Lockheed wins contract for Orion Moon missions

September 25th, 2019

Jim Bridenstine

By Mary Alys Cherry

NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to build the Orion spacecraft for up to 12 lunar missions, with the work to be managed here at Johnson Space Center.

Value of the initial contract is $2.7 billion, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in announcing plans for as many as a dozen Artemis, or lunar, missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” Bridenstine said. “Orion is a highly-capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA’s infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system.”

Spacecraft production for the Orion program will focus on reusability and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface, he added.

“This is a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Center. They are crucial to our national space program, and have an undeniable legacy and record of success in advancing America’s leadership in the human exploration of space,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“I am pleased that Administrator Bridenstine has heeded my calls and is taking significant steps to ensure that Johnson continues to grow with the exciting future of manned exploration that lies ahead. More needs to be done, and I look forward to production ramping up in the weeks and months to come and to more opportunities with NASA.”

The contract with Lockheed includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through Sept. 30, 2030. Production and operations of the spacecraft for six to 12 missions, NASA said, will establish a core set of capabilities, stabilize the production process, and demonstrate reusability of spacecraft components.

“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” Bridenstine said. “Orion is a highly-capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA’s infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system.”

With this award, the space agency explained that it is ordering three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. The agency also plans to order three additional Orion capsules in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII, at a total of $1.9 billion.

NASA Satellite Spots a Mystery That’s Gone in a Flash

September 9th, 2019

Pops of bright blue and green in this image of the Fireworks galaxy (NGC 6946) show the locations of extremely bright sources of X-ray light captured by NASA’s NuSTAR space observatory. Generated by some of the most energetic processes in the universe, these X-ray sources are rare compared to the many visible light sources in the background image. A new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, offers some possible explanations for the surprise appearance of the green source near the center of the galaxy, which came into view and disappeared in a matter of weeks.

The primary objective of the NuSTAR observations was to study the supernova — the explosion of a star much more massive than our Sun — that appears as a bright blue-green spot at upper right. These violent events can briefly produce enough visible light to outshine entire galaxies consisting of billions of stars. They also generate many of the chemical elements in our universe that are heavier than iron.

The green blob near the bottom of the galaxy wasn’t visible during the first NuSTAR observation but was burning bright at the start of a second observation 10 days later. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory later observed that the source — known as an ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX — had disappeared just as quickly. The object has since been named ULX-4 because it is the fourth ULX identified in this galaxy. No visible light was detected with the X-ray source, a fact that most likely rules out the possibility that it is also a supernova.

“Ten days is a really short amount of time for such a bright object to appear,” said Hannah Earnshaw, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech in Pasadena, California, and lead author on the new study. “Usually with NuSTAR, we observe more gradual changes over time, and we don’t often observe a source multiple times in quick succession. In this instance, we were fortunate to catch a source changing extremely quickly, which is very exciting.”

Possible Black Hole

The new study explores the possibility that the light came from a black hole consuming another object, such as a star. If an object gets too close to a black hole, gravity can pull that object apart, bringing the debris into a close orbit around the black hole. Material at the inner edge of this newly formed disk starts moving so fast that it heats up to millions of degrees and radiates X-rays. (The surface of the Sun, by comparison, is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5,500 degrees Celsius.)

Most ULXs are typically long-lived because they’re created by a dense object, like a black hole, that “feeds” on the star for an extended period of time. Short-lived, or “transient,” X-ray sources like ULX-4 are far more rare, so a single dramatic event — like a black hole quickly destroying a small star — might explain the observation.

However, ULX-4 might not be a one-off event, and the paper’s authors explored other potential explanations for this object. One possibility: The source of ULX-4 could be a neutron star. Neutron stars are extremely dense objects formed from the explosion of a star that wasn’t massive enough to form a black hole. With about the same mass as our Sun but packed into an object about the size of a large city, neutron stars can, like black holes, draw in material and create a fast-moving disk of debris. These can also generate slow-feeding ultraluminous X-ray sources, although the X-ray light is produced through slightly different processes than in ULXs created by black holes.

Neutron stars generate magnetic fields so strong they can create “columns” that channel material down to the surface, generating powerful X-rays in the process. But if the neutron star spins especially fast, those magnetic fields can create a barrier, making it impossible for material to reach the star’s surface.

“It would kind of be like trying to jump onto a carousel that’s spinning at thousands of miles per hour,” said Earnshaw.

The barrier effect would prevent the star from being a bright source of X-rays except for those times when the magnetic barrier might waver briefly, allowing material to slip through and fall onto the neutron star’s surface. This could be another possible explanation for the sudden appearance and disappearance of ULX-4. If the same source were to light up again, it might support this hypothesis.

“This result is a step towards understanding some of the rarer and more extreme cases in which matter accretes onto black holes or neutron stars,” Earnshaw said.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at the University of California Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

To read more about NASA’s NuSTAR mission, go here: https://www.nustar.caltech.edu/

NASA announces U.S. industry partnerships to advance Moon, Mars technology

August 1st, 2019

Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon. Credits: NASA

As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, commercial companies are developing new technologies, working toward space ventures of their own, and looking to NASA for assistance. NASA has selected 10 U.S. companies for 19 partnerships to mature industry-developed space technologies and help maintain American leadership in space.

NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.

“NASA’s proven experience and unique facilities are helping commercial companies mature their technologies at a competitive pace,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “We’ve identified technology areas NASA needs for future missions, and these public-private partnerships will accelerate their development so we can implement them faster.”

The selections were made through NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity(ACO) released in October 2018. They will result in non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements between the companies and NASA. The selections cover the following technology focus areas, which are important to America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

Advanced Communications, Navigation and Avionics

  • Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, will partner with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to advance lunar navigation technologies. The collaboration will help mature a navigation system between Earth and the Moon that could supplement NASA’s Deep Space Network and support future exploration missions.
  • Vulcan Wireless of Carlsbad, California, also will partner with Goddard to test a CubeSat radio transponder and its compatibility with NASA’s Space Network.

Advanced Materials

  • Aerogel Technologies of Boston will work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to improve properties of flexible aerogels for rocket fairings and other aerospace applications. The material can result in 25% weight savings over soundproofing materials currently used in rocket fairings.
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, will work with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to test materials made from metal powders using solid-state processing to improve the design of spacecraft that operate in high-temperature environments.
  • Spirit AeroSystem Inc. of Wichita, Kansas, will partner with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to improve the durability of low-cost reusable rockets manufactured using friction stir welding. This welding method, already being used for NASA’s Space Launch System, results in a stronger, more defect-free seal compared to traditional methods of joining materials with welding torches.

Entry, Decent and Landing

  • Anasphere of Bozeman, Montana, will partner with Marshall to test a compact hydrogen generator for inflating heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars.
  • Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, Pennsylvania, will perform thermal testing in the Arc Jet Complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The facility will be used to test a new seamless weave for a mechanically deployable carbon fabric heat shield.
  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, will collaborate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Goddard to mature a navigation and guidance system for safe and precise landing at a range of locations on the Moon.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, will work with NASA on two entry, decent and landing projects. The company will partner with Langley to capture infrared images of their Dream Chaser spacecraft as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.
  • For the second collaboration, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Langley will mature a method to recover the upper stage of a rocket using a deployable decelerator.
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, will work with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to advance their technology to vertically land large rockets on the Moon. This includes advancing models to assess engine plume interaction with lunar regolith.

In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly

  • Maxar Technologies of Palo Alto, California, will work with Langley to build a breadboard – a base for prototyping electronics – for a deployable, semi-rigid radio antenna. In-orbit assembly of large structures like antennae will enhance the performance of assets in space. Such capabilities could enable entirely new exploration missions that are currently size-constrained and reduce launch costs due to improved packaging.

Power

  • Blue Origin will partner with Glenn and Johnson to mature a fuel cell power system for the company’s Blue Moon lander. The system could provide uninterrupted power during the lunar night, which lasts for about two weeks in most locations.
  • Maxar will test lightweight solar cells for flexible solar panels using facilities at Glenn and Marshall that mimic the environment of space. The technology could be used by future spacecraft to provide more power with a lower mass system.

Propulsion

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, California, and Marshall will design and manufacture a lightweight rocket engine combustion chamber using innovative processes and materials. The goal of the project is to reduce manufacturing costs and make the chamber scalable for different missions.
  • Blue Origin, Marshall and Langley will evaluate and mature high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles that could be used on lunar landers.
  • Colorado Power Electronics Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, will partner with Glenn to mature power processing unit technology that extends the operating range of Hall thrusters, which are primarily used on Earth-orbiting satellites and can also be used for deep space missions. By integrating their technology with NASA and commercial Hall thrusters, the company expects to provide a propulsion system that can significantly increase mission payload or extend mission durations.
  • SpaceX will work with Glenn and Marshall to advance technology needed to transfer propellant in orbit, an important step in the development of the company’s Starship space vehicle.

Other Exploration Technologies

  • Lockheed Martin will partner with Kennedy to test technologies and operations for autonomous in-space plant growth systems. Integrating robotics with plant systems could help NASA harvest plants on future platforms in deep space.

Through ACO, NASA helps reduce the development cost of technologies and accelerate the infusion of emerging commercial capabilities into space missions. As the agency embarks on its next era of exploration, STMD is focused on advancing technologies and testing new capabilities for use at the Moon that also will be critical for crewed missions to Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

Houston Spaceport slowly turning dream into reality

August 1st, 2019

Taking part in the Spaceport groundbreaking were, from left, Houston City Councilman Mike Knox, Intuitive Machines President Steve Altemus, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Houston Airport System Executive Director Mario Diaz, Ellington Airport General Manager Arturo Machuca and FAA Deputy Regional Administrator Rob Lowe.

By Mary Alys Cherry

The Houston Spaceport has been a dream for the past four years. Now it is moving toward reality after a groundbreaking ceremony June 28 for the first phase of the project at Ellington Field.

“When complete, Phase 1 will provide the ground work to support the companies that produce the cutting-edge innovations needed to take commercial space travel and aviation into the sub-sonic, super-sonic and hyper-sonic realm,” Diaz said, no doubt remembering a day four years ago on June 30, 2015, when Houston received its license from the FAA and became the nation’s ninth spaceport.

Phase 1 of the project required an $18.8 million investment to provide the ground level infrastructure – streets, electrical power, water, wastewater, fiber optic and communication facilities — to attract commercial space travel and aviation companies to Houston. That came in May when Houston City Council approved the funds.

Joining Diaz in turning the first shovels of dirt were Ellington Airport Director Arturo Machuca, Houston City Councilman Mike Knox, San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus and FAA Deputy Regional Administrator Rob Lowe.

Altemus’ Intuitive Machines, is the first company to sign on as a Spaceport tenant. Back in May, the company received a $77.2 million contract from NASA to create, launch and land its Nova-C lunar lander spacecraft to the surface of the moon with a payload of experiments from both NASA and private companies.

And then there is the need for training, for which the Spaceport has partnered with San Jacinto College. To help train that workforce, San Jacinto Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, says the Spaceport’s Edge Center for Advanced Manufacturing Training will serve as a workforce training center, providing a talent pipeline for new businesses.

“When you’re bringing in and trying to recruit new companies to the area, they need to know you have partners like that at the table to meet their needs,” Hellyer said.

Meanwhile, BAHEP President Bob Mitchell could hardly conceal his excitement as he spoke to the group.

“We are currently working with six companies which are looking to expand operations at the Houston Spaceport,” he said. “The Houston Spaceport’s certification is already acting as a catalyst to spur new interest and development at Ellington Airport.

“Over the last several years, more than $200 million worth of new projects have been  completed, or announced, at Ellington Airport, including the Lone Star Flight Museum,  the new Army Innovation Command … and its battle command center. New public hangars are under construction … and the new 117,000 square foot U.S. Coast Guard regional campus, a $57 million investment, has been completed and further expanded. Today marks a great day for Houston, for Ellington Airport and for the Houston Spaceport!

Intuitive Machines: The Future is HERE

July 2nd, 2019

Steve Altemus hoists the lightweight long range drone coming off the drone production line at Ellington Airport. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Intuitive Machines’ 12 foot high Nova-C lunar lander model. Photography by MoonBridge Media

By Rick Clapp

Intuitive Machines is an incredibly unique space and aviation company located on the Space Port Facility at Ellington Field in Houston. The company was founded in 2013 by president and CEO Steve Altemus with the goal of bringing decades of human spaceflight know-how, technology advances, and innovative thinking into low-cost solutions aimed at serving the complex needs of our world. Since then, Altemus has steered the company back to his passion, space, with the objective of taking the space business to new frontiers.

Steve Altemus started his journey into space and aviation as a student at the Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, where he originally wanted to pursue a career as an aviator. A few years later, he graduated with an Aeronautical Engineering Degree and later earned a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Inside the mobile command center for lunar propolsion testing. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Upon graduating from Embry Riddle, he soon found himself up the coast of Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. That’s where Altemus’ career took off into space. After several years at the Kennedy Space center he was promoted to manage the space shuttle launch countdown. He directed the many successful shuttle operations over the years and then unfortunately the Columbia Shuttle disaster occurred. Altemus was assigned to reconstruct over 85,000 pieces of the shuttle. For his efforts in completing this arduous task , he was promoted by NASA to head the engineering directorate at the Johnson Space Center culminating with a position as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center. After 25 incredible years with NASA, Altemus had the desire to revolutionize the space business and he founded Intuitive Machines.

“At Intuitive Machines, we take ideas from concept to completion. We engineer systems starting from concept, through design and development, build and test.” Altemus says.
Intuitive Machines has three major areas of specialization, Aviation, Space Systems, and Additive Manufacturing and Generative Design. They all work in unison to produce outstanding engineering wonders.

Well-deserved congratulations go to Altemus and his team of nearly 90 employees and interns, for earning the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract as one of the first US companies to provide commercial services to the Moon. As part of NASA’s Artemis Program, Intuitive Machines will land NASA-provided payloads on the surface of the Moon to conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies, paving the way for astronauts to land successfully on the moon by 2024.

Intuitive Machines accomplished this tremendous feat in less than six years, which is nothing but remarkable.

“It is incredibly exciting and coincidental that 50 years ago Houston landed Apollo 11 on the lunar surface and this year, Houston-based

Intuitive Machines was awarded the contract to return NASA to the moon. We look forward to developing our systems and flying our missions to the moon from where it all started right here in Houston,” Altemus said.

On a personal note, Steve Altemus is a wonderful family man, married to his wife, Brunella, for over 30 years. His daughter, Dr. Samantha, is a resident veterinarian and internist at OSU. His son Joseph is a mechanical engineer who builds robots for Jacobs Engineering.

Houston we do not have a problem, Intuitive Machines is taking US back to the moon!!

Thanks to the pioneer spirit of the people at NASA and the talented, creative contractor Intuitive Machines, we will continue further our space travels to the Moon, Mars and beyond. God Bless America.

Altemus shows the inside of their 3D printer where stainless steel engine parts are built. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Global icon Neil Armstrong lived and died a humble man

July 2nd, 2019

A young Neil Armstrong is photographed in the cockpit of the Ames Belt X-14 aircraft at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

By Mary Alys Cherry

As the first man to walk on the Moon in July 1969, Neil Armstrong quickly became the most famous man in the universe, which, being the humble man he was, was not to his liking.
This was brought out at his funeral in August 2012. “You’ll never get a hero, in my view, like Neil Armstrong,” Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders said after the service, praising Armstrong for both his wisdom and humility in the way he handled becoming a global icon.

“America has truly lost a legend,” astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, said.

“He was the embodiment of everything this nation is about,” then NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden said about the famously shy, almost taciturn man, adding that Armstrong was a man with a courageous drive to explore, yet “incredibly humble.”

Neil Alden Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930 on his grandparents’ farm in Wapakoneta, Ohio and developed a love for flying early in life while becoming an Eagle Scout.

FLYING LESSONS
When he was just six, he made his first flight with his father, who worked for the state government, and formed a passion for flying that would last all his life. His hero was Charles Lindbergh. He took flying lessons and received his flying license on his 16th birthday — before he earned his driver’s license.

His education was interrupted when he was called to active duty in 1949 but continued after pilot training in Pensacola, Fla., and 78 combat missions over Korea, including one when his Navy fighter was severely damaged and he was forced to eject. However, he landed near a South Korean base and was safely rescued.

After completing his service, Armstrong earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Purdue University in 1955. He would later add to his education with a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California in 1970.

TEST PILOT
After graduating from Purdue, he became a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, serving as one of an elite group selected to pit technology against nature’s limitations.

In 1962, he became an astronaut, and after serving as a backup for Gemini 5, he was chosen to command Gemini 8. But shortly after he and David Scott conducted the first successful docking in space, the joined spacecraft began spinning out of control when a thruster failed. Armstrong finally regained control by using thrusters intended for reentry, saving their lives.

Armstrong’s successful action, averting disaster on Gemini 8, and his flying skills led to his selection as commander of Apollo 11.

OFF TO THE MOON
By 1969, the team was ready to fulfill President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon in that decade. In a spacecraft reported to have had control systems with less than a thousandth of the computing power of a modern laptop, Armstrong and his colleagues Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made for the Moon.

People across the world bought television sets for the first time to witness their endeavor, and more than 500 million watched every moment of Apollo 11’s arrival on the lunar surface on July 20.

After steering to avoid large rocks, Armstrong had only 20 seconds of fuel left when he finally landed the module safely between boulders. From inside the capsule, he reported back to an emotional Mission Control in Houston that “the Eagle has landed.”

ONE SMALL STEP
And as he disembarked, he uttered his carefully prepared phrase, that what he was making was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Then, as an awe-struck world watched, the humble man from Ohio, with Aldrin by his side, planted an American flag on the Sea of Tranquility. A little later, he talked by phone and received congratulations from President Nixon.

Back on Earth, the crew received global adulation, and were treated like movie stars wherever they went. But, after the initial celebrations, Armstrong refused to cash in on his celebrity.

The man who was revered as a hero by the American public and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon for his work, shunned the limelight and the prospective fortune that came with it.

Instead, he lived in the seclusion of his Ohio farmhouse, taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati and later went into business. He refused to give interviews or sign autographs and disappointed many fans with his requests for privacy and gave only occasional speeches. He reportedly once said, “I don’t want to be a living memorial,” and remained happy to “bask in obscurity.”

HERE FOR 20TH
Only reluctantly did he join his fellow astronauts for anniversary celebrations of the Moon landing. In 1989, he came back Clear Lake for the 20th anniversary of the lunar landing, joining some 10,000 Johnson Space center employees for a picnic at JSC. Then, that evening he and Collins and Aldrin and their wives were honored at a big party at the Hilton Hotel in Nassau Bay, across the street from the space center.

All three astronauts mingled with the crowd and smiled for pictures.

In 1999, 30 years after the moon landing, he stood with Aldrin and Collins to receive the Langley medal for aviation from then Vice President Al Gore before returning to his quiet life, hoping to be forgotten.

Then in April 2004, Armstrong returned to the Bay Area when the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation honored him with the National Space Trophy at the annual Space Gala – believed to be the last large function he attended.

But, the millions around the world who sat glued to their television sets in July 1969 saw their most fantastic dreams made real. For them, the shy man from Ohio opened a fresh frontier and there will be no forgetting Neil Armstrong and his awe-inspiring achievement.

NASA ready to accelerate man’s return to lunar surface

May 2nd, 2019

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is ready to send astronauts back to the moon – and soon. Here’s what he said after the March 26 announcement by Vice President Mike Pence, at the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, about putting American astronauts back on the Moon in the next five years:

“Today, I joined leaders from across the country as Vice President Mike Pence chaired the fifth meeting of the National Space Council. Vice President Pence lauded President Donald J. Trump’s bold vision for space exploration and spoke to NASA’s progress on key elements to accomplish the President’s Space Policy Directives.

“Among the many topics discussed during our meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was to accelerate our return to the Moon:

NASA is charged to get American astronauts to the Moon in the next five years.

We are tasked with landing on the Moon’s South Pole by 2024.

Stay on schedule for flying Exploration Mission-1 with Orion on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket next year, and for sending the first crewed mission to the lunar vicinity by 2022.

NASA will continue to ‘use all means necessary’ to ensure mission success in moving us forward to the Moon.

“It is the right time for this challenge, and I assured the vice president that we, the people of NASA, are up to the challenge.

“We will take action in the days and weeks ahead to accomplish these goals. We have laid out a clear plan for NASA’s exploration campaign that cuts across three strategic areas: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars and deeper into space.

“I have already directed a new alignment within NASA to ensure we effectively support this effort, which includes establishing a new mission directorate to focus on the formulation and execution of exploration development activities. We are calling it the Moon to Mars Mission Directorate.

“Earlier today I was also at Marshall Space Flight Center for an all-hands to reinforce our commitment to SLS with the workforce. We discussed my recent announcement that NASA would consider all options to fly Orion around the Moon on schedule. I shared the analysis we conducted to assess flying the Orion on different commercial options. While some of these alternative vehicles could work, none was capable of achieving our goals to orbit around the Moon for Exploration Mission-1 within our timeline and on budget. The results of this two-week study reaffirmed our commitment to the SLS. More details will be released in the future.

“There’s a lot of excitement about our plans and also a lot of hard work and challenges ahead, but I know the NASA workforce and our partners are up to it. We are now looking at creative approaches to advance SLS manufacturing and testing to ensure Exploration Mission-1 launches in 2020. We will work to ensure we have a safe and reliable launch system that keeps its promise to the American people.

“I know NASA is ready for the challenge of moving forward to the Moon, this time to stay.”

To learn more about NASA’s Moon to Mars plans, visit: www.nasa.gov/moon2mars

Retired CEO of Orbital ATK named Space Trophy recipient

February 1st, 2019

David W. Thompson will receive the 2019 National Space Trophy.

The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation has selected David W. Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, to receive the 2019 National Space Trophy. The banquet honoring him will be held Friday, April 26, at the Houston Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston.

“The RNASA Foundation is extremely excited about recognizing Mr. Thompson as the guest of honor at the 2019 RNASA Space Award Gala,” Foundation President Rodolfo Gonzalez said, going on to invited the public and the aerospace community to attend the black-tie event.

Thompson was nominated for the award by Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems Group President Frank Culbertson. In recommending Thompson, Culbertson cited his “four decades of outstanding leadership and pioneering innovations in the development and operation of launch vehicles and satellite systems, which have transformed scientific, exploratory, commercial and defense applications of space.”

Thompson said, “It is with great enthusiasm, and even greater humility, that I accept the 2019 National Space Trophy! My heart-felt thanks to the RNASA Board of Advisors for selecting me for this highly-regarded honor.” Thompson began his four-decade long career in space technology as a young engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978, following summer internships during college and graduate school at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johnson Space Center and Langley Research Center.

His career as a space entrepreneur and business leader accelerated in the early 1980s when he and two Harvard Business School classmates founded Orbital Sciences Corp., a startup that focused on the development of space systems for commercial, military and scientific customers. Over the subsequent 35 years, Thompson led his company from its infancy to Fortune 500 status, reaching more than $5 billion in annual revenue and employing nearly 15,000 people in 2018.

As one of the world’s first commercial space enterprises, Orbital pioneered the investment of private capital for space systems development and manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, the company created a family of six new launch vehicles, including the Pegasus rocket and several missile defense vehicles, as well as an array of lower-cost satellites for both low-Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous (GEO) applications. Thompson’s vision was that diverse customers – from traditional government agencies to new privately-owned satellite operators – would use these products, and that commercial-style business practices would reduce their costs and delivery times. The success of this strategy is reflected in the more than 1,000 rockets and satellites delivered by the company to over 50 customers since the 1980s.

Under Thompson’s leadership, Orbital expanded beyond its original business of research and manufacturing into providing space-based services in the 1990s and 2000s. More recently, the company partnered with NASA to develop the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft commercial cargo system for the International Space Station, which has conducted 12 supply missions to ISS over the past six years. And later this year the company plans to inaugurate the world’s first in-space robotic servicing and repair of GEO communications satellites, launching an exciting new form of commercial space logistics operations.

In 2014, Orbital and its long-standing industry partner, Alliant Techsystems, merged to form Orbital ATK, a larger, more diversified space and defense systems company with a broader product line, including rocket propulsion for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift vehicle as well as motors for tactical and strategic missiles. Finally, last year Northrop Grumman purchased Orbital ATK for over $9 billion, forming Northrop’s Innovation Systems business sector. The merger with Northrop is expected to generate faster growth and new products, as well as creating greater opportunities for thousands of the company’s space engineers and scientists.

Thompson earned his B.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Aeronautics from Caltech, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics.

He was AIAA’s president for the 2009-2010 year, and today serves as a member of the Boards of Trustees of Caltech, the Aerospace Corp., the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Hertz Foundation, and the Princeton University Astronomy Council. He was recently appointed to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group and has been honored with numerous awards including the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush, as well as Virginia’s Industrialist of the Year and High-Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine.

Visit www.rnasa.org/tables.html to reserve a table for the RNASA Banquet and find information about sponsorships and tickets. To reserve a room at the Houston Hyatt Regency, visit www.rnasa.org/houston.html or call 713-654-1234 and request the RNASA group rate.

NASA History Overview

November 1st, 2018

A new era in space flight began on April 12, 1981, when Space Shuttle Columbia, or STS-1, soared into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is responsible for unique scientific and technological achievements in human spaceflight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications that have had widespread impacts on our nation and the world.

Forged in response to early Soviet space achievements, NASA was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and other government organizations, as the locus of U.S. civil aerospace research and development.

When NASA opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958, it accelerated the work already started on human and robotic spaceflight. NASA’s first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. This was followed by Project Gemini, which used spacecraft built for two astronauts to perfect the capabilities needed for the national objective of a human trip to the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

Project Apollo achieved that objective in July 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission and expanded on it with five more successful lunar landing missions through 1972. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Projects of the mid-1970s, NASA’s human spaceflight efforts again resumed in 1981 with the Space Shuttle program that continued for 30 years. The shuttle was not only a breakthrough technology, but was essential to our next major step in space, the construction of the International Space Station.

Over the last 60 years NASA has continued to push the boundaries with cutting edge aeronautics research that has dramatically changed the way we build and fly airplanes. NASA has also completed the reconnaissance of our solar system, with intense investigation of all the planets. Using orbital spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has also dramatically changed our understanding of the universe around us, as well as our own planet.

NASA’s early work on launch vehicles, communication satellites, and weather satellites has fundamentally changed daily life and created whole new industries. As a catalyst for international cooperation, NASA has also changed how and why humanity conducts space exploration. Now, NASA is preparing to take humankind farther than ever before, as it helps to foster a robust commercial space economy near Earth, and pioneers further human and robotic exploration as we venture into deep space.

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Apollo 7: The race heats up

November 1st, 2018

The Apollo 7 prime crew, from left to right, are astronauts Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot, Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; and Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot. Photo: NASA

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

On Oct. 11, 1968, three American astronauts launched to Earth orbit aboard Apollo 7. It was the first piloted mission of the spacecraft designed to meet President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the lunar surface.

The 11-day flight took place as the race to the Moon was heating up between the United States and the Soviet Union. A month earlier, the Soviets launched the unpiloted Zond 5, a simplified version of their Soyuz spacecraft designed for cosmonauts. The capsule became the first to circle around the Moon and return safely to Earth.

Both nations also were recovering from tragic losses. Three Apollo 1 astronauts perished in a launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. That same year, the lone cosmonaut aboard Soyuz 1 died when the spacecraft crashed on April 24.

Following almost two years of Apollo spacecraft redesign and testing, Paul Donnelly, Launch Operations manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, expressed confidence in the men and women who worked tirelessly to prepare for the flight.

“We have a great group of specialists from government and industry trained to work as a team,” he said. “Just as the astronauts are ready to fly to orbit, we are ready to get them there.”

COMMANDER
Serving as commander of Apollo 7 was NASA veteran Wally Schirra, a U.S. Navy aviator and captain. He flew Mercury 8 on Oct. 3, 1962, and commanded Gemini VI on Dec. 15-16, 1965.

Schirra was joined by two members of the third astronaut class, both making their first spaceflight.

Command module pilot Donn Eisele was a U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot. Walt Cunningham had been a colonel and fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Although there was no lunar module on this flight, as the third member of the crew, Cunningham was designated LM pilot.

Following a flawless liftoff atop a Saturn 1B rocket from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) Air Force Station, the command-service module (CSM) separated from the second stage. Eisele then practiced a simulated LM docking. During launch with a LM, it would have been housed inside the adapter between the second stage and the CSM.

KEY OBJECTIVE
A key objective of Apollo 7 was testing spacecraft systems, especially the crucial service propulsion system (SPS) engine at the base of the spacecraft. On lunar missions, the SPS would be used to place the spacecraft in lunar orbit and later, fire the crew on a trajectory back home. On Earth orbital flights, the SPS would be fired to slow Apollo for reentry.

The first test of the powerful SPS took place on flight day two. When it fired with 20,500 pounds of thrust, Schirra radioed that it was a real kick.
“Yabbadabbadoo,” he exclaimed in a favorite saying of the television cartoon character Fred Flintstone. “That’s like a ride and a half!”

George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston, later noted that all eight firings of the SPS went extremely well.

“We had a tremendous workout of the service propulsion system,” he said. “I believe that is more than any space propulsion system has ever been used in any one flight”

WORLD WATCHES
Another goal was broadcasting live television from the spacecraft. Three days after liftoff, the Apollo 7 camera was turned on, allowing Mission Control and viewers around the world to watch the crew in orbit.

“I can see Eisele there,” said spacecraft communicator Tom Stafford, a fellow astronaut. “He’s holding a sign and it says, ‘From the lovely Apollo room, high atop everything.’ “

The crew fired the SPS engine on Oct. 22, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean eight miles from the recovery aircraft carrier, the USS Essex.
After the flight, Schirra described the Apollo CSM as “a magnificent flying machine.”

Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, director of NASA’s Apollo Program Office, considered Apollo 7 a perfect mission.

“We were able to accomplish a major step in our progress toward the lunar landing,” he said. “I have every confidence that the progress of this mission will let us accomplish that by the end of next year.”