NASA Safety Panel: Significant Challenges Remain for SLS & Orion Programs

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon continues to make steady progress but faces significant challenges in manufacturing, flight control, software and other key areas as a crucial test of an abort system looms this spring, according to a new report released on Friday.

A section of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s (ASAP) Annual Report examined progress with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion crew vehicle and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs. An uncrewed flight of SLS and Orion known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is scheduled for next year.

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NASA Seeks US Partners to Develop Reusable Systems to Land Astronauts on Moon

Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on Dec. 13 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028.

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Virgin Galactic, TSC Donate SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor to Smithsonian

SpaceShipTwo motor donated to the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, 7 Feb 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) staff and guests today at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, to announce that the hybrid rocket motor which powered SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to space for the first time on December 13th last year, has been donated to the museum. The rocket motor was unveiled during the ceremony and will be exhibited in the museum’s planned, new commercial space flight gallery to be called ‘Future of Spaceflight.’

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NASA, Buzz Aldrin Get Shout Out During State of the Union Speech

Buzz Aldrin salutes during the 2019 State of the Union address. (Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio/John Shinkle)

With Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in attendance, President Donald Trump gave a shout out to NASA during the annual State of the Union address.

“In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon. Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag: Buzz Aldrin. This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets,” he said.

NASA’s commercial crew program is set to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station later this year. Today, NASA released the following schedule for flight tests of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Flight Set for March 2

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and its Commercial Crew Program providers Boeing and SpaceX have agreed to move the target launch dates for the upcoming inaugural test flights of their next generation American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

The agency now is targeting March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

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Rogozin Promises Vladimir Putin to Double Launches to 45 This Year

At the meeting with General Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Russian President’s Office)

MOSCOW (President Putin PR) — Vladimir Putin had a meeting with General Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities Dmitry Rogozin to discuss the performance and development plans for the space industry.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Rogozin, let us discuss the space industry’s performance last year and development plans.

General Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities Dmitry Rogozin: Mr President,

We were working to improve our performance in three fields. The first had to do with the choice of our development priorities. The second concerned the reduction of non-manufacturing expenses by at least 15 percent and increasing the corporation’s revenue by adopting new competences and entering new markets, about which I would like to speak later. We also needed to dramatically improve production discipline at the corporation and all the subordinate agencies. I have introduced a system of the officials’ personal responsibility for budget execution and have taken measures to reduce the corporation’s budget.

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Spotlight on European Space Station Science

Columbus module International Space Station (Credit: ESA)

PARIS, 4 February 2019 (ESA PR) — Though all ESA astronauts are back on Earth, European science on the International Space Station is ongoing. Explore a few experiments underway right now in celebration of science at ESA.

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ISRO Opens Human Space Flight Centre

BENGALURU, India (ISRO PR) — Dr. K Kasturirangan, Former Chairman, ISRO in the presence of Dr. K Sivan, Secretary, DOS/Chairman, ISRO, inaugurated Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) today (30th Jan’2019) at ISRO Headquarter campus in Bengaluru. Directors of other ISRO Centres, former Chairman and other dignitaries were also present during this event. A full scale model of GAGANYAAN’s crew module was also unveiled during this event.

HSFC shall be responsible for implementation of GAGANYAAN Project which involves end-to-end mission planning, development of Engineering systems for crew survival in space, crew selection & training and also pursue activities for sustained human space flight missions. HSFC will take support of the existing ISRO Centres to implement , the first development flight of GAGANYAAN under Human Space Flight Programme. Dr. S Unnikrishnan Nair is the founder Director of HSFC and Shri R Hutton is the Project Director of GAGANYAAN project.

Watch the Apollo 11 Documentary Trailer

Video Caption: From director Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13) comes a cinematic event fifty years in the making. Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Apollo 11 takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission—the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names.

Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, we vividly experience those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.

Coming Soon To Theaters.

Spaceflight Changes Your Brain Pathways

The International Space Station as it appears in 2018. Zarya is visible at the center of the complex, identifiable by its partially retracted solar arrays. (Credit: NASA)

by Alisson Clark
University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (University of Florida PR) — Brain scans of astronauts before and after spaceflight show changes to their white matter in areas that control movement and process sensory information, a University of Florida study shows.

The deterioration was the same type you’d expect to see with aging, but happened over a much shorter period of time. The findings could help explain why some astronauts have balance and coordination problems after returning to Earth, said Rachael Seidler, a professor with UF’s College of Health and Human Performance.

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Layoffs at Virgin Galactic & The Spaceship Company

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo take off at 7:11 a.m. PST from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

NMPolitics.net is reporting that there were about 40 layoffs from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company earlier this month as they prepare to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

A Virgin Galactic spokesman confirmed the layoffs in a statement via email.

Recently we separated a small number of our team in order to position our organization for the drive to commercial operations following our successful recent spaceflight, and make room for new skill sets that we need to bring in over the course of this year.  In total we separated around 40 people, less than 5% of our total workforce across Virgin Galactic and TSC. We are offering support to those impacted and sincerely thank them for their contributions, and wish them well for the future.

The news comes on the heels of a decision by SpaceX to lay off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 employees. Stratolaunch, which like Virgin Galactic is based in Mojave, announced last week that it was laying off about 50 employees as it down scaled plans for boosters to air launch from its massive aircraft.

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2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

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Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Test Article Loaded into Test Stand

SLS liquid hydrogen tank (Credit: NASA/Tyler Martin)

The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama Jan. 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. The liquid hydrogen tank test article is structurally identical to the flight version of the tank that will comprise two-thirds of the core stage and hold 537,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Dozens of hydraulic cylinders in the 215-foot-tall test stand will push and pull the tank, subjecting it to the same stresses and loads it will endure during liftoff and flight.