Artemis I Boosters Continue to Stack Up

In High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the right-hand center aft booster segment for Artemis I is stacked on the mobile launcher for the Space Launch System (SLS) on Jan. 7, 2021.
In High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the right-hand center aft booster segment for Artemis I is stacked on the mobile launcher for the Space Launch System (SLS) on Jan. 7, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Booster stacking for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is continuing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The second of five segments for the SLS rocket boosters have been placed on the mobile launcher in preparation for the launch of Artemis I later this year. This marks four out of 10 solid rocket booster segments being lifted via crane and placed on the launcher, the structure used to process, assemble, and launch SLS. The twin boosters will power the first flight of SLS, the agency’s new deep space rocket for Artemis I. This uncrewed flight will test the SLS and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

NASA and Boeing Target New Launch Date for Next Starliner Flight Test

Technicians observe Boeing’s Starliner crew module being placed on top of the service module in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 14, 2021.
Technicians observe Boeing’s Starliner crew module being placed on top of the service module in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 14, 2021. The Starliner spacecraft is being prepared for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2). As part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Photo credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing are targeting no earlier than Thursday, March 25, for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA to the International Space Station.

The target launch date is enabled by an opening on the Eastern Range, the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, steady progress on hardware and software, and an International Space Station docking opportunity.

Boeing recently mated the spacecraft’s reusable crew module on its brand new service module inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams are working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts.

Boeing also recently completed the formal requalification of Starliner’s OFT-2 flight software. Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner’s software meets design specifications. Boeing also will complete an end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and final versions of Starliner’s flight software to model the vehicle’s expected behavior before flight.

The OFT-2 mission will launch Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, dock to the space station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test flight to prove the system is ready to fly crew.

Learn more about commercial crew by visiting https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/ and following @Commercial_Crew on Twitter and the Commercial Crew Facebook account.

Learn more about Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner by visiting www.boeing.com/starliner.

Kennedy Space Center Honors Fallen Heroes of Human Spaceflight

Kennedy Space Center’s Day of Remembrance ceremony will take place Jan. 28, 2021, at the Kennedy Visitor Complex’s Space Mirror Memorial. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

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The crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other fallen astronauts who lost their lives in the name of space exploration and discovery, will be honored by NASA Kennedy Space Center employees and guests with a ceremony at the Kennedy Visitor Complex’s Space Mirror Memorial.

The Day of Remembrance ceremony is set for Thursday, Jan. 28, at 11 a.m. Honoree family member Sheryl Chaffee (daughter of former  NASA astronaut Roger Chaffee) will be in attendance. Speakers include Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro, retired Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, and Astronauts Memorial Foundation President and CEO Thad Altman.

“From Apollo 1 to the crews of Challenger and Columbia, we are humbled as we recall the sacrifices of the brave men and woman who gave their lives for the broader cause of exploring and understanding our universe,” Cabana said. “Each year, on this day, we commit to not only remembering their legacies but dedicate ourselves to ensuring the safety of those who come in the future.”

The date marks the 35th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy. NASA centers throughout the country participate in the agency’s annual memorial event.

All CDC and local health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus — including physical distancing and face coverings — will be followed at the event, which is limited to 100 guests. Click here to view the ceremony live on Kennedy’s Facebook page.

Following the commemoration, a wreath laying ceremony will take place at the Space Mirror Memorial. Attendees will be given flowers to pay respects to our fallen heroes.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization that built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial. The mirror was dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training. It has been designated a National Memorial by Congress.

Click here for more information about Kennedy Space Center.

ELaNa 20 CubeSats Deployed

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

Today at approximately 3:35 p.m. ET (12:35 p.m. PT), 10 CubeSats began deploying from Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne Rocket into low-Earth Orbit as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 20 mission. Virgin Orbit’s 747-00 carrier, Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1:38 p.m. ET (10:38 a.m. PT) today carrying the LauncherOne Rocket and the 10 small research satellites.

CubeSats are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge technologies like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications, and autonomous movement. The nine CubeSat missions in this launch were developed by the following universities and one NASA center:

  • CACTUS-1 – Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Md.
  • CAPE-3 – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • EXOCUBE – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • MiTEE – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • PICS (two CubeSats) – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
  • PolarCube – University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Q-PACE – University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  • RadFXSat-2 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
  • TechEdSat-7 – NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

CSLI is an initiative created by NASA to attract and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Missions are selected through the CubeSat Launch Initiative and managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Visit our website to learn more and follow us on Twitter at NASA_LSP and Facebook at NASA LSP.

Takeoff! ELaNa 20 Mission on Its Way to Space

Ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl is staged on a taxiway with LauncherOne underwing at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. November 10, 2020.
Ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl is staged on a taxiway with LauncherOne underwing at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. November 10, 2020. Credit: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

Marking the first payload carried by the LauncherOne rocket, Virgin Orbit’s 747-00 carrier, Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1:38 p.m. ET today. The LauncherOne rocket, attached to the underside of Cosmic Girl’s left wing, is the carrying CubeSats for the encapsulated Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 20 mission.

Once the aircraft reaches a specified altitude, the rocket will be released from the wing for a controlled drop over the Pacific Ocean. After dropping, LauncherOne’s NewtonThree first-stage engine will ignite, starting the launch sequence that will send the nine satellite missions into low-Earth orbit.

This is the first time Virgin Orbit has launched NASA payloads. In 2020, Virgin Orbit completed their first launch demo, validating that LauncherOne could be successfully air-launched from the company’s “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft.

A low-cost platform for agency missions, CubeSats and other small satellites are beginning to play a larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research, and educational investigations at NASA. Previously only available through pre-existing launch opportunities, dedicated launch opportunities are now available for CubeSats and other small payloads through the contracts managed by NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Services Program (LSP) in Florida.

Stay connected with the mission on social media, and let people know you’re following it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by tagging these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA,  @NASA_LSP, @Virgin_Orbit

Facebook:  NASA, NASA LSP, Virgin Orbit

Instagram:  @NASA, @virgin.orbit

Launch Window Opens for ELaNa 20 Mission

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl aircraft and LauncherOne rocket are positioned for takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, in preparation to launch 10 small NASA-sponsored research satellites, or CubeSats, as part of the agency’s 20th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission.

Cosmic Girl carries the LauncherOne rocket on the underside of the 747-aircraft’s left wing. When Cosmic Girl reaches its specified altitude over the Pacific Ocean, LauncherOne will be released for a controlled drop until the rocket’s NewtonThree first stage engine ignites to start the launch sequence that will send the satellites into low-Earth orbit. The mission has a three-hour launch window from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT).

Virgin Orbit was one of three companies selected as Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) providers through a contract NASA first awarded in October 2015. This mission, called Launch Demo 2, will be the first time Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket will carry customer payloads. ELaNa missions are managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 10 CubeSats set to launch on this mission were designed and built by eight different universities in the United States, as well as one NASA center. These include:

  • CACTUS-1 – Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Md.
  • CAPE-3 – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • EXOCUBE – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • MiTEE – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • PICS (two CubeSats) – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
  • PolarCube – University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Q-PACE – University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  • RadFXSat-2 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
  • TechEdSat-7 – NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

NASA selected and sponsored these providers through the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). By offering CubeSat developers a relatively low-cost avenue to conduct science investigations and technology demonstrations in space, NASA gives K-12 schools, universities, and non-profit organizations hands-on flight hardware development experience.

Stay connected with the mission on social media, and let people know you’re following it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by tagging these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA,  @NASA_LSP, @Virgin_Orbit

Facebook:  NASA, NASA LSP, Virgin Orbit

Instagram:  @NASA, @virgin.orbit

Kennedy’s Top 20 from 2020

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center racked up a year of achievements in exploration – even in the midst of a pandemic. The Florida spaceport launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 and Crew-1 missions; sent robotic explorers to study the Sun, Mars, and our home planet’s oceans; made significant strides toward Artemis I in 2021, the first flight of the program slated to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024; and much more.

Click here to read Kennedy’s Top 20 from 2020.

Kennedy Harvests Radish Crop as Part of PH-02 Experiment

Radishes are harvested from the Advanced Plant Habitat ground unit at Kennedy Space Center.
A research scientist harvests radishes grown in the Advanced Plant Habitat ground unit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 14, 2020. Part of the Plant Habitat-02 (PH-02) experiment, scientists will compare these radishes grown at Kennedy to radish crops growing on the International Space Station. This crop of radishes was grown under similar conditions as those growing in space – the major difference being the absence of microgravity. The comparison will allow researchers to better see how a microgravity environment affects plant growth ahead of long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

A team of researchers and engineers harvested radishes from the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) ground unit as part of the Plant Habitat-02 experiment, or PH-02, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 14, 2020. This crop was a ground control for a similar crop of radishes grown aboard the International Space Station, which Astronaut Kate Rubins harvested on Nov. 30, 2020. Knowledge gained from the PH-02 experiment will enable astronauts to grow crops that will help sustain crews on long-duration space exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

Scientists will compare the results of the ground control experiment to the plants grown in space. The nearly identical growing conditions for both crops will make it possible to identify the effects of the space environment by measuring a range of properties including chlorophyll quantities, enzyme activity, mineral uptake, and several other traits. The major difference is the crops grown on the space station experienced microgravity, an environment vastly different from Earth’s. In microgravity, everything from fluids to flames behave differently.

The space station is a unique laboratory enabling long-duration microgravity experiments that lead to a better understanding of fundamental properties of everything from plants to physics. In space, a second crop of radishes is already growing in the APH on station for the second part of PH-02. Astronauts plan to harvest that crop on Dec. 30, 2020, and send samples back to Earth in 2021 on a SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services mission return flight.

The APH is NASA’s largest and most sophisticated growth chamber designed for plant and bioscience research aboard the space station. It has control systems and more than 180 sensors to deliver precise amounts of water while regulating and monitoring moisture levels, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, and oxygen content. The APH provides high-intensity red, blue, green, broad spectrum white, and far-red LED light to plants in the chamber. APH’s highly automated data and photo interfaces allow researchers on the ground to access photos and real-time data telemetry while also sending remote commands to the chamber.

To stay updated on this and other Biological and Physical Sciences research, please visit https://science.nasa.gov/biological-physical.

NASA and Boeing Target New Launch Date for Next Starliner Flight Test

Boeing’s Starliner crew module, with back shells installed, is inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on December 8, 2020, in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). During the OFT-2 mission, the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft will fly to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing’s Starliner crew module, with back shells installed, is inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on December 8, 2020, in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). During the OFT-2 mission, the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft will fly to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing now are targeting March 29 for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path toward flying crew missions for NASA.

For the OFT-2 mission, the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, dock to the International Space Station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test to prove the system is ready to fly crew.

The OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft is nearing final assembly inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The vehicle’s reusable crew module has been powered up and final checkouts of the avionics, power and propulsion systems are nearing completion. The spacecraft’s parachutes, landing airbags, base heat shield, and its back shells are installed signifying the completion of the vehicle build phase. In the coming weeks, teams will load the crew module with cargo, including Rosie the Rocketeer, and weigh the vehicle before mating it to its service module, which is already complete.

In parallel, Boeing technicians continue to refurbish the crew module flown on Starliner’s first Orbital Flight Test while also building a brand-new service module for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), which is now targeting launch in summer 2021, following a successful OFT-2 mission.

NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” WilmoreMike Fincke, and Nicole Mann continue to train for CFT, the inaugural crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft. After the completion of both test flights, NASA astronauts Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps will launch on the Starliner-1 mission, the first of six crew rotation missions NASA and Boeing will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Read the full story here.

NASA, Boeing Complete Series of Starliner Parachute Tests Ahead of Future Flights with Astronauts

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner's three main parachutes slow the test article to a safe and soft landing during the final balloon drop parachute test Sept. 19, 2020, at White Sands, New Mexico.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s three main parachutes slow the test article to a safe and soft landing during the final balloon drop parachute test Sept. 19, 2020, at White Sands, New Mexico.
Credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have completed Starliner’s last parachute balloon drop test ending a reliability campaign that will help strengthen the spacecraft’s landing system ahead of crewed flights to and from the International Space Station.

The campaign, developed by both Boeing and NASA, used six balloon drop tests of a Starliner test article to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing system. Each drop test focused on a different set of adverse conditions and used pre-flown parachutes to evaluate reusability margins for future missions.

Starliner is the first American-made orbital crew capsule to land on land. The spacecraft uses a series of parachutes and airbags that deploy at specific altitudes allowing Starliner to touch down gently in the desert of the western United States. NASA also will use the data gathered from the parachute testing to model Starliner parachute performance in different mission scenarios.

For the final test, a high-altitude balloon provided by Near Space Corporation lifted the Starliner test article 35,000 feet above the New Mexico desert. Equipped with reused parachutes, Starliner’s landing system successfully executed an unlikely re-entry scenario simulating two separate faults.

Read the full story here.