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.

View Orion Work on Flickr

As NASA’s Orion Program continues developing and building the spacecraft that will fly to space atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket to new destinations in the solar system, we’re sharing our progress on Orion’s Flickr site.

NASA's Orion Deputy Program Manager Mark Kirasich, right, visits the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where Orion's primary structure is assembled.
NASA’s Orion Deputy Program Manager Mark Kirasich, right, visits the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where Orion’s primary structure is assembled.

There we have photos of recent visits by Orion Program managers to companies around the country which are building critical pieces of the spacecraft, engineers getting essential hardware elements ready for testing, images of the Orion that flew in space in 2014 and many of the people who have contributed their expertise, energy and time to develop, build and fly the spacecraft that will help push the boundaries of human space exploration. Check it out!

Crew Module Adapter Simulator Arrives to NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station for Testing

Orion's crew module adapter simulator arrives to NASA Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio.
Orion’s crew module adapter simulator arrives to NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio.

Orion’s crew module adapter (CMA) simulator arrived at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio on June 22. The simulator was built at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and moved to Plum Brook for Orion service module testing scheduled to begin later this year. At Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility, the CMA and the service module provided by ESA (European Space Agency) will be integrated and then undergo acoustics and mechanical vibration tests that simulate the noise and shaking the service module will endure when the spacecraft heads to space atop the Space Launch System rocket. The service module is a critical part of Orion and houses all the air, nitrogen and water for crews, in-space propulsion, and batteries and solar arrays to generate power.

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!

50 Years of Spacewalks, Mission Control Legacy Lay Foundation for Deep Space Missions

Ed WhiteNASA recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk on June 3, 1965. On that day, supported by a mission control team in Houston, Ed White (shown above) exited his spacecraft during the Gemini 4 mission and spent more than 20 minutes in the void of space. Since this historic first, NASA astronauts have performed spacewalks, or extravehicular activity (EVA) in NASA-speak, on the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Astronauts have explored the lunar surface, completed 82 spacewalks outside of the space shuttle, and 187 spacewalks, to date, outside the International Space Station. A total of 166 hours of spacewalks were carried out to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, NASA is developing new advanced spacesuits for use by astronauts as they travel to new deep-space destinations on the journey to Mars.

Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston continue to test the spacesuit astronauts will wear in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on trips to deep space. The Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit is a closed-loop version of the launch and entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts. In addition, a next-generation suit will incorporate a number of technology advances to shorten preparation time, improve safety and boost astronaut capabilities during spacewalks and surface activities.

Check out this video on the legacy of 50 years of spacewalk activities that paved the way for future missions.

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.

Orion Test Lab Mockup for Next Flight Finished

The construction of an Orion crew module and crew module adapter full-scale mockup has been completed at the Littleton, Colorado facility of Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion. This mockup was transferred to the company’s Orion Test Lab on May 13, where engineers will configure it with the exact harnessing, electrical power, sensors, avionics and flight software needed to support Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first flight of Orion atop LM mockupNASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Orion’s team of engineers will use the mockup to verify the configuration of these vehicle components for EM-1, which ultimately saves assembly time and reduces risk. The mockup will then be connected to hardware emulations of the full EM-1 stack (Orion crew module, European Service Module, second stage booster and the Space Launch System) as well as ground support equipment. Once it’s connected, the team will simulate and test every aspect of the EM-1 mission from launch to splashdown. Orion will enable astronauts to explore new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and on toward Mars.

NASA Announces Journey to Mars Challenge, Seeks Public Input on Establishing Sustained Human Presence on Red Planet

What do you need to bring, and how do you minimize the need for delivery of future supplies in order to establish a sustained human presence on a planet 140 million miles away from Earth?Marscape_shorttail_PRINT(1)

NASA is embarking on an ambitious journey to Mars and has announced a challenge inviting the public to write down their ideas, in detail, for developing the elements of space pioneering necessary to establish a continuous human presence on the Red Planet. This could include shelter, food, water, breathable air, communication, exercise, social interactions and medicine, but participants are encouraged to consider innovative and creative elements beyond these examples.

Participants are asked to describe one or more Mars surface systems or capabilities and operations that are needed to achieve this goal and, to the greatest extent possible, are technically achievable, economically sustainable, and minimize reliance on support from Earth. NASA expects to make up to three awards at a minimum of $5,000 each from a total award pool of $15,000.

NASA’s efforts for sending humans to Mars is well underway today, with spacecraft monitoring Mars from orbit and rovers on the surface. The International Space Station is testing systems and is being used to learn more about the health impacts of extended space travel. NASA also is testing and developing its next generation of launch and crew vehicles — Orion and the Space Launch System.

More information and details on how to participate are here

Orion efforts recognized by Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation

Orion took a large slice of the cake at the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) annual gala, held April 24 in Houston. The RNASA Foundation, which recognizes outstanding achievements in space and contributes to public awareness of the benefits of space exploration, awarded several team and individual awards, of which work on Orion took a large share.

late careerNASA’s management team for Orion’s flight test in December 2014, called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) and the industry team that supported the flight were both recognized with Stellar Awards for their efforts, while Orion’s hardware development team from Lockheed Martin, which is NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, was also recognized. Individual Stellar Awards were given to Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, Orion Chief Engineer Julie Kramer White and several individuals from Lockheed Martin who contributed to Orion.

Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Orion is put together and processed before launch, received RNASA’s top award, the National Space Trophy.

In this photo, several winners of the RNASA Stellar Award pose during RNASA’s annual gala. Mark Geyer, Orion program manager, is third from right.