NASA’s first test article for the Space Launch System’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage arrived at its test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center earlier today, November 16. The stage was moved from its assembly facility in Decatur, Alabama to Marshall in Huntsville via the Tennessee River June 19.

Here, it will be stacked with other test components of the upper portion of the Space Launch System, which will then undergo structural load testing at the center’s newly-constructed SLS test stand. The completed STA stack - consisting of the core stage simulator, launch vehicle stage adapter, ICPS, and Orion spacecraft simulator - will stand more than 56 feet tall.

Structural Test Articles help engineers test a vehicle’s design loads during flight conditions. The STA vehicle being assembled at Marshall will be vibrated, pushed, pulled, and twisted to ensure all components remain within acceptable conditions. 

This is the first ICPS built by by Boeing, who is the Space Launch System’s prime contractor. The ICPS is the second stage of the SLS, and will be used to loft Orion into Earth orbit, and then into deep space. As its name suggests, it will only fly on EM-1 and EM-2 before being replaced by the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage.

The design of the ICPS is derived from the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage, the upper stage of the Delta IV rocket. The STA - without an engine nozzle - stands more than 29 feet tall and 17 feet wide.



T+162 days (May 15, 2015) - EFT-1 heat shield nears end of analysis

Ever since it arrived at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on March 9, engineers have been cutting up Orion EFT-1′s heat shield to better understand how it withstood 4,000 degrees of searing heat. The 16.5 foot wide, Avcoat heat shield was the first thermal shield designed for deep-space human spaceflight since the 1960′s.

Engineers have been removing the material from the backshell since mid March, laser-mapping the entire heat shield before the process began. A seven-axis milling machine unique to Marshall was used to remove the material.

Over 180 squares have been cut from the single-piece heat shield, which have been sent to research centers across the country to analyze and determine the heatshield’s performance.

Once completed at the end of May, the milling machine will smooth the heat shield to a layer one-tenth of an inch thick. In early June, the backshell will be transported to Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will see new life as a water impact test article.


NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars

NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) – the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars – and approved the program’s progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.

“We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey.”

For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.

This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program’s control.

“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who 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.”

“The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”

The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.

"We are keeping each part of the program – the rocket, ground systems, and Orion – moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA. "We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day.”

“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”

The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.

Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.

SLS will be the world’s most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require its use and can’t be flown on commercial rockets.

The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency’s confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.

TOP IMAGE….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. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

LOWER IMAGE…This artist concept shows NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rolling to a launchpad at Kennedy Space Center at night. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history, and the flexible, evolvable design of this advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle will meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

Student-built rocket lifts off from the Bonneville Salt Flats

A student-built rocket lifts off the brilliant white hardpan of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Tooele County, Utah, May 17, during the “launchfest” that concluded the 2013-14 NASA Student Launch rocketry competition. Sixteen teams, comprised of some 250 student participants from 15 states, launched rockets of their own design, complete with three working science and engineering payloads apiece, cheered on by approximately 500 spectators.

NASA Student Launch is an annual education event, designed to inspire young people to pursue studies and careers in the “STEM” fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The event is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and sponsored by ATK Aerospace Group of Magna, Utah. The grand-prize-winning school team will be named by NASA and ATK in late May.

Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Dusty Hood


J-2X engine combustion stability test at NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center.

Shuttle Enterprise arrives at the Marshall Space Flight Center for the Mated Vertical Ground Vibration Test (MVGVT) series in Huntsville, Alabama, 1 March, 1978. The test series began at the Dynamic Test Stand in 1978 with the other components of the Space Transportation System.  Booster configuration tests, involving the orbiter Enterprise and the External Tank, began in May and were completed in July. Here, the orbiter passes MSFC Building 4200 on its way to the test area.

Meteor shower alert!

Via NASA: This year the Geminids will peak during daylight on December 14 across the United States but will still offer good meteor rates the night before and the night after (starting at 9-10 p.m.) through the early morning hours of 13-14 and 14-15 of December. The near new moon will not interfere with observing on either night.

Learn more about the Geminid Meteor Shower!

Meteorite, Meteor: What’s the Difference? Find out in this new video:

Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office

NASA Completes Space Launch System Design Review:

Well, that’s it folks. The extensive and complicated review process NASA had to undergo is over and they’ll move into “cutting metal and fabricating”.

What does this mean? It means that NASA is going back to space and they’ll definitely be doing it on this rocket.

So what’s the big deal with this rocket exactly?

The Space Launch System is going to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever made and will be the first exploration class vehicle NASA’s made since the Apollo era.

The rocket will be the size of a small skyscraper: 320.9 feet in height.

Could we go to Mars on it?

Yes. In fact that’s the ultimate goal of the program.

It will also likely take astronauts back to the Moon, to asteroids, the moons of other planets etc.

The first launch will be in 2018, without astronauts, to complete final tests and make sure it’s ready to carry humans into space.

The new era of human exploration and discovery is finally before us.

(Image credit: NASA and MSFC)