Astronauts will likely perform a previously-unplanned demonstration of the Orion spacecraft’s deep space rendezvous capabilities in a high-altitude orbit around Earth on the crew capsule’s first piloted test flight, now scheduled for 2023.
The new objective on the first piloted Orion test flight would allow astronauts and engineers to evaluate the capsule’s ability to approach another spacecraft, demonstrating the rendezvous system before it’s needed on future missions to dock with a lunar lander and the planned Gateway mini-space station in orbit around the moon.
The astronauts on the first crewed Orion flight, named Artemis 2, will oversee the ship’s ability to operate in close proximity to another object in space, likely either the upper stage of the Orion’s rocket or a satellite carried as a piggyback payload, NASA officials said last week.
“In order to go ahead and buy down risks for future dockings of Orion, on the Artemis 2 mission, we are planning to do a rendezvous and proximity operations demonstration,” said Doug Loverro, head of NASA’s human spaceflight directorate, in a May 13 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee.
Adding the new test to the Artemis 2 mission will help engineers “understand the handling characteristics of Orion, (and) make sure that we have the simulators correct on Earth so we can get that actual real-time feedback in orbit,” Loverro said.
The rendezvous maneuvers will also verify the performance of the Orion spacecraft’s laser and imaging sensors used to navigate around other objects in space, Loverro said.
Under the scenario being studied by NASA, the Orion spacecraft would not actually perform a docking on the Artemis 2 mission. That would wait until the following flight, named Artemis 3, when NASA hopes to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.
Adding the rendezvous demonstration to the Artemis 2 mission would be a “benefit to us in understanding how the Orion system moves and operates in space,” said Marshall Smith, director of NASA’s human lunar exploration programs.
Smith said modifying hardware and developing a target for the Orion spacecraft to perform an actual docking demonstration on Artemis 2 would be too costly. He said such a change would not offer a significant benefit to NASA because a similar docking system to Orion’s will be tested at the International Space Station.
While Loverro said NASA is planning a rendezvous test on Artemis 2, Smith said details have not been finalized.
“The bottom line is we will probably will go and do a rendezvous and prox ops (proximity operations) activity on Artemis 2,” Smith said. “We haven’t finalized that yet, but we’ve now narrowed it down to a couple of options we think are doable.”
The Orion spacecraft — built by Lockheed Martin — will launch on top of NASA’s Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket comprised of core stage with four leftover engines from the space shuttle program, and two side-mounted solid-fueled boosters. On the first version of the SLS, named Block 1, a modified upper stage originally designed for United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4-Heavy rocket will send the Orion capsule into orbit.
The Artemis 2 flight plan has been in the works for several years. The SLS upper stage — known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS — will place the Orion spacecraft into an elliptical, or egg-shaped, orbit stretching more than 21,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) from Earth.
The high-altitude orbit will allow the Orion astronauts to test the craft’s life support systems for a couple of days before heading on a trip around the moon and back to Earth. The Orion spacecraft could perform the rendezvous demonstration in that phase of the mission, when the capsule is thousands of miles from Earth but not yet on the way to the moon.
“One of the things that I think we all learned from Apollo, and that I think we need to make sure we learn here, is that missions build upon one another,” Loverro said. “We don’t need to take the giant leap all at one time.”
Smith said NASA is evaluating whether to use the SLS upper stage or a satellite carried on the same rocket with with the Orion spacecraft. He added that there are “schedule reasons” why NASA may not want to modify the SLS upper stage to fill the role of the docking target, but the agency has made no final decisions on the matter.
Adding the rendezvous demonstration is “one change that we’re probably going to make,” Smith said. “At least I’m going to recommend.”
The Artemis 2 mission will follow the Artemis 1 test flight, in which an unpiloted Orion spacecraft will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on the inaugural SLS launch. The mission will last 26 to 42 days, depending on when the launch occurs, and the Orion spacecraft will enter a distant orbit around the moon for a series of checkouts before coming back to Earth for re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The Artemis 1 launch is now scheduled for November 2021, around four years later than NASA envisioned when the SLS program was conceived in 2011. And that schedule does not account for schedule slips stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced NASA to pause preparations for a test-firing of the first SLS core stage at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
The Artemis 2 mission — the first SLS/Orion flight with astronauts — is scheduled for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in 2023, according to Kathryn Hambleton, a NASA spokesperson.
The White House directed NASA last year to land astronauts on the moon’s south pole before the end of 2024. NASA renamed its moon program Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, and laid out an accelerated timeline to bring the next crewed lunar landing mission from 2028 to 2024.
Under NASA’s current plan, the moon landing could occur on the Artemis 3 mission in 2024, but the schedule is aggressive. The development of a human-rated lunar lander is in the critical path for a 2024 moon landing.
NASA selected industry teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX last month to mature their concepts for a crewed lunar lander. The space agency and contractor teams will refine requirements and mission architecture choices over the next 10 months, then NASA is likely to select two landers to proceed into full-scale development.
Loverro, who joined NASA as the agency’s top human spaceflight manager late last year, spent the first several months of his tenure overseeing a review of the Artemis program’s schedule. The reviewers concluded NASA should reorganize parts of the agency’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and establish a systems engineering and integration authority responsible for orchestrating end-to-end mission analysis for the Artemis program.
NASA should also identify programs managers for all phases of the Artemis program, which both aims to get astronauts to the moon in 2024 and develop a “sustainable” human presence around the moon by 2028, Loverro said.
The Gateway, a mini-space station to be assembled in lunar orbit, is needed to achieve an enduring lunar program, according to NASA officials. Agency managers say the Gateway will eventually be used as a staging point for astronauts on the way to the surface of the moon, accommodating reusable lunar landers and contributions from international partners. The Gateway outpost will also host a range of science experiments.
But NASA has decided not to use the Gateway for Artemis 3, the program’s first human landing attempt, in order to alleviate schedule pressure, Loverro said. Instead, astronauts on the Orion capsule will directly link up with a lunar lander in an elliptical halo orbit around the moon, then proceed to the surface.
According to NASA’s current plan, the landing vehicle will launch on a commercial rocket without anyone on-board, then maneuver into lunar orbit to await the arrival of the Orion crew.
Loverro told Spaceflight Now last month that NASA still wants to use the Gateway for subsequent Artemis landing missions, beginning with Artemis 4. The first elements of the Gateway could still be in position around the moon in time to provide communications relay support for Artemis 3, he said.
Another major change to the Artemis architecture in the last few months involves how NASA plans to launch the first two Gateway modules. The Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element, or PPE, and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost, or HALO, were originally to launch on separate commercial rockets, then autonomously rendezvous and dock in the vicinity of the moon.
NASA last year announced its selection of Maxar to build the PPE, which provides power generation and solar-electric propulsion for the Gateway. Northrop Grumman will supply the HALO module, which is based on the pressurized section of the company’s Cygnus space station supply ship.
Loverro said launching the two elements on the same rocket would save money and reduce the risks of something going wrong during the docking near the moon.
“What we had was a Power and Propulsion Element that had its own launch on a Falcon Heavy, and we had a HALO with its own launch on a Falcon Heavy, and they were then going to have to have independent propulsion systems, and independent docking systems, and independent power and guidance and control systems,” Loverro said last month. “They were both going to have to independently get their way to the moon and then (autonomously) dock with each other.
“And then the complexity of routing all of the power for the long-term for the Gateway through that docking mechanism, and fluids and other things that we needed to do, all made that system quite complex,” Loverro said. “We realized that if we could put it all together on the ground, we got rid of all that risk and reduced the cost, not just because we saved a launch vehicle but because we got rid of a whole bunch of added complexity in the system.”
The combined launch of the PPE and HALO modules will require a rocket with a longer payload fairing. It turns out the U.S. military needs a rocket with a similar payload envelope, so companies are already working on extended fairings to satisfy national security requirements.
The Space Force plans to select two providers as soon as next month to be eligible to win national security launch contracts in competitions held between 2020 and 2024 for missions launching through 2027.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is the only rocket in the ongoing military launch competition that is currently operational. United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are also competing in the ongoing launch service procurement, and each has proposed new rockets still in development.
Dan Hartman, NASA’s Gateway program manager, said May 13 that the PPE and HALO elements will be connected together with an adapter on the ground, allowing engineers to route power and data connections before launch.
“That offers some significant advantages,” Hartman said. “We will eliminate one launch vehicle, so we’re effectively eliminating the launch vehicle that we had on contract with Maxar (for the PPE). We’re eliminating the service module that we had as part of HALO.
“And then the docking systems, this inter-element adapter will take care of the structural, mechanical, power and fluids interfaces for us,” Hartman said.
Northrop Grumman will manage work to perform the connections between the PPE and HALO modules at the Kennedy Space Center in 2023, Hartman said. The elements are scheduled for launch in November 2023, according to NASA.
NASA released a draft request for launch services proposals May 6 to lay out the performance requirements for the mission. NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy, which oversees launch procurement for the agency’s robotic science missions, plans to select a rocket for the Gateway launch by “late fall” of this year, Hartman said.
Before deciding to go for the tandem launch, NASA officials said they confirmed at least one company will have the ability to launch the modules together on the same rocket.
“We’ll see what we get,” Hartman said. “There could be options out there when we get the proposals back in, but we did check with one, and we think we’re in good shape there.”
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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.
2 astronauts head for launch pad for historic SpaceX flight – Yahoo Canada Finance
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two NASA astronauts climbed into their capsule Saturday for a second attempt at a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
Stormy weather had threatened another postponement most of the day, but the outlook improved markedly in the afternoon, just ahead of the scheduled 3:22 p.m. liftoff of the 260-foot Falcon 9 in what would be the first launch of astronauts into orbit by a private company.
Their destination: the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.
It would also be NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.
The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would lift American spirits.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken pulled on their angular, white-and-black spacesuits with help from technicians wearing masks, gloves and black hoods that made them look like ninjas.
Before setting out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV — another Musk product — Behnken pantomimed a hug of his 6-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.
Wednesday’s countdown of the rocket and its bullet-shaped Dragon capsule was halted at just under 17 minutes because of the threat of lightning.
President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence returned to the Kennedy Space Center for the second launch attempt.
Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t nervous,” Bridenstine said before the launch attempt. “We want to do everything we can to minimize the risk, minimize the uncertainty, so that Bob and Doug will be safe.”
Because of the coronavirus, NASA severely limited the number of employees, visitors and journalists allowed deep inside Kennedy Space Center, and the crowd was relatively small, at a few thousand. At the centre ‘s tourist complex, though, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up in a few hours.
The space agency urged people to stay safe and watch from home, and by NASA’s count, at least 1.14 million viewers followed the launch preparation online. But spectators also began lining the Cape Canaveral area’s beaches and roads. Signs along the main beach drag read, “Godspeed.”
Among the spectators was Neil Wight, a machinist from Buffalo, New York, who staked out a view of the launch pad from a park in Titusville.
“It’s pretty historically significant in my book and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”
NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to taxi astronauts to and from the space station, under contracts totalling $7 billion. Both companies launched their crew capsules last year with test dummies. SpaceX’s Dragon aced all of its objectives, while Boeing’s Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and was almost destroyed because of software errors.
As a result, the first Starliner flight carrying astronauts isn’t expected until next year.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press
Two astronauts climb aboard SpaceX rocket for historic flight – CTV News
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
Despite more storms in the forecast, two NASA astronauts climbed into their capsule Saturday for a second attempt at a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
With the flight already delayed three days by bad weather, forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at 50-50 for the 3:22 p.m. liftoff of the 270-foot Falcon 9 in what would be the first launch of astronauts into orbit by a private company.
Their destination: the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.
It would also be NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.
NASA officials and others held out hope the mission would be a morale-booster amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 360,000 people worldwide, including more than 100,000 Americans.
SpaceX and NASA monitored the weather not just at Kennedy Space Center, where rain, thick clouds and the chance of lightning threatened another postponement, but all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Waves and wind need to be within certain limits in case the astronauts have to make an emergency splashdown on the way to orbit.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t nervous,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before the launch attempt. “We want to do everything we can to minimize the risk, minimize the uncertainty, so that Bob and Doug will be safe.”
President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence planned to return for the second launch attempt.
Because of the coronavirus, NASA severely limited the number of employees, visitors and journalists allowed deep inside Kennedy Space Center, and the crowd was relatively small, at a few thousand. At the centre’s tourist complex, though, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up in a few hours.
“It’s pretty historically significant in my book, and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”
As a result, the first Starliner flight carrying astronauts isn’t expected until next year.
How to Make the Food and Water Mars-Bound Astronauts Will Need for Their Mission – Universe Today
If we ever intend to send crewed missions to deep-space locations, then we need to come up with solutions for how to keep the crews supplied. For astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who regularly receive resupply missions from Earth, this is not an issue. But for missions traveling to destinations like Mars and beyond, self-sufficiency is the name of the game!
This is the idea behind projects like BIOWYSE and TIME SCALE, which are being developed by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) in Norway. These two systems are all about providing astronauts with a sustainable and renewable supply of drinking water and plant food. In so doing, they address two of the most important needs of humans performing long-duration missions that will take them far from home.
Even though the ISS can be resupplied in as little as six hours (the time between launch and the time a supply capsule will dock with the station), astronauts still rely on conservation measures while in orbit. In fact, roughly 80% of the water aboard the ISS comes from airborne water vapor (generated by breathing and sweat) as well as recycled shower water and urine – all of which is treated with chemicals to make it safe for drinking.
Food is another matter. NASA estimates that every astronaut aboard the ISS will consume 0.83 kg (1.83 pounds lbs) of food per meal, which works out to about 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) a day. About 0.12 kg (0.27 pounds) of every meal is just from the packaging material, which means a single astronaut will generate close to a pound of waste per day – and that’s not even including the other kind of “waste” that comes from eating!
In short, the ISS relies on costly resupply missions to provide 20% of its water and all of its food. But if and when astronauts establish outposts on the Moon and Mars, this may not be an option. While sending supplies to the Moon can be done in three days, the need to do so regularly will make the cost of sending food and water prohibitive. Meanwhile, it takes eight months for spacecraft to reach Mars, which is totally impractical.
It is little wonder then why the proposed mission architectures to the Moon and Mars include in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), where astronauts will use local resources to be as self-sufficient as possible. The availability of ice on the lunar and Martian surfaces is a prime example, which will be harvested to provide drinking and irrigation water. But missions to deep-space locations will not have this option while they are in transit.
To provide a sustainable supply of water, Dr. Emmanouil Detsis and colleagues are developing the Biocontamination Integrated cOntrol of Wet Systems for Space Exploration (BIOWYSE). This project began as an investigation for ways to store freshwater for extended periods of time, monitor it in real-time for signs of contamination, decontaminate it with UV light (rather than chemicals), and dispense it as needed.
What resulted was an automated machine that could perform all of these tasks. As Dr. Detsis explained:
“We wanted a system where you take it from A to Z, from storing the water to making it available for someone to drink. That means you store the water, you are able to monitor the biocontamination, you are able to disinfect if you have to, and finally you deliver to the cup for drinking… When someone wants to drink water you press the button. It’s like a water cooler.”
In addition to monitoring stored water, the BIOWYSE machine is also capable of analyzing wet surfaces inside a spacecraft for signs of contamination. This is important since closed-systems like spacecraft and space stations, you have humidity buildup, which can cause water to accumulate in areas that are unclean. Once this water is reclaimed, it then becomes necessary to decontaminate all the water stored in the system.
“The system is designed with future habitats in mind,” added Dr. Detsis. “So a space station around the moon, or a field laboratory on Mars in decades to come. These are places where the water may have been sitting there some time before the crew arrives.”
The Technology and Innovation for Development of Modular Equipment in Scalable Advanced Life Support Systems for Space Exploration (TIME SCALE) project, meanwhile, is designed to recycle water and nutrients for the sake of growing plants. This project is overseen by Dr. Ann-Iren Kittang Jost from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) in Norway.
This system is not unlike the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) or the Biolab system, which were sent to the ISS in 2006 and 2018 (respectively) to conduct biological experiments in space. Drawing inspiration from these systems, Dr. Jost and her colleagues designed a “greenhouse in space” that could cultivate plants and monitor their health. As she put it:
“We (need) state of the art technologies to cultivate food for future space exploration to the moon and Mars. We took (the ECMS) as a starting point to define concepts and technologies to learn more about cultivating crops and plants in microgravity.”
Much like its predecessors, Biolab and the ECMS, the TIME SCALE prototype relies on a spinning centrifuge to simulate lunar and Martian gravity and measures the effect this has on plants’ uptake of nutrients and water. This system could also be useful here on Earth, allowing greenhouses to reuse nutrients and water and more advanced sensor technology to monitor plant health and growth.
Technologies like these will be crucial when it comes time to establish a human presence on the Moon, on Mars, and for the sake of deep-space missions. In the coming years, NASA plans to make the long-awaited return to the Moon with Project Artemis, which will be the first step in the creation of what they envision as a program for “sustainable lunar exploration.”
Much of that vision rests on the creation of an orbital habitat (the Lunar Gateway) as well as the infrastructure on the surface (the Artemis Base Camp) needed to support an enduring human presence. Similarly, when NASA begins making crewed missions to Mars, the mission architecture calls for an orbital habitat (the Mars Base Camp), likely followed by one on the surface.
In all cases, the outposts will need to be relatively self-sufficient since resupply missions won’t be able to reach them in a matter of hours. As Dr. Detsis explained:
“It will not be like the ISS. You are not going to have a constant crew all the time. There will be a period where the laboratory might be empty, and will not have crew until the next shift arrives in three or four months (or longer). Water and other resources will be sitting there, and it may build up microorganisms.”
By having technologies that can ensure that drinking water is safe, clean, and in steady supply – and that plants can be grown in a sustainable way – outposts and deep-space missions will be able to achieve a level of self-sufficiency and be less reliant on Earth.
Further Reading: HORIZON/European Commission
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