For years, NASA has been working to restore domestic launch capability to the US and send astronauts to the Moon and beyond. A crucial part of this is the development of next-generation crew capsules that can carry crews and payloads to space. These include Lockheed Martin’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Crew Space Transportation (CST) -100 Starliner currently being developed by Boeing.
Earlier today (on Monday, Nov. 4th), the CST-100 passed a critical milestone with a successful end-to-end test of its abort system. The Pad Abort Test took place at Launch Complex 32 at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. When crewed missions to space begin using the CST-100, this system will ensure that astronauts will be carried to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff.
MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA – NASA has just finished welding together the very first fuel tank for America’s humongous Space Launch System (SLS) deep space rocket currently under development – and Universe Today had an exclusive up close look at the liquid hydrogen (LH2) test tank shortly after its birth as well as the first flight tank, during a tour of NASA’s New Orleans rocket manufacturing facility on Friday, July 22, shortly after completion of the milestone assembly operation.
“We have just finished welding the first liquid hydrogen qualification tank article …. and are in the middle of production welding of the first liquid hydrogen flight hardware tank [for SLS-1] in the big Vertical Assembly Center welder!” explained Patrick Whipps, NASA SLS Stages Element Manager, in an exclusive hardware tour and interview with Universe Today on July 22, 2016 at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans.
“We are literally putting the SLS rocket hardware together here at last. All five elements to put the SLS stages together [at Michoud].”
This first fully welded SLS liquid hydrogen tank is known as a ‘qualification test article’ and it was assembled using basically the same components and processing procedures as an actual flight tank, says Whipps.
“We just completed the liquid hydrogen qualification tank article and lifted it out of the welding machine and put it into some cradles. We will put it into a newly designed straddle carrier article next week to transport it around safely and reliably for further work.”
And welding of the liquid hydrogen flight tank is moving along well.
“We will be complete with all SLS core stage flight tank welding in the VAC by the end of September,” added Jackie Nesselroad, SLS Boeing manager at Michoud. “It’s coming up very quickly!”
“The welding of the forward dome to barrel 1 on the liquid hydrogen flight tank is complete. And we are doing phased array ultrasonic testing right now!”
SLS is the most powerful booster the world has even seen and one day soon will propel NASA astronauts in the agency’s Orion crew capsule on exciting missions of exploration to deep space destinations including the Moon, Asteroids and Mars – venturing further out than humans ever have before!
The LH2 ‘qualification test article’ was welded together using the world’s largest welder – known as the Vertical Assembly Center, or VAC, at Michoud.
And it’s a giant! – measuring approximately 130-feet in length and 27.6 feet (8.4 m) in diameter.
See my exclusive up close photos herein documenting the newly completed tank as the first media to visit the first SLS tank. I saw the big tank shortly after it was carefully lifted out of the welder and placed horizontally on a storage cradle on Michoud’s factory floor.
Finishing its assembly after years of meticulous planning and hard work paves the path to enabling the maiden test launch of the SLS heavy lifter in the fall of 2018 from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
The qual test article is the immediate precursor to the actual first LH2 flight tank now being welded.
“We will finish welding the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen flight tanks by September,” Whipps told Universe Today.
Technicians assembled the LH2 tank by feeding the individual metallic components into NASA’s gigantic “Welding Wonder” machine – as its affectionately known – at Michoud, thus creating a rigid 13 story tall structure.
The welding work was just completed this past week on the massive silver colored structure. It was removed from the VAC welder and placed horizontally on a cradle.
I watched along as the team was also already hard at work fabricating SLS’s first liquid hydrogen flight article tank in the VAC, right beside the qualification tank resting on the floor.
Welding of the other big fuel tank, the liquid oxygen (LOX) qualification and flight article tanks will follow quickly inside the impressive ‘Welding Wonder’ machine, Nesselroad explained.
The LH2 and LOX tanks sit on top of one another inside the SLS outer skin.
The SLS core stage – or first stage – is mostly comprised of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen cryogenic fuel storage tanks which store the rocket propellants at super chilled temperatures. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.
To prove that the new welding machines would work as designed, NASA opted “for a 3 stage assembly philosophy,” Whipps explained.
Engineers first “welded confidence articles for each of the tank sections” to prove out the welding techniques “and establish a learning curve for the team and test out the software and new weld tools. We learned a lot from the weld confidence articles!”
“On the heels of that followed the qualification weld articles” for tank loads testing.
“The qualification articles are as ‘flight-like’ as we can get them! With the expectation that there are still some tweaks coming.”
“And finally that leads into our flight hardware production welding and manufacturing the actual flight unit tanks for launches.”
“All the confidence articles and the LH2 qualification article are complete!”
What’s the next step for the LH2 tank?
The test article tank will be outfitted with special sensors and simulators attached to each end to record reams of important engineering data, thereby extending it to about 185 feet in length.
Thereafter it will loaded onto the Pegasus barge and shipped to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for structural loads testing on one of two new test stands currently under construction for the tanks. The tests are done to prove that the tanks can withstand the extreme stresses of spaceflight and safely carry our astronauts to space.
“We are manufacturing the simulators for each of the SLS elements now for destructive tests – for shipment to Marshall. It will test all the stress modes, and finally to failure to see the process margins.”
The SLS core stage builds on heritage from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and is based on the shuttle’s External Tank (ET). All 135 ET flight units were built at Michoud during the thirty year long shuttle program by Lockheed Martin.
“We saved billions of dollars and years of development effort vs. starting from a clean sheet of paper design, by taking aspects of the shuttle … and created an External Tank type generic structure – with the forward avionics on top and the complex engine section with 4 engines (vs. 3 for shuttle) on the bottom,” Whipps elaborated.
“This is truly an engineering marvel like the External Tank was – with its strength that it had and carrying the weight that it did. If you made our ET the equivalent of a Coke can, our thickness was about 1/5 of a coke can.”
“It’s a tremendous engineering job. But the ullage pressures in the LOX and LH2 tanks are significantly more and the systems running down the side of the SLS tank are much more sophisticated. Its all significantly more complex with the feed lines than what we did for the ET. But we brought forward the aspects and designs that let us save time and money and we knew were effective and reliable.”
The SLS core stage is comprised of five major structures: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank (LOX), the intertank, the liquid hydrogen tank (LH2) and the engine section.
The LH2 and LOX tanks feed the cryogenic propellants into the first stage engine propulsion section which is powered by a quartet of RS-25 engines – modified space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) – and a pair of enhanced five segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) also derived from the shuttles four segment boosters.
The tanks are assembled by joining previously manufactured dome, ring and barrel components together in the Vertical Assembly Center by a process known as friction stir welding. The rings connect and provide stiffness between the domes and barrels.
The LH2 tank is the largest major part of the SLS core stage. It holds 537,000 gallons of super chilled liquid hydrogen. It is comprised of 5 barrels, 2 domes, and 2 rings.
The LOX tank holds 196,000 pounds of liquid oxygen. It is assembled from 2 barrels, 2 domes, and 2 rings and measures over 50 feet long.
The material of construction of the tanks has changed compared to the ET.
“The tanks are constructed of a material called the Aluminum 2219 alloy,” said Whipps. “It’s a ubiquosly used aerospace alloy with some copper but no lithium, unlike the shuttle superlightweight ET tanks that used Aluminum 2195. The 2219 has been a success story for the welding. This alloy is heavier but does not affect our payload potential.”
“The intertanks are the only non welded structure. They are bolted together and we are manufacturing them also. It’s much heavier and thicker.”
Overall, the SLS core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall and sports a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m).
NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Center is the world’s largest robotic weld tool. The domes and barrels are assembled from smaller panels and piece parts using other dedicated robotic welding machines at Michoud.
The total weight of the whole core stage empty is 188,000 pounds and 2.3 million pounds when fully loaded with propellant. The empty ET weighed some 55,000 pounds.
Considering that the entire Shuttle ET was 154-feet long, the 130-foot long LH2 tank alone isn’t much smaller and gives perspective on just how big it really is as the largest rocket fuel tank ever built.
“So far all the parts of the SLS rocket are coming along well.”
“The Michoud SLS workforce totals about 1000 to 1500 people between NASA and the contractors.”
Every fuel tank welded together from now on after this series of confidence and qualification LOX and LH2 tanks will be actual flight article tanks for SLS launches.
“There are no plans to weld another qualification tank after this,” Nesselroad confirmed to me.
What’s ahead for the SLS-2 core stage?
“We start building the second SLS flight tanks in October of this year – 2016!” Nesselroad stated.
The world’s largest welder was specifically designed to manufacture the core stage of the world’s most powerful rocket – NASA’s SLS.
The Vertical Assembly Center welder was officially opened for business at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was personally on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the base of the huge VAC welder.
The state-of-the-art welding giant stands 170 feet tall and 78 feet wide. It complements the world-class welding toolkit being used to assemble various pieces of the SLS core stage including the domes, rings and barrels that have been previously manufactured.
The maiden test flight of the SLS/Orion is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) Block 1 configuration with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds – more powerful than NASA’s Saturn V moon landing rocket.
Although the SLS-1 flight in 2018 will be uncrewed, NASA plans to launch astronauts on the SLS-2/EM-2 mission slated for the 2021 to 2023 timeframe.
The exact launch dates fully depend on the budget NASA receives from Congress and who is elected President in the November 2016 election – and whether they maintain or modify NASA’s objectives.
“If we can keep our focus and keep delivering, and deliver to the schedules, the budgets and the promise of what we’ve got, I think we’ve got a very capable vision that actually moves the nation very far forward in moving human presence into space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, during the post QM-2 SRB test media briefing in Utah last month.
“This is a very capable system. It’s not built for just one or two flights. It is actually built for multiple decades of use that will enable us to eventually allow humans to go to Mars in the 2030s.”
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about SLS and Orion crew vehicle, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Juno at Jupiter, Orbital ATK Antares & Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
July 27-28: “ULA Atlas V NRO Spysat launch July 28, SpaceX launch to ISS on CRS-9, SLS, Orion, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy NRO spy satellite, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings
Video caption: ‘The Martian’ Star Matt Damon Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars. Credit: NASA
The excitement is building for the worldwide movie premiere of ‘The Martian’ on Oct. 2.
Based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir, ‘The Martian’ tells the story of how NASA astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is accidentally stranded on the surface of Mars during a future manned expedition, after a sudden and unexpectedly fierce dust storm forces the rest of the crew to quickly evacuate after they believe he is dead.
In the video above, Matt Damon discusses NASA’s ongoing real life efforts focused on turning science fiction dreams into reality and sending astronauts to Mars.
Watney actually survived the storm but lost contact with NASA. The film recounts his ingenious years long struggle to survive, figure out how to tell NASA he is alive and send a rescue crew before he starves to death on a planet where nothing grows. Watney’s predicament is a survival lesson to all including NASA.
‘The Martian’ was written by Andy Weir in 2010 and has now been produced as a major Hollywood motion picture starring world famous actor Matt Damon and directed by the world famous director Ridley Scott from 20th Century Fox.
NASA’s overriding strategic goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.
‘The Martian’ is a rather realistic portrayal of how NASA might accomplish the ‘Journey to Mars.’
“Sending people to Mars and returning them safely is the challenge of a generation,” says Damon in the video.
“The boot prints of astronauts will follow the rover tracks [of NASA’s Curiosity rover] thanks to innovations happening today.”
The current six person crew serving aboard the ISS even got a sneak preview of The Martian this past weekend!
Gleeful NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, commander of the Expedition 45 crew, just tweeted a photo of the crew watching ‘The Martian’ while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.
“Watched @MartianMovie on @Space_Station last night! Today working towards our #JourneyToMars during my #YearInSpace!” tweeted NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.
Kelly comprises one half of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS Crew’ along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, aimed at determining the long term physical and psychological effects on the human body of people living and working in the weightlessness of space.
The 1 Year ISS mission is an important data gathering milestone on the human road to Mars since the round trip time to the Red Planet and back will take approximately 3 years or more.
When it comes to space exploration it’s resoundingly clear that rock band ‘One Direction’ is headed in the right direction – To Infinity and Beyond! – with the release of their new NASA themed music video ‘Drag Me Down.’
The new single – ‘Drag Me Down’ – by the world famous boy band is out now and out of this world!
Just click on the Vevo video above and enjoy their musical tour through space exploration themed videos filmed on location at NASA facilities, including the Johnson Space Center – home to astronauts training to explore ‘Where No One Has Gone Before.’
Over 18,100,000 views so far!! Millions of eyeballs exposed to NASA activities like never before!
As you’ll see in the video (published on Aug. 20) the quartet got a first hand look at a host of NASA’s cutting edge technology and hardware like NASA’s Orion deep space crew capsule that’s destined to propelour astronauts back to deep space and explore wondrous destinations including the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet, as part of the agency’s ‘Journey to Mars’ initiative.
Motivating our young people to study and excel in math, science, engineering, technology and the arts is what it’s all about to inspire the next generation of explorers and advance all humanity to fulfilling and prosperous lives.
Harry, Niall, Louis and Liam all got suited up to check out and sit inside an Orion trainer. Next you’ll see them ‘blast off’ for space atop the Delta IV rocket from the Florida Space Coast in their music video.
But first they rollick with the astronauts T-38 training jets which are used by real-life astronauts to practice spacecraft operations at supersonic speeds up to Mach 1.6 and experience blistering accelerations of more than seven Gs!
Here we join Louis to rove around Johnson Space Center in NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle that will one day be used for awe-inspiring interplanetary journey’s to the surface of alien bodies like the moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars!
Wouldn’t you like to join Louis!
Meanwhile Harry got to hang out with Robonaut at the Johnson Space Center during the filming of the music video.
Simultaneously the Robonauts twin brother, Robonaut 2, is hanging out in space right now with other humans. Robonaut 2 is working side-by-side with NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren and the rest of the six man crew floating aboard the International Space Station and soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) overhead.
“Going where the risks are too great for people, robots will make it so we never get ‘dragged down’!” says NASA.
“Currently living in space, @StationCDRKelly is 1 of 6 people that literally cannot be dragged down. #DragMeDown,” NASA tweeted.
And here’s Niall experiencing reduced gravity in the Partial Gravity Simulator & Space Station Mockup Bike. This simulator is where astronauts learn how to work effectively in the partial gravity of space and on the surface of other worlds
I’ve been a fan of ‘One Direction’ and now nothing will ‘hold me back’ following #DragMeDown.
And don’t forget that you can watch Commander Scott Kelly and his five international crew mates on a regular basis as they soar overhead. Just click on NASA’s Spot the Station link and plug in your location.
Here’s what the real Orion EFT-1 looked like after the mission was successfully completed and it was recovered from splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Right now NASA is building the next Orion.
If you desire to be aboard a future Orion, don’t let anything ‘Drag You Down.’
And tell Congress and the White House to ‘Support Full Funding for NASA!’ – – Because Congress has significantly slashed funding for the commercial crew capsules in the upcoming 2016 Fiscal Year budget!
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
OSIRIS-Rex, NASA’s first ever spacecraft designed to collect and retrieve pristine samples of an asteroid for return to Earth has entered its final assembly phase.
Approximately 17 months from now, OSIRIS-REx is slated to launch in the fall of 2016 and visit asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid.
Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it “could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth,” says NASA.
The spacecraft is equipped with a suite of five science instruments to remotely study the 492 meter meter wide asteroid.
Eventually it will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by researchers here with all the most sophisticated science instruments available.
The precious sample would land arrive at Utah’s Test and Training Range in a sample return canister similar to the one for the Stardust spacecraft.
The OSIRIS-REx – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer – spacecraft passed a critical decision milestone on the road to launch and has been officially authorized by NASA to transition into this next mission phase.
The decision meeting to give the go ahead for final assembly was held at NASA Headquarters in Washington on March 30 and was chaired by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, led by former astronaut John Grunsfeld who was the lead spacewalker on the final shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.
“This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in a stetement.
“After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”
The transition to the next phase known as ATLO (assembly, test and launch operations) is critical for the program because it is when the spacecraft physically comes together, says Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed is building OSIRIS-Rex in their Denver assembly facility.
“ATLO is a turning point in the progress of our mission. After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now starting flight system assembly and integration of the science instruments,” noted Lauretta.
Over the next six months, technicians will install on the spacecraft structure its many subsystems, including avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, thermal systems, and guidance, navigation and control, according to NASA.
“Building a spacecraft that will bring back samples from an asteroid is a unique opportunity,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.
“We can feel the momentum to launch building. We’re installing the electronics in the next few weeks and shortly after we’ll power-on the spacecraft for the first time.”
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and one solid rocket motor. Only three Atlas V’s have been launched in this configuration.
“In just over 500 days, we will begin our seven-year journey to Bennu and back. This is an exciting time,” said Lauretta.
The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.
Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.
Significant progress in spacecraft assembly has already been accomplished at Lockheed’s Denver manufacturing facility.
“The spacecraft structure has been integrated with the propellant tank and propulsion system and is ready to begin system integration in the Lockheed Martin highbay,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.
“The payload suite of cameras and sensors is well into its environmental test phase and will be delivered later this summer/fall.”
OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.
OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orionwill launch atop NASA’s new SLSheavy lift booster concurrently under development.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
The Orion spacecraft cleared one of the final hurdles to its first launch when top managers from NASA and Lockheed Martin successfully completed a key review of the vehicle’s systems ahead of the looming Dec. 4 flight test.
Orion passed the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) on Thursday, Nov. 20, and officials announced that the spacecraft is “GO” for proceeding on the road to launch – and one day on to Mars!
The FRR is a rigorous assessment of the spacecraft, its systems, mission operations, and support functions needed to successfully complete Orion’s first voyage to space.
Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion and recently completed its fabrication in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in September 2014.
Orion will lift off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is the world’s most powerful rocket and the only booster sufficiently powerful to launch the 50,000 pound Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to orbit.
The rocket was transported to pad 37 in late September. Then, on Nov. 12, this path finding Orion spacecraft was itself rolled out to the launch pad and hoisted and bolted atop the Delta IV Heavy.
The critical December test flight will pave the way for the first human missions to deep space in more than four decades since NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions ended in 1972.
To learn more about the major events and goals happening during Orion’s EFT-1 mission be sure to check out NASA’s cool new set of infographics explaining the 8 key events in my story – here.
The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.
EFT-1 will test the rocket, second stage, jettison mechanisms, as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.
Then the spacecraft will carry out a high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.
Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Assembly of the powerful Delta IV rocket boosting the pathfinder version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule on its maiden test flight in December has been completed.
Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.
The state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its inaugural uncrewed mission, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), in December 2014 atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket. It replaces NASA’s now retired space shuttle orbiters.
The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in America’s fleet following the retirement of the NASA’s Space Shuttle program.
Engineers from the rocket’s manufacturer – United Launch Alliance (ULA) – took a major step forward towards Orion’s first flight when they completed the integration of the three primary core elements of the rockets first stage with the single engine upper stage.
All of the rocket integration work and preflight processing took place inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Universe Today recently visited the Delta IV booster during an up close tour inside the HIF facility last week where the rocket was unveiled to the media in a horizontally stacked configuration. See my Delta IV photos herein.
The HIF building is located at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), on Cape Canaveral, a short distance away from the launch pad where the Orion EFT-1 mission will lift off on Dec. 4.
“The day-to-day processing is performed by ULA,” said Merri Anne Stowe of NASA’s Fleet Systems Integration Branch of the Launch Services Program (LSP), in a NASA statement.
“NASA’s role is to keep a watchful eye on everything and be there to help if any issues come up.”
The first stage is comprised of a trio of three Delta IV Common Booster Cores (CBCs).
Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.
This past spring I visited the HIF after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville.
The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August, according to ULA.
“After the three core stages went through their initial inspections and processing, the struts were attached, connecting the booster stages with the center core,” Stowe said. “All of this takes place horizontally.”
The Delta IV cryogenic second stage testing and attachment was completed in August and September. It measures 45 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. It is equipped with a single RL10-B-2 engine, that also burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant and generates 25,000 pounds of thrust.
“The hardware for Exploration Flight Test-1 is coming together well,” Stowe noted in a NASA statement.
“We haven’t had to deal with any serious problems. All of the advance planning appears to be paying off.”
This same Delta IV upper stage will be used in the Block 1 version of NASA’s new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).
Be sure to read my recent article detailing the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the manufacture of the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, LA. The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built by humans, exceeding that of the iconic Saturn V rocket that sent humans to walk on the surface of the Moon.
The Delta IV rocket will be rolled out to the SLC-37 Cape Canaveral launch pad this week.
Assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule and stacking atop the service module was also completed in September at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
It was moved about 1 mile to its next stop on the way to SLC-37 – the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story here.
The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Credit: NASA/MSFC
After a thorough review of cost and engineering issues, NASA managers formally approved the development of the agency’s mammoth heavy lift rocket – the Space Launch System or SLS – which will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built and is intended to take astronauts farther beyond Earth into deep space than ever before possible – to Asteroids and Mars.
The maiden test launch of the SLS is targeted for November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version, top NASA officials announced at a briefing for reporters on Aug. 27.
On its first flight known as EM-1, the SLS will also loft an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on an approximately three week long test flight taking it beyond the Moon to a distant retrograde orbit, said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, at the briefing.
Previously NASA had been targeting Dec. 2017 for the inaugural launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – a slip of nearly one year.
But the new Nov. 2018 target date is what resulted from the rigorous assessment of the technical, cost and scheduling issues.
The decision to move forward with the SLS comes after a wide ranging review of the technical risks, costs, schedules and timing known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, at the briefing. Lightfoot oversaw the review process.
“After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment,” said Lightfoot. “Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program.”
“We are making excellent progress on SLS designed for missions beyond low Earth orbit,” Lightfoot said. “We owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right.”
He said that the development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS was $7.021 billion starting from February 2014 and continuing through the first launch set for no later than November 2018.
Lightfoot emphasized that NASA is also building an evolvable family of vehicles that will increase the lift to an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will eventually enable the deep space human missions farther out than ever before into our solar system, leading one day to Mars.
“It’s also important to remember that we’re building a series of launch vehicles here, not just one,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot and Gerstenmaier both indicated that NASA hopes to launch sooner, perhaps by early 2018.
“We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018,” said Lightfoot.
The next step is conduct the same type of formal KDP-C reviews for the Orion crew vehicle and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs.
The first piece of SLS flight hardware already built and to be tested in flight is the stage adapter that will fly on the maiden launch of Orion this December atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy booster during the EFT-1 mission.
The initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version of the SLS stands 322 feet tall and provides 8.4 million pounds of thrust. That’s already 10 percent more thrust at launch than the Saturn V rocket that launched NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions, including Apollo 11, and it can carry more than three times the payload of the now retired space shuttle orbiters.
The core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m) and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.
The first stage propulsion is powered by four RS-25 space shuttle main engines and a pair of enhanced five segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) also derived from the shuttles four segment boosters.
The pressure vessels for the Orion crew capsule, including EM-1 and EFT-1, are also being manufactured at MAF. And all of the External Tanks for the space shuttles were also fabricated at MAF.
The airframe structure for the first Dream Chaser astronaut taxi to low Earth orbit is likewise under construction at MAF as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.
The first crewed flight of the SLS is set for the second launch on the EM-2 mission around the 2020/2021 time frame, which may visit a captured near Earth asteroid.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
The orbital airframe structure for the first commercial Dream Chaser mini-shuttle that will launch to Earth orbit just over two years from now has been unveiled by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and program partner Lockheed Martin.
Sierra Nevada is moving forward with plans for Dream Chaser’s first launch and unmanned orbital test flight in November 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Lockheed Martin is fabricating the structural components for the Dream Chaser’s orbital spacecraft composite structure at the NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, Louisiana.
MAF has played a long and illustrious history in human space flight dating back to Apollo and also as the site where all the External Tanks for NASA’s space shuttle program were manufactured. Lockheed Martin also builds the pressure vessels for NASA’s deep space Orioncrew vehicle at MAF.
Each piece is thoroughly inspected to insure it meets specification and then shipped to Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas for integration into the airframe and co-bonded assembly.
Sierra Nevada chose Lockheed Martin for this significant role in building Dream Chaser airframe based on their wealth of aerospace experience and expertise.
The composite airframe structure was recently unveiled at a joint press conference by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Lockheed Martin at the Fort Worth facility.
“As a valued strategic partner on SNC’s Dream Chaser Dream Team, Lockheed Martin is under contract to manufacture Dream Chaser orbital structure airframes,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems, in a statement.
“We competitively chose Lockheed Martin because they are a world leader in composite manufacturing, have the infrastructure, resources and quality control needed to support the needs of an orbital vehicle and have a proven track record of leading our nation’s top aviation and aerospace programs. Lockheed Martin’s diverse heritage coupled with their current work on the Orion program adds an extra element of depth and expertise to our program. SNC and Lockheed Martin continue to expand and develop a strong multi-faceted relationship.”
Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.
“We are able to tailor our best manufacturing processes, and our innovative technology from across the corporation to fit the needs of the Dream Chaser program,” said Jim Crocker, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company Civil Space Line of Business.
Upon completion of the airframe manufacturing at Ft Worth, it will be transported to SNC’s Louisville, Colorado, facility for final integration and assembly.
SNC announced in July that they successfully completed and passed a series of risk reduction milestone tests on key flight hardware systems under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA that move the private reusable spacecraft closer to its critical design review (CDR) and first flight.
As a result of completing Milestones 9 and 9a, SNC has now received 92% of its total CCiCAP Phase 1 NASA award of $227.5 million.
“We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit,” says Sirangelo.
The private Dream Chaser is a reusable lifting-body design spaceship that will carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS. It will also be able to land on commercial runways anywhere in the world, according to SNC.
Dream Chaser is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.
The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around September 2014, NASA officials have told me.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Rosetta, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.