Category Archives: Space

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

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.