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.

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

Five Years and Counting

It’s been five yimageears since President Obama visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to outline his plan for America’s space program. The President’s speech took place at the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building, where since that time, Orion was processed and outfitted ahead of its first trip to space in December 2014. NASA-wide, significant progress had been made within the last five years, and the work to reach for new heights continues. Check out the progress NASA has made on our journey:

Secondary Payloads, New Partnerships Mark Progress Toward Deep Space Exploration

When NASsecondary payload imageA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) launches on its first flight, it will be doing some serious multi-tasking. Not only will Exploration Mission-1 test the performance of SLS and its integration with the Orion spacecraft – the agency plans to use its massive lift capability to carry nearly a dozen nano-satellites to conduct science experiments beyond low Earth orbit.

NASA’s newest rocket will launch Orion on an uncrewed test flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Tucked inside the stage adapter — the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS — will be 11 self-contained small satellites, each about the size of a large shoebox. About 10 minutes after Orion and its service module escape the pull of Earth’s gravity, the two will disconnect and Orion will proceed toward the moon. Once Orion is a safe distance away, the small payloads will begin to be deployed, all at various times during the flight depending on the particular missions.

These CubeSats are small nano-satellites designed to be efficient and versatile. The masses of these secondary payloads are light — no heavier than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) — and will not require any extra power from the vehicle to function. They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space. More information on the secondary payloads can be found here:

In other deep space news, NASA announced on March 30 a series of new partnerships with U.S. industry for key deep space capabilities. The agency selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites. Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars.

Results from these studies and hardware developments also will help determine the role for international partner involvement, by fully exploring domestic capabilities, and for Orion and SLS missions in cis-lunar space. This work also will advance system understanding and define a need for further testing of habitation systems and components on the International Space Station. For more information about the partnerships, including the companies selected, visit:


Orion spacesuit testing, preparations for Exploration Mission-1 in full swing

Across the country, teams are making progress ahead of the first flight of Orion atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers are testing spacesuits that will be worn by astronauts in Orion. The suit is a modified version of the launch and entry suit worn by space shuttle astronauts and is being upgraded to allow crews to conduct spacewalks and sustain them in the unlikely event Orion loses pressure.

At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an adapter that will connect the Orion crew module to the service module built by ESA (European Space Agency) is being prepared for shipment to the Space Power Facility at the agency’s Glenn Research Center Plum Brook Station in Ohio. Once the adapter and a structural test article of the service module arrive there, testing will be done to evaluate how the service module endures the environmental conditions it will experience on launch day.

Orion prograr photoam managers also recently visited NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, along with United Launch Alliance’s Decatur, Alabama facility, to thank employees for the work they did to make Orion’s December flight test successful. The week of March 23, the leadership team will visit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which provided spacecraft communications support during the flight test, as well as NASA Headquarters in Washington.

To check out photos of Orion progress, visit:

Orion heat shield arrives in Alabama for sampling while leadership team thanks industry contributors

The heat shield for Orion completed its trek from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where engineers from both Marshall and the agency’s Ames Research Center in California are collecting samples of the ablative material on the heat shield, called Avcoat.

The samples wheat shieldill be used by engineers to examine the char layers and degree of erosion, and along with other data, will be analyzed to determine whether any improvements need to be made to the heat shield before Orion begins carrying astronauts to deep space destinations.

The heat shield was sent to Marshall because it has machinery and fixtures that can accommodate the 13-foot diameter heat shield. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is managed at Marshall, so the North Alabama team is accustomed to working with large structures.

Meanwhile, Orion program managers from both NASA and Lockheed Martin continued their visits to American companies which contributed elements to Orion. The second week of March took them to Washington state and to Utah.

Systima Technologies of Kirkland, Washington performed work on Orion’s forward bay cover, which protected the top portion of the crew module during launch, flight and re-entry. General Dynamics OTS provided mortar systems for Orion’s parachutes. Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Washington worked on the diaphragm for Orion’s stage adapter, which was used to keep rocket gases away from the spacecraft, while Aerojet Rocketdyne personnel in Redmond, Washington provided propulsion for Orion.

Several members of the Orion leadership team also visited Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah, where the company performed a major qualification test for the booster that will propel NASA’s Space Launch System, with Orion atop it, to space. The company also built Orion’s Launch Abort System.

During the week of March 16, managers will continue their visits to major Orion contributors, visiting NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Marshall, United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Orion Leadership Team Takes to the Road

After Orion’s successful flight test in December, NASA and Lockheed Martin program managers who oversaw the design, development and test of the spacecraft are on the move to thank employees across the country who contributed hardware, testing and other elements for Orion’s maiden voyage to space. More than 1,000 companies contributed parts for the spacecraft, showcasing American ingenuity and manufacturing capabilities.

In March, Orion’s leadGeyer thanksership team will travel to several places in California, Washington, Utah, Alabama and Maryland, to name just a few states they’ll visit, to meet the people who invested time and energy into the countless elements that had to work for the flight to be successful.

On March 2, the Orion managers thanked employees at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. Teams there used the center’s Arc Jet facility to simulate the heating and air flow conditions that occurred on Orion during atmospheric reentry. Ames also developed a group of sensors on the heat shield and performed wind tunnel testing. Later this week, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Orion leadership team will thank engineers who contributed to testing of the spacecraft’s Thermal Protection System and drogue parachutes. Managers also will pay a visit to Aerojet Rocketdyne in Sacramento, and to Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale facility. Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion played a critical role during Orion’s flight test, and the protective fairings surrounding Orion’s service module were tested in Sunnyvale.