Astronauts complete second EVA to prepare ISS for future crew vehicles

International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers have conducted the second of three EVAs on Thursday, as they upgrade the station, perform routine maintenance, and prepare the station for the arrival of future commercial crew vehicles. The second EVA got underway at 6:29 AM Central and concluded seven hours later.

Trio of US EVAs:

The trio of spacewalk operations began with US EVA-40, performed by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough as EV-1, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet as EV-2.

Kimbrough worked at the S0 Truss to swap out an External Multiplexer/Demultiplexer (EXT MDM) box with an upgraded unit known as an Enhanced Processor & Integrated Communications (EPIC) unit.

MDMs perform multiplexing and demultiplexing functions, which essentially means that they send and receive multiple signals and data streams between the ground and the ISS, or ISS laptops and ISS systems, or ISS systems and other systems.

This essentially allows all the ISS systems to talk to each other and be commanded by both the ground and the ISS crew.

While it’s commonly referred to that the ISS crew use laptops to control the station, in fact the laptops control the MDMs, which in turn control the station.

There are two types of MDMs on ISS – internal (INT) and External (EXT). EPIC upgrades have previously been performed on INT MDMs, where the units themselves were opened up and new, upgraded circuit cards were installed to upgrade the MDMs to EPIC standard.

For the EXT MDMs however, this would be too fiddly to perform by EVA crewmembers, thus the entire MDM itself was swapped out for an upgraded unit. The EPIC upgrades equip the MDMs with faster processors, increased memory, and an Ethernet port for data output, which gives the ISS greater communications capability, allowing for the operation of more simultaneous experiments.

The MDM swap-out procedure itself was fairly simple, with bolts first driven to remove the old unit, and the new unit then being bolted in its place, with a pre-positioned ethernet cable then being connected to the new MDM to take advantage of its upgraded capabilities.

The removal and installation went to plan, via the use of Shane’s Pistol Grip Tool (PGT).

Following completion of the MDM task, Kimbrough then headed to Pressurised Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) on the Port side of the Node 3 module, whereupon he disconnected four heater cables between PMA-3 and Node 3.

This was to prepare PMA-3 for its long-awaited relocation from Node 3 Port to Node 2 Zenith, so that it can serve as a docking port for future commercial crew vehicles.

Between EVA-40 and EVA-41, robotic operations conducted the relocation of the PMA.

In its old location on Node 3 Port, PMA-3 was unusable as a docking port due to clearance issues with the station structure.

The last time that PMA-3 was actually used for a docking was during the STS-98 shuttle mission in February 2001, and since that time it has been shuffled around different ports on the ISS and used for storage.

However, with commercial crew vehicles soon coming online, which will use the “direct handover” model for crew transfers, PMA-3 has now found a use once again as a second docking port for commercial crew vehicles.

At one time a plan was under consideration to return PMA-3 to Earth on the final Space Shuttle flight, STS-135, in July 2011, as it was not envisaged at that time that PMA-3 would ever be used again, since the plan then was to build two Common Docking Adapters (CDAs), which were flat devices to convert ISS Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) ports to commercial crew docking ports.

However, it was subsequently decided to retain the PMAs as docking ports for commercial crew vehicles, rather than build a brand-new docking adapter, as the PMA’s tunnel-like design provides a good amount of spacing between visiting vehicles and the ISS, thus avoiding any clearance issues between vehicles and the station structure.

With PMA-3 relocated to Node 2 Zenith by robotic means, it will need to have an International Docking Adapter (IDA) installed onto its end, in order to convert its Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System (APAS) compatible docking port to a Soft Impact Mating Attenuation Concept (SIMAC) compatible port for future crew vehicles.

Once complete with the PMA-3 task, Kimbrough headed to the Japanese Exposed Facility (JEF) in order to remove & replace two failed camera/light units – once of which was located on the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEM RMS), and one of which was located on the JEF itself.

Due to being ahead of the timeline, Shane then went to replace a light on a CETA (Crew Equipment and Translation Aid) Cart.

Meanwhile, Pesquet headed to the External Stowage Platform-2 (ESP-2) in order to retrieve an Articulating Portable Foot Restraint (APFR) and extender, which he then installed on the P1 Truss as an anchor for himself while he performed his task – a visual inspection of the Radiator Beam Valve Module (RBVM) on the P1 Truss radiators.

An RBVM is used to isolate and provide emergency venting of the radiator ammonia supply and return lines, and monitor temperatures and pressures in those lines. There are six RBVMs per each set of three radiators on the P1 and S1 Trusses.

Over recent months, a small leak in the Loop B cooling system on the P1 Truss has increased in rate, although relatively speaking it is only by a tiny amount. To this end, NASA teams recently utilized a new piece of station hardware, known as the Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL), to try and find the source of the leak.

As detailed in L2 notes from the time: “Ground teams performed a series of surveys using the RELL. These surveys were focused around RBVM P1-3-2 in an effort to help pin-point the location of a leak in External Active Thermal Control System (EATCS) Loop B”.

“Preliminary data reviews appear to have increased confidence that the leak may be on the radiator side of the RBVM, however some uncertainty still remains.”

As such, ground teams wanted Pesquet to conduct a visual inspection of the RBVM, and associated supply and return lines, in order to determine if any ammonia leak is visible, and if so, the precise source of the leak, although no action is planned to be taken at this time if a leak is found.

Thomas was told to “pat and rub” the tubes, while filming the exercise on a GoPro camera, which will allow for detailed examination of the footage to see if any leaks can be observed.

No obvious leaks were seen during the inspection.

Following the RBVM inspection task, Pesquet then proceeded to lubricate the Latching End Effector (LEE) on the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM) “Dextre”, which is a routine maintenance task for all LEEs on station, and involves applying grease to a ball screw inside the LEE itself in order to prevent any future metallic abrasion.

On the end of a foot restraint, Thomas used a grease gun to apply lubricant to a rod, which he then inserted into Dextre’s ball screw joints, allowing for the lubrication of the hardware that had showed signs of wear and tear over recent months.

Following completion of the tasks, both Kimbrough and Pesquet headed back inside the airlock to conclude the EVA.

Following the successful PMA-3 relocation from Node 3 Port to Node 2 Zenith on 26 March, EVA-41 got underway on 30 March, performed by NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson.

The first order of business for Kimbrough upon egressing the airlock was to translate to the S0 Truss, in order to install the second EPIC EXT MDM, the first of which was installed during EVA-40.

Whitson meanwhile headed out to the newly relocated PMA-3 on the Zenith side of Node 2, whereupon she connected two heater cables between Node 2 and PMA-3. The heaters prevent condensation from forming inside the module, which in turn will allow PMA-3 to be pressurized and ingressed.

Whitson then removed a protective thermal/MMOD cover that had been placed over the top of PMA-3 during a previous EVA, in order to expose PMA-3’s APAS docking system, ready to receive the future IDA-3.

Both spacewalkers then met back at the airlock, whereupon they retrieved some shields that had been stowed outside during a previous EVA, and then both translated to the Port side of Node 3, which was previously home to PMA-3.

Once at the worksite, the pair worked to install four shields on the now exposed Node 3 Port CBM. All radial CBM ports feature four “petals” around the outside edge, which open/close as required in order to protect the hatch and berthing collar area from debris strikes.

However, Node 3 Port is an axial CBM, which do not feature petals. For this reason, four petal-like shields need to be installed manually in order to provide protection to the exposed hatch area. The pair also closed the Center Disk Cover (CDC) Centerline Berthing Camera System (CBCS) flap, which will cover over the hatch porthole window to protect it from debris strikes.

However, during the shield installation, one of the four quadrants liberated and floated away. There isn’t a spare on orbit, or one on the ground. Another will need to be manufactured and sent up on a future resupply mission.

The duo then translated back to the airlock to retrieve more debris shields, whereupon translated out to PMA-3 once again in order to install two shields around the CBM berthing collar on the base of PMA-3.

PMA-2 is berthed to Node 2 Forward, which is an axial port, featuring its own protective collar which protrudes from Node 2 itself to protect the PMA-2 CBM collar from debris strikes. However, since PMA-3 is berthed to Node 2 Zenith, which is a radial port, and so essentially is a flat surface berthed to a round module, the CBM collar’s sides are left exposed as the module curves away from them.

For this reason, two shields were manually installed on the port and starboard sides of the PMA-3 CBM berthing collar, with two more to be installed on the forward and aft sides during EVA-42. This would provide protection to the PMA-3 CBM collar from debris strikes.

With one shield missing, teams on the ground came up with a solution to replace the thermal cover over the PMA port to provide protection from MMOD.

Classed as successful, the spacewalkers then worked the task of adding cummerbunds to the base of PMA-3.

Once this task is complete, a get-ahead task of taking pictures of Node 2 were conducted, before both spacewalkers headed back to the airlock to conclude the EVA.

This was the 199th spacewalk in support of space station assembly and maintenance. Kimbrough’s two spacewalks were the fifth and sixth of his career. Whitson was making the eighth and ninth spacewalks of her career – more than any other female astronaut.

A third EVA is currently set to take place next Thursday.

(Images via NASA and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

SpaceX conducts historic Falcon 9 re-flight with SES-10 – Lands booster again

SpaceX took a step into the future Thursday as it reused – for the first time – a recovered first stage of a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket. Thursday’s mission, carrying the SES-10 communications satellite, lifted off from Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 18:27 local time (22:27 UTC) and once again landed the booster.


SpaceX Launch:

Thursday’s mission made use Falcon 9 the second orbit-capable rocket – after the Space Shuttle – to achieve partial reusability. The Falcon 9 flew from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, the same pad from which the Shuttle began eighty-two of its missions, including its first and final flights.

Reusability has long been a key objective for SpaceX. Making the company’s first launch in March 2006, the small Falcon 1 vehicle carried a parachute system intended to bring its spent first stage back to Earth.

SpaceX attempted to recover the first stages of four Falcon 1 vehicles. However, the rocket’s first launch failed early in the mission and its third launch failed at stage separation, leaving the first stage unrecoverable. During the second and fourth launches, recovery attempts were unsuccessful.

Following three failures, SpaceX achieved its first successful launch in September 2008, with the fourth Falcon 1 successfully placing the demonstration payload RatSat into low Earth orbit. The rocket made its fifth and final flight in July 2009, successfully placing Malaysia’s RazakSAT satellite into orbit. For the RazakSAT launch, the Falcon flew without a recovery system.

SpaceX originally planned a family of Falcon rockets, with the smaller single Falcon 1, a five-engine Falcon 5 and a nine-engine Falcon 9. Two heavier vehicles, the Falcon 9S5 and 9S9, would have used two additional cores strapped to the first stage, with the 9S5 using Falcon 5 cores and the 9S9 Falcon 9 cores.

The Falcon 5 was abandoned before it ever flew, while the Falcon Heavy vehicle which SpaceX intends to introduce later this year is an evolution of the Falcon 9S9 concept. The Falcon 9 made its first flight in June 2010 with a mockup of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, the Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit.

The first five Falcon 9 launches used a version of the rocket which has retrospectively become known as the Falcon 9 v1.0. Following the rocket’s original design the first stage was powered by nine Merlin-1C engines arranged in a square three-by-three grid. The second stage used a single Merlin Vacuum engine, derived from the Merlin-1C. Both stages of the two-stage vehicle are fuelled by RP-1 kerosene propellant, oxidized by liquid oxygen.

Following its maiden flight, the Falcon 9 v1.0 made four more launches, all carrying Dragon spacecraft. The first of these launches, in December 2010, carried Dragon C1. Dragon’s maiden flight, C1 completed two revolutions around the Earth before the capsule reentered the atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

The final three launches of the original Falcon 9 carried Dragon missions to the International Space Station; the first the Dragon C2+ COTS demonstration mission, followed by the first two operational flights under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

The earliest Falcon 9 launches carried parachutes which were to have been used to recover the first stage. However, this was abandoned due to the stage disintegrating during reentry, before the parachutes could be deployed. Instead, SpaceX began to investigate using the stage’s engines to make a powered descent and landing. Alongside this, an improved Falcon 9 vehicle, the Falcon 9 v1.1, was developed.

To help with the reusability development program, SpaceX constructed a test vehicle – Grasshopper – a single-engine Falcon 9 v1.0 first stage with fixed landing gear. In 2012 and 2013 Grasshopper made a series of test flights from SpaceX’s facility at McGregor, Texas.

After eight successful low-altitude flights, Grasshopper was replaced with a new three-engine development vehicle using the stretched first stage of the Falcon 9 v1.1. This new test vehicle introduced the retractable landing legs and later grid fins that would fly with operational Falcon 9 rockets, making four successful flights in 2014 before a sensor issue led to its failure during the fifth mission.

The Falcon 9 v1.1 itself first flew in September 2013, delivering a cluster of payloads including Canada’s CASSIOPE satellite into orbit. The Falcon 9 v1.1 stretched both the first and second stages of the rocket and upgraded from Merlin 1C to Merlin 1D engines.

The first stage engines were rearranged into the octagonal – or OctaWeb – configuration that is now familiar. The upgrades increased the rocket’s payload capacity, giving it sufficient margin on some missions for powered recovery tests following first stage separation.

The first few Falcon 9 v1.1 launches tested restarting the first stage engines after separation, attempting to achieve a controlled descent into the ocean. The rocket first flew with legs in April 2014, and grid fins to provide additional control were added ahead of January 2015’s launch of the CRS-5 Dragon mission.

During the CRS-5 launch, SpaceX deployed its first Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) – Just Read the Instructions – into the Atlantic Ocean to provide the returning stage with a landing platform. A converted barge, the ASDS was positioned downrange and left unmanned for the landing attempt. Although the first stage reached the drone ship, it depleted its hydraulic fluid during descent resulting in a hard and uncontrolled landing and explosion.

The next Dragon launch, CRS-6, made another landing attempt using Just Read the Instructions three months later. The stage toppled over on touchdown, before again exploding.

The final mission for which Just Read the Instructions was deployed was the CRS-7 launch in June 2015. Towards the end of first stage flight, a composite-overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) broke loose inside the second stage oxidizer tank. The tank overpressurised, resulting in structural failure and the disintegration of the Falcon.

Just Read the Instructions was subsequently converted back to a regular barge; however her name was reused for a new drone ship commissioned for launches out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. A replacement East Coast ASDS was also introduced, named Of Course I Still Love You. The two vessels are named after ships in the works of science fiction author Iain M. Banks.

When Falcon returned to flight after the CRS-7 failure, it was in a new configuration which has become known informally as the Falcon 9 v1.2 or Falcon 9 Full Thrust.

This version of the Falcon 9 has uprated engines and uses supercold liquid oxygen to increase oxidizer density, allowing a greater mass to be carried relative to the volume of its tanks. The second stage was further stretched compared to the Falcon 9 v1.1.

The Full Thrust configuration’s improved performance allows for recovery attempts on a greater range of missions, including geosynchronous launches such as Thursday’s. On missions that do not require the rocket’s full performance the first stage can now return to the launch site for a touchdown on dry land.

In December 2015, the first flight of the Falcon 9 v1.2 carried eleven Orbcomm communications satellites into low Earth orbit, with the first stage making its first attempt to fly back to Cape Canaveral.

A landing pad – Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) – was constructed on the site of Launch Complex 13, a former Atlas launch pad which was used between 1958 and 1978. While the second stage continued to orbit, successfully deploying its payload, the first stage achieved a flawless landing at Landing Zone 1 marking the first time SpaceX had successfully brought the stage back to Earth.

The Falcon 9 v1.1 made its final flight in January 2016 with an unsuccessful attempt to land on the new Just Read the Instructions after lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base with the Jason 3 satellite.

One of the first stage’s legs failed to lock into position and the stage toppled over on landing. In March 2016 SpaceX made its first recovery attempt with Of Course I Still Love You, during the launch of the SES-9 satellite. The first attempt to recover the first stage from a geosynchronous mission, the first stage returned to the drone ship but did not have sufficient fuel remaining to achieve a survivable landing.

The next launch, the CRS-8 Dragon mission, achieved the first successful landing at sea.

Launched on 8 April 2016, the twenty-third flight of the Falcon 9 and the third of the v1.2 configuration lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to send Dragon on its way to the International Space Station.

After propelling the Falcon 9 for the first two and a half minutes of her mission the first stage – Core 1021 – separated. Six minutes later, following boostback, reentry and landing burns, the stage touched down atop the drone ship. A year later, following refurbishment and testing, the same first stage was ready to fly again.

For Thursday’s launch Core 1021 was joined by a new second stage, as this part of the rocket is still expendable. In the time that has passed since its previous launch, Falcon 9 has completed eight successful launches and recovered six first stages from seven attempts.

Although all of its launches in the last year have been successful, a Falcon 9 exploded during fuelling ahead of a static fire test in September. The explosion destroyed the Amos 6 satellite which had already been mated to the rocket ready for launch and damaged the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40).

An investigation determined the cause of the anomaly to be the structural failure of a second stage COPV caused by the build-up and solidification of oxygen bubbles between the outer casing and inner lining of the pressure vessel. Falcon returned to flight in January with the deployment of ten Iridium satellites from Vandenberg. East coast launches have switched to the Kennedy Space Center and Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) while SLC-40 is repaired.

Built in the 1960s to support the Apollo program, LC-39A is one of two original pads at Launch Complex 39. It was the site of twelve of the Saturn V rocket’s thirteen launches, including all of the missions which landed astronauts on the Moon.

The final Saturn launch from the pad placed America’s first space station, Skylab, into orbit. The complex’s second pad, LC-39B, was used for the launch of Apollo 10 atop a Saturn V and four low Earth orbit flights with the Saturn IB rocket and Apollo spacecraft – three visits to Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

After Apollo, Complex 39 was converted for the Space Shuttle. Columbia made her maiden flight from LC-39A in April 1981. Eighty-two of the 135 Space Shuttle missions were launched from pad A, with the remainder flying from LC-39B. The Shuttle’s final flight, Atlantis’ STS-135, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on 8 July 2011.

Prior to Thursday’s mission, the Space Shuttle was the only orbital launch system to achieve partial reusability. The five Space Shuttle orbiters were designed to glide back to Earth at the end of their missions – landing on runways at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, Edwards Air Force Base and the White Sands Space Harbor – before being refurbished and relaunched.

During their careers, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour completed thirty-nine, thirty-three and twenty-five missions into low-Earth orbit respectively. Challenger was lost, along with her crew, during launch of her tenth mission – and the twenty-fifth of the Space Shuttle program – STS-51-L, on 28 January 1986. Columbia broke apart during reentry at the end of her twenty-eighth mission, STS-107, on 1 February 2003 claiming the lives of her seven astronauts.

As well as the orbiters, the Space Shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters were recovered and reused following their separation during the Shuttle’s ascent to orbit. The boosters were recovered successfully after all of the Shuttle’s launches except STS-3 and STS-51-L. The Shuttle stack’s large external tank was not recovered.

Parts of other rockets have been recovered from time to time; Arianespace has occasionally fitted parachutes to Ariane 5 boosters and recovered the casings from the Atlantic Ocean. However, this is for research and the boosters are not refurbished or reused.

The Soviet Union developed Buran, a spaceplane similar in design to the Space Shuttle and launched by the Energia rocket. Although Buran itself was recovered, Energia was expendable and the program was canceled for political reasons before Buran could fly again.

The preparations for SES-10 were impressive, coming so soon after the previous launch. Following the successful Static Fire test, the rocket and payload underwent an integration that allowed for rollout to occur overnight ahead of Thursday’s launch.

With a multi-hour pad flow that included testing the satellite, the key countdown events began over one hour ahead of T-0, with readiness polling for fuel loading.

RP-1 loading was followed by LOX loading, as the Falcon 9 team pushed towards the ignition of the nine Merlin 1D engines.

First stage flight lasted for two minutes and 38 seconds ahead of staging three seconds later. Second stage ignition was timed at T+ 2 minutes and 49 seconds.

While the second stage continued towards orbit, with fairing separation – followed by the first-ever fairing recovery test success (objective met, fairings not actually recovered) – core 1021 prepared for its second date with Of Course I still Love You.

The stage fired a subset of its engines to slow itself as it reentered the atmosphere before making a landing burn as it approached the drone ship downrange.

Despite SpaceX’s recent success and the stage’s previous form, the landing attempts remain experimental and are particularly difficult on geosynchronous launches where much of the vehicle’s performance must go into getting the satellite to orbit.

Falcon’s three successful landings after geosynchronous launches all came on missions with significantly lighter payloads. The success or failure of Thursday’s landing attempt would not impact the overall success of the mission. However, it was still successful, marking the historic first for SpaceX.

The mission hit SECO-1 at 8 minutes and 34 seconds, prior to a coast phase until the second firing of the Upper Stage at 26 minutes and 29 seconds into the mission. SECO-2 occurred at T+27 minutes and 22 seconds, prior to a short coast to SES-10 S/C Sep at 32 minutes and 3 seconds into the mission.

SES-10 was the third satellite SpaceX have launched for Luxembourg-based SES, who operate one of the world’s largest fleets of geostationary communications satellites. The company’s SES-8 satellite was the payload for SpaceX’s first geosynchronous launch in December 2013, aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1. SES-9 was carried to orbit aboard a Falcon 9 Full Thrust last March.

The SES-10 satellite was built by Airbus Defence and Space, based on the Eurostar 3000 satellite bus. The 5,282-kilogram (11,645 lb) satellite is designed for an operational lifespan of at least fifteen years. The spacecraft will be positioned at a longitude of 67 degrees west. Its fifty-five Ku-band transponders will allow it to replace the AMC-3 and AMC-4 satellites, which have both been in orbit since the 1990s.

AMC-3 and AMC-4 are former GE Americom satellites which were originally named GE-3 and GE-4. GE-3 was launched atop an Atlas IIAS rocket in September 1997, while GE-4 lifted off atop an Ariane 44LP in November 1999. The satellites were renamed when SES acquired GE Americom and named it SES Americom in 2001. When SES Americom and SES New Skies were reorganized into SES World Skies in 2009 the two satellites were transferred to the new company, which was subsequently merged back into the SES parent company in 2011.

In early January, SES announced that in-flight entertainment services company Global Eagle had agreed to purchase all capacity on the AMC-3 satellite, now four and a half years past the end of its design life, to provide internet connectivity to aircraft over the Americas. SES will continue to operate the satellite, under the name Eagle 1. AMC-4 remains on-orbit at 67 degrees West, providing direct-to-home broadcasting and broadband internet services to the Southern United States, Central America, northwest South America and the Caribbean.

SES-10 will take over coverage of these areas, providing additional transponders and allowing the expansion of services to the rest of South America.

Thursday’s launch is the fourth of the year for SpaceX and the Falcon 9, following January’s Iridium launch, the CRS-10 Dragon launch in February and EchoStar XXIII in mid-March. The next Falcon launch is currently scheduled for 16 April, carrying the NROL-76 payload for the US National Reconnaissance Office.

The SES-10 launch is the first of a busy year for SES, who have five more launches scheduled before the end of 2017. Next up is SES-15, which had been scheduled to ride a Soyuz-STA/Fregat-M to orbit from Kourou at the start of April. This launch has now been delayed until around the middle of the month due to a general strike in French Guiana.

Three more SES satellites are scheduled for launch aboard Falcon 9 and one aboard an Ariane 5, later in the year.

(Images via SpaceX, SES and NASA).

Blue Origin working towards making the Cape its Orbital Launch Site

A newly acquired environmental impact report has provided fascinating insights into Blue Origin’s plans to become a major player on the Space Coast. With a massive facility under construction at KSC’s Exploration Park, the company plans to utilize two Cape Canaveral launch complex’s to test rocket engines, integrate launch vehicles, and conduct up to 12 launches per year of its heavy-lift class orbital vehicles.

Blue Origin:

Blue Origin was founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and initially tagged as a space tourism project. However, the company is now upping its pace, following the path of its motto ‘Gradatim Ferociter’ – step by step, ferociously.

While its test flights – and landings – of the suborbital New Shepard rocket have been greatly impressive, Blue Origin is now pushing towards a slice of the orbital market via its New Glenn rocket.

With New Shepard testing the BE-3 engine, it’s the BE-4 engine that will accelerate the company forward even more ferociously.

The new engine – set for a test fire in the very near future – even won the attention of space industry powerhouse United Launch Alliance (ULA), as it eyes an American made engine for its Vulcan rocket.

Blue Origin’s New Glenn will be the primary user of the BE-4 engine, launching from Cape Canaveral’s LC-36. However, the company’s presence on the Space Coast will be far more than just at the historic launch pad.

With a huge facility already rising out of the ground at the Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park, hardware will make the trip to what will be a 300-acre parcel of land that formerly housed both LC-36 and LC-11.

Throughout nearly 43 years of operation, LC-36 – which comprised of two pads (A and B) launched a combination of commercial and government missions, including those for the USAF and NASA.

Since NASA’s first launch of an Atlas/Centaur rocket in 1962, LC-36 has hosted 145 rocket launches from its two pads (68 from LC-36A and 77 from LC-36B).

2015-09-15-185051The last launch from LC-36A was an Atlas IIAS in 2004, and the last launch from LC-36B was an Atlas IIIB in 2005.

After LC-36 was deactivated in 2006 and much of the infrastructure was demolished in 2006 and 2007, the USAF granted a license to Space Florida in 2009 for the re-development of LC-36 for use as a launch complex for generic launch vehicles (GLV).

In 2010, the USAF 45th Space Wing issued a Real Property License to Space Florida for the complex, allowing for a deal to be struck with Blue Origin with a  sub-license agreement on May 12, 2016. Space Florida has played a pivotal role in revitalizing the Space Coast, with numerous deals, including the SpaceX’s deal to lease Pad 39A.

While LC-36 will be the site of New Glenn launches, a lengthy Environmental Assessment report shows Blue Origin will create another facility at the adjacent LC-11.

The USAF operated LC-11 from 1958 through 1964 as a launch complex for the Atlas family of rockets. It was constructed alongside launch complexes 12, 13, and 14 on what is known as “missile row.”

From the time of the first launch on July 19, 1958, of an Atlas B to the last launch on April 1, 1964, of an Atlas F, thirty-two rockets were launched.

The site was deactivated in 1967, with the pad and service tower structures dismantled. In 2013, the blockhouse was demolished and the site is no longer being maintained.

That will change via Blue Origin’s plans, which include a BE-4 engine test stand at LC-11.

As such, a path of operation for Blue Origin will involve the manufacturing of the large elements, such as first stages, second stages, payload fairings, etc. occurring at the new facility located at Exploration Park (Phase 2).

It is anticipated that primary commercial payload processing would occur at an off-site operations support area.

Once primary payload processing is complete, the payload will be trucked to the Orbital Launch Site (OLS). Optionally, payloads would be fueled at the integration facility.

For the rocket hardware leaving the Exploration Park facility, it will go on road trip to the OLS, as overviewed in the Environmental Assessment report. The path takes the hardware north, then east and down the coastline into LC-36.

“The major elements of the OLS at CCAFS are the launch pad, integration facility, engine test stand, and the systems to recover and refurbish reusable space systems such as the first stage.

“Once elements have been manufactured at the Exploration Park manufacturing facility, they would be transported by road to the integration facility at LC-36.

“The first and second stages, and a possible third stage, would then be mated together and integrated onto the transporter erector system.

“Following integration of the booster stages, the SC (or payloads) would be attached, and then the entire system would undergo a readiness test. The OLV would then be transported from the integration facility approximately 2000 ft. to the launch pad and erected for launch.”

2016-09-12-150711When New Glenn was first introduced, the two-stage variant – with its seven BE-4 engines consuming liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen – was portrayed as 270 feet tall, with a second stage powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine (the BE-4U).

A 3-stage New Glenn was shown to be 313 feet tall, with a single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powering the third stage.

Interestingly, the report notes the three-stage vehicle will be “up to 350 ft (106.68 m) tall, with the thrust of the vehicle reaching approximately, 4.5 million lbf (2 MN). The report also adds that the launch rate anticipated for New Glenn will eventually reach 12 launches per year.

The eventual makeup of the Blue Origin OLS complex will see it spread over existing LC-11 and LC-36, with the launch pad co-located on the former LC-36A area and the engine test stand on the former LC-11 area.

The company will build a deluge basin for the launch pad, located east of the pad, an integration facility, refurbishment building, and GSE (Ground Support Equipment) building will be constructed to support launch operations. Approximately 100 parking spaces will also be constructed for the facility workforce.

Another GSE building will be constructed to support engine testing operations. LOX, and LNG, and LH2 storage tanks will be constructed in the vicinity of the launch pad for the purpose of supporting both launch vehicle fueling, as well as engine testing. A water tank will also be constructed between the launch pad and the engine test stand for water sound suppression and firefighting water supply.

Blue Origin – like SpaceX – has reusability as a major element of its business case, with New Shepard proving to be an able pathfinder for landing the booster after launch.

New Glenn will also return the booster home for reuse, with the latest overview video showing the first stage landing on a ship in the Atlantic.

The report notes the recovery area is expected to defined as an ellipse centered on approximately latitude 29° 42’ 17.79” N and 71° 30′ 53.01″ W with a length and width of approximately 630 miles (1013 km) and 440 miles (708 km) respectively.

The booster will then be returned back to Florida, sailing into Port Canaveral, with the environmental impact report showing the path it will then take back to LC-36 for refurbishment – including a wash down – while also outlining how Blue Origin will process the returned stages.

“The refurbishment building will be constructed at the entrance to the current LC-36 complex.

“After the recoverable first stage is retrieved and returned to the launch site from its offshore landing area, it must be washed to remove salt spray and possible contaminants associated with launch and re-entry.

“A wash water collection system would be designed and constructed to retain the water for recycling or approved discharge to the CCAFS waste water system.”

The stage – as with new stages – will then head to the integration facility at LC-36, located approximately 2,000 feet from the launch pad. This building will have an area of approximately 150,000 sq. ft. (13,935 sq. m.) with a length of 500 ft. (152.4 m.), a width of 300 ft. It may also contain office space and payload fueling operations may also be performed in the integration facility.

The single engine test stand at LC-11 will be used for engine acceptance testing of the BE-4 engine.

“This stand could be designed with a vertical testing configuration for testing the BE-4 engine,” added the report. “The BE-4 will be indirectly fueled during testing through use of remote LNG and LOX tanks located in the vicinity of the test stand.

“The flame duct for the test stand is proposed to be directed in a north-northeast direction at approximately 5 degrees. The deluge basin will be located to the north of the engine test stand and will be approximately 100 ft. x100 ft. (30.5 m x 30.5 m).”

The report adds acceptance testing requires a variety of engine test run durations with a maximum total run duration of approximately 500 seconds.

The total duration of all engine testing would be approximately 30 minutes per month based on approximately nine test events per month. The report also notes New Glenn flows will likely include static fire tests of the rocket on LC-36.

Additional points made in the document includes work that will be undertaken on the roadways, which includes side by side roadways and enough room for at least two first stage boosters side by side in the integration facility.

All new road-ways will be constructed between 6 inches and 12 inches higher than existing roadways “which are some of the highest in the area”, based on “factored global climate change and water level rise” forecasting.

With Blue Origin set to make Cape Canaveral the home of its OLS, the report also noted the Space Coast had to compete with several rival sites within the continental United States, including Camden County Georgia, Hyde County North Carolina and Virginia’s Wallops Island.

New Glenn may debut out of Cape Canaveral as soon as 2020.

(Images via USAF, Blue Origin and L2).

SES-10 static fire aims SpaceX for history books & first core stage re-flight

In what is anticipated to be the first of many such occasions, SpaceX is preparing for the all-important static fire of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that will be tasked with lofting the SES-10 mission to orbit next week.  Of historic importance is the fact that this first stage has already launched a mission – marking the first time that SpaceX will refly the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket.

Static fire – the road to launch No Earlier Than 29 March:

The static fire process for SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket is one of the last critical components in the pre-launch flow ahead of liftoff.

For SES-10, the Falcon 9 and mated second stage will be moved to the launch pad on top of the TEL (Transporter Erector Launcher) and will be taken to vertical at historic launch complex 39A.

Once the Falcon 9 is vertical, technicians and engineers will complete all of the connections between the TEL/launch mount and LC-39A and proceed into countdown operations on Sunday morning.

For this particular static fire, SpaceX has an eight-hour window from 1500 to 2300 Eastern Daylight Time on 26 March.

KSC security personnel will establish roadblocks on the main roads leading to LC-39A only (Pad-B will remain open) at 1130 EDT that morning, and KSC Emergency Operations Command (EOC) will be activated at 1330 EDT and will stand ready to assist in the “extreme, unlikely event of an anomaly”, notes an SES-10 Mission Update package available on L2.

Once into countdown operations, the Falcon 9 will be filled with its RP1 and LOX fuel and oxidizer and run through the same series of steps as it will encounter in its actual countdown.

If all goes to plan, 3.5 seconds prior to T0, the 9 Merlin 1D engines at the base of the Falcon 9 first stage – Core #1021 – will ignite for a multi-second firing sequence.

Usually, Falcon 9 static fires result in a 3.5 second engine firing – taking the vehicle right up to the nominal T0 point in the count – at which point all 9 engines are shut down and the vehicle is secured.

However, the static fire for SES-10 might be slightly longer – in the 5-second range – as was seen with the previous SES mission, SES-9, launched by a Falcon 9 rocket last year.

Regardless of the duration of Sunday’s planned static fire, the event will provide SpaceX with valuable data and a wet dress rehearsal for the actual launch – which is currently slated for Wednesday, 29 March in a window extending from 1659 to 1929 EDT.

The SES-10 mission had, earlier this month, been slated for No Earlier Than (NET) 27 March – with a static fire NET 23 March.

That schedule was rearranged earlier this week – around the same time SpaceX stated that LC-39A held up extremely well from the Echostar XXIII launch and would have been able to support a 27 March launch – due to ongoing delays with an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance which is slated to launch the OA7 Cygnus mission for Orbital ATK.

When ULA noted that they needed additional time to fix a hydraulic issue with the Atlas V, SpaceX agreed to delay the SES-10 launch by two days to allow ULA the 27 March date for a mission to launch supplies to the International Space Station.

When ULA subsequently announced that the Atlas V mission was being delayed indefinitely to fix a new hydraulic issue discovered on GSE (Ground Support Equipment), SpaceX opted not to pull the launch of SES-10 back to 27 March and instead hold the 29 March date after all of their schedules and workflows for personnel, the rocket, and the ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship) Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) barge had been realigned accordingly.

Making history – Reusing a Falcon 9 core stage for the first time:

The history of Core #1021 stretches back far, in terms of what has to date been normal with Falcon 9 launches.

For the first time in its storied history, Core 1021 fired up for its first hot fire test at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test facility on 5 February 2016.

Following the full duration hot fire, the core suffered an incident on 8 February during follow-up testing when a GSE-related incident damaged most of the stage’s engine nozzles.

The damage was repaired at McGregor, and the stage was shipped to Cape Canaveral by the end of March 2016.

After its arrival at SLC-40, Core 1021 was transported into the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) and prepared for mating with its second stage and CRS-8 Dragon payload.

On 5 April, the core’s nine engines lit for the 3.5 second static fire on SLC-40.

Three days later, the engines once again roared to life as Core 1021 launched with the CRS-8 mission to the ISS.

After 2 minutes 42 seconds of flight, the engines shut down, and Core 1021 separated from the second stage – which continued to sail into orbit.

After separation, Core 1021 performed a Boostback Burn to set up its reentry into the atmosphere and place it onto the proper course for landing on the ASDS OCISLY barge.

This was followed by an automated Entry Burn and then a single-engine landing burn.

With a live view from a chase plane, Core 1021 eased onto OCISLY 8 minutes 35 seconds after liftoff while the 2nd stage continued to power the CRS-8 Dragon to orbit.

Landing on OCISLY marked the first successful drone ship landing of a Falcon 9 core and the second overall successful core stage landing for the company.

Interestingly enough, Core 1021 could have performed a Return To Launch Site landing at LZ-1 – like the ORBCOMM-2 core had in December 2015; however, SpaceX opted to land Core 1021 on the ASDS barge instead to prove beyond doubt that barge landings and recoveries were possible.

After securing Core 1021 on the barge, the duo set sail back for Port Canaveral.

Once in Port, the core was removed from OCISLY and engineers removed its landing legs before the whole core was rotated horizontal and loaded onto a transport trailer – where it was then taken from Port Canaveral to the HIF at LC-39A.

At the HIF, months of inspections, engine removals, and studies commenced.

Originally, Core 1021 was destined for multiple hot fires as part of SpaceX’s concerted effort to learn as much as possible from a returned core before committing any core to reflight.

The originally announced plan called for Core 1021 to undergo 10 firings over the course of several months.

At this same time, it was not known with certainty where Core 1021 would undergo these 10 test firings – with some hopes being that those firings could occur at LC-39A with McGregor as a backup.

However, as more and more cores hit their landing marks and were recovered, it was decided that Core 1021 was not the best choice for the 10 post-flight firings.

That job went to Core 1022 that launched the JCSAT-14 mission and performed a successful reentry and landing at its maximum operational and heating limits – so much so that SpaceX didn’t really expect Core 1022 to successfully reenter and land, thus making it a perfect battled-hardened test article.

Post-flight inspections of the JCSAT-14 core immediately ruled out its ability to fly again, but as Elon Musk noted, the core became the “life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”

After initial evaluations inside the LC-39A HIF, Core 1022 was wrapped up and transported to McGregor.

In July, it was hoisted onto the Falcon 9 test stand and topped with a special cap to provide simulated weight for a second stage to aid in the data acquisition process.

Notably, Core 1022 was not the first core to see a second life – as the ORBCOMM-2 core was previously static fired on SLC-40 on 14 January 2016 to provide an initial set of data points on a previously-flown core.

On 28 July 2016, Core 1022 came back to life, conducting a 2 minute 30 second full duration hot fire test.

This was followed by two more full duration hot fires over the next two days.

After being removed from the test stand to make room for another core, Core 1022 was then returned to the stand and fired up several more times.

All of these tests on an already flown, maximally stressed F9 core provided crucial data for SpaceX on the health of returned F9 cores, how their systems responded to multiple firings and cryo tanking cycles, and gave a good baseline for the number of times each system can potentially be reused.

Importantly, it proved – through data – that the stages could be reflown.

However, even before Core 1022 was put through its paces at McGregor, SpaceX announced on 16 July 2016 its intentions to use the CRS-8 Core, #1021, for the first Falcon 9 reflight – though no specific mission was formally announced.

In August 2016, the SES corporation confirmed that their SES-10 mission would be the first one to use an already flown Falcon 9 core.

At this point, SES-10 was scheduled for a “contractual window between mid-October and mid-November 2016.”

Just days after this announcement, the AMOS-6 static fire ended with a conflagration event and the destruction of that Falcon 9 and the AMOS-6 satellite and resulted in significant damage to SLC-40.

With the Falcon 9 grounded as an investigation took place, SES-10’s place in the manifest shuffled as the Falcon 9 launch order was redesigned.

By January 2017, just after a successful Falcon 9 Return To Flight mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Core 1021 was at Mcgregor and installed on the Falcon 9 test stand.

The core was loaded with propellant, and its nine Merlin 1D engines were fired for a full duration hot fire test – as part of a standard pre-launch flow.

The core was then transported back to the Kennedy Space Center and moved into the HIF for final flight processing.

Despite the passage of nearly one year between flights, Core 1021 was refurbished in just four months, as Gwynne Shotwell stated earlier this month.

Looking ahead to launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Core 1021 at sea with OCISLY.

If SpaceX can successfully recover Core 1021 again, it will not only be an historic achievement, but will provide even more data on how Falcon 9 core stages fare during reflight events.

(Images: SpaceX; ULA)

SES-10 F9 static fire – SpaceX for history books & first core stage re-flight

In what is anticipated to be the first of many such occasions, SpaceX has conducted the all-important static fire on Monday of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that will be tasked with lofting the SES-10 mission to orbit next week.  Of historic importance is the fact that this first stage has already launched a mission – marking the first time that SpaceX will refly the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket.

Static fire – the road to launch No Earlier Than 29 March:

The static fire process for SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket is one of the last critical components in the pre-launch flow ahead of liftoff.

For SES-10, the Falcon 9 and mated second stage moved to the launch pad on top of the TEL (Transporter Erector Launcher) and taken to vertical at historic launch complex 39A.

Once the Falcon 9 was vertical, technicians and engineers completed all of the connections between the TEL/launch mount and LC-39A and proceeded into countdown operations on Monday morning.

For this particular static fire, SpaceX had a six-hour window.

KSC security personnel established roadblocks on the main roads leading to LC-39A and KSC Emergency Operations Command (EOC) were activated and on stand ready to assist in the “extreme, unlikely event of an anomaly”, notes an SES-10 Mission Update package available on L2.

Once into countdown operations, the Falcon 9 was filled with its RP1 and LOX fuel and oxidizer and run through the same series of steps as it will encounter in its actual countdown.

The nine Merlin 1D engines at the base of the Falcon 9 first stage – Core #1021 – then ignited for a multi-second firing sequence.

Usually, Falcon 9 static fires result in a 3.5 second engine firing – taking the vehicle right up to the nominal T0 point in the count – at which point all 9 engines are shut down and the vehicle is secured.

However, the static fire for SES-10 might be slightly longer – in the 5-second range – as was seen with the previous SES mission, SES-9, launched by a Falcon 9 rocket last year. Visuals of the firing suggested the test did last for five seconds.

Regardless of the duration of the planned static fire, the event provided SpaceX with valuable data and a wet dress rehearsal for the actual launch – which is now slated for Thursday, 30 March in a window extending from 1800 to 2030 EDT.

The SES-10 mission had, earlier this month, been slated for No Earlier Than (NET) 27 March – with a static fire NET now as 24 March. However, a tight schedule has slipped the mission twice ahead of the Static Fire.

LC-39A held up extremely well from the Echostar XXIII launch and would have been able to support a 27 March launch. However, the first impact was due to ongoing delays with an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance which is slated to launch the OA7 Cygnus mission for Orbital ATK.

When ULA noted that they needed additional time to fix a Ground Support Equipment (GSE) issue, SpaceX agreed to delay the SES-10 launch by two days to allow ULA the 27 March date for a mission to launch supplies to the International Space Station.

When ULA subsequently announced that the Atlas V mission was being delayed indefinitely to fix a new hydraulic issue, this time with the Atlas V booster, SpaceX opted not to pull the launch of SES-10 back to 27 March and instead hold the 29 March date after all of their schedules and workflows for personnel, the rocket, and the ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship) Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) barge had been realigned accordingly.

A tight schedule resulted in the Static Fire and launch date slipping one additional day respectively.

Making history – Reusing a Falcon 9 core stage for the first time:

The history of Core #1021 stretches back far, in terms of what has to date been normal with Falcon 9 launches.

For the first time in its storied history, Core 1021 fired up for its first hot fire test at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test facility on 5 February 2016.

Following the full duration hot fire, the core suffered an incident on 8 February during follow-up testing when a GSE-related incident damaged most of the stage’s engine nozzles.

The damage was repaired at McGregor, and the stage was shipped to Cape Canaveral by the end of March 2016.

After its arrival at SLC-40, Core 1021 was transported into the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) and prepared for mating with its second stage and CRS-8 Dragon payload.

On 5 April, the core’s nine engines lit for the 3.5 second static fire on SLC-40.

Three days later, the engines once again roared to life as Core 1021 launched with the CRS-8 mission to the ISS.

After 2 minutes 42 seconds of flight, the engines shut down, and Core 1021 separated from the second stage – which continued to sail into orbit.

After separation, Core 1021 performed a Boostback Burn to set up its reentry into the atmosphere and place it onto the proper course for landing on the ASDS OCISLY barge.

This was followed by an automated Entry Burn and then a single-engine landing burn.

With a live view from a chase plane, Core 1021 eased onto OCISLY 8 minutes 35 seconds after liftoff while the 2nd stage continued to power the CRS-8 Dragon to orbit.

Landing on OCISLY marked the first successful drone ship landing of a Falcon 9 core and the second overall successful core stage landing for the company.

Interestingly enough, Core 1021 could have performed a Return To Launch Site landing at LZ-1 – like the ORBCOMM-2 core had in December 2015; however, SpaceX opted to land Core 1021 on the ASDS barge instead to prove beyond doubt that barge landings and recoveries were possible.

After securing Core 1021 on the barge, the duo set sail back for Port Canaveral.

Once in Port, the core was removed from OCISLY and engineers removed its landing legs before the whole core was rotated horizontal and loaded onto a transport trailer – where it was then taken from Port Canaveral to the HIF at LC-39A.

At the HIF, months of inspections, engine removals, and studies commenced.

Originally, Core 1021 was destined for multiple hot fires as part of SpaceX’s concerted effort to learn as much as possible from a returned core before committing any core to reflight.

The originally announced plan called for Core 1021 to undergo 10 firings over the course of several months.

At this same time, it was not known with certainty where Core 1021 would undergo these 10 test firings – with some hopes being that those firings could occur at LC-39A with McGregor as a backup.

However, as more and more cores hit their landing marks and were recovered, it was decided that Core 1021 was not the best choice for the 10 post-flight firings.

That job went to Core 1022 that launched the JCSAT-14 mission and performed a successful reentry and landing at its maximum operational and heating limits – so much so that SpaceX didn’t really expect Core 1022 to successfully reenter and land, thus making it a perfect battled-hardened test article.

Post-flight inspections of the JCSAT-14 core immediately ruled out its ability to fly again, but as Elon Musk noted, the core became the “life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”

After initial evaluations inside the LC-39A HIF, Core 1022 was wrapped up and transported to McGregor.

In July, it was hoisted onto the Falcon 9 test stand and topped with a special cap to provide simulated weight for a second stage to aid in the data acquisition process.

Notably, Core 1022 was not the first core to see a second life – as the ORBCOMM-2 core was previously static fired on SLC-40 on 14 January 2016 to provide an initial set of data points on a previously-flown core.

On 28 July 2016, Core 1022 came back to life, conducting a 2 minute 30 second full duration hot fire test.

This was followed by two more full duration hot fires over the next two days.

After being removed from the test stand to make room for another core, Core 1022 was then returned to the stand and fired up several more times.

All of these tests on an already flown, maximally stressed F9 core provided crucial data for SpaceX on the health of returned F9 cores, how their systems responded to multiple firings and cryo tanking cycles, and gave a good baseline for the number of times each system can potentially be reused.

Importantly, it proved – through data – that the stages could be reflown.

However, even before Core 1022 was put through its paces at McGregor, SpaceX announced on 16 July 2016 its intentions to use the CRS-8 Core, #1021, for the first Falcon 9 reflight – though no specific mission was formally announced.

In August 2016, the SES corporation confirmed that their SES-10 mission would be the first one to use an already flown Falcon 9 core.

At this point, SES-10 was scheduled for a “contractual window between mid-October and mid-November 2016.”

Just days after this announcement, the AMOS-6 static fire ended with a conflagration event and the destruction of that Falcon 9 and the AMOS-6 satellite and resulted in significant damage to SLC-40.

With the Falcon 9 grounded as an investigation took place, SES-10’s place in the manifest shuffled as the Falcon 9 launch order was redesigned.

By January 2017, just after a successful Falcon 9 Return To Flight mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Core 1021 was at Mcgregor and installed on the Falcon 9 test stand.

The core was loaded with propellant, and its nine Merlin 1D engines were fired for a full duration hot fire test – as part of a standard pre-launch flow.

The core was then transported back to the Kennedy Space Center and moved into the HIF for final flight processing.

Despite the passage of nearly one year between flights, Core 1021 was refurbished in just four months, as Gwynne Shotwell stated earlier this month.

Looking ahead to launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Core 1021 at sea with OCISLY.

If SpaceX can successfully recover Core 1021 again, it will not only be an historic achievement, but will provide even more data on how Falcon 9 core stages fare during reflight events.

(Images: SpaceX; ULA)

EVA-40: Astronauts complete EVA to prepare ISS for future crew vehicles

Two astronauts stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS), conducting a six and a half hour spacewalk to upgrade the station, perform routine maintenance, and prepare the station for the arrival of future commercial crew vehicles. The EVA got underway at 11:24 PM GMT, completed all the assigned tasks and was completed ahead of schedule.

US EVA-40:

US EVA-40 was performed by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough as EV-1, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet as EV-2.

The first order of business upon egressing the Quest airlock was for Kimbrough to proceed to the S0 Truss to swap out an External Multiplexer/Demultiplexer (EXT MDM) box with an upgraded unit known as an Enhanced Processor & Integrated Communications (EPIC) unit.

MDMs perform multiplexing and demultiplexing functions, which essentially means that they send and receive multiple signals and data streams between the ground and the ISS, or ISS laptops and ISS systems, or ISS systems and other systems.

This essentially allows all the ISS systems to talk to each other and be commanded by both the ground and the ISS crew.

While its commonly referred to that the ISS crew use laptops to control the station, in fact the laptops control the MDMs, which in turn control the station.

There are two types of MDMs on ISS – internal (INT) and External (EXT). EPIC upgrades have previously been performed on INT MDMs, where the units themselves were opened up and new, upgraded circuit cards were installed to upgrade the MDMs to EPIC standard.

For the EXT MDMs however, this would be too fiddly to perform by EVA crewmembers, thus the entire MDM itself was swapped out for an upgraded unit. The EPIC upgrades equip the MDMs with faster processors, increased memory, and an Ethernet port for data output, which gives the ISS greater communications capability, allowing for the operation of more simultaneous experiments.

The MDM swap-out procedure itself was fairly simple, with bolts first driven to remove the old unit, and the new unit then being bolted in its place, with a pre-positioned ethernet cable then being connected to the new MDM to take advantage of its upgraded capabilities.

The removal and installation went to plan, via the use of Shane’s Pistol Grip Tool (PGT).

Following completion of the MDM task, Kimbrough then headed to Pressurised Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) on the Port side of the Node 3 module, whereupon he disconnected four heater cables between PMA-3 and Node 3.

This is to prepare PMA-3 for its long-awaited relocation from Node 3 Port to Node 2 Zenith, so that it can serve as a docking port for future commercial crew vehicles.

In its current location on Node 3 Port, PMA-3 is unusable as a docking port due to clearance issues with the station structure. The last time that PMA-3 was actually used for a docking was during the STS-98 shuttle mission in February 2001, and since that time it has been shuffled around different ports on the ISS and used for storage.

However, with commercial crew vehicles soon coming online, which will use the “direct handover” model for crew transfers, PMA-3 has now found a use once again as a second docking port for commercial crew vehicles.

At one time a plan was under consideration to return PMA-3 to Earth on the final Space Shuttle flight, STS-135, in July 2011, as it was not envisaged at that time that PMA-3 would ever be used again, since the plan then was to build two Common Docking Adapters (CDAs), which were flat devices to convert ISS Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) ports to commercial crew docking ports.

However, it was subsequently decided to retain the PMAs as docking ports for commercial crew vehicles, rather than build a brand-new docking adapter, as the PMA’s tunnel-like design provides a good amount of spacing between visiting vehicles and the ISS, thus avoiding any clearance issues between vehicles and the station structure.

Once PMA-3 has been relocated to Node 2 Zenith by robotic means, current planned to occur on 26th March, it will need to have an International Docking Adapter (IDA) installed onto its end, in order to convert its Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System (APAS) compatible docking port to a Soft Impact Mating Attenuation Concept (SIMAC) compatible port for future crew vehicles.

Once complete with the PMA-3 task, Kimbrough headed to the Japanese Exposed Facility (JEF) in order to remove & replace two failed camera/light units – once of which was located on the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEM RMS), and one of which was located on the JEF itself.

Due to being ahead of the timeline, Shane then went to replace a light on a CETA (Crew Equipment and Translation Aid) Cart.

Meanwhile, Pesquet headed to the External Stowage Platform-2 (ESP-2) in order to retrieve an Articulating Portable Foot Restraint (APFR) and extender, which he then installed on the P1 Truss as an anchor for himself while he performed his task – a visual inspection of the Radiator Beam Valve Module (RBVM) on the P1 Truss radiators.

An RBVM is used to isolate and provide emergency venting of the radiator ammonia supply and return lines, and monitor temperatures and pressures in those lines. There are six RBVMs per each set of three radiators on the P1 and S1 Trusses.

Over recent months, a small leak in the Loop B cooling system on the P1 Truss has increased in rate, although relatively speaking it is only by a tiny amount. To this end, NASA teams recently utilized a new piece of station hardware, known as the Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL), to try and find the source of the leak.

As detailed in L2 notes from the time: “Ground teams performed a series of surveys using the RELL. These surveys were focused around RBVM P1-3-2 in an effort to help pin-point the location of a leak in External Active Thermal Control System (EATCS) Loop B”.

“Preliminary data reviews appear to have increased confidence that the leak may be on the radiator side of the RBVM, however some uncertainty still remains.”

As such, ground teams wanted Pesquet to conduct a visual inspection of the RBVM, and associated supply and return lines, in order to determine if any ammonia leak is visible, and if so, the precise source of the leak, although no action is planned to be taken at this time if a leak is found.

Thomas was told to “pat and rub” the tubes, while filming the exercise on a GoPro camera, which will allow for detailed examination of the footage to see if any leaks can be observed.

No obvious leaks were seen during the inspection.

Following the RBVM inspection task, Pesquet then proceeded to lubricate the Latching End Effector (LEE) on the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM) “Dextre”, which is a routine maintenance task for all LEEs on station, and involves applying grease to a ball screw inside the LEE itself in order to prevent any future metallic abrasion.

On the end of a foot restraint, Thomas used a grease gun to apply lubricant to a rod, which he then inserted into Dextre’s ball screw joints, allowing for the lubrication of the hardware that had showed signs of wear and tear over recent months.

Following completion of the tasks, both Kimbrough and Pesquet headed back inside the airlock to conclude the EVA.

(Images via NASA and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

RS-25 engine controller involved in static fire test at Stennis

NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Syncom Space Services have conducted the first hot-fire test of a flight model RS-25 engine controller on Thursday afternoon. The eight-minute long test firing occurred in the A-1 test stand at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. RS-25 engines will power the Core Stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle, planned for the first launch in about two years.
RS-25 Test:

Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

The new Honeywell engine controller unit (ECU) is bolted and wired onto development engine 0528, which is being used for the current series of hot-fire tests in the A-1 stand at Stennis.

The test team at Stennis conducted ignition at 3 pm Central time (20:00 UTC). The primary objective of the test is to acceptance test (or “green run”) the new FM2 flight model ECU. Each RS-25 engine has a dedicated, redundant controller unit that controls its operation, monitors its health, and communicates with the SLS flight computers.

FM2 was delivered to Stennis in early this month and installed on development engine 0528 (E0528), following shortly behind the delivery of the FM1 unit last month to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama.

The FM1 unit is dedicated for ground testing. After FM2 is green run it will be removed from E0528, taken to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at Stennis, and installed on one of the flight engines designated for the first SLS launch. Eventually, the flight engines will be shipped to the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, for installation into the first flight Core Stage when that point in assembly is reached.

NASA spokesperson Kim Henry reported the planned duration of the test is 500 seconds, which is the expected operating time of the RS-25 engines for SLS launches. During the test, the engine was throttled at different thrust levels; at 109 percent of rated power level (RPL) for 280 seconds, at 100 percent for 35 seconds, at 90 percent for 27 seconds, and at 80 percent for 97 seconds.

The duration of the test appeared to be nominal from the live coverage on NASA TV.

*Click here for more RS-25 News Articles*

Henry noted the test will also demonstrate that the engine can start satisfactorily with “weak” LOX inlet conditions and “strong” fuel inlet conditions.

The RS-25 was originally developed in the 1970s for the Space Shuttle Program when it was known as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME).

Three SSMEs were used in the Shuttle system to help propel Shuttle orbiter vehicles into Earth orbit.

NASA decided on a design of the SLS that uses four RS-25 engines in the Core Stage; as with Shuttle, those are combined in SLS with two Solid Rocket Boosters that fire for the first two minutes of launch. The engines burn cryogenic liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) that fed to them from separate Core Stage propellant tanks where they are stored.

RS-25 hot-fire testing began at Stennis in January 2015, to demonstrate and certify engine operation at the higher performance levels for SLS. The engines run in SLS at higher pressures and higher thrust than on Shuttle, and the hydrolox propellant is also fed to them at colder temperatures.

A new engine control system, including a new engine controller, is also being certified to fly with the SLS vehicle; this green run test of the flight model ECU also provides some of the required data for certification.

Thursday’s hot-fire will be the fifth in a test series with E0528 that began in July of last year. So far, a total of twelve tests have been conducted using both development engines and one flight engine retained from the Shuttle Program.

All prior RS-25 hot-fire tests used an engineering model of the new controller that is functionally equivalent to the flight units but could be produced earlier. Certification of the new control system and controller also involves lab testing at MSFC, and at Aerojet Rocketdyne and Honeywell facilities around the United States.

Hot-fire tests are designed to meet several test objectives and one of the objectives in the last test was to evaluate a requirements change request from the SLS Program to run the engine at a slightly higher LOX inlet pressure than planned.

“The high LOX inlet pressure demonstration last test went very well,” Henry noted. “The actual value demonstrated slightly exceeded the new vehicle requirement, and the engine performed nominally.”

Running the engine at the slightly higher inlet pressure will maintain vehicle structural margins during parts of the boost phase of launch without needing to throttle the engines down. Future hot-fire tests will also continue to explore engine performance at the higher LOX inlet pressure.

Deliveries of the new flight model engine controllers for green run testing were originally expected last year. The current plan this year is to individually green run more of the flight ECUs installed in both development and flight engines. New flight controllers (FM3, FM4, and so on) will be rotated onto E0528 on the test stand with two or three more hot-fire tests planned for about once a month, followed by an acceptance test of two full flight engines in the Summer.

The engines designated for the first SLS launch will get an additional pre-launch test firing together in a green run of the completed Core Stage; that test will occur on the nearby B-2 test stand at Stennis.

(Images: Via NASA and L2 – including photos from Philip Sloss and SLS renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

In-space DNA sequencing success looks to increase capability with OA-7

When the SpaceX CRS-9 mission launched to the ISS last July, it took with it a first-of-a-kind experiment to examine the possibility of sequencing DNA in space.  Not only did that experiment prove beyond doubt that sequencing DNA on the Space Station is possible, the scientists behind the experiment now have an opportunity to continue their research with a new round of experiments set to launch on Orbital ATK’s Cygnus OA-7 resupply mission.

Sequencing DNA in space – not just possible, but effective:

Shortly after the experiment lifted off on a Falcon 9 and the CRS-9 Dragon resupply mission last July, two members of the DNA sequencing team sat down with NASASpaceflight.com to preview the experiment and talk about what might come to pass with the ground-breaking research.

Now, with the experiment on Station for eight months, those same scientists – Aaron Burton, Principal Investigator, and Kristen John, Deputy Project Manager and Project Engineer – once again sat down with NASASpaceflight.com to discuss the results of the experiment and what the future holds for the technology.

“On August 26, we performed our first experiment,” stated Kristen.  “Kate Rubins was the astronaut who did the first experiment.  And it went really well.”

While Dr. Rubins performed the first experiment on the Station, Aaron, Kristen as well as Sarah Stahl and Sarah Wallace – the other members of the science team – were at the Johnson Space Center talking directly to her.

“We could see from the video feed that [the experiment] was working pretty quickly.  That was the first experiment, and we sequenced a mouse DNA, a virus, and a bacteria.

“And then we continued to perform another 8 experiments over the course of several months.”

Under the original plan, only three runs were scheduled – with the remaining six samples sent up as contingency or “just in case” back ups”.

As Kristen noted, however, “After the first few runs went really well and we had the right folks on board, we successfully petitioned that it was worthwhile to do the last six, and they let us do all nine of the samples we had sent up.”

With the ability to run six more samples than originally anticipated, the team took the opportunity to change up certain parameters of the experiment.

“We ended up doing a series of experiments where we basically changed the runtime, where some were six hours long and some of them were 48 hours long,” stated Kristen.  

“And then we spaced them out over time.”

Aaron added to this, noting that one of the experiments reused a flow cell, as well.

“We also did an experiment where we reused the flow cell.  So we loaded a sample on it, we ran it for a while, then loaded a second sample, and then continued to run it just to demonstrate more utility in the flow cells.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 15.53.54Aaron further stated that “initially, we had no idea how much data we were going to generate.  But we found with our 6 hour runs that we would get about a third of the data that we would get if we did a 48-hour run.”

What the team discovered is that they were able to gather enough data after four sequencing runs to sequence the whole genome of the bacteria.

After all nine runs, they were able to get the whole genome of the virus.

“If you add up all of the bases we sequenced during the whole set of experiments, we got about two and a half million bases on the DNA sequence.

“We were close to having the number of bases for the mouse genome,” stated Aaron.

Originally, the experiment had been carefully planned to coincide with Dr. Rubins’ stay on the Station – as her microbiology background and work to develop the experiment and tools on the ground were instrumental in the initial round of sequencing tests.

In all, Dr. Rubins performed seven of the nine experiment runs before she returned to Earth last October.

As luck would have it, shortly after Dr. Rubins departed the ISS, Dr. Peggy Whitson launched as part of the Expedition 50 crew – providing the sequencing team with yet another astronaut with an extensive background in biochemistry.

“We were lucky that we had Kate Rubins and Peggy Whitson be the astronauts doing it,” stated Kristen, who added that Dr. Whitson performed the last two sequencing runs – the last of which took place in January.

2016-07-22-215922“Ultimately, the idea is that anyone can be able to do this,” said Kristen.  “So it was just the way it worked out with who was [on Station] that we had experts showing that they could do it.”

Regardless, the team is confident – thanks in part to runs of the experiment performed during NEEMO 21 last summer – that other astronauts with non-microbiology/biochemistry backgrounds can perform the experiment.

In terms of the experiments’ effectiveness, while it’s difficult to gauge specifics with only nine sample runs, the experiment was actually found to be 1-2% more effective in terms of sequencing accuracies than the parallel, control experiments performed on the ground at the same time.

“For every sample we ran on the ISS we had a parallel sample on the ground,” noted Aaron.

“And we actually found … that we got, pretty much every time, more data generated from the experiments on the ISS than on the Earth.

“We also found that the sequencing accuracies were a little bit higher on the ISS by 1 or 2% than on the ground.”

While there are numerous variables at play, the team is confident with the first round of sample runs to say that DNA sequencing in space is “absolutely no worse” than on the ground.

“At this point, I feel confident saying it works just as well,” said Aaron.  “I’m not confident enough to say it works better.”

Continuing the research – OA-7 Cygnus to launch new round of experiments/equipment:

When Orbital ATK’s OA-7 Cygnus mission launches to the ISS, it will carry with it – among numerous other payloads – a set of new samples and equipment to permit further DNA sequencing runs that will demonstrate the entire process – not just the sequencing of an already prepared sample.

“Over the next couple months, the next step will be to run through the whole process where a crew member will show that he or she can do the whole thing using a mini-PCR that’s already on Station to prepare the sample, using pipettes to move the sample around, and then finally sequencing the sample in the MinION sequencer,” noted Kristen.

The mini-PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) is used, in this case, as a heat block to heat up samples as part of their preparation for sequencing.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 15.48.49The mini-PCR that will be used from the upcoming DNA sequencing experiments is on Station not as part of this experiment but as part of the Genes in Space program, run by Boeing, which gives high school students the opportunity to fly microbiology projects to the ISS.

In addition to the unprepared samples, OA-7 will also deliver two new MinION sequencers and new flow cells.

The original MinION sequencers used for the first nine sample runs will be stored for future return to Earth on a Dragon spacecraft.

If the experiment samples launching on OA-7 prove successful, the team hopes to follow that with a series of samples – each containing various bacterial samples – to demonstrate the technology’s ability to distinguish between various types of bacteria.

Eventually, the team hopes to launch samples that contain a mix of various organisms to be sequenced on orbit with that data then put out into the field for researchers to see if they can identify the organisms in the samples from just the data returned from the in-space DNA sequence.

2016-07-22-220627But the real home run experiment, according to Aaron, is the ability to sequence a truly unknown sample.

“What we’d like to have happen is to actually test a real environmental sample that the crew collects up there,” noted Aaron.  “That’s kind of the home run experiment.

“So if the crew can grow something up on a culture plate, the question is then: can we amplify some DNA from that and sequence it?

“That could allow us to identify in a matter of hours what’s growing up there rather than the time it normally takes to return that sample to Earth and characterize it by traditional methods – which can take months.”

2016-07-22-214423Moreover, the entire process, and the MinION sequencer, specifically, should be able to identify any bacterial or viral life form growing/living on Station or infecting one of the crewmembers.

“In principle, it should be able to identify everything that’s up there,” staid Aaron.  

In the realm of bacteria, this species level identification via the MinION DNA sequence is possible due to the fact that all bacteria have a 16S gene, or rRNA – ribosomal RNA.  

As Aaron related, “There are regions where every bacteria has the same DNA sequence and regions where evolution has allowed mutations to occur.  So by looking at the places where those mutations and differences are, you can actually get species-level identification of the bacteria.

2016-07-22-215831“So if you’re looking for bacteria, you can amplify the whole 16S gene, and by looking at the differences in them, you can identify all the different species of bacteria that are in that sample.

“And that’s absolutely what we want to do because just because you know there’s bacteria in your local water sample, you want to know if it’s actually something that’s going to be harmful to you – do you need to treat it – or is it going to be benign.  Because achieving bacterial sterility is really hard.”

Ultimately, the team’s goal is to make this experiment a permanent platform on the ISS that other researchers – including NASA and the Station’s crew – can use.

Until then, the experiment runs continue – demonstrating, importantly, that anyone can perform this type of sequencing.

(Images: SpaceX, NASA, Nanopore Tech, and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

Air Force reveals plan for up to 48 launches per year from Cape Canaveral

Following the successful launch of a Delta IV rocket with the WGS-9 satellite Saturday night, Brigadier General Wayne R. Monteith and Major General David D. Thompson of the U.S. Air Force discussed the 45th Space Wing’s plan to ramp up to 48 launches per year – a feat made possible in large part due to the introduction by SpaceX of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System and the increasing and booming commercial launch market.

Breaking barriers – U.S. Air Force celebrates 70th anniversary, 67 years at CCAFS:

As part of the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force initiated a series of year-long celebrations on Saturday night with the launch of a Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-9 satellite.

Lifting off into the crystal clear night sky above Central Florida, the Delta IV marked the 3,550th rocket launch from the CCAFS and the fourth flight from the Cape this year.

With four flights under its belt, the 45th Space Wing is now preparing for the remaining 31 launches on this year’s manifest – the next two of which are scheduled within three days of each other on 24 and 27 March.

The 24 March launch will see a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, flying in its 401 configuration, deliver the Cygnus OA-7 mission to the International Space Station on behalf of Orbital ATK.

Three days later, on 27 March, SpaceX is – at time of publication – planning to launch the SES-10 mission on a Falcon 9 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center – a launch which will mark the first time SpaceX reuses a flown Falcon 9 first stage.

From a dozen launches per year to 48:

In the past ten years, the CCAFS and Kennedy Space Center combined have seen anywhere from between 7 to 18 launches per year, with the lowest of those numbers coming in 2008 and the highest in 2016.

However, this year alone, the CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force plan to nearly double its 2016 number, with 35 total launches manifested, 28 of them being commercial missions.

As Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander, Air Force Special Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, stated in a post-WGS-9 launch briefing, “The commercial spaceflight market is just blooming.

The Maj. Gen. specifically noted that the 45th Space Wing is doing everything possible to reduce the amount of time it takes to reconfigure assets between launches – something that will eventually allow the Cape to increase from its already packed schedule of 35 launches this year to an eventual goal of 48 launches per year in the “next couple of years.”

Of particular note toward this goal was Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander, 45th Space Wing and Director, Eastern Range, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Brig. Gen. Monteith specifically discussed how the 45th Space Wing has been working to increase its capabilities to support such a robust schedule.

Speaking after the Delta IV WGS-9 launch, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated, “This launch here represented the fourth launch this year.  We launched just 66 hours ago the Falcon 9.  

“We also have another launch, an Atlas, in 6 days, and then 3 days after that we have another Falcon with SES-10.  

“So we will do four launches within three weeks.  That’s just an incredible team effort.”

In many ways, the 45th Space Wing’s launch cadence increase plans are owed to SpaceX’s introduction of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS).

The AFTS debuted this year from LC-39A with the Falcon 9 launch of the CRS-10 mission to the ISS for NASA.

“When we talk about breaking barriers, a good example of that here is the new Autonomous Flight Termination System.  It flew on the Falcon 9 on CRS-S10 and this last Falcon mission for Echostar that we had was the last time they plan on flying a traditional flight termination system.  

Under a traditional FTS, there is a person “in the loop”.

As the Brig. Gen. explained, “We have now gone completely autonomous with that system.  So with CRS-10 and all others with the AFTS, we’re able to reduce our operational footprint by 60% on day of launch.

“So we came down 96 people that don’t have to be sitting on console.  And the cost to the customer is cut in half.  

“We are driving out every bit of inefficiency that we have.”

Moreover, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated that this new AFTS combined with two operational SpaceX pads at Kennedy and the CCAFS will allow the company to launch two Falcon 9 rockets – one from 39A and one from SLC-40 – within 16 to 18 hours of each other.

“When pad 40 is up and operating, [it will] give us the capability of launching a Falcon from both pad 39A and pad 40 on the same day,” stated the Brig. Gen.

“Now if we did that and we had an Atlas V or a Delta IV launch, within 36 hours we could do three launches.  So that’s how we’re going to get to 48 launches a year.  It’s a great problem to have.”

In practicality, this goal of the 45th Space Wing would result in an ability to “launch consistently every single week of the year with just four weeks of downtime,” stated Brig. Gen. Monteith.

Importantly, the 45th Space Wing’s ability to handle the increasing demand for launches within a short time frame was demonstrated earlier this month.

Originally, when the WGS-9 mission was scheduled to launch on 8 March, SpaceX booked a static fire for the Echostar XXIII Falcon 9 on 7 March in a test window that extended less than 24 hours prior to the Delta IV’s planned launch.

This ability to rapidly support two different enterprises across the 45th Space Wing is a critical necessity to accommodating as many launches as the Air Force is looking at.

Moreover, this eye toward greater efficiency comes at a time when SpaceX and ULA are set to be joined by at least one new launch service provider in the coming years: Blue Origin.

“Pad 36 is being operated by Blue Origin,” notes Brig. Gen. Monteith. “They have started horizontal construction.  We hope they’ll be starting vertical construction later this year.  

“Their factory at Exploration Park is coming along, and they just signed a deal for 6 launches with OneWeb.

“So we anticipate that they will be flying in the next few years, and we will add them to our host of launch vehicle providers that will be flying here off the coast as we drive to 48 launches a year.”

The Brig. Gen. also touched on this year’s upcoming Orbital ATK use of the Cape and Pad 46 for a scheduled 15 July launch of a Minotaur 4 rocket with ORS 5.

Brig. Gen. Monteith noted that beyond the current Minotaur 4 launch, there are no other plans for Orbital ATK to use the CApe, but he did note that such further use was “not out of the realm of possibility” – noting last December’s launch of Pegasus off the L-1011 as a return of Pegasus to the 45th Space Wing’s jurisdiction for the first time in 13 years.

However, while a great deal of work has already taken place and will continue to occur to prepare the Cape for this major increase in launch cadence, the ability to meet this new maximum number of launches per year is – as always – dependent on ULA and SpaceX’s rocket fleets’ abilities to meet this new demand.

(Images: U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Chris Gebhardt for NASASpaceflight.com)

CRS-10 Dragon completes homecoming to conclude successful ISS mission

The latest SpaceX Dragon spacecraft concluded her mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Unberthing of the CRS-10 Dragon from the orbital outpost on Sunday began the critical End Of Mission (EOM) milestones, which was marked with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

CRS-10:

The CRS-10 Dragon was launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 carrier rocket on a hugely important mission, marking the company’s first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission from Pad 39A.

The previous CRS missions launched from SLC-40. However, following the loss of the Falcon 9 that was set to loft the AMOS-6 satellite, which resulted in severe damage to that pad, SpaceX pressed forward with their conversion of the historic LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), with the CRS-10 Dragon mission marking the debut SpaceX Dragon launch from the former Apollo and Shuttle pad.

The launch was a success, with Dragon pushed towards a Low Earth Orbit destination. At the same time, the Falcon 9 booster returned home for a landing at Cape Canaveral’s LZ-1.

Dragon completed her chase of the Station a few days after launch, berthed via a collaboration of robotics and humans, as  ISS Commander Shame Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet – working in the Robotic Work Station in the Cupola lab – grabbed the Dragon via the use of the End Effector on the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS).

The successful berthing marked the delivery of 2,490 kilograms, or 5,490 pounds, of cargo. This included 1,530 kilograms (3,373 lb) of pressurized cargo and 960 kg (2,116 lb) of unpressurized cargo in the Trunk.

The pressurised cargo included 732 kilograms (1,614 lb) of scientific hardware and experiments, 296 kilograms (653 lb) of provisions for the crew, 382 kilograms (842 lb) of hardware for the US segment of the station and 22 kilograms (49 lb) for the Russian segment, 11 kilograms (24 lb) of computer equipment and 10 kilograms of hardware to support extravehicular activity (EVA) at the station.

The unpressurized cargo included NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III-ISS. SAGE III-ISS will monitor ozone, aerosol and trace gas levels in Earth’s stratosphere, by observing the refraction of sunlight and moonlight through the atmosphere.

It, along with the Lightning Image Sensor (LIS), or STP-H5 – were mounted externally to the space station during the berthed phase on the mission.

Aided by the Canadian robot, Dextre, the installations were followed by the reloading of numerous items for return and disposal. Dextre’s task was to install packages such as MISSE and the RRM payloads into the trunk of Dragon, which will be destroyed when the trunk is seperated during Dragon’s return to Earth.

Thousands of pounds of return items were also installed into the pressurized section of Dragon, including a long list of experiments that will be removed from Dragon once she is back on Earth.

To kick off the homecoming, the long sequence of events – that ultimately leads to Dragon safely bobbing the Pacific Ocean – start with the unberthing of Dragon from the Node 2 Nadir CBM came via the release of 16 bolts around the CBM berthing collar on the ISS side, performed in four sets of four bolts to ensure even unloading on the CBM interface.

Dragon was then pulled away from the ISS via the use of the SSRMS.

Dragon was maneuvered to the release position approximately 30 feet below the ISS. She was left in this position for the night – known as the parking position.

Sunday’s ops began with Dragon in the release position, ahead of the time for Dragon and the ISS to part ways.

Via a squeeze of the trigger on the Rotational Hand Controller (RHC) on the RWS to release the snares holding the SSRMS Latching End Effector (LEE) to the Dragon Flight Releasable Grapple Fixture (FRGF), the operation effectively “let go” of Dragon.

Click here for more Dragon Articles: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/tag/dragon/

This occurred at 05:11 Eastern – although the timing was subject to variation, based on communications and lighting conditions.

With the SSRMS retracted safely clear, Dragon conducted three departure burn to depart to the vicinity of the ISS, edging away from the orbital outpost, with small thruster firings to push down the R-Bar.

The larger of the three burns was conducted to send Dragon outside of the approach ellipsoid, at which point SpaceX controllers in MCC-X took full control of the mission.

Following the completion of departure burns, Dragon conducted a free-flying phase on-orbit for just under five hours, during which time she will completed a critical action – the closure of the GNC bay door, to which the FRGF is mounted – before conducting a de-orbit burn at around 10 am Eastern.

The 10 minute deorbit burn was carried out by the spacecraft’s Draco thrusters.

The umbilical between Dragon and its Trunk was disengaged, prior to the Trunk separating from the Dragon capsule. The trunk was destroyed by Entry Interface (EI), along with the payloads set for disposal.

As the spacecraft entered EI she was protected by her PICA-X heat shield – a Thermal Protection System (TPS) based on a proprietary variant of NASA’s phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) material – designed to protect the capsule during Earth atmospheric re-entry, and is even robust to protect Dragon from the high return velocities from Lunar and Martian destinations.

Once at the required velocity and altitude, Dragon’s drogue parachutes were deployed, followed by Dragon’s main parachutes, easing the vehicle to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California at around 10:46 am Eastern.

Three main recovery boats then arrived on station, with fast boats racing to meet the Dragon shortly after she hit the water, allowing for the recovery procedures to begin. The vehicle was powered down and then hooked up to the recovery assets.

Dragon was transported to the port of Los Angeles, prior to a trip to Texas for cargo removal.

The cargo return – otherwise known as the downmass capability – is one of Dragon’s star roles following the retirement of the Shuttle fleet. No other Visiting Vehicle to the ISS is capable of the downmass provided by Dragon.

(Images: NASA, SpaceX, and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)