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Production of Key Equipment Paves Way for NASA SLS RS-25 Testing

STENNIS -  NASA plans to begin testing RS-25 engines for its new Space Launch System (SLS) in the fall of 2014, and the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi has a very big -- literally -- item to complete on the preparation checklist.

Fabrication recently began at Stennis on a new 7,755-pound thrust frame adapter for the A-1 Test Stand to enable testing of the engines that will provide core-stage power for NASA's SLS. The stand component is scheduled to be completed and installed by November 2013.

Design image shows a RS-25 rocket engine installed on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. (NASA/SSC)
 

"We initially thought we would have to go offsite to have the equipment built," said Gary Benton, RS-25 test project manager at Stennis. "However, the Stennis design team figured out a way to build it here with resulting cost and schedule savings. It’s a big project and a critical one to ensure we obtain accurate data during engine testing."

Each rocket engine type requires a thrust frame adapter unique to its specifications. On the test stand, the adapter is attached to the thrust measurement system. A rocket engine then is attached to the adapter, which must hold the engine in place and absorb the thrust produced during a test, while allowing accurate measurement of the engine performance.

The J-2X equipment installed on the A-1 Test Stand now cannot be used to test RS-25 engines since it does not match the engine specifications and thrust requirements. For instance, the J-2X engine is capable of producing 294,000 pounds of thrust. The RS-25 engine will produce approximately 530,000 pounds of thrust.

NASA and the Lockheed Martin Test Operations Contract Group team worked together in designing the new adapter to make sure such requirements were met. They also communicated closely with the Jacobs Technology welding and machine shop teams to make sure what was being designed actually could be built.

The design had to account for a number of considerations, such as specific stresses on the equipment as an engine is fired and then gimbaled (rotated) during a test; what type and strength of bolts are needed to fully secure the equipment; and what materials can be used to build the adapter.

"This is a very specific process," Benton said. "It is critical that thrust data not be skewed or compromised during a test, so the adapter has to be precisely designed and constructed."

The fabrication process itself involves handling and shaping large segments of certain material, which required welders to receive specialized training. In addition, shop personnel had to create a welding procedure for dealing with the chosen construction material. For instance, the area of material being welded must maintain a heat of 300 degrees in order to ensure welds bond properly. That procedure and other specifications are being incorporated into Stennis standards.

"It's a challenging project," said Kent Morris, RS-25 project manager for Jacobs Technology. "It's similar to the J-2X adapter project, but larger. It will take considerable man hours to perform the welding and machining needed on the material. The material used for the engine mounting block alone is 32 inches in diameter and 20 inches thick."

Physically, the adapter is the largest facility item on the preparation checklist for RS-25 testing, but it is far from the only one, Benton said. Additional modifications will be made to the test stand configuration and equipment once J-2X gimbal testing is complete this summer.

Once testing begins, engineers and test team personnel at Stennis will draw on a wealth of engine testing experience. The RS-25 engines, previously known as the space shuttle main engines were tested at Stennis for more than three decades.

 
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Orion Crew Module Undergoes Static Load Tests

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER - Completely surrounded by a massive 20-foot-high structure called the crew module static load test fixture, the Orion crew module is being put through a series of tests that simulate the massive loads the spacecraft would experience during its mission. 

Orion is NASA’s new exploration spacecraft, designed to carry humans farther into space than ever before. During its first flight test next year, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), it will travel 3,600 miles into space and return to Earth. This will allow NASA to evaluate Orion’s performance in preparation for future deep space journeys. 

Orion in the test stand. Photo Credit: NASA/KimShiflett

Lockheed Martin Space Systems began static loads testing May 3 on the Orion EFT-1 crew module inside the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Technicians will use hydraulic cylinders to slowly apply pressure to various areas of the vehicle to simulate the loads it will be exposed to at different phases of the mission. 

The tests will run throughout May and June, with different phases simulating launch, ascent, launch abort, launch abort system separation, reentry and landing. Lockheed Martin is conducting the tests based on a set of prototype flight requirements. 

“We perform these tests to ensure the structural integrity of the crew module,” said Carlos Garcia, a test engineer in the Orion Production Office at Kennedy. 

During the months and weeks leading up to the static tests, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians configured Orion for its placement on the test fixture and staged the associated equipment and hardware that would be needed to verify Orion is one step closer to being flight ready. 

The pressurized crew module will be put through a series of eight different load tests, each one taking up to three days to complete. Each test will focus on a different area of the crew module and require a different configuration of the hydraulic actuators that are attached to it. 

“The first four tests represent the ascent regime and the last four represent the re-entry flight regime,” Garcia said. 

One of the tests also will allow engineers to test repairs they made to cracks in the crew module’s aluminum bulkhead that occurred last November. The cracks appeared as the vehicle was being pressurized for a proof pressure test aimed at verifying the vehicle’s structural integrity and validating engineering models used to design it. 

Repairs were made to the vehicle, and the series of tests provides an opportunity to repeat the proof pressure tests to ensure that they will hold, according to Garcia. 

More than 1,600 strain gauges have been attached to Orion’s external surface and inside the crew module to verify the crew cabin structure. Cameras have been placed around Orion to record any movement during the load tests. 

Several other sensors have been attached at various locations around and beneath Orion to measure any deflection or expansion during the repeat of the proof pressure test. 

“The set of tests are critical to build the foundation for the future of spaceflight,” said Steve Cook, the Lockheed Martin Project Orion mechanical test engineer lead. “We learn from our successes and challenges.” 

Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers will monitor the tests from the completely refurbished lower level of the high bay, called the “tunnel,” as its control room to fully execute the tests and compare the results with stress model predictions. 

The Operations and Checkout Building serves as the final assembly and checkout facility for Orion. 

EFT-1 is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in 2014. The agency’s Space Launch System rocket will begin launching Orion in 2017. 

 
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ATK Solid Rocket Boosters Complete Major Space Launch System Program Milestone

ARLINGTON, Va., PRNewswire/ -- ATK (NYSE: ATK) has successfully completed its solid rocket booster Preliminary Design Review (PDR) with NASA for the new Space Launch System (SLS). The PDR milestone indicates the booster design is on track to support first flight of the SLS in 2017. The SLS vehicle will support NASA's human spaceflight exploration to all destinations beyond low-earth orbit.

The forward segment for ATK's five-segment motor test, QM-1, scheduled for later this year, was recently installed in test bay T-97 in Promontory, Utah. The motor is expected to be completely installed in its test stand this fall. A successful Preliminary Design Review was recently completed with NASA for the five-segment solid rocket booster. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

"This is a tremendous milestone for ATK as we work toward building the boosters for our country's Space Launch System," said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK's Space Launch division. "NASA's SLS will enable human exploration for decades to come."

With the successful completion of PDR, the SLS booster design can now proceed with the associated activities required to advance the design toward Critical Design Review (CDR). Additionally, a ground static firing of qualification motor-1 is planned for later this year at ATK.

"The booster PDR was successful and speaks to the importance of a collaborative design process with our NASA customer" said Fred Brasfield, ATK vice president, Next-generation Booster.

The SLS booster PDR is a significant step toward providing the necessary technical and programmatic information needed for NASA to obtain approval to proceed with development of the Space Launch System—which will support a variety of missions of national and international importance.

ATK has 29 key suppliers across 16 states: Alabama, Arizona,  California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky,  Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

ATK is an aerospace, defense, and commercial products company with operations in 22 states, Puerto Rico, and internationally. News and information can be found on the Internet at www.atk.com.

 
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Success Continues as NASA's Orion Parachute Tests Get More Difficult

WASHINGTON -- A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft safely landed during a simulation of two types of parachute failures Wednesday.

In the test, conducted in Yuma, Ariz., the mock capsule was traveling about 250 mph when the parachutes were deployed. That is the highest speed the craft has experienced as part of the test series designed to certify Orion's parachute system for carrying humans.

Orion exits its transport plane and begins its fall to Earth. This image is from a test earlier this year. Photo Credit: NASA

Engineers rigged one of the test capsule's two drogue parachutes not to deploy and one of its three main parachutes to skip its first stage of inflation after being extracted from a plane 25,000 feet above the Arizona desert. Drogue parachutes are used to slow and reorient Orion while the main parachutes inflate in three stages to gradually slow the capsule further as it descends.

The failure scenario, one of the most difficult simulated so far, will provide data engineers need for human rating the parachute system.

"The tests continue to become more challenging, and the parachute system is proving the design's redundancy and reliability," said Chris Johnson, NASA's project manager for the Orion parachute assembly system. "Testing helps us gain confidence and balance risk to ensure the safety of our crew."

Orion has the largest parachute system ever built for a human-rated spacecraft. The canopies of the three main parachutes can cover almost an entire football field. After reentering Earth's atmosphere, astronauts will use the parachutes to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Testing irregularities allows engineers to verify the parachutes are reliable even when something goes wrong. The tests provide information to refine models used to build the system and Orion. Changes to the design and materials used in Orion's parachute system already have been made based on previous tests. Other government or commercial spacecraft using a similar parachute system also can benefit from the work done to validate Orion.

"Parachute deployment is inherently chaotic and not easily predictable," said Stu McClung, Orion's landing and recovery system manager. "Gravity never takes any time off -- there's no timeout. The end result can be very unforgiving. That's why we test. If we have problems with the system, we want to know about them now."

Orion's next Earth-based parachute test is scheduled for July, when the test capsule will be released from 35,000 feet, a higher altitude than ever before. The first test of the parachutes after traveling in space will be during Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014, when an uncrewed Orion will be return from 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. The spacecraft will be traveling at about 340 mph when the parachutes deploy.

 

 
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NASA On Course to Launch Orion Flight Test

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER -  The first spacecraft NASA has designed to fly astronauts beyond Earth orbit since the Apollo era is well on its way to making a flight test next year, agency officials said Wednesday. The mission is planned for launch in September 2014, and will see an Orion capsule orbit Earth without a crew and return through the atmosphere at speeds unseen since astronauts last returned from the moon in 1972.

"It's a key element of our overall plan to get humans beyond Earth orbit as quickly as we can," said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Development Division.

Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, will be the first chance engineers get to test Orion's design in space. Flying atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, the spacecraft will be pressurized as it would be if astronauts were onboard. It will orbit the Earth twice on a track that will take it more than 3,600 miles above us, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station.

From that height, Orion will be steered to a re-entry at speeds of about 20,000 mph, slamming into the atmosphere to test whether the heat shield will protect the spacecraft adequately.

"It allows us to stress the heat shield in conditions that are very close to what we will see coming back from a region around the moon," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is going to help us make our heat shield lighter, safer and more reliable."

Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the spacecraft will carry scores of instruments. Even the heat shield will have instruments to measure temperature and plasma flow around the spacecraft as it endures the searing conditions of high-speed reentry.

Engineers will use the readings to update computer models and refine designs for the spacecraft, ground support equipment and the in-development Space Launch System rocket. The agency also will provide the data to the agency's commercial partners developing their own spacecraft.

Orion will land under parachutes in the Pacific Ocean where recovery teams from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Department of Defense will retrieve it and return it to Florida.

Just as the mission will help spacecraft designers, the recovery will show those on the ground what to expect when they begin retrieving crews after long missions into deep space, said Pepper Phillips, director of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program based at Kennedy.

"The teams are exercising some static tests now, but we're going to be ready with this full-up active test of a live spacecraft," Phillips told reporters who had gathered in the Young-Crippen Firing Room at Kennedy for the update Feb. 27.

The firing room, which has been refurbished and extensively modified since last hosting a space shuttle launch, will give engineers direct links to the Orion after it is powered up later this year. Launch controllers will follow the mission from the same firing room, as well.

NASA designed Orion as a versatile spacecraft able to handle the hardships of flying safely far beyond Earth's atmosphere to take astronauts to distant destinations such as an asteroid and Mars. Starting in 2017, Orion spacecraft will be paired with the agency's Space Launch System (SLS), a massive rocket in development more powerful than the Saturn V that propelled astronauts to the moon.

Although EFT-1 will focus largely on testing the Orion spacecraft, it also will aid the teams designing and building the SLS, said Todd May, program manager for the new booster.

"There are a lot of things about this mission that helps SLS," May said. "A lot of this data we're going to use to understand the structural properties, the aero-loading, the guidance navigation and control that we feed back into our calculations."

The SLS team, based at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala., designed and built an adapter ring for this mission that will connect Orion's broad base with the much narrower Delta IV second stage.

While the Orion spacecraft takes shape inside the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, the heat shield's skin and skeleton have been finished. The heat-resistant coating will be applied next month and the all-important component will be shipped to Kennedy in July for attachment to the spacecraft.

NASA has designed the mission to evaluate how the spaceship behaves in 10 of the 16 highest risk areas for a crew. Avionics systems, software and the myriad other elements that go into a spacecraft are expected to get a rigorous workout. Those elements are making their way into the spacecraft in a careful procession as Lockheed Martin builds up Orion into a working spacecraft.

"We all have these great (computer) models but when you fly in the real environment, does it behave as you expect," Geyer said.

The flight will begin a series of flight tests for the Orion and Space Launch System programs as the agency moves toward launching astronauts into space in 2021. Orion is scheduled to fly a second test mission in 2017 aboard the first Space Launch System booster.

Along the way, engineers also will conduct smaller-scale flight tests to evaluate the performance of specific systems such as the escape rocket designed to pull a crew out of harm's way in the event of an emergency during launch and ascent.

The progression from concept drawings to working with mockups and replicas to building the actual spacecraft reinvigorates the teams, the officials said.

"I think it helps keep the team's morale up and you want to see a steady beat of successes as you move forward," May said.

"Now we're actually doing it," Geyer said. "It shows you that we're putting the expertise into actually making it happen."
 

 
An artist concept shows Orion as it will appear in space for the Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta IV second stage. Photo Credit: NASA
 

 

 
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ATK Delivers Inert Launch Abort Motor for Orion Spacecraft Exploration Flight Test 1Launch Abort Motor Designed for Crew Safety

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- ATK (NYSE: ATK) successfully delivered a launch abort motor to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, scheduled to fly next year. The test flight abort motor is configured with inert propellant, since the EFT-1 mission will have no crew on board, but otherwise replicates the launch abort system that will ensure astronaut safety on future crewed Orion exploration missions using the new Space Launch System (SLS).

ATK's abort motor is part of Orion's Launch Abort System (LAS), which is designed to safely pull the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the initial ascent of NASA's SLS. Although an abort event is not necessary for the un-crewed mission, having an inert abort motor in the LAS stack for EFT-1 helps NASA achieve its goals simulating the same weight, structure and aerodynamics of the live motor configuration.

"Our launch abort motor is critical to ensuring safety, allowing for a greater reduction in risks for crewed flights," said Charlie Precourt, ATK vice president and general manager of the Space Launch Division. "ATK is proud to be a part of the Orion EFT-1 team. This is an important milestone for America's new human exploration program, which includes Orion and the Space Launch System, with a heavy-lift capability to take crew and cargo on missions to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars."

Successfully ground-tested in 2008 and flight-tested during Orion's Pad Abort test in 2010, the launch abort motor is more than 17 feet tall, measures three feet in diameter, and includes a revolutionary turn-flow rocket manifold technology. Two additional flight tests are scheduled for SLS, prior to the manned flight planned for 2020.

The launch abort motor was manufactured in 2008 as an inert pathfinder and has been modified at ATK's Bacchus, Promontory, and Clearfield, Utah, facilities to meet the needs of EFT-1. It was also instrumented to collect environmental and flight data during the test launch.

ATK also makes the Attitude Control Motor for the abort system at its Elkton, Md., facility. The control motor provides steering for the launch abort vehicle during an abort sequence.

The primary objective of EFT-1 is to test the Orion crew module, which will have the LAS attached during ascent. Orion will travel more than 3,600 miles above Earth's surface—more than 15 times farther away than the International Space Station's orbital position. This is farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. Orion will return to Earth at a speed over 20,000 mph, faster than any current human spacecraft.

ATK is on contract to Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), who is the prime contractor for building the Orion spacecraft. The industry team includes major subcontractors, such as ATK, and a nationwide network of minor subcontractors, small businesses and suppliers across the United States.

 
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NASA'S Orion Lands Safely on Two of Three Parachutes in Test

YUMA, AZ -  NASA engineers have demonstrated the agency's Orion spacecraft can land safely if one of its three main parachutes fails to inflate during deployment.

The test was conducted Tuesday in Yuma, Ariz., with the parachutes attached to a test article. Engineers rigged the parachutes so only two would inflate, leaving the third to flag behind, when the test capsule was dropped from a plane 25,000 feet above the Arizona desert.

› Watch the Feb. 12, 2013 parachute test

› See more parachute test images

"Today is a great validation of the parachute system," said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion's parachute system. "We never intend to have a parachute fail, but we've proven that if we do, the system is robust for our crew to make it to the ground safely."

Orion's parachutes will perform in ways no landing system for a spacecraft carrying humans has been required to do before. Because Orion will return to Earth from greater distances, it will reenter Earth's atmosphere at speeds of more than 20,000 mph. After re-entry, astronauts will rely on the parachutes to slow the spacecraft for a gentle splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

This 21,000-pound capsule needs only two main parachutes and one drogue parachute. But NASA spacecraft, particularly those carrying humans, are designed to keep working when something goes wrong. So, Orion will be equipped with three main parachutes and two drogues, providing each system one backup parachute.

In December, engineers simulated a failure of one of the drogue parachutes in a test that ended with a safe landing, proving the system design is valid.

Tuesday's test was the eighth parachute engineering development drop test. The next is scheduled for May. The system also will be put to the test in 2014 when Orion makes its first flight test. During the mission, an uncrewed capsule will travel 3,600 miles from Earth, farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years.
 

A test article representing the Orion spacecraft floats to the ground during the latest Orion parachute test. For this test, engineers rigged one of the three red and white main parachutes to fail, to prove that the vehicle could land safely with only two working main parachutes. Photo credit: NASA

 

 
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Mockup Orion Stack Shows Path to Launch

Kennedy Space Center -  The Vehicle Assembly Building's transfer aisle offered a glimpse of the future recently as a full-size Orion spacecraft mock-up was placed atop a model of the service module so engineers and technicians could determine the exact dimensions for connectors that will run from the launch pad structure to the spacecraft before liftoff.

With the first test flights of the Orion scheduled in 2014 atop a Delta IV and 2017 for a Space Launch System flight, the work is critical to making sure the designs are accurate, said Doug Lenhardt, who is overseeing the Orion mock-up and operations planning for the Ground Systems Development and Operations program, or GSDO.

After all, changing a connector on a flight-ready spacecraft or heavy piece of launch pad equipment can get costly and time-consuming.

"The design is pretty far along for the capsule, so the sooner you can find flaws or details that you want the designers to change, the less expensive it is, the more time they have to look at it and possibly redesign," Lenhardt said. "You don't want to test all of this out on your first flight vehicle."

Stacked atop each other, the Orion crew module and service module mock-ups stand 27-feet tall. People can climb inside the capsule and see how the astronauts will sit for the launch and how much room is available to them during the months it may take for a mission to an asteroid or the moon or Mars. The model's full-size gives designers a greater appreciation of the scale of the spacecraft, Lenhardt said.

"That's the first thing people say when they see this, I didn't realize it was that big, that it was that tall,' " Lenhardt said. "When you go to computer-aided design models, you just don't appreciate the size."

NASA routinely used mock-up s, also known as boilerplates or pathfinders, to test equipment and techniques for all of its human spacecraft programs. The Orion work is the first for NASA for a crewed spacecraft since the space shuttle. Many mock-up s retired to public display, such as the "Pathfinder" shuttle on exhibit at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Lifting and moving the mock-ups also provides opportunities for technicians to maintain and practice their technical skills.

"That's actually one of the big goals of the mock-up s is helping keep the work force here proficient," Lenhardt said. "The crane guys are good, they're really good now because they were doing orbiters three or six times a year. Now, they're not lifting any flight vehicles, so obviously their skills will erode a little bit. It definitely does help to keep everybody proficient here, too."

The mock-up also has been used to show firefighters and emergency medical technicians what to expect if they have to get astronauts out of the ship quickly. They saw very quickly that lifting astronauts up from their seats and out of the hatch is a lot different than it was on board a space shuttle, Lenhardt said.

"When you're trying to get a crew out, seconds matter, so the fire and rescue guys came up with really good ideas to help the closeout do their job, to get the guys out faster," Lenhardt said.

The demonstrations already have identified numerous changes in approaches to handling the Orion during launch preparations at the launch pad. For instance, a system of off-the-shelf scaffolds proved too difficult for crews in heavy protection gear to move around in, so a new approach is being developed.

The Space Launch System rocket is slated to be taller than a Saturn V, which means operators will have to lift the Orion and its service module almost to the rafters of the 525-foot-tall VAB to place the spacecraft on top of the SLS.

With the steel and aluminum mock-up , the engineers can find out what work needs to be done before the spacecraft is lifted and what can only be done with the Orion mated to the top of the rocket.

The Orion model, exact in details on the outside but mostly empty on the inside save for four mock-up astronaut seats and hatch, was used to practice stacking the launch abort system, or LAS, ahead of a flight test at White Sands, N.M., in May 2010. Kennedy engineers have been using it to model their systems and demonstrate processing techniques for several months, including placing it inside an experimental clean room.

For a service module, though, there was nowhere to turn to get a mock-up , Lenhardt said. So Kennedy designers came up with a framework and metal cylinder that would be the same dimensions as the service module and support the Orion's weight. NASA and Boeing prototype shops turned the designs into the real model.

An operational service module holds tanks, power-generating solar arrays, instruments and other hardware astronauts need. It stays attached to the Orion capsule until re-entry, when the capsule separates to return the crew to Earth.

"Ours is built just for the ground, it couldn't take the launch loads, the vibrations," Lenhardt said. "We only needed to simulate the outside. This is how the Orion vehicle will come to us from the Operations and Checkout Building, where it is assembled. So now we can do any of the operations, simulate them, with a flight-like vehicle."

Because the VAB's transfer aisle is vast, it can be used to simulate other facilities, too, so work that will take place in other areas of Kennedy to prepare Orion for flight can also be perfected without moving the mock-up s around.

The model also includes an aerodynamic shell that will anchor the LAS rocket to the spacecraft. In an emergency, the LAS would ignite and pull the Orion spacecraft to safety. Workers in the VAB have not stacked a rocket with an LAS since Apollo missions ended in 1975, since the space shuttle did not have such a mechanism.

"Is it better to stack the LAS when it's on top of the rocket, is it better to stack it on the ground here and then lift the whole thing on top of the rocket?" Lenhardt said. "Those are the kinds of things we can try out here."

Between the pace of work increasing and with flight tests into space closer on the horizon, Lenhardt said excitement is building at Kennedy.

"We've got this, and with the EFT-1 spacecraft showing up in the Operations and Checkout Building," Lenhardt said, "it shows people we are moving down a path, NASA is moving forward and it's starting to get pretty exciting."

The mockup components of an Orion spacecraft are laid out in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the foreground is the Launch Abort System, then the aerodynamic shell that will cover the capsule. To the right is the Orion capsule model on top of a service module simulator. All are the exact dimensions the flight-ready Orions will be. Photo credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis



 

 
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NASA's Space Launch System Passes Major Agency Review, Moves to Preliminary Design

 The rocket that will launch humans farther into space than ever before passed a major NASA review Wednesday. The Space Launch System (SLS) Program completed a combined System Requirements Review and System Definition Review, which set requirements of the overall launch vehicle system. SLS now moves ahead to its preliminary design phase.

The SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads, and provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

These NASA reviews set technical, performance, cost and schedule requirements to provide on-time development of the heavy-lift rocket. As part of the process, an independent review board comprised of technical experts from across NASA evaluated SLS Program documents describing vehicle specifications, budget and schedule. The board confirmed SLS is ready to move from concept development to preliminary design.

"This new heavy-lift launch vehicle will make it possible for explorers to reach beyond our current limits, to nearby asteroids, Mars and its moons, and to destinations even farther across our solar system," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The in-depth assessment confirmed the basic vehicle concepts of the SLS, allowing the team to move forward and start more detailed engineering design."

The reviews also confirmed the SLS system architecture and integration with the Orion spacecraft, managed by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, which manage the operations and launch facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"This is a pivotal moment for this program and for NASA," said SLS Program Manager Todd May. "This has been a whirlwind experience from a design standpoint. Reaching this key development point in such a short period of time, while following the strict protocol and design standards set by NASA for human spaceflight is a testament to the team's commitment to delivering the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle."

SLS reached this major milestone less than 10 months after the program's inception. The combination of the two assessments represents a fundamentally different way of conducting NASA program reviews. The SLS team is streamlining processes to provide the nation with a safe, affordable and sustainable heavy-lift launch vehicle capability. The next major program milestone is preliminary design review, targeted for late next year.

The first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System, which will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity, is scheduled for 2017. As SLS evolves, a three-stage launch vehicle configuration will provide a lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions beyond low Earth orbit and support deep space exploration.

Credit: NASA



NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the SLS program. Across the country NASA and its industry partners continue to make progress on SLS hardware that will be integrated into the final design. The RS-25 core stage and J-2X upper-stage rocket engine in development by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., for the future two-stage SLS, will be tested at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The prime contractor for the five-segment solid rocket boosters, ATK of Brigham City, Utah, has begun processing its first SLS boosters in preparation for an initial qualification test next year, ahead of their use for the first two exploration missions. The Boeing Co. in Huntsville is designing the SLS core stage, to be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and tested at Stennis before being shipped to Kennedy.

 

 
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NASA Completes Another Successful Orion Parachute Test

WASHINGTON -  NASA completed another successful test Wednesday of the Orion crew vehicle's parachutes high above the Arizona desert in preparation for the spacecraft’s orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry astronauts deeper into space than ever before, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure a safe re-entry and landing.

› Watch a video of the parachute drop test

A C-17 plane dropped a test version of Orion from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This test was the second to use an Orion craft that mimics the full size and shape of the spacecraft.

Orion's drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 feet and 20,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes, which deployed the main landing parachutes. Orion descended about 25 feet per second, well below its maximum designed touchdown speed, when it landed on the desert floor.

"Across the country, NASA and industry are moving forward on the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, conducting drop and splashdown tests, preparing ground systems, designing software and computers and paving the way for the future of exploration," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Today's parachute test in Yuma is an important reminder of the progress being made on Orion and its ultimate mission -- enabling NASA to meet the goal of sending humans to an asteroid and Mars."

Orion parachutes have so-called reefing lines, which when cut by a pyrotechnic device, allow the parachute to open gradually, managing the initial amount of drag and force on the parachute. The main objective of the latest drop test was to determine how the entire system would respond if one of the reefing lines was cut prematurely, causing the three main parachutes to inflate too quickly.

Since 2007, the Orion program has conducted a vigorous parachute air and ground test program and provided the chutes for NASA's successful pad abort test in 2010. All of the tests build an understanding of the chutes' technical performance for eventual human-rated certification.

In 2014, an uncrewed Orion spacecraft will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Exploration Flight Test-1. The spacecraft will travel 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. This is 15 times farther than the International Space Station's orbit and farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. The main flight objective is to understand Orion's heat shield performance at speeds generated during a return from deep space.

In 2017, Orion will be launched by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS will enable new missions of exploration and expand human presence across the solar system.

Orion falls from the sky during the parachute test. Photo Credit: NASA



 

 
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Orion's First Test Flight Offers Space Launch System a First Look at Hardware Operation, Integration

 When NASA conducts its first test launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, the crew module's designers will record invaluable data about its performance -- from launch and flight, to re-entry and landing.

Orion will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before, sustaining the crew during space travel and providing emergency abort capability and safe re-entry from deep space. Orion will launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's next flagship rocket currently under design. The SLS will power the Orion spacecraft on deep space missions to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations in our solar system. The first flight test of the full-scale SLS is planned for 2017.

In 2014, NASA will fly the Orion module on Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). Perched on top of a Delta IV rocket operated by United Launch Alliance at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., the Orion capsule will travel 3,000 miles into space – 15 times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station. Because the Delta rocket was not originally designed and built to launch Orion, engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are building innovative adapter hardware to connect the two. This same hardware design eventually will be used on the flexible configurations of SLS flights.

"While this is an SLS design, we have the unique opportunity to design the hardware early and provide it for Exploration Flight Test 1, saving time and money," said David Beaman, spacecraft and payload integration manager for NASA's SLS Program. "By designing the adapter for both missions, we provide an affordable solution to keep our human exploration mission moving forward. EFT-1 becomes a test flight for the crew spacecraft and our adapter elements. Our designers and machinists are hard at work, fabricating the large aluminum rings needed to support the test flight, and we will deliver this hardware ahead of schedule."

EFT-1 also will benefit the SLS program by flight-testing two elements similar to the top portion of the initial SLS vehicle: Orion itself and the EFT-1 cryogenic propulsion stage, or kick stage. The kick stage will be similar to the SLS Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage used for the initial rocket missions slated for 2017 and 2021.

"When you fly a vehicle for the first time you want to know as much as possible and the EFT-1 mission will allow our SLS team to learn about the structural, mechanical and electrical interfaces -- the internal environment between Orion and the launch vehicle," said Garry Lyles, chief engineer for the Space Launch System at Marshall. "Our team will capture flight data that will be useful to calibrate guidance, navigation and control algorithms and structural loads for SLS; separation dynamics between Orion and the launch vehicle; and overall vehicle stability -- all vital data to reduce risk and increase reliability and sustainability for America's next launch vehicle."

Orion Pathfinder Photo Credit: NASA

The first SLS mission, Exploration Mission 1, in 2017 will launch an uncrewed Orion to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and spacecraft prior to a crewed flight. The second SLS mission, Exploration Mission 2, is targeted for 2021 and will launch Orion and a crew of up to four American astronauts.

The Orion Program is managed by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The SLS Program is managed by the Marshall Center. Both programs are managed by the Explorations Systems Development Division within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

 

 
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NASA Space Launch System Core Stage Moves From Concept to Design

 The nation's space exploration program is taking a critical step forward with a successful major technical review of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before.

The core stage is the heart of the heavy-lift launch vehicle. It will stand more than 200 feet (61 meters) tall with a diameter of 27.5 feet (8.4 meters).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hosted a comprehensive review. Engineers from NASA and The Boeing Co. of Huntsville presented a full set of system requirements, design concepts and production approaches to technical reviewers and the independent review board.

"This meeting validates our design requirements for the core stage of the nation's heavy-lift rocket and is the first major checkpoint for our team," said Tony Lavoie, manager of the SLS Stages Element at Marshall. "Getting to this point took a lot of hard work, and I'm proud of the collaboration between NASA and our partners at Boeing. Now that we have completed this review, we go from requirements to real blueprints. We are right on track to deliver the core stage for the SLS program."

The core stage will store liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the rocket's four RS-25 engines, all of which will be former space shuttle main engines for the first few flights. The SLS Program has an inventory of 16 RS-25 flight engines that successfully operated for the life of the Space Shuttle Program. Like the space shuttle, SLS also will be powered initially by two solid rocket boosters on the sides of the launch vehicle.

The SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads, and provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to be safe, affordable and flexible for crew and cargo missions, the SLS will continue America's journey of discovery and exploration to destinations including nearby asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and ultimately, Mars.

"This is a very exciting time for the country and NASA as important achievements are made on the most advanced hardware ever designed for human space flight," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The SLS will power a new generation of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit and the moon, pushing the frontiers of discovery forward. The innovations being made now, and the hardware being delivered and tested, are all testaments to the ability of the U.S. aerospace workforce to make the dream of deeper solar system exploration by humans a reality in our lifetimes."

The first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System, which will feature a configuration for a 77-ton (70-metric-ton) lift capacity, is scheduled for 2017. As SLS evolves, a two-stage launch vehicle configuration will provide a lift capability of 143 tons (130 metric tons) to enable missions beyond low Earth orbit and support deep space exploration.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, including its avionics. The core stage will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans using state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Marshall manages the SLS Program for the agency.

Across the SLS Program, swift progress is being made on several elements. The J-2X upper-stage rocket engine, developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for the future two-stage SLS, is being tested at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The prime contractor for the five-segment solid rocket boosters, ATK of Brigham City, Utah, has begun processing its first SLS hardware components in preparation for an initial qualification test in 2013.

 

Credit: NASA

 

 
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Refurbishment on Grand Scale for Iconic VAB

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER -  The Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been a landmark to the technological advancements of sending men to the moon and astronauts into space for more than 45 years. But the VAB, as it is best known, is due for major renovations to continue processing launch vehicles and support the subsequent launching of a new generation of astronauts into orbit and deeper into space than ever before.

"This is home improvement, VAB style," said Jose Lopez, who is managing the effort to refurbish a structure that was once the biggest in the world. "We're going for more flexibility and reliability with modern equipment. That building has many systems that haven't been touched up since it was built (in 1965)."

Although the work is massive simply because of the scale of the VAB, Lopez said now is the time to do it and take advantage of the pause in rocket processing that is to end in a couple years.

"When the shuttle program was in place, you couldn't take down the cranes for a long period of time, or take on heavy infrastructure projects," Lopez said.

Before another generation of rocket processing kicks in, Lopez said, the VAB must be outfitted with everything it needs to host these rockets and spacecraft assembly for another 40 years.

The effort will touch most areas of the architectural behemoth in one way or other. For instance, High Bay 3 will see the seven work platforms designed for the Apollo/Saturn V removed. In their place will be a series of 10 platforms that can be relocated and fitted with inserts designed for processing different kinds of rockets.

Like everything else inside the VAB, the platforms are not run-of-the-mill items. They are expected to weigh about 90,000 pounds and be outfitted with commodities essential for rockets, such as nitrogen and helium along with electrical and networking cables.

Simply put, no longer will a high bay be suitable for only one kind of rocket design.

"If you can fit in the big rocket, you can definitely fit in the smaller rockets,” Lopez said.

The VAB is slated to host NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, as it is readied for test flights in 2017 and 2021. The SLS will rival the Saturn V for sheer size and power and is designed for several variations that the platforms would have to accommodate. Commercial companies with much smaller rockets also are expected to use the VAB's unique facilities.

"The main thing we're doing there is an evolvable approach where we can handle any one of these SLS vehicles, but also handle any of the commercial vehicles," said Scott Colloredo, chief architect of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program that is overseeing the VAB modifications. "By supporting one, it helps us to support the other."

The five primary overhead cranes in the VAB will see their antiquated control systems modernized, too. The cranes, anchored to the VAB's framework at the top of the structure, were used to lift the shuttles and rocket stages from the floor of the transfer aisle to their place on the launch platforms. They routinely hoisted the 100-ton shuttles more than 16 stories off the ground safely and lowered them onto the side of the external fuel tank for launch.

Two of the cranes can lift 325 tons, another two are rated for 250-ton loads and the fifth one is designed to hold 175 tons. They will be crucial again in the future to stack the SLS components into a launch configuration.

The doors, the largest in the world, are due for new braking systems and other modifications that will reduce wear-and-tear on the tracks and systems.

The renovation calls for removing a great deal of the infrastructure inside the VAB, some of which was installed when the structure was built in 1965. New systems, all up to modern building and safety codes, are to be installed.

More than 50 miles of Apollo-era cabling will be removed during the work and replaced with modern lines. About 70,000 feet of cabling already has come out. In some cases, that means replacing thick bundles of copper wiring with a few fiber-optic lines no wider than a pinky finger.

The fire suppression system has corroded in many important areas and is not big enough under current regulations. So its vast network of pipes, spigots and pumps, will be taken out entirely beginning next year and replaced with new equipment and piping. The work should be finished by the end of 2014, Lopez said.

There is plenty of evidence that other water and drainage pipes in the VAB are also corroding, so they will be replaced, along with boilers and chillers that feed hot and cold water into the facility.

Battery backups for the electrical system also are slated for replacement.

The renovation is focusing on the building interior systems, but the building itself is in very good shape.

The work would have had to be done at some point soon whether rockets were being processed or not, Lopez said. Doing it all while keeping the structure's systems up and able to handle normal processing demands would have been an exceptional and expensive challenge, though.

"It would have been like putting a new car engine in your trunk while keeping the same engine in the front still going," Lopez said. 
 

High-Bay configured for the Space Shuttle. Photo Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

 

 
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SLS Avionics Test Paves Way for Full-Scale Booster Firing

HUNTSVILLE, Ala -  NASA has successfully tested the solid rocket booster avionics for the first two test flights of the Space Launch System, America's next heavy-lift launch vehicle. This avionics system includes electrical components for the SLS' solid rocket boosters, which provide propulsion to augment the core stage main engines of the rocket. The first qualification test of the five-segment SLS booster is slated for spring 2013.

The test dubbed Flight Control Test 1, FCT-1, included heritage thrust vector control (TVC) actuators -- electro-hydraulic mechanisms previously used on the space shuttle that direct the booster propulsion system -- with a new SLS booster avionics subsystem. ATK of Brigham City, Utah, the SLS booster prime contractor for the first two test flights, conducted the test at its Promontory, Utah, test facility.

The test successfully demonstrated the new avionics subsystem's interface and control of the heritage shuttle Thrust Vector Control system and performed an SLS launch simulation. In addition to the new avionics subsystem, the test included new electronic ground support equipment which monitored and coordinated activities between the test facilities, avionics subsystem and TVC system. The test is one in a series of tests to reduce risk and demonstrate the avionics subsystem design early in the development life cycle.

"We were pleased to see how the avionics system functioned outside the lab," said Todd May, Space Launch System program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "This test provides an insightful first look at how the booster thrust vector control system will operate and interface with flight hardware."

The booster avionics design has incorporated lean manufacturing and continuous improvement principles. For example, the design includes a common, ruggedized chassis design, 14 common programmable circuit cards and standardized cable designs.

Two additional tests are planned for the avionics and controls system.

The Space Launch System will provide an entirely new heavy-lift launch capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit and will take crew and cargo farther into space than ever before.

 
 The avionics subsystem and hardware are cleared for Flight Control Test 1. (ATK)



 

 
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Space Launch System Program Completes Step One of Combined Milestone Reviews

HUNTSVILLE, ALA - America's next heavy-lift launch vehicle -- the Space Launch System -- is one step closer to its first launch in 2017, following the successful completion of the first phase of a combined set of milestone reviews.

The SLS Program has completed step one in a combined System Requirements Review and System Definition Review -- both extensive NASA-led reviews that set requirements to further narrow the scope of the system design and evaluate the vehicle concept based on top-level program requirements. The reviews include setting launch vehicle requirements for crew safety and interfacing with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to carry it to deep space as well as the ground operations and launch facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Additionally, the reviews set cost and schedule requirements to provide on-time development.

"It's exciting to see how far this program has come in such a short time," said Todd May, SLS program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Completion of this first step of reviews moves the nation's first deep space rocket from concept development to preliminary design."

The milestone reviews are two in a series of life-cycle reviews advancing the vehicle from concept design to flight readiness. Step one included a focused technical review of the program requirements with information on cost, schedule and risk. A standing review board comprised of technical experts from across the agency evaluated SLS program documents including vehicle requirements, specifications, plans, studies and reports. The board ensured specific criteria were met and confirmed that requirements are complete, validated and responsive to mission requirements.

The combination of the two reviews as well as safety and reliability analyses is a fundamentally different way of conducting program reviews. The SLS team is streamlining processes to provide a safe, affordable and sustainable rocket.

"This checkpoint gives us a mature understanding of the requirements, solidifies the vehicle concept design will meet all the requirements of the program and mission and signals that SLS is ready to begin engineering design activities," added May. "We're moving forward to deliver a new national capability to get America exploring space again."

Step two, which will begin in early summer, will include an integrated assessment of the technical and programmatic components fully evaluating cost, schedule and risk involved with the program.

The Space Launch System will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit, taking astronauts farther into space than ever before. It also can back up commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station. Designed to be flexible for crew or cargo missions, the SLS will continue America’s journey of discovery from the unique vantage point of space. The Marshall Space Flight Center is leading the design and development of the rocket that can take us to the asteroids, Lagrange points – positions in space where a satellite or science instrument could be stationed in a relative steady state –the moon, and eventually to Mars.

NASA's Space Launch System Photo Credit: NASA

 

 
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