Category Archives: Space

Core stage

Boeing on January 8, 2020 delivered the core stage of NASA’s first Space Launch System (SLS) deep space exploration rocket, moving it out of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the agency’s Pegasus barge.

The Boeing-built core stage of NASA’s first Space Launch System (SLS) deep space exploration rocket arrives at the agency’s Pegasus barge on January 8 after rolling out of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans (Boeing photo)

The event marks the first time a completed rocket stage has shipped out of Michoud since the end of the Apollo program. SLS Core Stage 1 is the largest single rocket stage ever built by NASA and its industry partners.

The rollout follows several weeks of final testing and check-outs after NASA’s declaration of «core stage complete» during a December 9 Artemis Day celebration at Michoud.

NASA will transport the SLS core stage to its Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in the next few days for «Green Run» hot-fire engine tests later this year. After inspection and refurbishing for launch, the stage moves to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At Kennedy, the core stage will be integrated with the Interim Cryogenic Upper Stage (ICPS) and NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the uncrewed Artemis I mission around the moon – the first launch of a human-rated spacecraft to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

«The Boeing SLS team has worked shoulder-to-shoulder with NASA and our supplier partners to face multiple challenges with ingenuity and perseverance, while keeping safety and quality at the forefront», said John Shannon, Boeing SLS vice president and program manager.

SLS is the world’s most powerful rocket, evolvable and built to carry astronauts and cargo farther and faster than any rocket in history. Its unmatched capabilities will deliver human-rated spacecraft, habitats and science missions to the moon, Mars and beyond as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

«We are applying what we’ve learned from development of the first core stage to accelerate work on core stages 2 and 3, already in production at Michoud, as well as the Exploration Upper Stage that will power NASA’s most ambitious Artemis missions», said Shannon.

Space Operations

By order of Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, effective December 20, Fourteenth Air Force was officially redesignated as Space Operations Command (SPOC).

14th Air Force redesignated as Space Operations Command

Air Force military and civilian personnel previously assigned to the Fourteenth Air Force are now assigned to SPOC by virtue of the redesignation action.

The SPOC directly supports the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF’s) mission to protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from and to space; and conduct space operations.

On December 20, President Donald Trump signed the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, officially establishing the USSF as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.

In accordance with a redesignation memorandum for record signed by Barrett, Major General John E. Shaw, former Fourteenth Air Force commander, was redesignated as commander of Space Operations Command; in addition to Shaw’s role as U.S. Space Command’s (USSPACECOM’s) Combined Force Space Component commander.

The SPOC provides space capabilities such as space domain awareness, space electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile warning, nuclear detonation detection, environmental monitoring, military intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation warfare, command and control, and positioning, navigation and timing, on behalf of the USSF for USSPACECOM and other combatant commands.

«It is an honor and privilege to lead the U.S. Space Force’s Space Operations Command. Every day, all around the planet, people count on us to make a difference – to provide a space-enabled combat edge to the warfighters that keep our country, our allies, and our partners safe», Shaw said. «We will not let them down».

Additional details about SPOC will be available in early 2020 – highlighting Space Operations Command’s critical roles and responsibilities in support of national security objectives.

Mars 2020 Rover

The capsule-shaped aeroshell that will protect NASA’s Mars 2020 rover was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida on December 13, 2019. Built by Lockheed Martin, the aeroshell will encapsulate and protect the Mars 2020 rover during its deep space cruise to Mars, and from the intense heat as the entry system descends through the Martian atmosphere to the surface of Mars.

The aeroshell for the Mars 2020 rover was designed and built at Lockheed Martin Space near Denver and is comprised of two parts, the heat shield and the backshell

Because of the large mass and unique entry trajectory profile that could create external temperatures up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit/2,093 degrees Celsius, the heat shield uses a tiled Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) thermal protection system instead of the Mars heritage Super Lightweight Ablator (SLA) 561V. This will only be the second time PICA has flown on a Mars mission.

«Even though we have the experience of building the nearly identical aeroshell for the Curiosity Rover, the almost 15-foot/4.5-meter diameter composite structure was just as big a challenge to build and test 10 years later», said Neil Tice, Mars 2020 aeroshell program manager at Lockheed Martin Space. «We’ve built every Mars aeroshell entry system for NASA of its 40 years of exploring Mars, so we pulled from that experience to build this important system».

Along with the Curiosity mission, this is the largest aeroshell/heat shield ever built for a planetary mission at 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) in diameter. In contrast, the aeroshell/heat shield of the InSight lander measured 8.6 feet/2.62 m and Apollo capsule heat shields measured just less than 13 feet/3.96 м.

The backshell and heat shield were transported from Lockheed Martin’s Waterton facility in Littleton, Colorado where they were built, to nearby Buckley Air Force Base. They were then loaded onto an Air Force transport plane and flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Recently, Lockheed Martin integrated the MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI2) onto the heat shield and backshell. Provided by NASA’s Langley and Ames Research Centers, MEDLI2 will collect temperature and pressure data during the spacecraft’s descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The Mars 2020 rover is in testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California., which manages the Mars 2020 project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission will launch in July 2020 and land on Mars in February 2021 at the Jezero Crater.

Full Operational Use

A new global, military, satellite-based cellular network designed to revolutionize secure communications for mobile forces is now ready for full operational use in warfighting environments.

MUOS Secure Communications Satellite System ready for Full Operational Use

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), developed by prime contractor Lockheed Martin with ground systems provider General Dynamics Mission Systems, was deemed operationally effective, operationally suitable, and cyber survivable, following successful completion of its Multiservice Operational Test and Evaluation (MOT&E). This summer’s rigorous MOT&E, conducted by the U.S. Navy’s Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force, included participation from the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mobile forces have been conducting early testing and training on MUOS since the network was approved for Early Combatant Command use in July 2016. In August 2018, U.S. Strategic Command approved MUOS for expanded operational use to include non-combat operations – like humanitarian response, disaster relief and further training. The successful MOT&E now makes MUOS’ advanced communications capabilities fully available to the tactical warfare environment.

Comprised of five geosynchronous satellites and four geographically dispersed relay ground stations, the MUOS network brings to mobile forces new, simultaneous, crystal-clear voice, video and mission data over a secure high-speed Internet Protocol-based system. Users with new MUOS terminals will be able to seamlessly connect beyond line-of-sight around the world and into the Global Information Grid, as well as into the Defense Switched Network. MUOS also has demonstrated successful communication of Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) messages.

«MUOS is a game changer for our troops, providing incredible new voice and data capabilities with near global coverage from satellites that act like cell towers 22,000 miles above the Earth», said Kay Sears, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Military Space line of business. «Imagine leaping in technology from a walkie-talkie to a modern cellular phone with global reach. This is what MUOS is for our troops and its network technology will provide more than 10 times the communications capacity the legacy UHF SATCOM system can provide».

«MUOS will provide a level of voice and data communications capability that warfighters have never had using legacy SATCOM systems», said Manny Mora, vice president and general manager for the Space and Intelligence Systems line of business at General Dynamics Mission Systems. «With voice clarity and data speed rivaling what civilians enjoy on their cellphones, MUOS delivers a tactical communications and operational advantage. Wherever our forces are deployed, MUOS will be there».

Today MUOS’ satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, provide both the advanced, new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform and legacy SATCOM UHF communications signals to support troops as they transition over to the more-versatile cellular network. MUOS’ ground system, built by General Dynamics Mission Systems, has two locations in the United States, one in Australia and one in Europe – each supporting the system’s global, beyond-line-of-sight, narrowband communications reach.

The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence and Space Systems (PEO C4 and Space Systems), and its Communications Satellite Program Office responsible for the MUOS program, are based in San Diego, California.

Space Launch System

NASA and Boeing have initiated a contract for the production of 10 Space Launch System core stages and up to eight Exploration Upper Stages to support the third through the twelfth Artemis missions.

Boeing is building the massive 212-foot/64.6-meter Space Launch System (SLS) core stage for NASA’s Artemis I mission. SLS is the only rocket that can carry the Orion spacecraft and necessary cargo beyond Earth orbit in a single mission, making it a critical capability for NASA’s deep-space Artemis program (NASA photo)

Up to 10 additional core stages may be ordered under the contract, leveraging active labor, materials, and facility resources and supply chain efficiencies for production savings.

SLS is NASA’s deep space exploration rocket that will launch astronauts in the 27-metric ton Orion crew vehicle, plus cargo, from Earth to the moon and eventually to Mars. Boeing is the prime contractor for the rocket’s core stage, avionics, and variations of the upper stage. The rocket is designed to be evolvable for missions beyond the moon.

«We greatly appreciate the confidence NASA has placed in Boeing to deliver this deep space rocket and their endorsement of our team’s approach to meeting this unprecedented technological and manufacturing challenge in support of NASA’s Artemis program», said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch division.

«Together with a nationwide network of engaged and innovative suppliers we will deliver the first core stage to NASA this year for Artemis I», Chilton added. «This team is already implementing lessons learned and innovative practices from the first build to produce a second core stage more efficiently than the first. We are committed to continuous improvement as they execute on this new contract».

Boeing designed, developed, tested and built the first SLS core stage under the original NASA Stages contract, including refurbishing the company’s manufacturing area at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, building test versions of the SLS structures, and designing more efficient, modern tooling, all while abiding by stringent safety and quality standards for human spaceflight. The second core stage is simultaneously in production at MAF.

Boeing last year delivered the first upper stage, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System, built by United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama, for the Block 1 version of the evolvable vehicle. The more powerful Exploration Upper Stage design for the Block 1B version is in development, while the MAF facility is being prepared for that build.

SLS is the only rocket that can carry the Orion, and necessary cargo, beyond Earth orbit in a single mission, making it a critical capability for NASA’s deep-space Artemis program.

«Boeing has implemented advanced manufacturing technologies for design, test, and production of the core stages, which will make both core stage production and upper stage development faster, more efficient, and safer», said John Shannon, Boeing vice president and Space Launch System program manager. «The evolvable nature of the rocket will allow us to onboard new advances in materials and production technologies as we move forward to the moon and on to Mars».

Orion Spacecraft

NASA and Lockheed Martin have finalized a contract for the production and operations of six Orion spacecraft missions and the ability to order up to 12 in total. Orion is NASA’s deep space exploration spaceship that will carry astronauts from Earth to the Moon and bring them safely home. Lockheed Martin has been the prime contractor during the development phase of the Orion program.

Orion is NASA’s deep space exploration spaceship that will carry astronauts from Earth to the Moon and bring them safely home

«This contract clearly shows NASA’s commitment not only to Orion, but also to Artemis and its bold goal of sending humans to the Moon in the next five years», said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. «We are equally committed to Orion and Artemis and producing these vehicles with a focus on cost, schedule and mission success».

The agency’s Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) is an Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contact for NASA to issue both cost-plus-incentive fee and firm-fixed-price orders. Initially, NASA has ordered three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III-V for $2.7 billion. Then in fiscal year 2022, the agency plans to order three additional Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions VI-VIII for $1.9 billion.

OPOC will realize substantial savings compared to the costs of vehicles built during the Design, Development, Test and Evaluation (DDT&E) phase.

Up to six additional Orion spacecraft may be ordered under the IDIQ contract through Sept. 30, 2030, leveraging spacecraft production cost data from the previous six missions to enable the lowest possible unit prices.

The first spacecraft delivered on this contract, Artemis III, will carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon in 2024, where they will dock with the Gateway and ultimately land on the surface using a lunar landing system. Orion is a critical part of the agency’s Artemis program to build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface and to prepare us to move on to Mars.

Reusable Orion crew modules and systems, use of advanced manufacturing technologies, material and component bulk buys and an accelerated mission cadence all contribute to considerable cost reductions on these production vehicles.

«We have learned a lot about how to design and manufacture a better Orion – such as designing for reusability, using augmented reality and additive manufacturing – and we’re applying this to this next series of vehicles. Driving down cost and manufacturing them more efficiently and faster will be key to making the Artemis program a success», said Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin Space. «One must also appreciate how unique Orion is. It’s a spaceship like none other. We’ve designed it to do things no other spacecraft can do, go to places no astronaut has been and take us into a new era of human deep space exploration».

Lockheed Martin and NASA recently announced the completion of the Orion crew and service module being developed for the Artemis I mission, an uncrewed mission to the Moon. Work on the spacecraft for the Artemis II mission, the first crewed flight to the Moon, is well underway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

James Webb

At Northrop Grumman Corporation in Redondo Beach, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Spacecraft Element (SCE) and Optical Telescope Element/Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS) are now one. Both halves of the telescope (SCE and OTIS) have been successfully assembled.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully assembled at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California (Photo credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

The Northrop Grumman and NASA team started preparations for the milestone seven years ago, when engineers began the design and build of the flight hardware and tools needed to join the two halves. With the base composite structures for the SCE and OTIS, engineers used an interface transfer tool to physically match the connection interfaces, preparing them for this very moment. At roughly 8,000 pounds/3,629 kg, spanning 131 inches/3.327 m, OTIS had to align with six launch load interfaces. This resulted in stringent alignment requirements to within .004 inches/0.1 mm, about the width of a human hair, and meant engineers had to be meticulous. Over the two-phase operation, OTIS was lifted and suspended in the air, then lowered to connect in tight quarters (up to approximately 0.2 inches/0.5 mm) between in-place hardware and parts of the OTIS.

«This milestone marks a major achievement for all of us at Northrop Grumman and NASA», said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. «Seeing the full observatory for the first time further reinforces our commitment to mission success. There is still more work to be done, but it is a great feeling seeing something that was once a concept, become reality».

A view of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope OTIS, being lowered on the SCE to become a fully assembled observatory at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California (Photo credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

Earlier this year, Webb’s SCE completed its final environmental tests in preparation for the milestone. To date, both halves have undergone environmental testing separately. The fully assembled observatory will complete the next steps of the integration process in the coming months in preparation for acoustic and vibration environmental testing next year.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Optical Telescope Element/Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS) suspended from a crane before being positioned above the Spacecraft Element before being fully assembled at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California (Photo credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

Space Command

According to Voice of America News, the United States military is launching next week its first new combatant command in more than a decade.

U.S. Space Command Launching Next Week

Vice President Mike Pence and Pentagon officials told the National Space Council Tuesday the U.S. Space Command will officially be up and running August 29.

The U.S. military has created a command since the U.S. Cyber Command was established in 2009. The Defense Department currently has 10 combatant commands, and each have either a geographic or functional mission for military operations.

Air Force General John Raymond has been confirmed by the Senate as the command’s first leader.

Creation of the command is seen by some officials as a likely step toward the creation of a space force as a separate military entity.

«The United States Space Force will ensure that our nation is prepared to defend our people, defend our interests, and to defend our values in the vast expanse of space and here on Earth with the technologies that will support our common defense for the vast reaches of outer space», Pence said.

Pence said the future Space Force still needs congressional funding and authority, but he said he expects that to happen soon.

The launch of the Space Command will accelerate what has been a decades-long effort to reorganize and improve the military’s technological capabilities in space, which at times have gotten less attention as the Air Force has focused on warplanes and other combat priorities.

The military’s role in space has been under scrutiny because the U.S. increasingly is reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the national economy.

Over the past year, the issue gained urgency amid growing competition and threats from adversary nations.

The U.S. military previously had a Space Command, but it was dissolved in 2002, and its functions were turned over to a reorganized U.S. Strategic Command. That command’s primary mission remains deterrence against global threats, including maintaining the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal.

Machine learning

BAE Systems has been awarded a Phase 2 contract to develop machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal of DARPA’s Hallmark Tools, Capabilities, and Evaluation Methodology (Hallmark-TCEM) program is to not only develop and evaluate tools and capabilities that increase an operator’s understanding of space events, but also enhance the ability to select effective courses of action for any given situation.

Machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios

Space assets such as satellites are becoming increasingly important and relied upon by the Department of Defense for communications, surveillance, and security. As part of Hallmark-TCEM, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development team will build cognitive-based machine learning algorithms and data models aimed to give space operators the ability to identify abnormal activities and predict possible threats. The team will build on Phase 1 work of the program, and continue to leverage the decade-long development of the company’s Multi-INT Analytics for Pattern Learning and Exploitation (MAPLE) technology with a solution called MAPLE Automates Joint Indications and Warnings for Cognitive Counter-Space (MAJICS).

«Our technology builds data models based on normal activity and then ingests large amounts of real-time, streaming data to compare against the normal model and determine if any abnormal activity is occurring or will occur», said Doctor John Hogan, product line director of the Sensor Processing and Exploitation group at BAE Systems. «By using this technology, we hope to reduce the operator’s workload by providing a solution that will automatically predict space events such as launches or satellite movements based on millions of pieces of data, helping them make rapid decisions to avoid any potential threats».

BAE Systems’ research on the Hallmark-TCEM program adds to the company’s machine learning and artificial intelligence segment of its autonomy technology portfolio. The capabilities developed under the Hallmark-TCEM effort will be integrated into DARPA’s Hallmark Software Testbed (Hallmark-ST) program. Work for the program will be completed at the company’s facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts and Reston, Virginia.

Flight Test

The critical launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft was put to its hardest test on July 2, 2019, and it demonstrated its capability to pull the crew module and future astronauts to safety during a launch if there is an emergency. Lockheed Martin designed and built the launch abort system for the test and is also the prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft for NASA.

Lockheed Martin and NASA successfully demonstrate Orion launch abort system in flight test

The Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test is a major test milestone that is enabling the safe passage of astronauts aboard Orion on the Artemis missions to the Moon and then Mars.

During the test this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the Orion launch abort system, with a mock-up Orion capsule, was launched on a modified Peacekeeper missile. At 31,000 feet/9,449 m, or about six miles up, into the flight, the on-board computers initiated the abort sequence. The launch abort motors, generating 400,000 pounds/181,437 kg of thrust, then pulled the Orion capsule away from the rocket which was already traveling nearly 1,000 mph/1,609 km/h. Using its attitude control motor, the abort system then reoriented itself and jettisoned the Orion capsule using its jettison motor. The total test took less than three minutes.

«The test flight performed perfectly, not to mention it was really exciting to watch», said Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin Space. «Hopefully this will be the last time we see this launch abort system ever work, but this test brings confidence that if needed on future Orion missions, it will safely pull the crew module and astronauts away from a life-threatening event during launch».

The Orion launch abort system is the highest thrust and acceleration escape system ever developed and is the only system of its kind in the world. It’s a major system that makes the Orion exploration-class spaceship the safest spacecraft ever built.

This is the second time the Orion launch abort system has been put to the test. The first flight test was in 2010 simulating a static abort from the launch pad. AA-2 is the final test and demonstration of the full-up launch abort system.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission to the Moon is being developed at the NASA Kennedy Space Center and will soon head into environmental testing – all in preparation for a 2020 launch.

NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test Launches atop Northrop Grumman Provided Booster