Additional Shuttle Mission Almost Guaranteed

Atlantis returns to Kennedy Space Center for what should have been the orbiter's final mission - STS-132. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters


For some time now there have been rumors and speculation that there will be an additional flight added to the two currently remaining on the shuttle manifest. With the passage of the Senate 2010 NASA Authorization Act (S. 3729) the mission which would be STS-135 – is now all but a certainty. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Senate bill on a 304 to118 vote. The final hurdle will be the president signing the act into law. From all accounts however, as this bill largely supports the president’s agenda, this should not be a problem and STS-135 should launch during the summer of next year.

The orbiter that will likely fly this mission will be Atlantis, the workhorse of the shuttle fleet. For all intents-and-purposes STS-132, which flew this past May, was the last scheduled mission for Atlantis. However, mission managers were looking at either Discovery or Atlantis to fly the possible STS-135 mission. With Atlantis back at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) since May, the orbiter has had more processing time and it would be easier to prepare for launch.

The crew for this mission has already been selected. The crew will be comprised of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. All of these astronauts are space shuttle veterans. Currently they are training under the STS-335 designation which is a “Launch-On-Need” (LON) mission. In the event of an emergency on STS-134, Atlantis would launch to rescue the crew members. There have been LON missions for each post-Columbia flight.

“Having an additional shuttle flight will keep the national treasure we have in the space station very well situated in consumables and supplies, said Lori Garver, NASA’s Deputy Administrator, during a media briefing on Thursday. “I don’t see it as either a luxury or necessity, it us just making good use of a resource and doing it in a safe manner.”

If all goes well on the STS-134 mission, STS-335 will be converted to STS-135 and its mission will change from rescue – to resupply. If this does take place, the payload for this mission will be the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC).

STS-135 will be a resupply mission used to keep the International Space Station as well-stocked as possible when the shuttle program ends. Photo Credit: NASA

Outside of the fact that it will be the last mission of the shuttle program, the mission also bears one other distinction. With a crew of four, this is the smallest contingent of astronauts to launch on a space shuttle since STS-6 back in April of 1983.

The rationale behind such a small crew is two-fold. A smaller crew will allow NASA to maximize the amount of payload that is sent to the International Space Station (ISS). The weight of two or three extra astronauts will now go to additional supplies that can be flown to the ISS. In the event that STS-135 itself runs into trouble while on-orbit, the smaller crew would also allow for a rescue by the Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.

The ISS will more than likely be on-orbit until 2020 and possibly beyond. As such it was viewed as essential that as much supplies as possible were ferried to and stored on the orbiting outpost. The Rafaello MPLM will be maxed out with 16 resupply racks, the most the cargo container can handle, for this mission. The LMC will carry a new coolant pump. The External Thermal Cooling System (ECTS) Pump Module (PM) which dramatically failed recently and was swapped out by spacewalkers Tracy Caldwell-Dyson and Doug Wheelock last month.

NASA’s Year of Finales Continues with Last ET and SRB Events

One of NASA's recovery ships, Freedom Star, escorts the Pegasus Barge with the final External Tank of the shuttle program into Cape Canaveral. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters


As the space shuttle program draws to a close, NASA is working to highlight the historic nature of each of the events. On Tuesday, Sept. 28th, the last External Tank of the shuttle program wheeled out of the Pegasus Barge – early. Storm clouds had been swirling around the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the early morning hours, pushing the rollout time up.

Weather also conspired to delay the departure of the final Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segment from the Assembly Refurbishment Facility (ARF). After a brief ceremony that included Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana and Astronauts Chris Hadfield and Gregory C. Johnson it was announced that the final SRB segment would wait in the ARF for a couple more days until the weather system passed. The moment seemed to highlight some of the emotions that those that have worked on the SRBs are currently feeling.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and U.S. astronaut Greg johnson spoke at Tuesday's ceremonies. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters

“It’s bittersweet; you know I’ve worked with the people here for the last twenty-years,” said David Beaman the manager for the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project, Shuttle Office. “It’s exciting to know that we’ve almost completed the mission, to know that we’re getting ready for the last couple shuttle flights.”

The External Tank traveled from NASA’s Michoud Facility located in Louisiana to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center across the Gulf of Mexico. The trip takes about 5 days and some 900 miles. The Pegasus reached the turn basin near the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the day prior. The day was viewed as one of reflection for those that have worked to see that the tanks arrive safely at KSC.

Workers assemble in front of the final Solid Rocket Booster segment of the shuttle program. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters

“It’s a sentimental day, almost nostalgic, who knows what the future brings, but at least for the shuttle program this is the last,” said KSC’s External Tank and Solid Rocket Booster Manager, Alicia Mendoza. “We are excited to have the tank, we all had our adrenaline flowing, but at the same time it is sad because it is the last tank.”

While a final determination as to whether or not there will be a third mission added to the two currently scheduled, all signs indicated that this mission will be added. Currently this mission is designated STS-335 and would be a “Launch On Need” (LON) rescue mission for the final scheduled flight of space shuttle Endeavour, STS-134. If and when this mission is given the go-ahead the crew would consist of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus. The crew would convert from training as a rescue mission to a resupply mission for the space station.

The last External Tank of the shuttle program, ET-122, rests safely in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters

It was Robert Cabana, Kennedy Space Center’s Director that highlighted the importance of the work that was done on both the SRBs and ETs over the past three decades.

Speaking next to the final SRB segment of the shuttle era, Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana highlights the program's 30 years of accomplishments. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

“I just want to say thank you for your hard work and dedication, thank you for thirty years supporting space shuttle operations,” said Cabana, a four-time shuttle astronaut, speaking at Tuesday’s ceremonies. “Thank you for supporting an amazing vehicle that made the assembly of the space station that’s on orbit possible, that put the Hubble Space Telescope up there; that put all the probes out there in space that has done all the things that would not have been possible without the space shuttle.”

“Space Factory of the Future” Preparing for Orion Spacecraft for Flight

The Orion spacecraft is depicted here circling Earth's nearest celestial neighbor, the moon. Image Credit: NASA


Lockheed Martin has been working overtime to get the Orion spacecraft ready for its first mission, which officials say could be as early as 2013, depending on Congress’ final decision for NASA’s future and budget. Tools and procedures are being checked out to see that they work as advertised for both the spacecraft as well as assembly procedures and manufacturing for building future capsules.

The Orion spacecraft will be assembled and integrated on site in the Operations & Checkout (O & C) building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. By doing this, both time and money can be saved as it will cut down on transportation costs and logistical issues.

“The unique benefit of this complete on-site operation is that we will build the spacecraft and then move it directly onto the launch vehicle at KSC, which saves the government transportation costs associated with tests and checkout prior to launch,” said Lockheed Martin Orion Deputy Program Manager for production operations Richard Harris. “This capability also facilitates the KSC workforce transition efforts by providing new job opportunities for those employees completing their shuttle program assignments.”

The current plan calls for Orion to serve to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and perhaps an eventual mission beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO), but Orion’s future rests with Congress’ upcoming decision on NASA’s future budget. The House Science and Technology Committee announced Thursday a compromise between the House and Senate versions of NASA’s budget, but it is unclear when a final vote may take place.

In the meantime, the O & C building has been transformed in the past couple years into what is being called “the space factory of the future.” This was accomplished by the combined effort of both Lockheed Martin as well as Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development organization. The work was done to create a state-of-the-art facility for spacecraft production and innovation.

NASA's Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building has recently been refurbished to accomocate the Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA

Changes made to the O&C include 90,000 square feet of air-bearing floor space, paperless work stations, a portable clean room system, and specialized lifting/lowering/ support tools designed by United Space Alliance (USA). Specially designed air-bearing pallets will allow a small crew to maneuver hardware across the floor. The building renovation also incorporates energy-saving electrical systems which will help to further lower costs.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the Orion Project and heads the team that includes numerous subcontractors and small businesses working at facilities in 28 states. Additionally, the program works with more than 500 small businesses across the U.S. to provide the needed supplies that make the Orion Project a reality.

Source: Lockheed Martin

Kennedy’s Workforce Reflects on Discovery’s Final Flight

Nick THomas has worked at Kennedy Space Center for 23 years and has a unique perspective about the end of the shuttle era. Image courtesy of Nick Thomas.


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – They work tirelessly, behind the scenes, some work to ensure that the shuttle fleet is ready for the next mission; others work to ensure that the history is recorded and the shuttle program’s story is told. On Monday night one of their wards was rolled out to the launch pad for the final time.

Discovery began her final trip to the pad at 7:24 p.m. EDT. Along the 3.4 miles were many of the employees that have made the shuttle program possible along with their families. The time these folks have spent watching over Discovery vary from a few years to a couple decades and longer.

Discovery greets the dawn of its twilight. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Stephanie Stilson, Discovery’s Flow Director has been working on OV-103 since 2000.

Everyone has been very professional, very focused so I try not to think about it being the last one,” Stilson said. “I started with Discovery in 2000, so this is my eleventh processing flow with Discovery; I’m very honored to represent the team.”

Discovery's Flow Director, Stephanie Stilson, has been through 11 processing flows with this orbiter. Photo Credit: NASA/George Shelton

Stilson like so many of the employees at Kennedy Space Center have strong feeling regarding Discovery in particular as it was the orbiter that got NASA back on its feet after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

“Just the emotion behind Return-To-Flight, it had been such a long processing flow, so much had happened, so much was out there for us to think about, with the accident happening our hearts were very low at that point, so, STS-114 was able to really lift the NASA family up.” Stilson stated as Discovery rolled past her in the distance.

In this image space shuttle Discovery ventures out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for her last trip to the launch pad. Photo Credit: Alan Wlaters/Universe Today

For Kennedy Space Center’s News Chief, Allard Beutel the final mission of Discovery helped to punctuate the eight years he has spent with NASA.

“Discovery was the first shuttle that I did my first commentary-countdown, my first 3-2-1-liftoff was with Discovery,” Beutel said. “There’s a little place right here in my heart for Discovery and all the missions that it has done.”

Beutel (far left) has provided launch commentary for numerous missions. Photo Credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

For one person that attended the rollout and the photo op at launch complex 39A the following day however, this was a bittersweet moment. He had followed Discovery for the 23 years that he had worked at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).

“Discovery is my vehicle, everyone out here as their personal favorite orbiter,” said Nick Thomas who works with the astronauts at the KSCVC during their daily presentations. “She is the first vehicle I saw with my own eyes back on July. 4, 1988, she was the first vehicle I ever visited out on the launch pad, she was the first vehicle I stuck my head into and she launched on my 40th birthday.”

Nick Thomas captured this image of Discovery as the orbiter slowly made her way to LC39A past the throngs of Discovery's workers and their families. Photo Courtesy of Nick Thomas

Thomas had a broad smile on his face throughout the interview as he talked about all the good memories he had working in the space industry. However he, like many, acknowledge that there are mixed emotions at seeing the shuttle program come to a close.

“She has seen her time, she deserves a rest and she’s going to go out with a fine mission I am sure of that.” Thomas said. It’s also sad to see her lining up for one last flight, you look out there and you wish her calm winds and smooth seas.”

Discovery, Bathed In Light, Conducts Final Rollout (Gallery)

Discovery on the way to the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.


CAPE CANAVERAL – The space shuttle Discovery, its nosed pointed toward the sky, its belly attached to the massive, orange External Tank (ET) and twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) slowly but surely emerged from the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at 7:24 p.m. EDT on Sept. 20. This marks the final time Discovery is scheduled to make the 3.4 – mile trip to Launch Complex 39A (LC39A) in preparation for her last planned mission – STS-133. 

Discovery emerges from the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

Bathed in spotlights Discovery’s last rollout was a bittersweet moment for workers that have cared for the orbiter. Discovery was rolled out four hours earlier than normal so that workers could take pictures. Rollout is conducted in the evening hours to prevent potential damage from possible lightning strikes. The crawler-transporter moves at a blistering mile-an-hour, but despite this slow speed, the vehicle and its precious cargo create an amazing spectacle. 

Discovery emerges from the Vehicle Assembly Building on its way to LC39A. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Discovery is currently scheduled to lift off from LC39A on Nov. 1 at 4:40 p.m. EDT. Afterward Discovery will be maintained in flight ready condition in case the orbiter is needed to fly a possible rescue mission. After the end of the shuttle era, Discovery will go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum located in Washington D.C.

There are two crawler-transporters that NASA has used to transport spacecraft from the VAB to LC39A. They were originally used to transport the mighty Saturn family of rockets during the Apollo era. The crawler-transporters were designed by Bucyrus International and built by Marion Power Shovel. The vehicles cost $14 million a piece and are the largest self-powered track vehicles in the world.

Gleaming in white, Discovery reflects the glory of the shuttle program onto the waters of the Turn Basin. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

STS-133 marks the 35th flight to the orbiting outpost and the 39th flight for Discovery and the 133rd flight in the space shuttle program. The crew members for this mission are Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott. Discovery will deliver and install the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), the Express Logistics Carrier 4 as well as deliver critical spare components to the ISS. Also onboard is the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut-2. For those that have cared for the orbiter however, this is just another day at the office.

Discovery. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today

“For me seeing Discovery head to the pad brings to mind all the hard work done by the team that has brought us to this point, ” Discovery’s Flow Director, Stephanie Stilson said. “While every rollout is a major milestone for us, this happens to be the last but we are trying to look at it as just another rollout to the pad.”

This night journey is scheduled to be the last for Discovery, the oldest orbiter in NASA's shuttle fleet. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.
Discovery in the VAB, prior to rollout. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.
Great view of Discovery in the VAB. Credit: Alan Walters (

UPDATE: And here are some shots of Discovery at the launchpad:

Discovery arrives at the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Toda

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Last Rollover to the VAB

Discovery pauses on her way to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This marks the last time that this shuttle will make this trip. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian


Rollover, the name itself is not all that awe-inspiring, the sight however; will take one’s breath away. The Discovery space shuttle emerged from its technological cocoon located in Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) at 7 a.m. EDT on Sept. 9, 2010 and was moved into the expansive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) a few hours later. The short, but slow trek allowed workers, many of whom have spent their entire careers servicing the orbiter, to pose with Discovery as she made this voyage. 

Discovery’s trip to the VAB was delayed a day from Wednesday to Thursday, due to a broken water main. Workers found the break in a pipe located near the VAB and repaired it enough to allow second-shift workers to go to work later in the day. 

“The pipe that broke was 50 years old,” said Allard Beutel, a NASA Public Affairs Officer. “The Kennedy team managed to have a work-around in place in under a day.” 

Rollover is an important milestone on the road to flight. In this case, the occasion was all the more historic as it marked Discovery’s final trip to the VAB for this reason. The orbiter is flanked by workers that have worked to see that the shuttle is prepared for flight. They act as guides ensuring that there is no debris along the short drive that the transport vehicle takes from OPF-3 to the VAB. There were several stops along the way to allow photographs to be taken; marking the last time that Discovery is scheduled to move to the VAB in preparation for flight. 

Once inside the VAB Discovery was connected to a crane that hoisted the 171,000 lb. space glider into the air. From there it is mated to a set of Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and External Tank (ET) waiting for the orbiter’s arrival. Seeing this massive spacecraft hanging in mid-air alters one’s perceptions about the U.S. space program. It places a powerful spotlight onto the efforts required to put astronauts into orbit. 

Windswept clouds encircle Discovery as the shuttle is moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Approximately two weeks after the shuttle is mated the “full stack” is then ready to head to Launch Complex 39A. This marks the next phase in the path to launch – Rollout. 

Discovery will deliver and install the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide much-needed spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS). This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the space station. The crew of STS-133 consists of Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott. 

Although STS-133 will mark the final time that Discovery is slated to take to the skies there had been talk that she could potentially ride to orbit on STS-135. However, if that mission is approved it is likely Atlantis will be the orbiter selected for that flight. Currently, STS-133 onboard Discovery is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 1, 2010 at 4:40 p.m. EDT.

NASA & ATK Turn Sand to Glass With DM-2 Test

The day before the DM-2 test storm clouds loom over ATK's rocket garden. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian


The deserts of Promontory, Utah came alive with fire as NASA and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) tested the Development Motor-2 (DM-2). The five-segment, first-stage of the Ares rocket was activated at 9:27 a.m. MDT on Aug. 31. The still morning air surrendered its silence to the sound of unleashed technological thunder. The surrounding countryside was bathed in the colors of flame as a huge plume of hot exhaust and smoke shot out the back of the solid motor. However, ATK was racking up another successful test – to a system with a future in doubt.

The DM-2 is a test-article for the Ares family of rockets, which as part of the Constellation Program, has been targeted for cancellation. President Obama has worked since the beginning of this year to scrap almost every element of the Constellation Program. These plans to transform the U.S. manned space program have cost him support across the country – and within his own party.

Obama’s new agenda for NASA caused a strong Congressional reaction, with two separate bills drafted countering the White House’s proposal. These bills are attempting to seek a “middle-ground” between the “program of record” (Constellation) and the new Obama plan. Both the House and Senate issued competing (and radically different) bills. As it currently stands, NASA has no clear path forward and is kept in a holding pattern until the future of U.S. manned space flight is determined by lawmakers in Washington D.C. This leaves the fate of the Ares family of rockets up in the air. 


Despite concerns about what ATK’s future may hold – company personnel remained optimistic. They cite the fact that in terms of technical expertise and know-how, few companies can compete with the experience that the Maryland-based rocket manufacturer has. 

“In terms of harnessing this kind of energy, it’s a very challenging engineering task,” said Charlie Precourt, a four-time shuttle astronaut and ATK’s vice president and general manager of Space Launch Systems. “The skills required to complete these engineering tasks is being addressed by the decision-makers, to ensure that the critical skills and the performance capabilities that we have build up over many years endure into the next generation.”

ATK prepares the Development Motor-2 for its test. Image Credit: ATK

ATK meanwhile continues to work on other components of the Ares and Orion systems. The Launch Abort System (LAS), parachute system for the upper Ares upper stage, and Attitude Control Motor (ACM) are all built by ATK and tested by the firm’s technicians and engineers.

The DM-2 test was conducted to gain data on some 53 designs incorporated in this system. Some of the elements tested include the redesigned rocket nozzle, new insulation used in this design and the motor casing’s liner. When activated the DM-2 produced an estimated 3.6 million pounds of thrust – equaling 22 million horsepower.  The motor had 760 instruments incorporated into it these instruments worked to collect vital information regarding the rocket’s performance when it was fired. This makes the test fire of the DM-2 the most heavily-instrumented solid rocket motor test in NASA history. 

Senator Orrin Hatch attended the Aug. 31 test firing of ATK's DM-2 rocket. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The horizontal ground test firing is what is known as a “cold motor” test. This is accomplished by chilling the DM-2 down to 40 degrees F. This is done to measure how the motor performs at very low temperatures. The test also was held to prove out design specifications of new materials used in the motor joints.

These new elements will eliminate the need for the joint heaters that are currently used. (these heaters were required in the 4-segment version of the motor’s design). It is hoped that with the addition of these new modifications weight will be dramatically reduced, launch operations will be simplified and the overall system will be far less complex. 

DM-2 is a combination of Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segments that have flown on 57 shuttle missions total. These segments are recycled after every mission. Once they have been jettisoned from the space shuttle they are recovered out in the Atlantic Ocean by recovery ships (named Freedom Star and Liberty Star). From there, they are shipped back to ATK’s plant where they are broken down into segments again and refurbished for the next mission.

ATK highlighted that most space-faring nations utilize solid rocket motors for their space flight programs. The U.S., Japan and Europe all incorporate solid rocket into their launch vehicles.

“If you look at the physics of putting something in space, you have to get to this magic speed of 17,500 miles-per-hour,” said Michael Bllomfield, three-time shuttle astronaut who now ATK’s vice president of Johnson Space Center (JSC) Operations. “the most efficient launch profile uses a combination of solids and liquids.”

The day prior to the test ominous storm clouds had encircled ATK’s test site. The rain and lightning that followed seem to underscore the condition in which the solid rocket manufacturer now finds itself. The following day they went about their duties despite the uncertainty that they currently face. With the shuttle program coming to an end and the future use of solid rockets placed in doubt, only time will tell if the company that provided the U.S. space program with its heavy lift capabilities for the past 30 years can weather the storm.

NASA and ATK Test Fire DM-2

Desert RATS – On The Move

NASA's Desert RATS will conduct field tests at the end of this month.



For some fourteen years now NASA‘s Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) team has been testing out the viability of many of NASA’s vehicles, space suits, habitats and robotic systems in extreme environments.   Like their durable name-sake, the Desert RATS have proven to be resilient and flexible, adapting to the changing NASA environment. When it was announced that NASA would move away from the Constellation Program and toward other objectives such as asteroids and possibly Mars – the Desert RATS picked up the challenge and modified their regimen to reflect this change.

Testing this year will take place from Aug. 31 until Sept. 15 and will shakedown many new design concepts. The former Electric Lunar Rovers, now dubbed Space Exploration Vehicles will be tested at the site requiring simulated astronauts to live in these vehicles for a week. 

No Desert RATS expedition would be incomplete without some incredible robots to assist their human companions. There are the Tri-ATHLETEs (Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) – these wheeled, spidery creations have six independent ‘legs’ each with a wheel at the base and can be fitted with different ‘tops” for each mission. Robonaut 2, one of NASA’s new robotic rock-stars, has been converted into a four-wheeled variant dubbed Centaur 2 and will be tested this year. This variation could be a potential mode of transport for NASA

However, this year’s rotation is all about the “hab.” The Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) Project is an inter-agency project consisting of NASA architects, scientists and engineers. These groups are working to develop living quarters, workspaces, and laboratories for future space missions, working under the “build a little – test a little” philosophy. This area will serve as a laboratory, a place for maintenance and a staging area in the event of a medical emergency. 

Robonaut-1 is seen here in its Centaur configuration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joe Bibby

“This allows us to have far greater flexibility,” said Tracy Gill, NASA’s Deputy Project Manager for the habitat element of this project. “These habitats are currently in the process of being developed further to make them even more adaptable.” 

NASA is working with the National Space Grant Foundation to develop an inflatable “loft” that will be attached to the HDU. This will mean that astronauts won’t have to don a space suit to travel from their living quarters to where they work – they would simply have to go “upstairs.” In an effort to promote science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) in college-age students, the X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is working to sponsor development of these inflatable habitat concepts. The goal is for senior and graduate-level design students to design, manufacture, assemble, and test an inflatable loft that will be integrated on top of an existing NASA built hard shell prototype. 

As with any year the Desert RATS test out new concepts, this year promises to display many futuristic ideas that one day may be used in the real world(s). This year is slightly different however, in that the elements being tested are designed to be readily adaptable toward whatever NASA will eventually be called to do. During the Apollo era, astronauts were trained by “the King” – Farouk El-Baz. El-Baz worked with the astronauts so that they would be intimately familiar with the lunar surface, that they had the training and tools to get the job done. These annual event – would make “the King” – proud.


AEHF-1 Rides Atlas V To Orbit

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V carries the AEHF-1 satellite to orbit.


The U.S. Air Force successfully launched the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite (AEHF-1) on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket Saturday, Aug. 14 at 7:07 a.m. EDT. The Atlas V lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC 41) riding a pillar of flame across the morning sky. The window for the launch was two hours long, however it wasn’t needed, the launch occurred on the first attempt. 

“As we expected it was a totally successful launch.” said U.S. Air Force Captain Glorimar Rodriguez.

The AEHF constellation of satellites will replace the aging Milstar satellites. The more-modern AEHF is designed to ensure rapid communications for military leaders. This new, jam-proof system will be the link between the president and the armed forces in the event of a nuclear attack. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to construct both the AEHF fleet of satellites as well as the mission control center where the satellites will be operated.

AEHF launch. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today

There are a number of U.S. allies that are involved with the AEHF program and can use these satellites once the system is activated. Some of these allies include the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom.

When the system is complete it will be comprised of three functioning satellites and a spare satellite. These satellites will be inter-connected and are capable of communicating with one another. They will provide the military with vital communications-related data including, but not limited to, maps, video and targeting data. When operational, the AEHF constellation will be operated by the 4th Space Operations Squadron, who are stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, CO.

Pre-launch. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today

Revolutionary Robonaut 2 Readied at Rocket Ranch

Robonaut getting ready for launch. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today


The payload for the next shuttle mission, STS-133 was on full display at Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, including the mission’s “7th” crew member – Robonaut (or R2 as he is known to his friends). A media event on Aug. 12 showcased elements that Discovery is scheduled to lift to orbit on Nov. 1, 2010 at 4:33 p.m. EDT.

Jason Rhian with Robonaut. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

Without a doubt the star of the show was R2 himself.  The mostly-white android looked every bit the science-fiction meets science-fact as the imagery we have all seen on television and the internet have made him out to be.  Robonaut 2 had originally been designed to only be a technology demonstrator, but engineers wanted to see how the system would operate in space and he was given a seat on the flight (albeit way in the back).  

Inside Leonardo, the PPM. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

R2 was not the only horse at this rodeo however; NASA also had other flight hardware elements on display that will roar into orbit this fall.  One of these was the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) that will be transported to the space station in Discovery’s payload bay (with R2 nestled inside). The PMM is in actuality the modified Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module (MPLM) and when the mission is completed the PMM will be left attached to the station.  

Space Shuttle Discovery will carry Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) DragonEye (DE) relative navigation sensor on this mission. It is expected that this sensor will be installed about half a month later than originally planned due to a failure in the laser rod that was detected during testing.  This item however was not on display at this event. 

STS-133 could possibly be Discovery’s final flight (it has been mentioned that if there is an STS-135 – that Discovery might fly that mission).  It will mark the 35th time that one of NASA’s orbiters has traveled to the orbiting laboratory.  The crew consists of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott.

More images of R2 and Leonardo:

Robonaut meets astronaut. Credit: NASA