sponsoring programs included Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications, Human Research Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Advanced Exploration Systems. Then the students spent months working as a team with support from NASA subject matter experts as the team developed solutions to their topic. Four of the eight projects for the 2018 X-Hab involved students working with NASA researchers at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Research and Technology Programs’ Utilization and Life Sciences Office, developing new ideas for growing plants in space.
“What we’re really focusing our attention on right now is how do we get nutrition in play, and how do we get automation, and use smart systems,” said Charles Quincy, a NASA researcher at Kennedy.
It is vital to have autonomous systems capable of making decisions about growing plants because astronauts are unlikely to have much time to spend farming during deep space missions. Long distances also will delay communications, making it harder for ground crews to use remote commands to grow food for the crew. Microgravity, growing plants in a closed loop during the voyage, and an environment very different from Earth are all complications to growing food in space that challenged X-Hab 2018 participants.
Students from the University of Michigan worked on designing and prototyping a substrate, a material in which a plant grows, that uses 3D printing to achieve effective plant growth in microgravity. Students from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute attempted to improve the sustainability of food crop production by producing substrate using 3D printing technology and reusing the same substrate for multiple crops. Temple University students developed a fresh produce sanitation system to manage microbial growth in space. Finally, Utah State University students designed a 3D printed matrix system for integration into the Veggie growth platform on the space station to better understand providing water and nutrients to plants.
Quincy said the ideas and the entire experience of participating in X-Hab is a positive one for both the students and NASA. The teams develop design projects that have the potential of shaping future NASA missions. In turn, those teams must meet engineering milestones, conduct outreach, and attempt to leverage funding from other organizations, providing them with hands-on experience in cutting-edge research.
Kimberly Simpson, a NASA engineer at Kennedy, said that as the students reached out to experts at NASA, invariably there comes a point when the questions move beyond current knowledge, and the students had to go through the process of trying to find an answer.
One of the best things about X-Hab, from Simpson’s perspective, is that the challenge opens students to the possibility of doing research they had never considered before. In addition to bringing new ideas and technology to enable humans to travel deep into space to NASA, the challenge also develops a pipeline of young scientists and engineers.
Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) chilled out recently with a pressurization test of the liquid oxygen (LO2) tank at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – Pad 39B, recently upgraded by the EGS team for the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket.
The six-hour test of the giant sphere checked for leaks in the cryogenic pipes leading from the tank to the block valves, the liquid oxygen sensing cabinet, and new vaporizers recently installed on the tank.
The SLS will use both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. During tanking, some of the liquid oxygen, stored at minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit, boils off and vapor or mist is visible. While the tank can hold up to 900,000 gallons of liquid oxygen; during the test it only contained 590,000 gallons of the super-cooled propellant.
The test was monitored by engineers and technicians inside Firing Room 1 at the Launch Control Center, a heritage KSC facility also upgraded by the EGS team in preparation for the upcoming mission. Results of the test confirmed that the fill rise rate was acceptable, the tank pressurization sequence works and that only one of the two vaporizers was needed to accomplish pressurization.
Another system is “go” for the first integrated launch of SLS and the Orion spacecraft!
The robots are coming! Forty-five teams of undergraduate and graduate students, from universities and colleges throughout the U.S., are expected to soon descend upon NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida with their uniquely designed robotic miners, in all shapes and sizes. They will compete May 16-18 in the agency’s 2018 Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).
Each team’s robot will traverse and excavate the simulated Martian regolith, seeking to mine and collect the most regolith within a specified amount of time. Teams also are required to submit a Systems Engineering Paper, perform STEM Outreach in their communities and provide a presentation and robot demonstration.
The competition will conclude May 18 with an evening awards ceremony at the Apollo Saturn V Center. A list of winners will be available by May 21 at http://www.nasa.gov/nasarmc.
The Robotic Mining Competition is a NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate project designed to encourage and retain 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 deep space exploration missions.
NASA recently honored a pair of veteran space chroniclers for their contributions to delivering U.S. space exploration news. Craig Covault and George Diller are the newest additions to the facility’s “Chroniclers wall,” recognized during a ceremony held May 4 at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site in Florida.
“George dedicated most of his professional career to public affairs’ mandated mission to keep our citizens cognizant of NASA’s goals, rationales, successes and failures, all in a timely and accurate manner,” said Hortense Diggs, deputy director of Kennedy Space Center’s Office of Communication and Public Engagement. “As a member of the free press, Craig reported with objectivity and diligence about how well we did as stewards of the U.S. space program and the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Earlier in the week, brass strips engraved with each awardee’s name and affiliation were added to the wall and covered. Those strips were unveiled during a special gathering of the honorees’ friends and family, media, and current and former NASA officials on Friday. The two men were selected by a committee of their peers to be the 2018 Chroniclers on March 21.
“Chroniclers” recognizes retirees of the news and communications business who helped spread news of American space exploration from Kennedy for 10 years or more. Covault and Diller each far exceeded that amount.
Considered for NASA’s journalist in space initiative during the Space Shuttle Program, Covault covered approximately 100 space shuttle launches and missions. The former writer and reporter with Aviation Week & Space Technology is credited with 2,000 news and feature stories on space and aeronautics during his 48-year career.
“I certainly want to, from the bottom of my heart, thank NASA, thank public affairs, and my journalism colleagues, for providing me this recognition,” Covault said. “And I certainly want to add my congratulations and pleasure at having George Diller share this award with me. We have been friends for many, many years.”
Diller, known by many as “The Voice of Kennedy Launch Control,” retired in 2017 after a 37-year career in NASA Public Affairs. He provided commentary for numerous critical missions, including the space shuttle launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, and all five of its servicing missions. He called his launch commentary of Atlantis STS-135, which was the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, “something that I’ll never quite forget.”
“I can’t really think of anything that I would have done differently; that I could have enjoyed more,” Diller said. “I pretty much got to do with my career just about everything I wanted to do. And a lot of people never have that satisfaction.”
Covault and Diller are the 75th and 76th names to be added to the “Chroniclers wall,” which includes Walter Cronkite of CBS news, ABC News’ Jules Bergman and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Noble Wilford of the New York Times.
Sustainability innovations took center stage during Kennedy Space Center’s annual Earth Day celebration April 17 and 18.
The two-day event was held at two spaceport locations – one day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the next at the center’s Space Station Processing Facility – offering up plenty of opportunities for guests and employees alike to learn more about new, Earth-friendly technologies we can use to improve our own lives at work and at home.
“Our Earth Day celebration is one of several means to educate and encourage the workforce to make environmentally sound decisions,” said Dan Clark, NASA Kennedy’s Sustainability Team lead. “Doing so reduces mission risk, saves money, and makes for a healthier place to live and work. For these reasons, both the White House and NASA HQ are supportive of center participation in outreach activities like this.”
The event featured an expo highlighted by 50 exhibitors who were ready to share their expertise on a wide range of topics, including electric vehicles, sustainable lighting, renewable energy, Florida-friendly landscaping tips, Florida’s biking trails and more.
Kennedy’s sustainability programs and initiatives improve green practices that have an environmental impact or benefit on center. These sustainability efforts help preserve, enhance and strengthen Kennedy’s ability to carry out its missions.
The planned liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, remains scheduled for 6:32 p.m. EDT Monday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing continue to predict an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff.
Each semester the Pathways and NASA Internships, Fellowships and Scholarships (NIFS) interns at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida come together for a team-building event. This spring semester, 92 interns participated in an afternoon of friendly competition. The students rotated through six activity stations that tested their abilities to communicate well, solve problems, strategize and share knowledge.
The fast-paced and physically active event focused on networking and collaboration. Kennedy’s senior managers and volunteers helped facilitate the activities. The team with the most points won bragging rights – and a lunch with Kennedy’s Director, Bob Cabana.
The winning team members and the directorate they support are: Eric Barash, Exploration Research and Technology; Nathan Estey, Chief Financial Officer; Jose Pacheco, Engineering Directorate; Ashley Renfroe-Suttle, Chief Financial Officer; Michael Roberts, Exploration Research and Technology; Madison Tuttle, Communication and Public Engagement; and Jessica Warren, Engineering Directorate.
Led by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, spaceport employees took part in an annual tradition Tuesday, March 13: the KSC Walk Run. It’s NASA’s version of the community fun run, but the race course – the Shuttle Landing Facility – is one of a kind.
Runners may choose between 10K, 5K and 2-mile options and take off down the runway alongside their colleagues in the spirit of friendly competition.
Open only to badged spaceport employees and their guests, the KSC Walk Run is a part of Safety and Health Days, a week-long event dedicated to fostering a culture of safety and wellness both at work and at home. A safe workplace and healthy workforce are key ingredients to successful missions.
The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station yielded great results this week. Arabidopsis seeds – small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard – grew for about six weeks, and the dwarf wheat for five weeks.
This growth test was a precursor to the start of an investigation known as PH-01, which will grow five different types of Arabidopsis and is scheduled to launch in May on Orbital ATK’s ninth commercial resupply mission to the space station.
“The first growth test demonstrated the plant habitat can grow large plants within an environmentally controlled system,” said Bryan Onate, Advanced Plant Habitat project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “The systems performed well in microgravity, and the team learned many valuable lessons on operating this payload on station.”
The plant habitat is now ready to support large plant testing on the space station. A fully enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled growth chamber, it uses red, blue and green LED lights, as well as broad-spectrum white LED lights. The system’s more than 180 sensors will relay real-time information, including temperature, oxygen content and moisture levels back to the team on the ground at NASA Kennedy.