Kennedy ‘Swarmed’ as Students Develop Computer Code to Support Exploration

Swarmathon 2017

Students from colleges and universities from across the nation recently participated in a robotic programming competition at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their research may lead to technology which will help astronauts find needed resources when exploring the moon or Mars.

In the spaceport’s second annual Swarmathon competition, aspiring engineers from 20 teams representing 22 minority serving universities and community colleges were invited to develop software code to operate innovative robots called “Swarmies.” The event took place April 18-20, 2017, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

In her welcoming remarks, Kennedy’s deputy center director, Janet Petro, pointed out to the students that their endeavors to develop robotic software code are more than an academic exercise.

“All of the work that you have done – designing, coding, testing – will soon be put to the ultimate test,” she said. “You should be extremely proud of your accomplishments. You have shown tenacity, problem-solving, teamwork and innovation – all qualities that NASA highly values.”

A team from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico won this year’s Swarmathon capturing a $5,000 cash prize.

The small, four-wheeled Swarmie robots were designed through a collaboration between Kennedy’s Swamp Works laboratory and the University of New Mexico. It is a technology that could revolutionize space exploration by more effectively and efficiently locating hidden resources while astronauts explore distant destinations.

Computer scientists are developing Swarmies to focus not so much on the hardware, but the software. The Swarmathon is designed to help students improve their skills in robotics and computer science, as well as integrating software with hardware. What makes these robots noteworthy is the coding each carries in its silicon brain that makes them search for water, minerals and elements that could be refined into useful resources such as building materials or rocket fuel.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) selected the University of New Mexico to manage the Swarmathon challenge in a joint effort with the agency. Through the MUREP program, NASA’s goal is to increase the number of NASA-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, experiences that engage underrepresented groups in active education.

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Orbital ATK CRS-7 Mission Begins

With blue sky for a background, the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module is carried atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Orbital ATK's seventh commercial resupply services mission, CRS-7, will deliver 7,600 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific research materials to the International Space Station. Liftoff occurred April 18 at 11:11 a.m. EDT.
With blue sky for a background, the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module is carried atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission, CRS-7, will deliver 7,600 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific research materials to the International Space Station. Liftoff occurred April 18 at 11:11 a.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the station launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fourth flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the third using the Atlas V launch system.

The on-time launch marked the conclusion of a smooth countdown and the beginning of a three-day pursuit of the International Space Station, where resident crew members await the arrival of the Cygnus spacecraft and its 7,626 pounds of scientific research materials, crew supplies and station equipment. Cygnus is due to arrive at the station early Saturday morning, April 22.

For further updates on the Orbital ATK CRS-7 mission, visit https://www.nasa.gov/orbital.

Review Gives CRS-7 Team ‘Go’ For Tuesday Launch

United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK’s Launch Readiness Review for the Atlas V rocket with the Cygnus cargo resupply module was held April 15 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch managers from ULA, Orbital ATK and NASA determined all is ready for a targeted launch to the International Space Station on Tuesday, April 18. The liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 is scheduled for 11:11 a.m. EDT and there is a 30-minute launch opportunity available.

NASA TV launch coverage will begin at 10 a.m. EDT on air and streaming at www.nasa.gov/ntv. Ten minutes prior to liftoff, NASA TV’s YouTube channel will debut full, 360 coverage of the launch at http://youtube.com/nasatelevision

Learn more about the 360 video coverage at https://go.nasa.gov/2ove1Yw

Engineers Tickled Pink to Help Kennedy Robotics Team

The robotics group known as the "Pink Team."
Comprised of students from Cocoa Beach, Rockledge, Viera and Space Coast high schools, the robotics group known as the “Pink Team,” its mentors and support personnel celebrated a successful season near the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 5. The Pink Team fared well in the two regionals it competed in this year in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Photo credit: Charles Babir

A robotics team that did not exist six months ago stormed back into competition this spring after a new group of engineering mentors at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida opted to work with high school students to build intricate machines capable of performing by remote control some of the same functions NASA asks its own robots to perform.

Called the “Pink Team,” the Kennedy-sponsored group competes in the FIRST events, short for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Two of the three team mentors retired last year leaving the group devoid of the mentorship necessary to compete.

So the Kennedy Engineering Directorate stepped up with 10 or so mentors eager to help.

The team was led by engineers Greg Clements and Andrew Bradley. Those involved celebrated the successful season April 5 at a facility near the Shuttle Landing Facility.

“It took a lot of teamwork, skill, communication, and a whole lot of brain power to get where we are,” said Bradley, a control systems engineer at Kennedy and Pink Team mentor since its inception 20 years ago. “It was great to see our engineering group step up and help make this happen.”

The team kicked off the season in January. They had six weeks to prepare for a pair of regionals, the first in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the second at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. With teams from Google, Microsoft, General Motors and representatives from each of the space centers, the competition was extraordinary.

The Pink Team faired very well in both competitions.

“Despite this being a rebuilding season, we couldn’t have been more proud of our group of students,” Clements said. “And it looks like nearly everyone is coming back for next year, so we have high expectations.”

Comprised of students from Cocoa Beach, Rockledge, Viera and Space Coast high schools, Kennedy’s house robotics team chose the phoenix mascot as a sign of rising from the ashes, Clements said.

And of course, the phoenix was pink.

Flown Orion Crew Module Moves to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Orion EFT-1 crew module is moved into the IMAX Theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The Orion crew module from Exploration Flight Test 1, secured on its custom-made ground support equipment, is moved into the IMAX Theater at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

The Orion crew module that traveled into space beyond low-Earth orbit on Exploration Fight Test 1 (EFT-1) completed a different kind of trip this week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Secured on a custom-made ground support equipment transporter, Orion was moved from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, less than three miles down the road. The crew module will become part of the NASA Now exhibit inside the IMAX Theater at the visitor complex.

The Orion spacecraft launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket Dec. 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft built for humans traveled 3,604 miles above Earth, and is the first U.S. spacecraft to go beyond low-Earth orbit in 42 years. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the shore of California.

Space Agriculture Planted in History

A look at the Biomass Production Chamber at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center back in 1991.
A look at the Biomass Production Chamber at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center back in 1991. Photo credit: NASA

For more than 30 years, NASA’s Dr. Raymond Wheeler has studied growing plants for space. Earlier this year, Wheeler published a paper titled Agriculture for Space: People and Places Paving the Way. It is a historical narrative outlining agricultural research conducted for space spanning the past 70 years. Wheeler’s space farming research highlights novel technologies and findings that have been produced over the years, including the first use of LEDs to grow plants, as well as hydroponics and vertical gardening techniques. In Wheeler’s work, one also sees that space agriculture has contributed to, and benefited from terrestrial, controlled environment agriculture and will continue to do so into the future. To read more about Wheeler’s and other space farmers’ work, go to https://go.nasa.gov/2nPAlM9.

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.

Radiological Control Center Renamed Honoring Randy Scott

Radiological Control Center (RADCC) Renaming Ceremony
Dr. David Tipton, left, chief of Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health at the Kennedy Space Center, presents Myrna Scott, widow of Randy Scott, with a replica of the emblem noting that the spaceport’s Radiological Control Center has been named in honor of her husband who died last year.
Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

A ceremony in the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Radiological Control Center honored the extensive contributions of Randy Scott, during which the facility was named in his honor. A professional health physicist of more than 40 years, Scott served as the Florida spaceport’s Radiation Protection Officer for 14 years until his death June 17, 2016.

During the March 31, 2017, ceremony, Director of Spaceport Integration and Services Nancy Bray spoke of Scott’s efforts to establish the Radiological Control Center.

“Randy had a vision, and he knew what it would take to make this a first-class spaceport and support the radiological mission,” she said. “This room serves a dual purpose. When we are not using it for a major radiological mission, it’s available to our emergency operations team.”

Bray then joined Dr. David Tipton, chief of Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health, and Myrna Scott, Randy Scott’s widow, in cutting a ribbon dedicating the Randall E. Scott Radiological Control Center.

Scott is best known for his contingency planning efforts supporting planetary missions that included a plutonium-powered radioisotope thermalelectric generator (RTG). Spacecraft such as New Horizons, launched to Pluto on Jan. 19, 2006, and the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity lander, lifting off on Nov. 26, 2011, take so long to travel so far from the sun that batteries and solar panels are impractical. Electrical power is provided by an RTG which produces electricity from heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium.

Located in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building, the Randall E. Scott Radiological Control Center is staffed by technical and radiological experts from NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing and the state of Florida. The group performs data collection and assessment functions supporting launch site and field data collection activities.

Scott was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2012 for coordinating multiple federal agencies’ radiological contingency preparedness and the Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel prior to launch of the Mars Science Laboratory.

Orbital ATK CRS-7 Mission Targeted for April 18 Launch

Orbital ATK's Cygnus module is mated to the Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The payload fairing containing the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module is mated to the Centaur upper stage, or second stage, of the United Launch Alliance rocket March 17 in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

NASA, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are now targeting April 18 for the launch of Orbital ATK’s seventh contracted commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. ULA has developed a plan to resolve an earlier booster hydraulic issue, and is moving forward with launch vehicle processing. Both the Atlas V rocket and Cygnus spacecraft remain secure. Several tons of cargo including crew supplies and science experiments packed aboard Cygnus remain in good shape.