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NASA studying cause of early end to NASA moon rocket test-firing

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The Space Launch System’s four RS-25 engines fire during an abbreviated Green Run test Saturday. Credit: NASA

A critical test-firing of NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket in Mississippi ended just 67 seconds after it began Saturday, well short of a planned eight-minute burn that was supposed to clear the way for the space agency to finally ship the rocket’s core stage to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch preparations.

The SLS core stage, built by Boeing, lit its four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines for the first time at 5:27 p.m. EST (4:27 p.m. CST; 2227 GMT) Saturday for a burn that was expected to last more than eight minutes, the culmination of a year-long series of checkouts at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.

Fastened to the mammoth B-2 test stand at Stennis, the 212-foot-tall (65-meter) SLS core stage throttled up to full power after the four main engines lit at 120-millisecond intervals.

The engines, leftovers from the space shuttle program, built up to 1.6 million pounds of thrust, making Saturday’s hot fire test the most powerful rocket firing at the Stennis Space Center since NASA tested the Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket on the same stand in the 1960s.

But after rumbling to life and generating a ground-shaking thunder for a little more than a minute, the RS-25 engines cut off on command of the rocket’s on-board computer system, which detected an unspecified fault in one of the powerplants.

Engineers were tracing the cause of the premature engine shutdown Saturday night, but NASA officials had few details on what might have triggered the early end to the test-firing.

“I know not everybody is feeling as happy as we otherwise could because we wanted to get eight minutes of a hot fire, and we got over a minute,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Before the test-firing Saturday, NASA officials said preparations were on track for the first test flight of the Space Launch System at the end of 2021. It was not immediately how the premature shutdown of the SLS engines Saturday might impact that schedule, although it will certainly add more risk to it.

“We got lots of data that we’re going to go through, and be able to sort through, and get to a point where we can make a determination as to whether or not launching in 2021 is a possibility or not,” Bridenstine said. “While today was not everything we hoped it would be, this was an important day.”

The outgoing NASA chief, who will leave his post Wednesday with the end of the Trump administration, said engineers gathered important data on the performance of the rocket despite the cutoff of the engines. The Space Launch System is a major piece of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.

The SLS will launch NASA’s Orion crew capsule to send astronauts to the vicinity of the moon, NASA plans to construct a mini-space station to serve as a research outpost and waypoint for crews traveling between Earth and the lunar surface. The Orion spacecraft will link up with a descent craft in lunar orbit, where astronauts will float into the lander to head for the moon’s surface.

The first SLS test flight, known as Artemis 1, will launch an Orion spacecraft to orbit the moon without astronauts. A second SLS/Orion flight around the moon in the 2023 timeframe will have three astronauts and a Canadian crew member.

The Trump administration’s goal of a human landing at the moon’s south pole by the end of 2024 is rapidly fading. The timeline was aggressive from the moment Vice President Mike Pence announced the 2024 moon landing objective in 2019. But Congress has not appropriated the funds NASA said it needed to develop human-rated lunar landers to meet the schedule, raising further doubts about the 2024 deadline.

Space policy experts believe the Biden administration is unlikely to keep the 2024 schedule goal for a lunar landing, but may pursue a slower effort to get U.S. astronauts back to the moon.

The Space Launch System has been repeatedly delayed since the program’s announcement in 2011, missing targets for its debut in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. NASA spent more than $18 billion on the SLS program from 2011 through Sept. 30, 2020.

“This is a program that is important to the United States of America, it’s important for our leadership in the world, it’s important for us to go to the moon, and to go quickly,” Bridenstine said Saturday, adding that the purpose for the Artemis program goes beyond science.

“It’s about a tool of diplomacy. It’s about American leadership. It’s about exploration,” he said.

Getting all four RS-25 engines to fire simultaneously was “a win in itself,” Bridenstine said. The engines flew three-at-a-time on the space shuttle.

During development of the Saturn 5 moon rocket and the space shuttle, NASA fired test articles at Stennis to verify the propulsion system design. In order to save money, the first full-up SLS core stage serves as both a test article and a flight unit. NASA officials said they are being extra careful with the stage because it is eventually intended to fly.

“This is not a failure,” Bridenstine said. “This is a test… We’re going to make adjustments, and we’re going to fly to the moon.”

Based on an analysis of the video and audio aired on NASA TV, the first sign of trouble during the abbreviated SLS hot fire test came about 50 seconds after engine ignition, when an engineer on the test team declared an “MCF” or a “Major Component Failure” on Engine No. 4.

“Copy that, but we’re still running, we’ve still got four good engines, right?” the test conductor replied on a communications net.

“Yeah, copy that,” a member of the test team said.

Shortly after the MCF call, about 67 seconds after engine start, video showed the core stage engines appearing to be in a shutdown sequence. A verbal confirmation of the engine shutdown came a few seconds later from a member of the test team.

“There was some conversation around an “FID” on Engine 4, which is our terminology for a Failure Identification, shortly followed by an MCF, which is a Major Component Failure,” said John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS program manager, in a press conference a few hours after the test. “I don’t know much more about that than you do at this point in time. Any parameter that went awry on the engine could send that Failure ID.”

Artist’s concept of the Space Launch System launching with NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Credit: NASA

The engines shut down around a minute into the test program, around the same time the RS-25s were programmed to throttle back to 95% thrust before powering back up to full power at 109% of rated performance. At the same time, the engines were supposed to be swiveled using hydraulic gimbals.

“So there’s a lot of dynamics going on at that point in time,” Honeycutt said. “We did see a little bit of a flash coming from around the interface of the thermal protection blanket on Engine 4 at the time we initiated the gimbal, (or) thereabouts.

“At that point in time … the engine controller sent the data to the core stage controller to shut the vehicle down,” Honeycutt said. “The team accomplished a lot today, we learned a lot about the vehicle, we got the vehicle loaded, we got our pressurization system wrung out, we got the engines conditioned, and got roughly 60 seconds of time on the RS-25s.”

John Shannon, Boeing’s SLS program manager, said before the test-firing teams wanted to get at least 250 seconds of run time on the core stage before moving on from the hot fire. By that point in the test, the engines would have throttled down and powered back up to full thrust and completed two gimbal profiles, including a sweep at about T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds, to check the structural response to the engine movements.

“We have said all along that we would like to get to at least 250 seconds, but I think we need to do our due diligence and go look at the data we collected to ensure that we’ve got a good plan moving forward,” Honeycutt said.

Bridenstine said Saturday it was too soon to know for sure whether engineers will need to perform another core stage hot fire test, or whether the early engine shutdown is likely to delay the first SLS test launch, known as Artemis 1 the mission, into 2022.

“It depends what the anomaly was, and how challenging it’s going to be to fix it,” Bridenstine said. “And we’ve got a lot to learn to figure that out. So I think it very well could be that it’s something that’s easily fixable, and we could feel confident going down to the Cape and and then staying on schedule. It’s also true that we could find a challenge that’s going to take more time.”

NASA could have shipped the SLS core stage to the Kennedy Space Center before the end of February if Saturday’s test-firing went perfectly, and moved the stage into place for stacking with two solid rocket boosters, an upper stage, and the Orion spacecraft. Assuming NASA officials decide to redo the hot fire test, February is the the earliest another test-firing might happen.

It takes three to four weeks to dry out the RS-25 engines, perform inspections, and ready the core stage for a second hot fire test, assuming managers decide to go for another test-firing, Honeycutt said. That turnaround time does not factor in how long it might take to complete any repairs to fix the problem that caused the premature end to Saturday’s hot fire test.

Each of the four RS-25 engines that fired Saturday flew on NASA’s space shuttle fleet. The engines launched on 21 shuttle missions as far back as 1998.

NASA has spare RS-25s available if engineers need to replace one of the engines on the first SLS core stage. Ground crews at Stennis could swap engines with the rocket mounted on the test stand, officials said.

“We’ve got to fully understand the problem, and do an assessment of the core stage as well as the engines to make sure we understand the problem and what needs to be fixed or repaired, if we need to,” Honeycutt said Saturday night.

The only damage to the rocket observed after Saturday’s test-firing was on the thermal blanket near Engine No. 4, where teams noticed the flash just before engine shutdown, Honeycutt said.

Asked if any of the data analyzed so far suggest engineers need to make any major changes to the core stage, Honeycutt said: “What I’ve seen so far about the performance of the hardware during the wet dress rehearsals that we’ve had, during the hot fire today, and the limited amount of imagery I’ve been able to see so far, I don’t think we’re looking at a significant design change.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/01/17/nasa-studying-cause-of-early-end-to-nasa-moon-rocket-test-firing/

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Microchip makes PolarFire defence-grade FPGAs available in volume production

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Microchip makes PolarFire defence-grade FPGAs available in volume production

Aerospace, defence, automotive and industrial designers who need defence- and automotive-grade programmable logic solutions can now order PolarFire Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) in volume production quantities.

Microchip Technology has announced it is shipping PolarFire FPGAs qualified for both the military temperature grade (-40°C to 125°C TJ) and Automotive Electronics Council Q100 (AEC-Q100) specification Grade T2 (-40°C to 125°C TJ).

These offerings extend Microchip’s low-power leadership as a supplier of FPGAs for diverse high-reliability markets. With their thermal and space design constraints, automotive, industrial and military applications deployed in harsh environments require solutions that offer power and space efficiency as well as cryptographic security. PolarFire FPGAs offer on-chip security features that enable secure communication, an encrypted bitstream, and a cryptographically secured supply chain, ensuring tamper-proof solutions for these market segments.

Unlike SRAM-based FPGAs, Microchip devices can operate without fans and in some cases without heatsinks, simplifying the thermal design of the system and creating new opportunities for smaller, lighter designs. This is especially important in automotive applications such as blind spot detection, lane change warning systems and back up cameras. Additionally, the extended temperature range of our military grade devices coupled with our state-of-the-art security enables developers to trust and add more compute power within a thermally constrained environments such as those found in advanced strategic weapons systems.

“Removing heat from a system is not free,” said Bruce Weyer, vice-president of Microchip’s FPGA business unit. “The less heat you move, the lower your total system costs become. In some cases, complete removal of fans from systems, which often have a low mean time between failure, is possible. Automotive and aerospace design engineers can now develop mid-range FPGA solutions with the lowest total power, highest reliability, and best-in-class security technologies, all at a lower total system cost.”

www.microchip.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/microchip-makes-polarfire-defence-grade-fpgas-available-in-volume-production/

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Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya sells off remaining personal stake in the space company

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The man who arguably ushered in the current SPAC rush with the merger of Virgin Galactic with his Social Capital Hedosophia holding company has divested the remainder of his personal holdings in the space tourism company. Chamath Palihapitiya, who serves as the chairman of Virgin Galactic’s board, still holds 6.2% ownership in the company in partnership with investor Ian Osborne, but his solo holdings are now at zero.

Palihapitiya provided the following statement to TechCrunch via Virgin Galactic:

I sold 6M shares for $200M which I am planning to redirect into a large investment I am making towards fighting climate change. The details of this investment will be made public in the next few months. I remain as dedicated as ever to Virgin Galactic’s team, mission and prospects.

Palihapitiya sold 3.8 million shares in December 2020, noting that he was selling that equity “to help manage [his] liquidity” in order to provide funding for “several new projects starting in 2021.” At the time, Palihapitiya said he “remained committed and excited fore the future of SPCE [Virgin Galactic’s stock ticker on the NYSE].”

The sale this week comprised 6.2 million shares, netting Palihapitiya roughly $213 million in the process.

Virgin Galactic has had some setbacks in its testing program that pushed the projected date of its first paying commercial tourists flights out into 2022, from an earlier target of sometime this year. The company installed Disney Parks leader Michael Colglazier as its new CEO last July, replacing George Whitesides, who moved into a chief space officer role, before it was revealed Thursday that he’s departing the company. Whitesides’ decision is said to be due to a desire to pursue public service opportunities.

Space as a sector has been a hotbed of SPAC activity of late, with mergers from a number of companies including Astra, Spire, Rocket Lab, BlackSky and Momentus announced over the course of the past year. Virgin Galactic, as one of the earliest, will be closely watched by anyone looking for a yardstick by which to measure the tactic. The company’s share value is down just over 5% pre-market, and has been on a steady decline since reaching an all-time peak around mid-February.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/05/virgin-galactic-chairman-chamath-palihapitiya-sells-off-remaining-personal-stake-in-the-space-company/

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Diamond tooling for hard materials presented at Intec Connect

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Diamond tooling for hard materials presented at Intec Connect

Horn is presenting in the expo area at this year’s Intec Connect online machine tool and metalworking show an expanded range of CVD (chemical vapour deposition) diamond-tipped tooling.

The tools, used for cost-effective drilling and countersinking of sintered carbides and ceramics of hardness up to 3,000HV, enable short throughput times, high surface quality, low costs and more flexibility within the production process as well as long tool life.

The DDHM tool system allows rigorous machining processes to be carried out on conventional milling and turning centres, eliminating the need to invest in expensive new machinery or resort to costly, time-consuming grinding and eroding processes.

Due to their ability to machine carbide punches and dies efficiently, the cutters are particularly suitable for use in the tool and die making sector. However, they also offer production advantages in the medical, aerospace and automotive industries.

The CVD-D-tipped drills are ideal for producing holes in solid material to a maximum depth of ten times diameter. They are of two-edged design and are available in diameters ranging from 2mm to 10mm.

All versions feature internal channels for cooling with air. For chamfering and countersinking, Horn offers CVD-D end mills with diameters of 3mm and 6mm and with flank angles of 15, 30 and 45 degrees. The 3mm version has five teeth while the 6mm version has six.

www.phorn.co.uk

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/diamond-tooling-for-hard-materials-presented-at-intec-connect/

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ISRO is one of the Best Space Agency in Efficient Use of Funding for Satellite Launches, Says Experts 

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Under the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Framework, a proposal for ‘BRICS Virtual Constellation of Remote Sensing Satellites’ in order to establish a mechanism to share remote sensing satellite data is under consideration.

India & Brazil Space Cooperation

Recently, India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) along with 18 other satellites launched the Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1 which was the primary payload. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-51 on February 28, 2021, launched a total of 19 satellites from the First Launch Pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, Sriharikota. They were part of the first dedicated commercial PSLV mission for its commercial company NewSpace India Limited (NSIL).

As per the report, Amazonia-1 the primary payload on Sunday’s launch is the first earth observation satellite, designed, developed, assembled and tested in Brazil.

As per the report, the Space sector has been identified as a major area of cooperation by the top leaders of both countries. A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Space, India and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) was inked in March 2002, and this was then followed by a Framework Agreement in 2004. A Joint Working Group on Space which was constituted under the Agreement, met last January to identify priority areas for cooperation.

India and the South American nation Brazil have been collaborating in Data sharing and satellite tracking of Indian satellites on a semi-commercial basis.

In 2007, an Implementing Arrangement for Cooperation in Augmentation of Brazilian Earth stations was signed – this allowed access to Brazilian ground stations to remote sensing data from the Indian satellites. This included from Resourcesat-2. Brazilian earth stations of Alcantara and Cuiaba, which are being used by ISRO to receive and process data of Indian Remote Sensing satellites.

They have also been provided tracking facilities to Chandrayaan – 1 & 2 and ASTROSAT. Also as reported earlier, two officials from the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) had participated in ISRO’S ‘UNNATI’ (UNispace Nanosatellite 4 Assembly & Training by ISRO). This was an 8-week long training programme related to Nano-satellite building.

Views of  An Astronaut & Space Scientist From The LAC Region

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Dr Adolfo Chaves-Jiménez, Coordinator, Space Systems Engineering Laboratory, Costa Rica Institute of Technology, Spaceflight crewman candidate says, “The launch of the Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1 and several other secondary loads, including another Latin American satellite (Nanoconect-1 from National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM) are two examples in different kind of applications on how the cooperation between ISRO and Latin America is effective.”

“ISRO has shown to be one of the best, if not the best, public agency regarding the efficient use of funding for satellite launches, being considered by many as one true contender to companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin or Planet Labs. This means that ISRO, with common interests to developing nations in Latin America, and with no restrictions like ITAR, has the potential to become a prime partner for future missions, with mutual benefits, like installation of ground stations of India in Latin America in exchange for launch opportunities,” says Dr Chaves-Jiménez, who is also part of the Costa Rica Space Agency Law project.

According to him, “The capabilities of ISRO could be complementary to nations, like Costa Rica, were in order to become space nations we could focus to be world-class on an application, and be supported by nations with complementary capabilities, like India. These complementary capabilities would enable the capabilities of developing countries to be part of the space research and development sector.”

Launching capabilities are an example of a complementary capability of ISRO since no Latin American nation has this capability (even when the launches of ESA are done from South American soil, but they belong to French Guyana).

“But launches are far from being the only cooperation required by Latin American nations. Exchange in knowledge in areas like manufacturing, biological applications, environmental technologies, software development and in general areas related to Industry 4.0 are all areas where mutual development offers future opportunities for all our countries.

For this reason, I strongly believe in the potential of alliances between ISRO and in general the Indian Space Sector and our work in Latin America in the area,” he concludes.

Says Ronnie Nader, father of the first Ecuadorian Satellites, “I think that the launch of Brazil’s Amazonas satellite onboard the Indian PSLV rocket marks an advance of ISRO’s launch vehicle capabilities in terms of establishing a presence in the Latin American space sector, which is growing fast. And, also not to forget that a Cubesat from the National Autonomous University of Mexico was also launched on this mission as a secondary payload. The fact that Brazil had selected PSLV and ISRO for a mission of such importance as Amazonas, which is an earth observation satellite, and therefore a big one, says much about the milestones achieved and the maturity of the PSLV system.”

“For our region is important to have launch partner as India, which, as an emerging country, understands better the needs and character of our region, our struggles and our march towards progress, I think that together we can achieve wonders, if we are given to the endeavour of strengthening our bonds, work together more often and longer.

I think it will go a long way for our peoples to have an interplanetary or lunar mission together from the emerging countries to show the world we are ready to not only participate but to contribute to humanity biggest enterprise which is the colonization of the solar system, its wonders and riches, but most importantly, to show our peoples that if it is true that space is for mankind, we, the emerging countries, are mankind too,” the Ecuadorian Astronaut concludes.

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Source: https://www.eletimes.com/isro-is-one-of-the-best-space-agency-in-efficient-use-of-funding-for-satellite-launches-says-experts

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