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.


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


SLS Anti-Geyser Testing at MSFC
EMPIRE Building: Ford Aeronutronic’s Mars/Venus Piloted Flyby Study (1962)

At the Seventh International Astronautical Congress, held in Rome in September 1956, Italian aviation and rocketry pioneer Gaetano Crocco described a manned space mission in which a spacecraft would conduct a reconnaissance flyby of Mars, swing past Venus to bend its course toward Earth, and, one year to the day after departing Earth orbit, reenter Earth’s atmosphere. After Earth-orbit departure, the spacecraft would need no additional propulsion. Crocco told the assembled delegates that an opportunity to commence such a mission would next occur in June 1971.

A little less than six years later, in May 1962, the Future Projects Office (FPO) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, awarded manned Mars mission study contracts worth $250,000 each to General Dynamics, Lockheed, and the Aeronutronic Division of Ford Motor Company. General Dynamics was instructed to study Mars orbital missions, Lockheed to look at Mars flyby and orbital missions, and Aeronutronic to study dual-planet (Mars-Venus) flybys. The combined study effort was known as EMPIRE, an evocative (if somewhat tortured) acronym that stood for Early Manned Planetary-Interplanetary Roundtrip Expeditions.

EMPIRE took place against the backdrop of the Apollo lunar program. One year before its start, in a speech before a special joint session of Congress, President John F. Kennedy had put NASA on course for the moon. He had given the U.S. civilian space agency, which had been founded less three years earlier, until the end of the 1960s to achieve his goal. It was hoped, however, that an American could land on the moon as early as 1967, during Kennedy’s second term in office.

As EMPIRE began, NASA had nearly completed the contentious 14-month process of choosing the fastest, most reliable, and cheapest way of placing men on the moon. The Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mode, which would rely on MSFC’s Saturn C-5 rocket, was selected in July 1962, before EMPIRE reached its conclusion. C-5 was soon renamed Saturn V.

MSFC was fertile ground for NASA’s first major manned planetary mission study. The Huntsville Center’s director was Wernher von Braun (image at top of post), a famous advocate of manned flight to the moon and Mars. Von Braun’s efforts in the 1950s to popularize spaceflight had helped to prime the American public for the 1960s Space Race with the Soviet Union.

(Read more via the link)