Category Archives: Space

Launch Abort System

Northrop Grumman Corporation shipped the inert abort motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System (LAS) from the Northrop Grumman facility in Magna, Utah, to Kennedy Space Center, Florida. It will be integrated with the LAS and Orion spacecraft destined for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, designated Artemis 1.

The launch abort motor for Artemis 1, the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, at Northrop Grumman’s Bacchus facility in Magna, Utah, before leaving June 3 for Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The abort motor is a key component of the LAS, which provides an enhancement in spaceflight safety for astronauts. The shipment of the abort motor brings Orion one step closer to Artemis 1 and to enabling humans to explore the moon, Mars and other deep-space destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

«Crew safety is always a top priority, and Orion’s Launch Abort System is state-of-the-art», said Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman, and former four-time shuttle astronaut. «The solid propulsion we use in the abort motor is high-performing and reliable; it should inspire confidence in any future Orion crew members and their families».

The purpose of Orion’s LAS is to safely pull the spacecraft and crew out of harm’s way in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during initial launch ascent. The abort motor underwent a series of component tests culminating in a successful static test in December 2018 at the Northrop Grumman facility in Promontory, Utah. Data from these tests confirmed motor activation within milliseconds and under both extreme cold and hot temperatures, ensuring crew safety.

The abort motor, which stands over 17 feet/5.2 m tall and spans three feet in diameter, is unique in that it has a manifold with four exhaust nozzles. The motor, shipped via thoroughfare in a transporter, will be unloaded at Kennedy Space Center. Integrating the abort motor is the first step in Orion’s LAS integration process.

Northrop Grumman’s next major abort motor milestone is the Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test (AA-2) set to take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in early July. In addition to the launch abort motor, Northrop Grumman is providing the launch vehicle designed to simulate an SLS launch for AA-2. The abort will take place during Max-Q, when the dynamic pressure on the spacecraft is greatest.

Northrop Grumman is responsible for the launch abort motor through a contract to Lockheed Martin, Orion’s prime contractor. The Orion LAS program is managed out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Northrop Grumman produces the abort motor at its Magna, Utah facility and the attitude control motor for the LAS at the company’s Elkton, Maryland facility. The company also manufactures the composite case for the abort motor at its facility in Clearfield, Utah.

Environmental Test

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Spacecraft Element (SCE) successfully completed its last environmental test, thermal vacuum testing, at Northrop Grumman Corporation in Redondo Beach.

A view of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s Spacecraft Element surrounded by heater plates before testing a spectrum of hot protoflight temperatures for thermal vacuum testing

Thermal vacuum testing exposes Webb’s SCE to the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will experience in space. To test these extreme temperature ranges, the chamber uses liquid nitrogen shrouds and heater panels to expose the SCE to cold temperatures as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit/-184.4 degrees Celsius and hot temperatures as high as 220 degrees Fahrenheit/101.4 degrees Celsius. Real-time data collection via flight sensors on the SCE allow engineers to monitor Webb’s electrical/unit functionality and ensures the structure will withstand the rigors of its cold journey to and operation at the second Lagrange point.

«The world’s largest space telescope has to perform in extreme temperatures», said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. «Successful completion of thermal vacuum testing ensures the SCE can endure the volatile conditions it will face and further validates Webb’s readiness for launch».

Webb’s SCE completed its two prior environmental tests (acoustic and sine vibration). After thermal vacuum testing, the SCE will return to Northrop Grumman’s clean room to begin post-environmental testing, including deployments. Later this year, the Webb telescope will become a fully integrated observatory for the first time through integration of the SCE to the Optical Telescope Element/Integrated Science Instrument Module.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory of the next decade. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and the origins of our universe. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

First Stage Test

Northrop Grumman Corporation successfully conducted a full-scale static fire test of the first stage of its new OmegA rocket on May 30, 2019, in Promontory, Utah. This milestone keeps OmegA on track to perform its first launch in 2021 and begin operational launches of national security payloads in 2022.

Northrop Grumman successfully completes first stage test for OmegA rocket

«The OmegA rocket is a top priority and our team is committed to provide the U.S. Air Force with assured access to space for our nation’s most critical payloads», said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager, flight systems, Northrop Grumman. «We committed to test the first stage of OmegA in spring 2019, and that’s exactly what we’ve done».

During today’s test, the first stage motor fired for approximately 122 seconds, producing more than two million pounds of maximum thrust – roughly the equivalent to that of eight-and-a-half jumbo jets. The test verified the performance of the motor’s ballistics, insulation and joints as well as control of the nozzle position.

Last October, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $792 million contract to complete detailed design and verification of OmegA and launch sites. Today’s test verified performance of the first stage solid rocket motor for the intermediate version of OmegA.

The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act specified that a domestic next-generation rocket propulsion system «shall be developed by not later than 2019». With today’s successful test fire, Northrop Grumman demonstrated the company is on track to meet this Congressionally-mandated schedule.

«Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful test», said Kent Rominger, OmegA vice president, Northrop Grumman. «OmegA’s design using flight-proven hardware enables our team to meet our milestones and provide an affordable launch system that meets our customer’s requirements and timeline».

A full-scale static fire test of OmegA’s second stage is planned for this fall.

OmegA’s design leverages flight proven technologies from Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus, Minotaur and Antares rockets as well as the company’s interceptors, targets and strategic rockets. Northrop Grumman has conducted nearly 80 successful space launch missions and has decades of experience launching critical payloads for the U.S. Department of Defense, civil and commercial customers.

The company’s vehicle development team is working on the program in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana, with launch integration and operations planned at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The program will also support thousands of jobs across the country in its supply chain.

Next-Generation GPS

Raytheon Company’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System program, known as GPS OCX, completed final qualification testing of the system’s modernized monitor station receivers, which are now ready to be installed around the world starting in August. GPS OCX is the enhanced ground control segment of a U.S. Air Force-led effort to modernize America’s GPS system.

Raytheon to start global installation of GPS OCX modernized monitoring station receivers

«The modernized receivers give GPS OCX the ability to receive and decrypt all GPS III military and civil signals, a critical capability the current system doesn’t have», said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. «Monitor station receiver installation keeps us on track for full system delivery by our June 2021 contractual deadline».

The modernized receivers will measure and monitor legacy military and civilian signals sent by the current GPS satellite constellation plus the new signals sent by the next-generation GPS III. The receivers will also feed correction models at the master control station, giving U.S. Air Force satellite controllers the information necessary to make key adjustments to maximize accuracy.

Fifth AEHF Satellite

The U.S. Air Force is gearing up to launch the fifth global, anti-jam, protected communications satellite after its arrival in Florida.

AEHF-5 is hoisted by crane into its satellite ship container at Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California. After the satellite is securely packed into the container, it boards a US Air Force cargo plane where it will travel from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
AEHF-5 is hoisted by crane into its satellite ship container at Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California. After the satellite is securely packed into the container, it boards a US Air Force cargo plane where it will travel from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

Lockheed Martin shipped the Air Force’s fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) satellite to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ahead of its expected June launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. AEHF-5’s launch comes just eight months after AEHF-4 blasted off from the Cape on October 17, 2018.

Once launched, AEHF-5 will join the AEHF constellation, which provides protected, survivable communications for the nation’s nuclear command, control and communication mission.

Earlier this month, the Air Force and Lockheed Martin marked the successful completion of AEHF-4’s spacecraft on-orbit testing. This event is the last step before the satellite joins the existing AEHF constellation, adding increased resiliency to an on-orbit network that continues to provide highly-secure, protected and survivable communications for the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

«We are thrilled to return to the Cape to launch AEHF-5 less than a year after launching AEHF-4, showing an accelerated pace to support the Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center», said Mike Cacheiro, vice president of Protected Communications at Lockheed Martin Space. «AEHF-4 arrived to its on-orbit operational position a month early, where it demonstrated Extended Data Rate (XDR) connectivity. This is an exciting time where we are witnessing the deployment of critical capabilities of the current four AEHF satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which provide ten times greater capacity than the original Milstar constellation. The AEHF system is essentially a high capacity data network in the sky, and this is a complete paradigm shift for the future of protected communications».

The new AEHF constellation with the advanced technology of XDR will change how users interact with the new high-bandwidth network. Data speeds increase fivefold, and transmissions that used to take hours can take minutes. This enables both strategic and tactical users to communicate globally across a high-speed network that delivers protected communications in any environment.

Lockheed Martin designs, processes and manufactures the AEHF satellites at its production facility in Silicon Valley. AEHF-6 is currently in full production at the company’s Sunnyvale, California advanced satellite manufacturing facility.

Mars 2020 Rover

Protecting against the extremes of space travel is critical to the success of any mission. Lockheed Martin has successfully completed the flight hardware structure of the heat shield, validating the physical integrity with a final static test after exposing it to flight-like thermal conditions. The heat shield is half of the large and sophisticated two-part aeroshell that Lockheed Martin is designing and building to encapsulate NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars 2020 rover from the punishing heat and friction of entry through the Martian atmosphere.

The Lockheed Martin-built heat shield, shown here in the testing phase, is just one component in the final aeroshell that will protect the Mars 2020 rover on its long journey to Mars
The Lockheed Martin-built heat shield, shown here in the testing phase, is just one component in the final aeroshell that will protect the Mars 2020 rover on its long journey to Mars

The Mars 2020 mission will be one of the most challenging entry, descent and landings ever attempted on the Red Planet. The heat shield aerodynamics serve as a «brake» to slow the spacecraft from about 12,000 mph (19,300 kph) so the structure needs to be flawless. As the tenth aeroshell system that Lockheed Martin has produced for NASA, this is one of the largest at 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter.

«Our experience building aeroshells for NASA Mars missions does not mean that it is ‘easy’», said Neil Tice, Lockheed Martin Mars 2020 Aeroshell program manager. «Tests like this structural test are absolutely essential to ensuring mission success in the long-run».

The static test was conducted on April 25 and was designed to mimic the load that the heat shield will experience during the most extreme part of its journey; the entry phase. To do that, engineers used vacuum pumps to simulate the pressure of approximately 140,000 pounds on the structure. The structure was tested to 120% of the expected flight load to push it to the limit.

For this particular test, the team also integrated a new form of instrumentation. Historically, this test utilizes conventional strain gauges and extensometers to monitor structural response at distinct points during loading. Partnering with NASA Langley Research Center, the team also applied a new tool called Photogrammetry or Digital Image Correlation. This allowed the team to monitor full-field strains and displacements over the entire visible area of the structure in real time. To use this technique, a vinyl wrap, similar to a decal, that has different visual cues (dark random speckles over a white background) was applied to the heat shield. During the test, a set of digital cameras optically monitor any changes in the pattern and generate a three-dimensional map of displacements and surface strains as the applied load increases.

«While we have used this full-field photogrammetry technique on test articles in the past, this is the first successful implementation on official flight hardware», said Doctor Sotiris Kellas, NASA Langley aerospace engineer and lead for the technical demonstration. «This technology will allow us to safeguard hardware during testing but more importantly provide data for test analysis correlation and improvement of our design and analysis tools».

Following this test, the Lockheed Martin team will apply Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) thermal protection system tiles to the structure. Once complete and through all environmental testing, the full heat shield will be mated to the backshell in early fall.

The Mars 2020 Project at NASA JPL manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The NASA Engineering and Safety Center at NASA Langley Research Center provided the photogrammetry support for this test.

Operations Center

The U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and a consortium of tech firms led by Raytheon are modernizing and simplifying the legacy Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC), a 1990s-era system that tracks and monitors space debris.

U.S. Air Force and Raytheon collaborate to modernize space command and control system
U.S. Air Force and Raytheon collaborate to modernize space command and control system

Dave Fuino, program director for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, said: «Within just a few months we brought together a team, developed the technology to modernize it, got it on contract and held a series of demos to prove it worked. We went from concept to proving the solution in less than a year, which is really remarkable».

The SPADOC system reached the end of its planned service life. The U.S. Air Force is planning to replace it with modern systems that will simplify operations and provide greater space situational awareness and collision avoidance capabilities. However, the new system won’t come online for several years.

«SPADOC provides critical space-tracking capabilities that we must sustain and maintain while we wait for new systems to come online», said Bob Taylor, U.S. Air Force Legacy Space Branch chief. «At the same time, it’s critical that we address the obsolescence risk of an aging SPADOC system. So, we came up with a really innovative, modern solution to this problem».

Raytheon and AFLCMC decided to emulate SPADOC’s capabilities with modern computer hardware. The new emulated environment, SPADOC Emulation Analysis Risk Reduction, known as SPEARR, is designed to provide a more sustainable system that requires less maintenance. The new hardware will provide the same functionality as today’s system, making it easy to learn and operate.

Additional benefits are significant reductions in power and cooling consumption. Most of these reductions are because all of SPADOC’s capabilities are now integrated into two small server racks instead of spread over 1,000 square feet/93 square meters of an aging, analog computer system.

«We used proven emulation technology to help solve our challenge, significantly reducing obsolescence risk», said Taylor. «Innovations in programmatic and technical approaches drove a smarter, better and faster solution. The next step is to evaluate options for fielding SPEARR».

«Between the experience of our North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) teammates, a.i. solutions, Zivaro and E&M Technologies, and leading emulation companies Fundamental Software and M2 Technologies, we addressed the aging SPADOC system. It’s a game changer», said Fuino.

NextSTEP Phase II

For long-duration, deep space missions, astronauts will need a highly efficient and reconfigurable space, and Lockheed Martin is researching and designing ways to support those missions. Under a public-private partnership as a part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Phase II study contract, Lockheed Martin has completed the initial ground prototype for a cislunar habitat that would be compatible with NASA’s Gateway architecture. This habitat will help NASA study and assess the critical capabilities needed to build a sustainable presence around the Moon and support pioneering human exploration in deep space.

The Lockheed Martin Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA) Lunar habitat prototype is designed to accommodate a variety of missions around the Moon (Photo courtesy: Lockheed Martin)
The Lockheed Martin Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA) Lunar habitat prototype is designed to accommodate a variety of missions around the Moon (Photo courtesy: Lockheed Martin)

The full-scale prototype, or Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA), is built inside of a repurposed shuttle-era cargo container, called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), at Kennedy Space Center. Using rapid prototyping and modern design tools like virtual and augmented reality, the team customized the interior making full use of the entire volume of the module to accommodate a variety of tasks like science missions and personal needs of future astronauts. The team also studied how to apply the advanced, deep space capabilities that are already built in to NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Through additional research and development funding, the NextSTEP team also applied mixed-reality technology to further refine the concept.

«Throughout the design and engineering process of this high-fidelity prototype, we have kept the diversity of missions top-of-mind», said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin Space NextSTEP program manager. «By building modularity in from the beginning, our design can support Lunar orbit and surface science missions along with commercial operations, all while accelerating the path to the Moon».

Over the past five months, the team used tools like virtual and augmented reality to simplify and streamline the build-up process. They also applied expertise from Lockheed Martin’s heritage of operating autonomous interplanetary robotic missions, like OSIRIS-REx and InSight, to integrate reliable robotic capabilities in to the design.

«Getting back to the Moon, and eventually Mars, is no small feat, but our team are mission visionaries», said Pratt. «They have worked to apply lessons learned from our experience with deep space robotic missions to this first-of-its-kind spacecraft around the Moon».

The Lockheed Martin team will soon transition the prototype to the NASA NextSTEP team for assessment. During the week of March 25, a team of NASA astronauts will live and work inside the prototype, evaluating the layout and providing feedback.  The NASA test team will also validate the overall design and will be able to evaluate the standards and common interfaces, like the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), and how to apply those systems for long-term missions based at the Lunar Gateway. Once NASA testing has completed, Lockheed Martin will continue to optimize and study the prototype to prepare for other Lunar efforts.

Webb Space Telescope

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Spacecraft Element (SCE) successfully completed acoustic and sine vibration testing at Northrop Grumman Corporation in Redondo Beach.

Both halves of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are housed in Northrop Grumman’s cleanroom as they undergo ongoing testing and integration efforts
Both halves of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are housed in Northrop Grumman’s cleanroom as they undergo ongoing testing and integration efforts

Acoustic and sine vibration testing validates the structural design and verifies the mechanical workmanship and integrity of the actual flight SCE by subjecting it to simulated rigors of the launch environment.

«Mission success remains our focus for Webb, a first of its kind space telescope», said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. «Successful environmental testing of the SCE builds further confidence in its structural design integrity, built to withstand the stresses of launch».

The SCE was subjected to acoustic noise levels of 140.7 decibels (damage to hearing starts at 85dB while speakers at a concert can be as loud as 120dB or more), which simulated the high noise levels generated from rocket engines and turbulent air flow at high Mach speeds during launch. Vibration testing simulates the vibration and shaking Webb will experience during launch. During testing, the SCE was attached to a large electrodynamic shaker, vibrating it along three orthogonal axes. This back-and-forth or «sinusoidal» vibration was applied by starting at a low, subsonic frequency of 5 hertz (cycles per second) and «sweeping» up to a medium frequency of 100 hertz in the course of just over one minute. Ultimately, the SCE was subjected to protoflight vibration levels required to simulate a rocket launch experience. Testing on the ground assures that Webb can successfully withstand the rigors of its journey to space.

The completion of acoustic and sine vibration testing advances Webb’s SCE to its final environmental test, thermal vacuum testing. Post thermal vacuum testing, Webb will return to Northrop’s clean room for full deployment and integration of the Optical Telescope Element/Integrated Science Instrument Module later this year.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory of the next decade. Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and the origins of our universe. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

National Security

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a critical payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) denoted NROL-71 lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 on January 19 at 11:10 a.m. PST. The mission is in support of our country’s national defense.

United Launch Alliance successfully launches NROL-71 in support of National Security
United Launch Alliance successfully launches NROL-71 in support of National Security

«Congratulations to our team and mission partners for successfully delivering this critical asset to support national security missions», said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs, «thank you to the entire team for their perseverance, ongoing dedication and focus on 100% mission success».

The Delta IV Heavy is the nation’s proven heavy lift launch vehicle, delivering high-priority missions for the National Reconnaissance Office, U.S. Air Force and NASA. With its advanced upper stage, the Delta IV Heavy can take more than 14,000 pounds/6,350 kg directly to geosynchronous orbit, as well as a wide variety of complex interplanetary trajectories.

The mission launched aboard a Delta IV Heavy, comprised of three common booster cores each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The second stage was powered by an AR RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

NROL-71 is ULA’s first launch in 2019 and 132nd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

ULA’s next launch is the WGS-10 mission for the U.S. Air Force on a Delta IV rocket. The launch is scheduled for March 13, 2019 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

With more than a century of combined heritage, ULA is the world’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 130 satellites to orbit that provide Earth observation capabilities, enable global communications, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, and support life-saving technology.