SLS Testing Continues for NASA's First Artemis Moon Mission

Engineers at Stennis Space Center are back to work putting the SLS core stage through a Green Run test campaign (left), while workers at Marshall are wrapping up a 3-year structural qualification test series. Photos: NASA

While a pandemic and social unrest have swept the nation, NASA is staying focused on their goal of returning America to the moon with the Artemis missions. Recently, the two solid rocket boosters for the agency’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket were shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while engineers at Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi continue putting the core stage through a series of ‘Green Run’ tests which will continue throughout the summer and culminate with a full-duration 8-minute test fire of the mammoth rocket later this year.



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ULA Completes Wet Dress Rehearsal with Rocket for Mars Perseverance Launch Next Month

The scheduled 20 July launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover will also mark the seventh flight of the Atlas V 541 and its second mission to Mars. Photo Credit: ULA

Noticeably lacking its Mars-bound payload, the giant Atlas V assigned to loft NASA’s Perseverance rover towards the Red Planet on 20 July has wrapped up its critical Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) milestone on Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The WDR process is typically conducted by United Launch Alliance (ULA) prior to interplanetary missions or those with exceptionally short “launch windows” to rehearse the entire countdown, including fueling. It provides additional “schedule confidence” for the actual launch day by helping to identify facility, vehicle or spacecraft issues which have evaded testing in good time for them to be rectified.



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Back to Triton? Proposed Mission Would Return to Neptune’s Exotic Largest Moon

Neptune’s largest moon Triton as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989. The proposed Trident mission would be the first to return to this bizarre world in over three decades. Photo Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

Much of the outer Solar System has now been visited by robotic spacecraft from Earth, including the gas and ice giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as well as Pluto. Many of the moons of these worlds have also been seen up close, sometimes by multiple spacecraft over the years. But as of yet, some of these moons have still only been seen once, and scientists are itching to go back and have a much closer look. One of these moons in particular stands out: Neptune’s largest moon Triton.



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Of Frogs and Princes: Remembering Shuttle Mission 51G, OTD in 1985

Thirty-five years ago, today, Discovery launched on an international, multi-faceted mission. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty-five years ago today, on 17 June 1985, a spacecraft roared aloft with a crew representing the largest number of nations ever flown into space and carrying the largest load of satellites ever put into space at that time by a crewed vehicle. Aboard veteran shuttle Discovery for Mission 51G—the fourth of nine flights undertaken by NASA’s fleet of reusable orbiters that year—were U.S. astronauts Dan Brandenstein, John “J.O.” Creighton, Shannon Lucid, John Fabian and Steve Nagel, together with Frenchman Patrick Baudry and Saudi Arabia’s first man in space, Prince Sultan Abdul Aziz al-Saud.

Unsurprisingly, within the non-politically-correct corners of NASA’s astronaut office, 51G had drawn the disparaging nickname of “The Frog and Prince Flight”.



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Boosters for First SLS Artemis Moon Rocket Arrive at KSC

With its pair of solid rocket boosters providing around 75 percent of the liftoff thrust, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) promises to be the world’s most powerful rocket and the only booster capable of sending a human-rated spacecraft to the Moon by 2024. The massive boosters, pictured here undergoing a test fire, will push 7.2 million pounds of total thrust at liftoff to propel the agency’s Artemis moon missions off Earth. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The launch of Artemis-1 has drawn a step closer to returning a human-capable spacecraft to the Moon, following Northrop Grumman Corp.’s announcement on Monday, 15 June, that segments of the twin solid-fueled boosters assigned to the first Space Launch System (SLS) had arrived safely at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Each 177-foot-long (53.9-meter) booster comprises five segments—significantly larger and more capable than the four-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) used during the 30-year-long shuttle era—and will provide around 75 percent of the liftoff thrust as an SLS departs the Cape’s historic Pad 39B for its maiden voyage late in 2021.



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Cassidy, Behnken Primed for Spacewalks at Month's End

NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken will conduct two spacewalks at the end of this month to continue upgrading power systems at the International Space Station. Photos: NASA

With the U.S. Operational Segment (USOS) of the International Space Station (ISS) newly replenished to three members, following the recent arrival of Dragon Endeavour crewmen Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to join Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy, the first in a series of critical spacewalks to complete power system upgrades is expected to kick off on 26 June and 1 July. Two sessions of Extravehicular Activity (EVA), featuring veteran spacewalkers Cassidy and Behnken, will set to work removing aging nickel-hydrogen batteries from the station’s S-6 truss segment and replace them with smaller, lighter and more capable lithium-ion units.

In doing so, the astronauts will enter the homestretch of a three-year EVA/robotics campaign to remove and replace batteries from all four power-generating segments of the station’s expansive Integrated Truss Structure (ITS).



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SpaceX Launches Starlinks, SkySats; Record-Setting Month on Tap

SpaceX launching another batch of Starlinks to orbit from Cape Canaveral pad 40 on June 13, 2020, along with 3 rideshare ‘Skysats’ from Planet Labs. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

SpaceX looks set for another record for its personal-best books this month, having launched a third Falcon 9 in just two weeks to deliver another batch of Starlink internet communications satellites to low-Earth orbit. Liftoff of the previously-flown B1059 core—making its third foray into space, having previously lofted a pair of Dragon cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS)—took place at 5:21 a.m. EDT Saturday from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

With this morning’s successful launch, SpaceX intends two more flights before month’s end: another Starlink batch as soon as 22 June and a long-awaited Global Positioning System (GPS) Block III mission on the 30th. Should these two missions fly on time, it will mark the first time in SpaceX’s history that it will have scored four launches in a single calendar month.



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NASA Announces Contracts for VIPER Mission to Lunar South Pole

Artist’s concept of the four-wheeled VIPER rover at work at the lunar south pole. Much of its scientific instrumentation originates from the now-canceled Resource Prospector. Image Credit: NASA

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Penn., to launch its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission, targeted to rise from Earth in 2023 and alight on the Moon’s shadowed south pole. The $199.5 million contract will see VIPER delivered to the surface of our closest celestial neighbor aboard Astrobotic’s home-grown Griffin lander, leveraging similar design architecture from the firm’s Peregrine lander which will fly to the Moon next year. “Following the cost-saving success of Commercial Crew, NASA’s commercial partner Astrobotic will deliver the VIPER rover to the Moon’s South Pole,” tweeted NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Thursday. “We will find, characterize and eventually utilize the water-ice on the Moon. VIPER will inform our human landing in 2024.”



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Launch of Mars Perseverance Rover Slips to NET 20 July

The ULA Atlas V 541 rocket saw its maiden launch in November 2011, delivering NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover to the Red Planet. NASA’s next Mars Rover, Perseverance, is scheduled to launch on the same rocket as soon as July 20, 2020. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

Less than a month since its most recent launch, another giant Atlas V rocket stands fully stacked and (almost) ready to go in the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Four solid-fueled boosters were recently added to the 197-foot-tall (60-meter) rocket, marking the latest milestone as United Launch Alliance (ULA) progresses towards the liftoff of NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars.

Originally targeted to fly on 17 July—the opening day of a three-week “launch window” to reach the Red Planet under the most optimum conditions—the launch of Perseverance has slipped to no earlier than 20 July, due to what ULA CEO Tory Bruno identified as an issue with a broken crane. “Controller fault,” Mr. Bruno explained this afternoon in comments to Stephen Clark and AmericaSpace on Twitter. “The crane repair cost us about three days.”



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'Huffing and Puffing': How Does Flying a Falcon 9 Compare to the Rest? (Part 2)

Launch of Dragon Endeavour atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on 30 May 2020. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

It’s rare that you can time a moment in history to a single split-second. But last Saturday, that split-second fell at 3:22:45 p.m. EDT, when American astronauts rode an American-made spacecraft, atop an American-built rocket, and from American soil, for the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle Program, almost nine years ago. Dragon Endeavour crewmen Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken—both veterans of the shuttle era, having previously flown two missions each aboard the reusable winged orbiters—are now safely aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in recent days have offered many words about the experience of riding an entirely new booster, the Falcon 9, for the first time.



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