J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping.

17 December, 2014

2014 has been an outstanding year for aerospace, and particularly the commercial space and commercial aviation market segments. In fact, the military portion of the military and aerospace (mil/aero) industry has been in the doldrums of late, especially in the United States and European Union, in the age of tightening defense budgets.

Commercial aviation and commercial space took their knocks this year, however. One example on the aviation side continues to be the unfortunate and perplexing loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Perhaps no other singular event this year has more effectively pointed out the need for advanced technology and innovation, integration, cooperation, and collaboration than that of Flight 370.

On the commercial space side, the fourth quarter of 2014 has been rough, seemingly marked by mishap after mishap; for spaceships, a mishap is typically a grand explosion, a ball of fire. This was the case with the latest International Space Station (ISS) Commercial Resupply Services Mission (Orb-3).

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What would have been the third of eight flights performed by Orbital Sciences, under its $1.9 million (U.S. $) Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA, burst into flames as the world watched. NASA’s entire Commercial Resupply Services program calls for a total of 20 resupply missions to the ISS; eight by Orbital Sciences Corp. and 12 by SpaceX.

Estimated losses for the Antares rocket alone top $200 million, without taking into account the onboard cargo lost and any damage to Launchpad at NASA’s facility.

This mil/aero geek is reminded that getting to space with current technology is a difficult and complex process. NASA Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier calls it “a really tough business,” and this geek couldn’t agree more.

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17 December, 2014

Transportation is a hotbed of activity, and an industry vertical that is garnering as much attention as it is investment. By drilling down into different market segments, we see positive numbers and continued innovation.

The automotive sector continues its strong progression, with global automotive sales reaching a record high in 2013, with more than 82 million sold and a growth rate of more than seven percent year over year. Early predictions indicate potential annual global auto sales will hit 85 million this year; we will have to wait and see.

Railways in the United States are gaining much-needed upgrades, whereas the United Kingdom is investing in replacing aging locomotives and railcars. China is investing in a high-speed rail network, while work continues on rail transportation in the Middle East and Africa.

Commercial-Aviation

Passenger aircraft continues to be a high point in the military and aerospace (mil/aero) industry. The commercial aviation and commercial aerospace sectors are overachievers, frankly – helping to boost the entire industry even while other market segments remain flat or even decline.

The good news – and there is much of it in the world of transportation today – is that automotive, rail, and aviation are all performing well. Further, market analysts predict continued good health and even growth; e.g., most forecasts predict compound annual growth rates in the range of four to seven percent. This mil/aero geek is optimistic about the future, especially considering that associations, OEMs, and suppliers across the industry are collaborating and talking about maximizing technology transfer – good news for the market, global community, and traveling public.

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31 October, 2014

NASA has increased its reliance on private, commercial space companies following the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. Among NASA’s growing list of commercial partners is Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia.

The Antares launch vehicle, from Orbital Sciences Corp., is the largest rocket produced by the company and the largest to be launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital engineers first developed the Antares (originally called Taurus II) – under a $171 million NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Space Act Agreement (SAA) – to be an expendable launch system capable of launching payloads heavier than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) into low-Earth orbit (LEO). More specifically, Antares is designed to launch Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s COTS and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) programs.

The Antares rocket made its inaugural flight on 21 April 2013, and has successfully completed two resupply missions, ORB-1 and ORB-2, from the same facility – starting in January 2014 and bringing nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS each trip. Under the company’s $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital Sciences Corp. will send approximately 20 metric tons of cargo to the ISS over the course of eight missions. (SpaceX, with headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., won an even larger CRS contract for 12 missions.)

Orbital’s third resupply mission was unsuccessful, and teams are working to figure out what went wrong. Debris was scattered over an estimated one-mile radius from the site of the blast. NASA cautions the public not to collect any debris from the accident as it could be hazardous and instead to call the incident response team at 757-824-1295.

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30 October, 2014

NASA personnel have gotten really good at social media. In fact, NASA engineers, scientists, and officials have been taking to various social media and news outlets, generating a great deal of excitement over a night launch on the East Coast of the United States.

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) enthusiasts everywhere – this mil/aero geek included – watched with bated breath for what was to be an historic aerospace event: the first nighttime launch of the Antares rocket. The event also marked the first use of the commercial CASTOR 30XL upper-stage solid rocket motor developed and tested by ATK. What’s more: It was a commercial launch, from Virginia, that would have been visible from East Coast locales from New Hampshire to South Carolina.

NASA officials had supplied would-be sky gazers with a detailed map of the visible area, complete with time and elevation markers. Space.com also speculated that the event “could be a spectacularly bright sight for observers, weather permitting.”

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Orbital Sciences Corp. officials had successfully launched four of the company’s Antares rockets, between April 2013 and July 2014. The fifth Antares rocket and accompanying Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifted off from Launch Pad 0 of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, six miles off the Eastern shore of Virginia, at 6:22 p.m. on 28 October 2014. Mere seconds after lift-off, the Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure that destroyed it and everything onboard – the Cygnus spacecraft and hosted NASA payloads, including International Space Station (ISS) supplies and many young students’ research projects – the total value of the loss is estimated to be more than $200 million (U.S.)

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29 October, 2014

India solidified its place in the history books when late last month (September 2014) the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and technology demonstrator successfully entered into orbit around the Red Planet.

The MOM achievement launched India into aerospace history as the first nation in Asia to reach Mars—joining the ranks with the European Space Agency (ESA), U.S. National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA), and the Soviet space program (now known as the Russian Federal Space Agency). What is even more impressive, however, is that this singular achievement also bestowed India with the designation of first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.

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Both Japan and China have tried to reach Mars, but both missions failed. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Nozomi mission, launched in July 1998, failed to establish Mars orbit after more than five years in route and incurring a total cost of $189 million. At the same time, a Chinese satellite launched aboard the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Phobos-Grunt failed to leave Earth orbit after its launch in November 2011.

NASA’s successful Maven mission to Mars launched just 13 days after MOM, arrived three days earlier, and cost $671 million (U.S.). In comparison, India spent just $74 million—making it the most affordable transit to Martian orbit.

This military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek joins myriad others in congratulating India and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for all their achievements in aerospace, including more than 70 launches for domestic Indian programs and foreign partners.

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28 October, 2014

The global aerospace community is buzzing with news of emerging markets making technological advances and historical achievements. Among the nations making headlines is India.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officials in Bangalore are racking up aerospace wins, which resulted in India being recognized as the first Asian nation to successfully send a satellite into orbit around Mars. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and technology demonstrator continues to make headlines.

MOM is one of the latest endeavors, and India’s contribution, to: learning more about Earth’s closest celestial neighbor, Mars. The MOM demonstrator entered into orbit around the Red Planet 298 days after launch—in late September 2014.

The MOM technology demonstrator generates power using solar panels; in fact, the solar panels effectively generate 840 watts of usable power, which is stored in the spacecraft’s bank of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

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The Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) handles MOM communications via a pair of 230-watt transponders coupled to an antenna array that consists of low-, mid-, and high-gain antennas. ISRO has partnered with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the South African National Space Agency to assist with telemetry, command and control, and tracking while the MOM space vehicle is not visible to the ISRO network. The IDSN is a system of large antennas and communications facilities in support of interplanetary spacecraft missions in India.

With this successful mission, India has established its place in history as the fourth nation to reach Mars orbit and, certainly more impressive, the first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.

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28 October, 2014

When you think of aerospace innovation, what nations come to mind? The United States, Canada, Russia, and the European Union have all logged significant, if not historical, aerospace achievements. At the same time, military and aerospace (mil/aero) industry pundits recognized Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa as the emerging aerospace markets to watch.

Watch we have, and aerospace geeks everywhere (myself included) are paying close attention to aerospace advances taking place in India.

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Bangalore, a major center of the aerospace industry in India, houses, National Aerospace Laboratories, and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) headquarters. The ISRO launched the country’s very first Moon orbiter, called Chandrayaan-1, back in October 2008. What have aerospace organizations in India been up to since that time? A great deal of work—and the entire world is taking notice.

India is the first nation in Asia to send a satellite into orbit around Mars successfully. Indeed, ISRO officials, scientists, and aerospace engineers again made history in November 2013, when they launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan (“Mars-Craft” in Sanskrit and Hindi).

MOM, designated as a technology demonstrator, launched aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India. The probe carries five scientific platforms that together observe, record/image, and study three areas of interest: atmosphere, particle environment, and surface.

Speaking of surface, this mil/aero geek has only just scratched it. Be sure to read on to learn more about India’s contributions to aerospace.

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30 September, 2014

NASA scientists finalized testing of the most complex rocket engine parts ever produced with 3D printers. Aerospace organizations are increasingly investigating the potential of additive manufacturing, using 3D printers to save time and money over traditional manufacturing processes.

The testing involved using the rocket engine parts to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust. A NASA spokesperson describes the test: “Designers created complex geometric flow patterns that allowed oxygen and hydrogen to swirl together before combusting at 1,400 pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

NASA scientists credit additive manufacturing with delivering a wealth of benefits. “Having an in-house additive manufacturing capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on the data, implement changes quickly, and get back to testing,” affirms Nicholas Cases, the NASA propulsion engineer responsible for leading the testing. “This speeds up the whole design, development, and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects.”

NASA officials are crediting additive manufacturing with helping engineers to design and produce small 3D printed parts quickly, to build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, to test faster and smarter, and to apply modifications to the test stand or the rocket component quickly.

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To date, Marshall Space Flight Center officials say, NASA engineers have tested complex injectors, rocket nozzles, and other components. The end goal is to reduce the manufacturing complexity, time, and cost of building and assembling future engines. “Additive manufacturing is a key technology for enhancing rocket designs and enabling missions into deep space,” NASA officials say.

This geek is in love with this technology! Additive manufacturing with help relieve our dependence on foreign launch platforms since the retirement of the much missed Space Shuttle program.

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30 September, 2014

SpaceX this month logged its fifth successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and had a hand in yet another historic first: delivering the first 3D printer in space.

SpaceX launched its fifth journey to the ISS and fourth official Commercial Resupply (CRS) mission to the orbiting lab early this week, on Sunday, 21 September 2014 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX CRS-4 is the fourth of at least 12 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the CRS contract. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will remain at the ISS for four weeks, returning to Earth in mid-October for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California.

“Dragon is the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments,” according to a SpaceX spokesperson. “Under the CRS contract, SpaceX has restored an American capability to deliver and return significant amounts of cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the orbiting laboratory.”

Dragon delivered more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including materials to support 255 science and research investigations during Expeditions 41 and 42.

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This cargo mission includes a number of firsts. For the first time, Dragon carried live mammals (20 rodents) in NASA’s Rodent Research Facility, developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center to study the long-term effects of microgravity on mammalian physiology. SpaceX’s Dragon also delivered the 3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration, the first 3D printer ever in space.

This geek loves SpaceX and their passion, drive, and innovation. They are making out of this world research possible.

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29 September, 2014

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have again logged an historic achievement. They have harnessed additive manufacturing (3D printing) to produce complex rocket engine parts faster and at a lower cost than with traditional manufacturing.

NASA engineers worked with two different providers: Solid Concepts in Valencia, California, and Directed Manufacturing in Austin, Texas. Each company printed one injector, a very complex part, with additive manufacturing techniques, hardware, and materials.

“One of our goals is to collaborate with a variety of companies and establish standards for this new manufacturing process,” Marshall Propulsion Engineer Jason Turpin explains. “We are working with industry to learn how to take advantage of additive manufacturing in every stage of space hardware construction, from design to operations in space. We are applying everything we learn about making rocket engine components to the Space Launch System and other space hardware.”

before and after rocket injector

NASA scientists subjected the 3D-printed parts to a series of tests on Earth—a necessity prior to asking astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to rely on 3D printing and 3D-printed parts in the depths of space. NASA personnel tested the two rocket injectors for five seconds.

Five seconds? It’s a valid question. After all, when we’re talking about printing a part or component in space, five seconds doesn’t seem to be an adequate test time. Consider, though, that the additive-manufactured parts were each tested while producing 20,000 pounds of thrust. Well, alright. Now this space geek might just be sufficiently impressed. How about you?

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