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 Date Set for First Crew Flight from U.S. Soil Since 2011

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in preparation for the Demo-2 launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in preparation for the Demo-2 launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Crew Dragon will carry Behnken and Hurley atop a Falcon 9 rocket, returning crew launches to the space station from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. Photo credit: SpaceX

A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 p.m. EDT on May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission. The specific duration of the mission is to be determined.

As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.

The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars with the agency’s Artemis program.

To learn more about the Demo-2 mission and crew, read the full story at https://www.nasa.gov/specials/dm2.

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.

Wheels, Parachute Installed on Mars Perseverance Rover

Wheels are installed on NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on March 30, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

The assembly, test and launch operations team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, making significant strides in preparing the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover for its planned July 2020 launch. Final assembly and testing of the rover continue at Kennedy, including the recent installation of its wheels and parachute.

The rover received its six flight wheels on March 30. The wheels are re-engineered versions of the ones NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has been using on the Red Planet.

Perseverance, which was developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch. The rover will land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA Shows Perseverance with Helicopter, Cruise Stage Testing

NASA’s Mars Helicopter and its cruise stage undergo functional testing in the airlock inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on March 10, 2020.
NASA’s Mars Helicopter and its cruise stage undergo functional testing in the airlock inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on March 10, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The Mars 2020 mission involving NASA’s newly named rover — Perseverance — received a significant boost following the completion of important testing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Activities to measure mass properties of the Cruise Stage vehicle were performed on the spin table inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Successful testing also was performed on NASA’s Mars Helicopter, which will be attached to Perseverance. The functional test (50 RPM spin) was executed on the stand in the airlock. This marked the last time the rotor blades will be operated until the rover reaches the Martian surface.

The NASA Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying once mission managers determine an acceptable area to conduct test flights.

NASA’s Mars Helicopter and its cruise stage undergo functional testing in the airlock inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on March 10, 2020.
The NASA Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

On March 5, 2020, NASA announced Perseverance as the new name for the ars 2020 rover. Alexander Mather, a seventh-grader from Virginia, provided the winning name for the rover with his entry in the agency’s Name the Rover essay contest.

Perseverance will land on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket is targeted for mid-July from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance was developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The mission aims to search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of Mars.

For more in-depth information, visit the mission’s website.

SpaceX CRS-20 Prelaunch News Conference

SpaceX CRS-20 mission patch.A prelaunch news conference for SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station is set for 4 p.m. EST today.

Participants include:

  • Joel Montalbano, manager for International Space Station Program
  • Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for International Space Station Program
  • Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Space Wing, U.S. Air Force

Watch the news conference on NASA Television.

NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting 11:50 p.m. EST tonight, March 6, for the launch of resupply mission to the space station.

Follow the launch countdown tonight beginning at 11:30 p.m. on NASA TV and the launch blog. To learn more about the SpaceX CRS-20 mission, visit the mission homepage at http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

“What’s on Board” Briefing for SpaceX CRS-20 Mission

Airbus workers unpack the Bartolomeo platform in the Space Station Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 30, 2020.
Airbus workers unpack the Bartolomeo platform in the Space Station Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 30, 2020. Bartolomeo was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space. The platform will be delivered to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-20) mission for the agency. The platform will attach to the exterior of the space station’s European Columbus Module. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

A briefing about the science payloads for delivery on the SpaceX CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station is set for today at 3 p.m. Tune in to NASA Television. Participants include:

  • Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station Program Science Office, who will share an overview of the research being conducted aboard the space station and how it benefits exploration and humanity.
  • Michael Roberts, interim chief scientist for the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, who will discuss the lab’s work in advancing science in space, and in developing partnerships that drive industrialization through microgravity research.
  • Bill Corely, director of business development for Airbus Defence and Space, and Bartolomeo Project Manager Andreas Schutte, who will discuss Bartolomeo, a new commercial research platform from ESA (European Space Agency), set to be installed on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.
  • Chunhui Xu, associate professor of Emory University School of Medicine, and principle investigator for the Generation of Cardiomyocytes from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (MVP Cell-03) experiment, who will discuss the study on the generation of specialized heart muscle cells for use in research and clinical applications.
  • Paul Patton, senior manager, front end innovation and regulatory for Delta Faucet, and Garry Marty, principal product engineer for Delta Faucet, who will discuss the Droplet Formation Study, which evaluates water droplet formation and water flow of Delta Faucet’s H2Okinetic showerhead technology. This research in microgravity could help improve technology, creating better performance and improved user experience while conserving water and energy.
  • Aaron Beeler, professor of medicinal chemistry at Boston University, and principal investigator, and co-investigator Matthew Mailloux of Flow Chemistry Platform for Synthetic Reactions on ISS, which will study the effects of microgravity on chemical reactions, as a first step toward on-demand chemical synthesis on the space station.

Weather Forecast Favorable for SpaceX CRS-20 Launch

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo module lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2019, at 12:29 p.m. EST. It was SpaceX’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) mission for NASA to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo module lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2019, at 12:29 p.m. EST. It was SpaceX’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) mission for NASA to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray/Tim Terry/Kevin O’Connell

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the company’s 20th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Launch is scheduled for Friday, March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Skies will clear through the day Friday, and winds will become gusty out of the north as a high-pressure area moves east. The primary weather concern for launch is liftoff winds with the tight pressure gradient behind the front.

Mars 2020 Rover Undergoing Processing at Florida Spaceport

Mars 2020 rover at Kennedy Space Center
The launch of the Mars 2020 rover is targeted for mid-July. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Soon after its arrival to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week, the Mars 2020 rover was moved to the Florida spaceport’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, where it has been undergoing processing for its mission later this year. The spacecraft was flown to Kennedy from California aboard a C-17 aircraft on Feb. 12.

Targeted for mid-July 2020, the mission will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch is managed by the Launch Services Program.

The Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of Mars.