Countdown to Deep Space

Test of RS-25 Rocket Engine
NASA’s countdown to deep space continued Aug. 13 with a 535-second test of its Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine to collect engine performance data at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

On Thursday, Aug. 13, NASA engineers fired up a Space Launch System RS-25 rocket engine at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in the latest test to collect performance data that will be used to ready the engines for missions to deep space. Orion and the astronauts it carries will fly atop the Space Launch System on missions to an asteroid and eventually on the journey to Mars.

Engineers Begin Testing Elements for Orion Service Module

The Orion crew module adapter structural test article
The Orion crew module adapter structural test article is hoisted at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Credit: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, began the first of a series of modal tests on a structural representation of the crew module adapter (CMA) for Orion. The CMA will connect the capsule to the ESA (European Space Agency)-provided service module for the spacecraft’s next mission, Exploration Mission-1. The service module is designed to be the powerhouse that fuels and propels Orion in space.

The tests at Plum Brook Station shake structural elements at various frequencies to simulate how launch vibrations and acoustics will affect the spacecraft during its trip to space atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. They are being conducted ahead of the arrival of a structural representation of the ESA service module to the facility this fall for additional testing.

Engineers are using a “building block” approach to testing in which they evaluate each piece as the elements composing the service module are stacked atop each other to validate it before flight hardware begins arriving in 2017.

NASA Continues Journey to Mars with LDSD, SLS Engine Tests

Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator
Two members of the U.S. Navy’s Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 Explosive Ordnance Detachment work on recovering the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. The saucer-shaped LDSD craft splashed down at 11:49 a.m. HST (2:49 PDT/5:49 p.m. EDT) Monday, June 8, 2015, in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the Kauai, Hawaii, after a four-hour experimental flight test that investigated new technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions. Credit: U.S. Navy.

This week, engineers completed the second experimental test flight of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). During the flight, which took place June 8, the team tested two decelerator technologies that could enable larger payloads to land safely on the surface of Mars, and allow access to more of the planet’s surface by assisting landings at higher-altitude sites.  The technology is critical to enabling our journey to Mars. Read about the test here.

Meanwhile, NASA completed another test June 11 of the RS-25 engine that will power the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with Orion atop it to space. This is the third firing of an RS-25 development engine on the A-1 test stand at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Four more test are planned for the current development engine.

New video animation also was released this week showing SLS launching Orion to deep space destinations. Check out the smoke and fire!

Space Launch System Hits Engine Milestones for Missions with Orion

Test of the RS-25 Rocket Engine
Engineers at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, conducted a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will launch Orion on missions to deep space destinations like an asteroid and on toward Mars marked important steps this week to prepare for journeys beyond Earth orbit.

Engineers at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, conducted a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28. The hotfire test was conducted on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket stages and Space Shuttle Program main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA’s new rocket with Orion atop it.

One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or “brain.” The RS-25 is unique among many engines in that it automatically runs through its cycles and programs. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. The performance specifications, such as what percentage of thrust is needed and when, are programmed into the controller before the engines are fired. For example, if the engine is required to cycle up to 90 percent thrust, the controller monitors the fuel mixture ratio and regulates the thrust accordingly. It is essential that the controller communicates clearly with the engine; the SLS will be bigger than previous rockets and fly unprecedented missions, and its engines will have to perform in new ways.

Engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne also completed RS-25 Engine 2063 at Stennis, after approximately three months of work. The new engine becomes the 16th assembled RS-25 flight engine in inventory for SLS flights. The engine will be one of four RS-25s used to power Exploration Mission 2, the second SLS launch with Orion targeted for the 2021 time frame. Testing of these four engines will begin later this year as work accelerates on NASA’s newest launch vehicle. Four previously-flown RS-25s will be attached to the first SLS core stage and test fired together as a stage before being approved for the first SLS launch planned for 2018, the first integrated mission with Orion. Check out more, including a timelapse video of the assembly here.

Hubble Opened Eyes to Universe For Exploration in Orion

Orion EarthThis week NASA marked both Earth Day and the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch on April 24, 1990. The spectacular images of the cosmos provided by Hubble and the many photos and videos submitted by the public representing their favorites places on Earth as part of the agency’s #NoPlaceLikeHome campaign are a reminder of the incredible tools in space we have to explore new destinations and understand our home planet. On future Orion missions, astronauts will be able to gather spectacular imagery of Earth and other planetary bodies to help us explore places we’ve never been. Today, engineers across the country are hard at work developing and building Orion to make it all possible. This photo was Orion’s view from about 3,600 miles above Earth during its recent flight test.

NASA’s gallery of Hubble images

Earth Day imagery

Administrator Surveys Orion

2015-1019
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, center, looks at the heat shield of Orion as Kelvin Manning, associate director of Kennedy Space Center, left, and Jules Schneider accompany him. Photo credits: NASA/Cory Huston

2015-1020NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden looked over the agency’s Orion spacecraft this morning for the first time since it returned to Kennedy Space Center following the successful Orion flight test on Dec. 5. Bearing the marks of a spacecraft that has returned to Earth through a searing plunge into the atmosphere, Orion is perched on a pedestal inside the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy where it is going through post-mission processing. Although the spacecraft Bolden looked over did not fly with a crew aboard during the flight test, Orion is designed to carry astronauts into deep space in the future setting NASA and the nation firmly on the journey to Mars.

Reentry Through the Eyes of Orion

orionreentryvideo-plasmaWe can’t give you a ride inside Orion firsthand, but we can show what it looked like from the spacecraft thanks to cameras aboard the ship during the 4.5-hour flight test on Dec. 5. The last 10 minutes of Orion’s flight test show the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere, when searing plasma so hot it appears purple (upper left) surrounds Orion.

Orionreentryvideo-chutesdeployA few minutes later you can witness the jettison of the forward bay cover, followed by the release of the drogue chutes and then the main chutes (lower left). It’s all right there before your eyes just as it happened on Orion and how future astronauts will see it when they return from deep space missions and one day coming home from Mars.  

Read more details about the video and Orion: http://go.nasa.gov/1AP2RfC.

Read Details about Orion’s Recovery

It took a team of divers, handlers and spacecraft specialists from NASA, the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin to pull Orion from the sea following the spacecraft’s successful flight test and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Read about the work performed Dec. 5 to secure Orion inside the USS Anchorage before bringing the spacecraft back to shore to begin its cross-country  road trip back to Florida. http://go.nasa.gov/1Gpq7CJ15355316984_12c3d598ba_o

President Congratulates Orion Chief Engineer and Team

President Obama, speaking to the Senior Executive Service, recognized Julie Kramer White, Orion’s chief engineer, for the successful Orion flight test. He also noted the spacecraft’s mission, saying that “when a human is the first to set foot (on Mars), they will have Julie and her team to thank and at that point, I’ll be out of the presidency and I might hitch a ride.”

Here’s Julie’s bio: http://women.nasa.gov/julie-kramer-white