Final stacking operations for NASA’s mega-Moon rocket are underway inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the Orion spacecraft is lifted onto the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission. Engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs attached the spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the building and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT.
Next, teams will slowly lower it onto the fully stacked SLS rocket and connect it to the Orion Stage Adapter. This will require the EGS team to align the spacecraft perfectly with the adapter before gently attaching the two together. This operation will take several hours to make sure Orion is securely in place.
NASA will provide an update once stacking for the Artemis I mission is complete.
NASA’s Large Vehicle Landing Surface Interaction project team is working to develop a landing pad concept for the Moon that could one day be constructed directly on the lunar surface. Researchers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida who are working on improving plume surface interaction models traveled to the Mojave Desert in California to conduct materials testing with Masten Space Systems late last year. Using hot gas from a rocket engine, they conducted a series of hot fire tests on samples of various materials similar to those found on the surface of the Moon. These tests examined the suitability of the materials that could be used in the construction of landing pads on the lunar surface for large landers—materials like sintered basalt rock pavers, carbon fiber blankets, and carbon fiber blankets filled with a lunar regolith simulant. Data from the hot fire testing will be used to design landing pad concepts for future NASA and commercial human lunar missions.
In addition to hot fire test data, the team is developing models to better understand how a lander can affect the lunar surface. This data will allow NASA to identify safe locations for large landers and help enable the agency’s Artemis missions. NASA’s Large Vehicle Landing Surface Interaction project is a public-private partnership with SpaceX under the 2019 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity.
Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 8 to reflect that the team is working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022 for Orbital Flight Test-2.
The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.
“I am proud of the work our integrated teams are doing,” said Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “This is a complex issue involving hazardous commodities and intricate areas of the spacecraft that are not easily accessed. It has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine.”
Boeing has demonstrated success in valve functionality using localized heating and electrical charging techniques. Troubleshooting on the pad, at the launch complex, and inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center has resulted in movement of all but one of the original stuck valves. That valve has not been moved intentionally to preserve forensics for direct root cause analysis.
Most items on the fault tree have been dispositioned by the team including causes related to avionics, flight software and wiring. Boeing has identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions, and although some verification work remains underway, our confidence is high enough that we are commencing corrective and preventive actions. Additional spacecraft and component testing will be conducted in the coming weeks to further explore contributing factors and necessary system remediation before flight.
Boeing completed a partial disassembly of three of the affected Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) thruster valves last month and plans to remove three valves from the OFT-2 spacecraft in the coming weeks for further inspection. The team also is evaluating additional testing to repeat the initial valve failures.
Boeing has identified several paths forward depending on the outcome of the testing to ultimately resolve the issue and prevent it from happening on future flights. These options could range from minor refurbishment of the current service module components to using another service module already in production. Each option is dependent on data points the team expects to collect in the coming weeks including a timeline for safely proceeding back to the launch pad.
“Safety of the Starliner spacecraft, our employees, and our crew members is this team’s number one priority,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Starliner program. “We are taking the appropriate amount of time to work through the process now to set this system up for success on OFT-2 and all future Starliner missions.”
Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range. The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022 pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.
The peppers developed from flowers that bloomed over the past few weeks. Peppers are self-pollinating, and once pollination occurred, peppers started forming 24 to 48 hours later; however, not all pollinated flowers developed into peppers.
A unique feature of the APH is that it can be controlled remotely. To pollinate the flowers in orbit, the team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center instructed APH to run its fans at variable rates to create a gentle breeze in microgravity to agitate the flowers and encourage the transfer of pollen. The space station crew also provided assistance by hand pollinating some of the flowers.
Studies of fruit development in microgravity are limited, and NASA researchers have noted lower fruit development versus ground observations in this experiment for reasons that are not fully understood at this point. Overcoming the challenges of growing fruit in microgravity is important for long-duration missions during which crew members will need good sources of Vitamin C – such as peppers – to supplement their diets.
The average length for this type of pepper is just over three inches in ground tests. Hatch chile peppers are a mild heat pepper that starts out as green and will ripen to red over time, but it’s unknown what effect microgravity will have on the length to which they grow and their potency.
Astronauts will perform two harvests this year – one at 100 days in late October, and one at 120 days in early November. At those times, astronauts will sanitize the peppers, eat part of their harvests, and return the rest to Earth for analysis.
I loved getting my hands on the pepper plants and pollinating them! I felt a much higher-than-usual level of focus compared to tending plants on Earth. Of course I played Red Hot Chili Peppers for them! 🌶 See why we are growing this complicated crop: https://t.co/7YJ8yfrRfPpic.twitter.com/8MnpLVbYoA
SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft completed a successful parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 30. The capsule undocked from the station’s forward port of the Harmony module Thursday at 9:12 a.m., completing the voyage in approximately 14 hours.
This marked the first time Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity to the coast of Florida enabled quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers hours after splashdown. The shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.
Dragon launched Aug. 29 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station the following day. The spacecraft delivered more than 4,800 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost.
GOES-T will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket. The two-hour launch window will open at 4:40 p.m. EST. This launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center.
GOES-T is the third satellite in the GOES-R Series, which will extend NOAA’s operational geostationary satellite observations through 2036. The GOES satellite network helps meteorologists observe and predict local weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, hurricanes, flash floods and other severe weather.
NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA office, administering the ground system contract, operating the satellites, and distributing their data to users worldwide. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R spacecraft and instruments. Lockheed Martin designs, creates, and tests the GOES-R Series satellites. L3Harris Technologies provides the main instrument payload, the Advanced Baseline Imager, along with the ground system, which includes the antenna system for data reception.
Looking forward, NOAA is working with NASA on the next-generation geostationary satellite mission called Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO), which will bring new capabilities in support of U.S. weather, ocean, and climate operations in the 2030s. NASA will manage the development of the GeoXO satellites and launch them for NOAA.
After a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully carried the Landsat 9 spacecraft into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Sept. 27, the satellite now joins Landsat 8 in orbit and replaces Landsat 7, launched in 1999.
Landsat 9 and Landsat 8 will collect images from across the planet every eight days. This calibrated data will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring the health of Earth and helping people manage essential resources, including crops, irrigation water, and forests.
“Landsat provides one basic set of observations that feeds an entire range of Earth science applications and research,” said NASA Landsat 9 Project Scientist Jeff Masek.
Images from Landsat 9 will be added to nearly 50 years of free and publicly available data from the mission – the longest data record of Earth’s landscapes taken from space. Landsat’s medium-resolution imaging capability allows researchers to harmonize the images to detect the footprint of human activities and their impact on our home planet over the decades.
“We have over 2,000 peer-reviewed publications every year in the scientific literature that depend on the Landsat archive,” Masek said. “Landsat is our best source for understanding rates of tropical deforestation, as well as other forest dynamics like disturbances from hurricanes, wildfires, insect outbreaks, as well as the recovery of those disturbances over time.”
As Landsat 9 orbits Earth, it captures scenes across a swath 185 kilometers (115) miles wide. Each pixel in these images is 30 meters across, or about the size of a baseball infield, which allows resource managers to resolve most crop fields in the United States. Its instruments collect images of Earth’s landscapes in visible, near and shortwave (reflected) infrared, and thermal infrared wavelengths. Like its predecessors, Landsat 9 is a joint effort of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The USGS collection data allow the science, government, civil, and international user communities to map wildfires, primary and secondary contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, ice cover persistence, melt, water clarity, water quality, floating algae biomass, landcover that’s changed, and also urban growth and the heat island effects on local and regional temperature,” said USGS Project Scientist Chris Crawford. “The USGS 5-year archive provides a highly reliable, highly stable, and high-quality terrestrial and aquatic imaging record that can enable the quantification of space and time effects of climate variability and change on both human and natural systems.”
Since the launch of the first Landsat satellite in 1972, the mission’s archive has grown to contain more than 8 million images. Landsat 9 data will add to this archive to better our understanding of Earth in innumerable ways – from tracking water use in crop fields in the western United States, to monitoring deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, to measuring the speed of Antarctic glaciers. Decision makers from across the globe use the freely available Landsat data to better understand environmental change, forecast global crop production, respond to natural disasters, and more. The usefulness of the data stems from the careful design and engineering of the satellite and the mission.
“Landsat allows us to track in near real time, and in a consistent way, changes to our planet and specifically to our agricultural lands,” said Inbal Becker-Reshef, program director of NASA Harvest, the agency’s food security and agriculture program. “One of the biggest stories of landcover change Landsat has been instrumental to reveal and to track has been the rapid deforestation in the Amazon in South America, in large part driven by agricultural expansion for pastures and croplands. Without Landsat’s historical data archive, we wouldn’t be able to track such massive land changes, which have critical implications for Earth’s ecosystems, biodiversity, and for climate.”
Landsat 9 is designed to last at least five years on orbit but has enough fuel to operate for at least 15 years, including de-orbit, though it could last for 20 or more years. Data from the satellite will become available to the public after completion of the satellite’s 100-day checkout period in January. The next Landsat mission is already in the works, with a series of planned enhancements, including higher spatial resolution, more spectral bands, and more frequent coverage, which are the highest priorities from the Landsat user communities.
The Landsat 9 satellite has separated from the Centaur second stage.
Once online, Landsat 9 will take its place as the most advanced satellite in the Landsat series and extend the data record of Earth’s land surface that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972. Landsat’s high-quality scientific data makes multi-decadal time series studies possible, and its data are regularly used for land management efforts around the world.
The United Launch Alliance Centaur second stage achieved the desired near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit for Landsat 9 just over 16 minutes into flight. It is now coasting to the other side of the Earth to release the spacecraft just over an hour from now.
Landsat 9, powered by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket, has lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California today, Sept. 27! Launch occurred at 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT).