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Core of NASA’s first Artemis moon rocket towed into Vehicle Assembly Building

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The 212-foot-long core stage for the Artemis 1 mission rolls into the Vehicle Assembly Building Thursday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

A decade in the making, the core stage for NASA’s first Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket rolled into the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center Thursday to join up with twin solid rocket boosters and an Orion capsule for an unpiloted test flight around the moon.

Clad in orange foam thermal insulation, the 212-foot-long (64.6-meter) rocket rolled off NASA’s Pegasus barge Thursday morning on a transport cradle driven by a self-propelled mechanism that carefully drove the core stage the nearly half-mile distance from the Turn Basin to the south door of the VAB.

Ground teams took their time with the operation, moving the rocket along at a glacial pace after an issue with the self-propelled transporter delayed the start of the offload from the Pegasus barge by about three hours.

Finally, the rocket emerged at around 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) Thursday from the Pegasus vessel, a specially-designed barge that once hauled external fuel tanks for space shuttles from their factory in New Orleans to the Florida launch site. NASA extended the length of the barge to 310 feet (94.4 meters) to fit the longer SLS core stage.

The Boeing-built core stage measures 27.6 feet (8.4 meters) in diameter, the same width as the shuttle external fuel tank. The gigantic core stage contains reservoirs that will hold more than 730,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants for launch.

The SLS core stage approaches the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines are affixed to the rear of the core stage. All four engines are veterans of multiple space shuttle missions.

Engineers test-fired the four RS-25 engines for eight minutes March 18 at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the same duration they will burn during a real launch. The hot fire was a final development test intended to iron out any glaring issues on the core stage before the first SLS test flight, known as Artemis 1.

Officials at Kennedy are eager to start working with the core stage inside the VAB. The two 177-foot-tall (54-meter) solid rocket boosters for the first SLS test flight, supplied by Northrop Grumman, are fully stacked on the rocket’s mobile launch platform in High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.

With the core stage now at Kennedy, technicians will complete refurbishment of the rocket’s foam and cork insulation, which suffered some expected damage after the eight-minute RS-25 engine test-firing last month. Ground teams at Kennedy will also install ordnance to be used on the rocket’s flight termination system, which would activate to destroy the rocket if it flew off course and threatened the public during launch.

NASA aims to be ready by the end of May to rotate the rocket vertical and lift it by crane into High Bay 3. A crane operator will carefully lower the core stage in between the two SLS solid rocket boosters.

Workers will connect the core stage with each booster with braces at forward and aft attach points. Next will be stacking of the SLS upper stage, derived from the second stage used on United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4-Heavy rocket, and an adapter that will support the Orion spacecraft.

The rocket will be crowned with a mass model of the Orion spacecraft for structural resonance testing of the fully-stacked launch vehicle. Once that is complete, teams will move the real Orion spacecraft — already integrated with its launch abort system — to the VAB for attachment to the top of the Space Launch System.

The fully-assembled Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will stand 322 feet (98 meters) tall. During launch, the rocket’s four RS-25 engines and twin solid rocket boosters will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust. It can send about 59,500 pounds (27 metric tons) of mass to the Moon, more than any rocket operating today.

NASA plans to roll the Space Launch System out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time as soon as August — but more likely in the fall — to travel to pad 39B for a countdown rehearsal. The launch team will load super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants into the rocket and practice countdown procedures.

After that is done, the rocket will return to the VAB for final checkouts and preparations, then will roll out to pad 39B again for launch.

Four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines on the SLS core stage. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said Tuesday that the agency still hopes to launch the Artemis 1 test flight by the end of 2021.

But he acknowledged the schedule was “challenging” to pull off the launch this year. A delay of any major milestone would put the launch date in jeopardy and slip the Artemis 1 mission to early 2022.

A second SLS/Orion test flight in 2023 will carry three NASA astronauts and a Canadian crew member around the moon and back to Earth. That mission, Artemis 2, will be the first time humans travel beyond low Earth orbit since the final Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Future Artemis missions will send astronauts back to the moon, and eventually land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface, according to NASA.

The agency says the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft are critical to the Artemis moon program, alongside a commercial human-rated lunar lander being developed by SpaceX, and a mini-space station to be placed into orbit around the moon.

But the programs, particularly the SLS, have faced years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.

NASA started initial work on the Space Launch System in 2011, then eyeing an inaugural launch in 2017. As of June 2020, NASA had obligated $16.4 billion on the SLS program since its inception, according to the agency’s inspector general.

Additional photos of the SLS core stage’s offload Thursday are posted below.

Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Steven Young / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Steven Young / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
The SLS core stage approaches the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/04/29/core-stage-for-nasas-first-space-launch-system-rocket-towed-into-vehicle-assembly-building/

Aerospace

Cabana to succeed Jurczyk as NASA associate administrator

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WASHINGTON — Bob Cabana, a former astronaut and longtime head of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will become NASA associate administrator later this month, replacing the retiring Steve Jurczyk.

In separate announcements May 10, NASA said that Jurczyk will retire from the agency effective May 14. Cabana will take over as associate administrator, the top civil service position at the agency, May 17.

Jurczyk has been associate administrator since May 2018. He served as the agency’s acting administrator from Jan. 20 to May 3, when Bill Nelson was sworn into office as administrator. Jurczyk spent 32 years at NASA, including time as director of the Langley Research Center and associate administrator for space technology.

“It has been an honor to lead NASA and see the agency’s incredible growth and transformation throughout my time here,” Jurczyk said in a statement about his retirement. “I am so fortunate to have been a member of the NASA family.”

Cabana, a U.S. Navy test pilot, joined NASA as an astronaut in 1985. He flew on four shuttle missions from 1990 through 1998, including commanding STS-88, the first shuttle mission devoted to the assembly of the International Space Station. He was later deputy director of the Johnson Space Center and director of the Stennis Space Center before being named to lead KSC in 2008.

Cabana has been widely heralded for leading a transformation of KSC after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, converting the center into a “multi-user spaceport” with tenants such as Blue Origin, Boeing and SpaceX. “This transition was not easy, but it was mandatory,” he said at a Space Transportation Association webinar May 6. “It was an iterative process. We had this vision, and we got the team to buy into the vision and own it.”

“Under his leadership, Kennedy has emerged as a modern, world-class multi-user spaceport, partnering with commercial customers and supporting NASA’s science and human exploration missions,” Nelson said of Cabana in a statement. “Bob is the real deal — he has the vision and management skills to bring NASA to even higher heights.”

Cabana offered no hints during the webinar of a potential change in jobs, but praised Nelson, citing his appearance as a senior leadership meeting the day he was sworn in as administrator. “He talked about how much this meant to him and how much he cares about NASA is doing,” Cabana recalled. “He only talked for a few minutes, but when he got done I felt good for NASA.”

Janet Petro, deputy director of KSC since 2007, will take over as acting director of the center after Cabana departs.

The promotion of Cabana to associate administrator is the latest in a series of management shuffles tied to the new administration and the new administrator. NASA announced May 5 that Susie Perez Quinn, who was chief of staff to Nelson when he was a senator, will be NASA chief of staff. Bhavya Lal, acting NASA chief of staff since the start of the Biden administration in January, is now senior adviser for budget and finance.

“NASA is in a new age of limitless possibilities as we venture out to explore the cosmos,” Nelson said in a memo to NASA employees shortly after being sworn in as administrator last week. “We’re going to land the first woman and person of color on the Moon and, eventually, put American boots on Mars.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/cabana-to-succeed-jurczyk-as-nasa-associate-administrator/

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Cabana to succeed Jurczyk as NASA associate administrator

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Published

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WASHINGTON — Bob Cabana, a former astronaut and longtime head of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will become NASA associate administrator later this month, replacing the retiring Steve Jurczyk.

In separate announcements May 10, NASA said that Jurczyk will retire from the agency effective May 14. Cabana will take over as associate administrator, the top civil service position at the agency, May 17.

Jurczyk has been associate administrator since May 2018. He served as the agency’s acting administrator from Jan. 20 to May 3, when Bill Nelson was sworn into office as administrator. Jurczyk spent 32 years at NASA, including time as director of the Langley Research Center and associate administrator for space technology.

“It has been an honor to lead NASA and see the agency’s incredible growth and transformation throughout my time here,” Jurczyk said in a statement about his retirement. “I am so fortunate to have been a member of the NASA family.”

Cabana, a U.S. Navy test pilot, joined NASA as an astronaut in 1985. He flew on four shuttle missions from 1990 through 1998, including commanding STS-88, the first shuttle mission devoted to the assembly of the International Space Station. He was later deputy director of the Johnson Space Center and director of the Stennis Space Center before being named to lead KSC in 2008.

Cabana has been widely heralded for leading a transformation of KSC after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, converting the center into a “multi-user spaceport” with tenants such as Blue Origin, Boeing and SpaceX. “This transition was not easy, but it was mandatory,” he said at a Space Transportation Association webinar May 6. “It was an iterative process. We had this vision, and we got the team to buy into the vision and own it.”

“Under his leadership, Kennedy has emerged as a modern, world-class multi-user spaceport, partnering with commercial customers and supporting NASA’s science and human exploration missions,” Nelson said of Cabana in a statement. “Bob is the real deal — he has the vision and management skills to bring NASA to even higher heights.”

Cabana offered no hints during the webinar of a potential change in jobs, but praised Nelson, citing his appearance as a senior leadership meeting the day he was sworn in as administrator. “He talked about how much this meant to him and how much he cares about NASA is doing,” Cabana recalled. “He only talked for a few minutes, but when he got done I felt good for NASA.”

Janet Petro, deputy director of KSC since 2007, will take over as acting director of the center after Cabana departs.

The promotion of Cabana to associate administrator is the latest in a series of management shuffles tied to the new administration and the new administrator. NASA announced May 5 that Susie Perez Quinn, who was chief of staff to Nelson when he was a senator, will be NASA chief of staff. Bhavya Lal, acting NASA chief of staff since the start of the Biden administration in January, is now senior adviser for budget and finance.

“NASA is in a new age of limitless possibilities as we venture out to explore the cosmos,” Nelson said in a memo to NASA employees shortly after being sworn in as administrator last week. “We’re going to land the first woman and person of color on the Moon and, eventually, put American boots on Mars.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/cabana-to-succeed-jurczyk-as-nasa-associate-administrator/

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NASA says demand for private ISS missions exceeds flight opportunities

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WASHINGTON — NASA says it’s seeing strong interest from companies proposing private astronaut missions to the International Space Station, with the demand for such missions exceeding the agency’s ability to accommodate them.

NASA announced May 10 that it had finalized an agreement with Axiom Space for that company’s first crewed mission to the station, scheduled for launch no earlier than January 2022. The Ax-1 mission, announced in January, will fly three paying customers on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.

Preparations for the mission are underway, NASA and Axiom officials said at a briefing. The three people joining López-Alegría on Ax-1 — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — will undergo centrifuge and zero-g training next week. López-Alegría said he will start full-time training for the mission in August. Connor, designated as the pilot for the mission, will start training in September, with Pathy and Stibbe to follow in October.

The mission will last 10 days, including seven to eight docked to the ISS. Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, said preparations for the mission were on schedule. “We have a high degree of confidence in the late January date” for launching Ax-1, he said.

That mission is the first in a series Axiom Space plans to fly to the ISS as it develops a series of commercial modules it will add to the station beginning as soon as 2024, which themselves will be the core of a future stand-alone space station. “We’ve got things lined up for next three flights, Ax-2, 3 and 4,” he said. “We still have to work with NASA to figure out exactly when those flights can come to the ISS.”

Those private astronaut missions are enabled by NASA’s low Earth orbit commercialization policy announced nearly two years ago, which allows two such missions a year and also sets aside resources on the ISS for commercial applications. Axiom is the first company to sign an agreement with NASA for a private astronaut mission, but the agency said it’s seeing strong interest in general for such missions.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions, even outside of Axiom,” said Angela Hart, manager of commercial low Earth orbit development at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “At this point, the demand exceeds what we actually believe the opportunities on station will be.”

Opportunities for private astronaut missions are limited by what NASA calls the “traffic model” for the ISS, or the schedule of vehicles arriving and departing the station. Commercial crew missions are limited to two docking ports on the station, one of which is occupied by the vehicle that transported the current long-duration crew on the station. The other is used by commercial crew vehicles during crew handovers, cargo Dragon missions and private astronaut missions.

That restricts the opportunities for private astronaut missions. “About two is about all you fit in there with the rest of the traffic,” Dana Weigel, deputy manager of the ISS program at JSC, said.

Axiom hopes to seize those opportunities, with Suffredini stating that his company would like to fly private astronaut missions at the rate of two per year. “We’re prepared to fly on a cadence of about twice a year, but like everyone, we have to compete for the opportunity,” he said.

NASA recently changed the pricing policy for private astronaut missions, significantly increasing the prices it charges companies seeking to fly such missions to cover “full reimbursement for the value of NASA resources” used to support them. However, the agreement for Ax-1 was completed under the 2019 pricing policy.

Thanks to an exchange of services between NASA and Axiom, it will actually be NASA paying Axiom for the Ax-1 mission. While Axiom is acquiring services such as crew supplies and on-orbit resources, NASA will be purchasing “cold stowage” space on the Crew Dragon spacecraft to return cargo to Earth at the end of the mission. NASA will pay Axiom $1.69 million for the mission, although Hart noted there will be other charges to Axiom for training and launch services, some of which are still being negotiated.

Suffredini said that, on later missions, Axiom will seek to reduce its reliance on NASA services. “We have a goal that, by after our third flight, we will provide all of those kinds of capabilities” that it is currently purchasing from NASA.

Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters, said the Axiom agreement was the latest sign of a burgeoning commercial human spaceflight industry, which includes the series of Crew Dragon missions to the ISS, the planned Inspiration4 mission this fall and suborbital spaceflight activities by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.

“This truly is a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight. I think that’s the perfect word for what we’re experiencing,” he said. “It’s just what we envisioned for the commercial crew program when we embarked on that about 10 years ago.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-says-demand-for-private-iss-missions-exceeds-flight-opportunities/

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Aerospace

NASA says demand for private ISS missions exceeds flight opportunities

Avatar

Published

on

WASHINGTON — NASA says it’s seeing strong interest from companies proposing private astronaut missions to the International Space Station, with the demand for such missions exceeding the agency’s ability to accommodate them.

NASA announced May 10 that it had finalized an agreement with Axiom Space for that company’s first crewed mission to the station, scheduled for launch no earlier than January 2022. The Ax-1 mission, announced in January, will fly three paying customers on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.

Preparations for the mission are underway, NASA and Axiom officials said at a briefing. The three people joining López-Alegría on Ax-1 — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — will undergo centrifuge and zero-g training next week. López-Alegría said he will start full-time training for the mission in August. Connor, designated as the pilot for the mission, will start training in September, with Pathy and Stibbe to follow in October.

The mission will last 10 days, including seven to eight docked to the ISS. Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, said preparations for the mission were on schedule. “We have a high degree of confidence in the late January date” for launching Ax-1, he said.

That mission is the first in a series Axiom Space plans to fly to the ISS as it develops a series of commercial modules it will add to the station beginning as soon as 2024, which themselves will be the core of a future stand-alone space station. “We’ve got things lined up for next three flights, Ax-2, 3 and 4,” he said. “We still have to work with NASA to figure out exactly when those flights can come to the ISS.”

Those private astronaut missions are enabled by NASA’s low Earth orbit commercialization policy announced nearly two years ago, which allows two such missions a year and also sets aside resources on the ISS for commercial applications. Axiom is the first company to sign an agreement with NASA for a private astronaut mission, but the agency said it’s seeing strong interest in general for such missions.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions, even outside of Axiom,” said Angela Hart, manager of commercial low Earth orbit development at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “At this point, the demand exceeds what we actually believe the opportunities on station will be.”

Opportunities for private astronaut missions are limited by what NASA calls the “traffic model” for the ISS, or the schedule of vehicles arriving and departing the station. Commercial crew missions are limited to two docking ports on the station, one of which is occupied by the vehicle that transported the current long-duration crew on the station. The other is used by commercial crew vehicles during crew handovers, cargo Dragon missions and private astronaut missions.

That restricts the opportunities for private astronaut missions. “About two is about all you fit in there with the rest of the traffic,” Dana Weigel, deputy manager of the ISS program at JSC, said.

Axiom hopes to seize those opportunities, with Suffredini stating that his company would like to fly private astronaut missions at the rate of two per year. “We’re prepared to fly on a cadence of about twice a year, but like everyone, we have to compete for the opportunity,” he said.

NASA recently changed the pricing policy for private astronaut missions, significantly increasing the prices it charges companies seeking to fly such missions to cover “full reimbursement for the value of NASA resources” used to support them. However, the agreement for Ax-1 was completed under the 2019 pricing policy.

Thanks to an exchange of services between NASA and Axiom, it will actually be NASA paying Axiom for the Ax-1 mission. While Axiom is acquiring services such as crew supplies and on-orbit resources, NASA will be purchasing “cold stowage” space on the Crew Dragon spacecraft to return cargo to Earth at the end of the mission. NASA will pay Axiom $1.69 million for the mission, although Hart noted there will be other charges to Axiom for training and launch services, some of which are still being negotiated.

Suffredini said that, on later missions, Axiom will seek to reduce its reliance on NASA services. “We have a goal that, by after our third flight, we will provide all of those kinds of capabilities” that it is currently purchasing from NASA.

Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters, said the Axiom agreement was the latest sign of a burgeoning commercial human spaceflight industry, which includes the series of Crew Dragon missions to the ISS, the planned Inspiration4 mission this fall and suborbital spaceflight activities by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.

“This truly is a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight. I think that’s the perfect word for what we’re experiencing,” he said. “It’s just what we envisioned for the commercial crew program when we embarked on that about 10 years ago.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-says-demand-for-private-iss-missions-exceeds-flight-opportunities/

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