Saturday, January 28, 2012

NuSTAR Spacecraft Arrives in California

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, mission arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this morning after a cross-country trip by truck from the Orbital Sciences Corporation's manufacturing plant in Dulles, Va. The mission is scheduled to launch from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean on March 14.

Once the observatory is offloaded at Vandenberg, it will be moved into a processing hangar, joining the Pegasus XL rocket that is set to carry it to space. Over the weekend, technicians will remove its shipping container so that checkout and other processing activities can begin next week. Once the observatory is integrated with the rocket in mid-February, technicians will encapsulate it in the vehicle fairing, which is also scheduled to arrive at Vandenberg today.

After processing is completed, the rocket and spacecraft will be flown on Orbital's L-1011 carrier aircraft to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll for launch in March.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

'We are the Champions' on the International Space Station

In high school, there are champions of football and basketball and even music, but not many students can say they are champs on the International Space Station - but Alliance Rocket students from the United States and virtual participants Alliance CyberAvo, representing schools in Germany and Italy, have now earned that distinction.

Both teams were named the winners in the third annual NASA-sponsored Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge competition for high school students from the United States and abroad.

NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge sponsored the competition, which challenged students to write software code for small satellite robots on the station.

"This competition helps to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving and teamwork, and helps us to find future scientists and engineers to work in space," said Leland Melvin, NASA associate administrator for education at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The teams this year did not disappoint. The students were exceptional with their designs and flight programs."

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The 'Un-Flyable' Space Shuttle

The first time NASA engineer George Ware saw a model for the space shuttle, four decades ago, it had a straight wing and tail like a fighter airplane. It had elevators, a rudder and an engine.

It was un-flyable.

"It was their idea that it was going to enter the atmosphere at a 60-degree angle," said Ware, who had just joined the Vehicle Analysis Branch at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., which was tasked with testing shuttle configurations offered by the Johnson Space Center and contractors.

"At some lower speed, closer to transonic, it would pitch over and start flying like an airplane," said Ware, now retired. "It would be on a reusable booster as well."

It was supposed to fly up to 50 times a year at $10 million per trip. But that return to Earth was throwing everybody, because air flow onto the straight wing as it came into the atmosphere caused the plane to crash, at least on paper. Models of all four candidate configurations had problems, and the two boosters attached to them and tested in various combinations didn't help.

Ware still has lab books that look as though they have red-inked brushfires ignited by failed tunnel tests of shuttle and booster. Langley wind tunnels logged 59,200 hours from 1970-82, with the work spread over a dozen facilities. That included time spent with what was the eventual shuttle: a double-delta shaped craft.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NASA Moves Shuttle Engines From Kennedy To Stennis

The relocation of the RS-25D space shuttle main engine inventory from Kennedy Space Center's Engine Shop in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is underway. The RS-25D flight engines, repurposed for NASA's Space Launch System, are being moved to NASA's Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi.

The Space Launch System (SLS) is a new heavy-lift launch vehicle that will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is leading the design and development of the SLS for NASA, including the engine testing program. SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft, its crew, cargo, equipment and science experiments to destinations in deep space.

"The relocation of RS-25D engine assets represents a significant cost savings to the SLS Program by consolidating SLS engine assembly and test operations at a single facility," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

The RS-25Ds - to be used for the SLS core stage - be stored at Stennis until testing begins at a future date. Testing is already under way on the J-2X engine, which is planned for use in the SLS upper stage. Using the same fuel system - hydrogen and liquid oxygen - for both core and upper stages reduces costs by leveraging the existing knowledge base, skills, infrastructure and personnel.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Cassini Testing Part of Its Radio System

Engineers with NASA's Cassini mission are conducting diagnostic testing on a part of the spacecraft's radio system after its signal was not detected on Earth during a tracking pass in late December. The spacecraft has been communicating with Earth using a backup part.

The issue occurred with the ultra-stable oscillator, which is used for one type of radio science experiment and also as a means of sending data back to Earth. The spacecraft is currently using an auxiliary oscillator, whose frequency stability is adequate for transmitting data from the spacecraft to Earth. Tests later this month will help mission managers decide whether it will be possible to bring the ultra-stable oscillator back into service.

Some of the data collected for the radio science experiment using the auxiliary oscillator will be of lesser quality than that from the ultra-stable oscillator. Signals used for occultation experiments – where scientists analyze how radio signals are affected as they travel through Saturn's rings or the atmospheres of Saturn and its moons back to Earth – will be of lesser quality. A second kind of radio science investigation using gravity measurements to probe the internal structure of Saturn or its moons will not be affected. Cassini carries 12 science experiments.

The cause is still under investigation, but age may be a factor. The spacecraft launched in 1997 and has orbited Saturn since 2004. Cassini completed its prime mission in 2008 and has had two additional mission extensions. This is the first time its ultra-stable oscillator has had an issue.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

NASA Propulsion Experiment Provides Data for More Efficient Jet Engines

Aeronautics researchers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center recently completed flight tests of a unique experimental jet engine inlet design in the Channeled Center-body Inlet Experiment, or CCIE.

The experimental inlet was checked out on NASA Dryden's F-15B aeronautics research test bed aircraft, which continues to be an innovative and cost-effective tool for flight test of advanced propulsion concepts.

The CCIE project's primary research objective was to define the airflow through the experimental jet engine inlet, then compare it to the airflow through a standard inlet. Inside, airflow around two interchangeable center bodies installed in an air inlet tube was measured. The structures are designed to direct and compress airflow internally through the engine.

One center body is channeled; the other has a conventional, smooth shape. The slots cut along the length of the channeled center body simulate a simple device that in an actual inlet would allow optimization of the amount of air flowing into the engine, resulting in improved airflow efficiency at a wide variety of speeds. This would improve fuel efficiency as well.

Six flights were flown, three with each center body installed. Flight tests were made incrementally at speeds up to Mach 1.74, or about 1.7 times the speed of sound. Flight data from the smooth center body were used to benchmark performance data for the channeled center body. Data points that NASA Dryden engineers collected during the experiment included inlet mass airflow information, internal surface pressure distribution numbers, and airflow distortion, or turbulence, data at the exit end of the device.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shuttle Model Move Shows Way for Atlantis

Moving the high fidelity model of the space shuttle Dec. 10 called for an array of planning, about 100 people and a specialized trailer. It also called for the temporary removal of 18 light poles, four traffic signals and some signs.

It took the team about five hours to make the six-mile trip from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to the Turn Basin across the street from the Vehicle Assembly Building. The group started rolling at 7:30 a.m. so they wouldn't have to worry about the dark.

"It went very well," said Gerald "Jay" Green, project manager for the move. "I felt a great sense of accomplishment when we got it done."

A similar move will be made next year when space shuttle Atlantis is taken the opposite direction to its display location at the Visitor Complex.

The model's convoy never traveled more than about 6 mph. It came to a stop many times along the way so the trailer's built-in jacks could raise or lower the wings to get past obstacles such as guard shacks and traffic lights.

"There were four or five really hard spots," Green said.

But then, moving space shuttles and full-scale model shuttles has always required extra consideration. For instance, crews moving a space shuttle through the mountains in California had to cut slots in the rock to make room for the wings.

Moving the model didn't require such an extreme action, but it took a month of planning and considerable study of potential routes. Even 3-D modeling was incorporated to find problem zones. All this was before Green and his group found out they would have to move it with the wings attached.

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