Mars 2020 Mission Now Targeted for July 22 Launch

Mars 2020 Perseverance encapsulation
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is being prepared for encapsulation in the United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing on June 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Christian Mangano

NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft. Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF).

The spacecraft and vehicle remain healthy. The launch of the Mars 2020 mission on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. ET with a two-hour window.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Comes Together for Mars Mission

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover  is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 20, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Christian Mangano

Continuing on its path to preparation for next month’s launch, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover spacecraft is, well, put together.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Backshell-Powered Descent Vehicle and Entry Vehicle assemblies are now attached to Perseverance. The cone-shaped backshell contains the parachute, and along with the mission’s heat shield, will provide protection for the rover and descent stage during entry into the Martian atmosphere.

Recently, the rover’s ULA Atlas V booster was lifted up in the Vertical Integration Facility at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Mars Perseverance rover is rotated to prepare for the Backshell-Powered Descent Vehicle and Entry Vehicle assemblies to be attached. Photo credit: NASA/Christian Mangano

Activities have continued to ramp up with the attachment of the four solid rocket boosters (SRBs) one-by-one to the sides of the Atlas V 541 rocket, followed by the Centaur upper stage. The Centaur can control its orientation precisely, while providing up to 22,300 pounds of thrust. The spacecraft will be mated to the Atlas V rocket on June 22.

The assembly, test and launch operations team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineers have hit multiple key milestones in the past two months, keeping Perseverance on target for its launch to the Red Planet in mid-July. These include attaching the aeroshell backshell and attaching the rover to its rocket-powered descent stage, rotating and spinning the descent stage on two separate measuring fixtures to pinpoint its center of gravity, and attaching NASA’s Mars Helicopter, recently named Ingenuity, to the belly of the rover.

Perseverance will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, touching down on the surface of Jezero Crater. Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life.

The rover, carrying seven different scientific instruments, will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch is scheduled for Monday, July 20, at 9:15 a.m. ET, with a two-hour window. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch. For more information on Perseverance and its mission, visit the mission website.

NASA, SpaceX Prepare for Second Attempt at Historic Demo-2 Launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. today, carrying American NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Live coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch activities has begun. The broadcast started at 11 a.m., and will continue leading up to liftoff and through arrival at the space station at 10:29 a.m. on Sunday, May 31. Watch it on NASA Television and online at http://www.nasa.gov/live.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this afternoon, carrying American NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station. Launch is targeted for 3:22 p.m. EDT. The launch window is instantaneous.

According to the latest report from the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, the probability of violating weather restraints remains at 50%. Primary concerns are flight through precipitation, anvil cloud rule and cumulus cloud rule.

This will be SpaceX’s final test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations.

For continuing coverage of NASA’s Demo-2 launch, follow along with the agency’s Commercial Crew Program blog at http://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 ‘Go’ for Liftoff Wednesday After Today’s Launch Readiness Review

Demo-2 media teleconference
Representatives from NASA, SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron participate in a media teleconference following the Launch Readiness Review at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, May 25, 2020, in advance of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. From left to right are: Norm Knight, deputy director, NASA Johnson Space Center Flight Operations; Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program; Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program; Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX; and Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission passed its final major review today at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and teams received the “go” to proceed toward launch. Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A.

The mission will return human spaceflight to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on an American rocket and spacecraft as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Demo-2 will be SpaceX’s final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities.

“We’re burning down the final paper. All the teams are a go, and we’re continuing to progress toward our mission,” said Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “I’m very proud of the team. We are continuing to be vigilant and careful, and make sure we do this right.”

In this morning’s official forecast, the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60% chance of unfavorable weather conditions for the Demo-2 mission. The primary weather concerns that could prevent launch are flight through precipitation, thick and cumulus clouds.

However, 45th Weather Squadron Launch Weather Officer Mike McAleenan pointed out things are looking up.

“It certainly has been trending better over the last day or two for launch weather,” McAleenan said. “If I was to issue the forecast today, right now, we would probably be down to 40% chance of violation.”

Crew members Behnken and Hurley remain in quarantine, a routine part of prelaunch preparations for astronauts journeying into space. On Saturday, they took part in a full dress rehearsal of launch day, including suiting up and climbing aboard the Crew Dragon at Launch Complex 39A.

“It was a really good review today, and from a crew perspective, we were very happy with the discussions that took place — the thoroughness of the review,” said Norm Knight, deputy director, Flight Operations, NASA Johnson Space Center. “We’re definitely ready to press forward.”

Upon arriving at the space station, Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew to conduct important research as well as support station operations and maintenance. While docked to the station, the crew will run tests to ensure the Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable on future missions of remaining connected to the station for up to 210 days.

“I think the on-orbit crew is definitely ready for some company, and very much looking forward to the launch this Wednesday,” said Kirk Shireman, manager, NASA International Space Station Program. “The ISS team is ready to support the docking of Crew Dragon.”

The specific duration for this mission will be determined after arrival based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. Finally, the mission will conclude with the Crew Dragon undocking from the station, deorbiting and returning Behnken and Hurley to Earth with a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Launch Readiness Review Complete; Media Teleconference at 6 p.m. EDT

The Launch Readiness Review for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission has concluded at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA and SpaceX key managers have given the “go” for launch on a mission that will return human spaceflight to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on an American rocket and spacecraft as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A.

A media teleconference is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT. Live audio of the Demo-2 mission patchteleconference will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/live.

Participants are:

  • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
  • Kirk Shireman, manager, NASA International Space Station Program
  • Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Norm Knight, deputy director, Flight Operations, NASA Johnson Space Center
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron

Demo-2 will be SpaceX’s final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities. During the mission, the crew and SpaceX mission controllers will verify the performance of the spacecraft’s environmental control system, displays and control system, maneuvering thrusters, autonomous docking capability, and more.

Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew on the station to conduct important research as well as support station operations and maintenance. While docked to the station, the crew will run tests to ensure the Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable on future missions of remaining connected to the station for up to 210 days. The specific duration for this mission will be determined after arrival based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. Finally, the mission will conclude with the Crew Dragon undocking from the station, deorbiting and returning Behnken and Hurley to Earth with a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Gets a Boost

Mars Perseverance rover booster offload
The United Launch Alliance booster for NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is offloaded from the Antonov 124 cargo aircraft at the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 19, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

With the addition of a powerful piece of hardware, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover continues to progress toward its much-anticipated launch in less than two months.

The spacecraft’s booster arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Skid Strip on Monday, May 18. It was then offloaded and taken to United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center.

Mars Perseverance rover booster arrival
The Antonov 124 cargo aircraft, carrying the United Launch Alliance booster for NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, taxis off the runway at the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Perseverance remains on track for its targeted mid-July launch. The rover will liftoff aboard a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is managing the launch.

Perseverance will reach the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. After the rover enters the thin Martian atmosphere, the descent stage — utilizing a tether of nylon cords — will lower Perseverance to the surface of Jezero Crater.

Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. Ingenuity, the twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to Perseverance, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

For more information, visit the mission website.

Perseverance Presses On, Remains Targeted for Summer Launch

Mars Perseverance rover in the PHSF at Kennedy Space Center
Multiple milestones have been reached recently with the Mars Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The aeroshell backshell was attached on April 29 and the rover was attached to its rocket-powered descent stage on April 23 inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

Testing on NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center closed out April on an extremely high note.

The latest activities at the Florida spaceport included attaching the aeroshell backshell on April 29 and attaching the rover to its rocket-powered descent stage on April 23 inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The rover and descent stage were the first spacecraft components to come together for launch — and they will be the last to separate when the spacecraft reaches Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.

The backshell carries the parachute and several components that will be used during later stages of entry, descent and landing. The aeroshell will encapsulate and protect Perseverance and its descent stage during their deep space journey to Mars and during descent through the Martian atmosphere, which generates intense heat.

April saw other key rover milestones reached at Kennedy. On April 14, the

Mars Perseverance rover in the PHSF
Perseverance remains on track for its targeted launch period, which opens in six weeks. Liftoff, aboard a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket, will be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

descent stage — fully loaded with 884 pounds of fuel (a hydrazine monopropellant) — was rotated and spun on two separate measuring fixtures to pinpoint its center of gravity.  This will help ensure the descent stage remains stable while guiding Perseverance to a safe landing.

On April 6, NASA’s Mars Helicopter, recently named Ingenuity, was attached to the belly of the rover. Weighing less than four pounds, the twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will be released to perform the first in a series of flight tests that will take place during 30 Martian days (a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth). Ingenuity will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Thanks to the enduring efforts of NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineers, Perseverance remains on track for its targeted launch period, which opens in just six weeks. The rover will liftoff aboard a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

After the rover enters the thin Martian atmosphere, the descent stage will complete the slowing of Perseverance to less than two miles per hour. At about 65 feet over the Martian surface, the descent stage — utilizing a tether of nylon cords — will lower Perseverance to the surface of Jezero Crater. The rover will then sever the cords and the descent stage will fly away.

About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance will carry seven different scientific instruments. Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

Visit the mission website for more information.

NASA Test Directors Eagerly Await Artemis Launch

Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Jeremy Graeber and Jeff Spaulding in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center
NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, above, confers with Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding, left, and Test, Launch and Recovery Operations Branch Chief Jeremy Graeber in Firing Room 1 at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center during a countdown simulation. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Before NASA’s mighty Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can blast off from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center to send the Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, teams across the country conduct extensive testing on all parts of the system. Guiding that effort at the Florida spaceport are NASA test directors, or NTDs.

NTDs within the Exploration Ground Systems program are in charge of flight and ground hardware testing in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center firing rooms 1 and 2, where activities involved with preparing rockets, spacecraft and payloads for space can be controlled from computer terminals. They are responsible for emergency management actions, helping lead the launch team during all facets of testing, launch and recovery.

NASA’s Artemis missions will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, beginning with Artemis I, the uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion.

“It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be responsible for setting up the building blocks of a new program which will eventually take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno.

Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno
Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA

Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. This includes proving the functionality of flight and ground systems for the assembled launch vehicle configuration, verifying the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals operate as expected at launch, and performing a simulated launch countdown with the integrated vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The 14-year NTD veteran relishes his hands-on role in successfully testing and launching SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Zeno said. “What excites me about the future is that the work I’m doing today is contributing to someday having humans living and working on other planets.”

There are 18 people in the NTD office — all of whom must undergo rigorous certification training in the management and leadership of test operations, systems engineering and emergency response. They are in charge of the people, hardware and schedule during active firing room testing.

“The NTD office is at the center of testing operations, which will ensure that we are ready to fly the Artemis missions,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “As we lay the foundation for exploring our solar system, the NASA test directors are on the front lines of making it happen.”

An NTD works from a console in the firing room during integrated or hazardous testing, guiding the team through any contingency or emergency operations. They lead critical testing on Launch Pad 39B and the mobile launcher, the 370-foot-tall, 11 million-pound steel structure that will launch the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars. This includes sound suppression, fire suppression and cryogenic fluid flow tests, as well as testing the crew access arm and umbilicals — connections that will provide communications, coolant and fuel up until launch.

While the majority of work for the ground and flight systems is pre-liftoff, the job certainly doesn’t end there.

Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding
Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

“It culminates in a two-day launch countdown in which all of the groups, teams and assets are required to function together in an almost flawless performance to get us to launch,” said Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding.

Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. For Artemis I, he is leading the launch control team and support teams during the launch countdown for Blackwell-Thompson, who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of SLS.

Just over three miles from the launch pad, on launch day, Spaulding will be in the firing room running the final portion of cryogenic loading through launch. During this time, supercool propellants — called cryogenics — are loaded into the vehicle’s tanks. He will perform the same tasks for the wet dress rehearsal, which is a full practice countdown about two months before launch that includes fueling the tanks and replicating everything done for launch prior to main engine start.

At the end of the mission, part of the team will lead the recovery efforts aboard a Navy vessel after Orion splashdown. The NASA recovery director and supporting NTDs are responsible for planning and carrying out all operations to recover the Orion capsule onto a U.S. Navy ship. This includes working closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that teams coordinate recovery plans, meet requirements, and follow timelines and procedures to bring our heroes and spacecraft home quickly and safely.

“We are supported by numerous teams at Kennedy and elsewhere around the country that are helping us with our historic first flight as we blaze a path toward landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024,” Spaulding said.

Launch Abort Motor for Orion’s Artemis II Mission Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

The launch abort system motor for the Artemis II mission arrives at Kennedy Space Center on April 13, 1970.
The launch abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system (LAS) for Artemis II, enclosed in its shipping container, arrives at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 13, 2020. The motor arrived from Northrop Grumman in Promontory, Utah, and was transported to the Launch Abort System Facility where it will undergo testing in preparation for the second Artemis mission. The launch abort motor is one of three motors on the LAS. The LAS will be positioned atop the Orion crew module and is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket. Artemis II will take the first humans in orbit around the Moon in the 21st century.

Kennedy Space Center has received a critical piece of hardware in support of the Artemis II crewed mission. The launch abort motor for Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) arrived in Florida April 13 from Northrop Grumman in Promontory, Utah, and was transported to the Launch Abort System Facility where it will undergo testing in preparation for use on the second Artemis mission.

The launch abort motor is one of three motors on the LAS and is capable of producing about 400,000 pounds of thrust to steer and pull the crew module away from the rocket. The attitude control motor and the jettison motor complete the trio of motors responsible for controlling the LAS.

The LAS weighs about 16,000 pounds and is installed on top of the Orion crew module. It is designed to protect astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent. The system pulls the spacecraft away from a falling rocket and reorients the crew module to provide a safe landing for the crew.

Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon. Orion will launch atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket to carry astronauts to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. NASA will develop a sustainable presence at the Moon and apply knowledge gained to pave the way for human exploration of Mars.

NASA Helicopter Ready to Hitch a Ride to the Red Planet

NASA's Mars Helicopter inside Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility
NASA’s Mars Helicopter is installed on the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Mars Helicopter will make history in about 10 months when it becomes the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Now it has its ride to the Red Planet.

On April 6, 2020, the helicopter was attached to the belly of the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover. The installation took place inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the rover has remained since its Feb. 9, 2020, arrival from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA Mars Helicopter and Mars Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, carrying the agency’s Mars Helicopter, will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter weighs less than 4 pounds; the total length of its rotors is about 4 feet, tip to tip. Its main purpose is a technology demonstration. After Perseverance safely lands on Mars, the helicopter will be released to perform the first in a series of flight tests that will take place during 30 Martian days (a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).

For history’s first flight experimental flight test in the thin Martian atmosphere (less than 1% the density of Earth’s), the helicopter is tasked with hovering in the air a few feet off the ground for 20 to 30 seconds before landing. It is designed to fly on its own, without human control, using minimal commands from Earth sent in advance.

With the helicopter safely tucked away and covered by a shield to protect it during descent and landing, Perseverance will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket is targeted between July 17 and Aug. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch. For more in-depth information, visit the mission’s website.