Posts Tagged ‘nasa’

29 March, 2016

On March 22, 2016 NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched a two-stage Atlas V rocket with a heavy-laden Orbital ATK commercial Cygnus cargo freighter atop. That Atlas V successfully heaved 7,700 pounds of experiments, supplies, spare parts, and station hardware into a three-day rendezvous orbit – also known as an orbital rendezvous or space rendezvous – with the International Space Station (ISS).


Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra captured the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft upon its arrival, using the Canadarm2 robotic arm developed by prime contractor MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and attached it to the Earth-facing Unity module of the ISS. One of the new experiments onboard the Cygnus piqued this geek’s interest: It’s called Saffire-I.

Saffire-I is the first in a new series of experiments targeted at studying fire in microgravity environments. “A spacecraft fire is one of the greatest crew safety concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community,” affirms Gary Ruff, Saffire project manager at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Experiments with fire on the space station are not new but had to be limited in size due to risk to the crew. Saffire will enable the scientists to experiment with much larger flames because the Cygnus will be detached from the ISS, reducing any risk to the crew.

Once the Cygnus freighter is free from the ISS, the experiment will be conducted remotely via high-definition (HD) cameras and remote sensors. The ISS crew and Saffire staff will set fire to a 16-by-37-inch piece of SIBAL (Solid Inflammability Boundary at Low Speed) cloth, a fiberglass and cotton mix that has been used in previous experiments. The cloth will be ignited from the bottom and observed to see whether an upward flame will continue to grow or microgravity will limit the size of the flame.

Information gleaned from this experiment is expected to enable researchers on Earth to develop effective emergency fire procedures and new flame-retardant materials specifically designed to help ensure crew safety in space. This mil/aero geek is anxious to learn the results of this and other experiments going on now on the ISS.

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23 March, 2016

Space is a harsh environment, wrought with intense radiation and temperature extremes, both of which can wreak havoc on electronics equipment and the human body. Myriad other dangers exist. Some of them, like reduced gravity, seem benign but are far from it.

Astronaut Scott Kelly’s long stint in space is helping NASA scientists and researchers learn more about all the potential side effects of living in a microgravity environment. (It’s not zero gravity like many people think, NASA scientists explain; rather, it’s reduced gravity or microgravity.)

Scientists are studying and measuring Kelly and comparing his physicality to that of his twin brother, also an astronaut but who stayed on Earth and serves as the control. They quickly learned that over nearly one full year in space, Kelly “grew” approximately two inches. That is, he measured two inches taller when he returned from the International Space Station (ISS) than when he left Planet Earth. Lack of gravity enabled spaces to develop between his vertebrae. This gain in height was only temporary; the expansion of his spine was almost immediately lost once he returned to Earth.

An unforeseen effect long-term microgravity had on Kelly involves skin sensitivity. Items in the ISS, including the astronauts’ uniforms and clothing, “float” around their bodies. This lack of contact with the skin greatly increased sensitivity, so much so that Kelly reported burning sensations all over his body when he moved.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Photo courtesy of NASA

Other effects of living in microgravity include bone loss, greater risk of kidney stones, muscle fiber shrinkage, problems with cardiac function, and problems regaining balance when back in Earth’s gravity. Kelly admits that going from Earth’s gravity to microgravity on the ISS is much easier than the reverse, and jokes that aliens might have it better than Earthlings.

The NASA study of Kelly’s physicality after his stint in space has only just begun, but it seems as though we’re on the cusp of learning a great deal about life in space. Since his return, Kelly has announced his retirement after serving as a U.S. Navy Captain, completing four space flights, and commanding the ISS on missions 26, 44, and 45. This mil/aero geek joins the ranks of many who are sorry to see him go, but thank him for his service. (Be sure to check out Kelly on social media, where he continues to post highlights of his life back on Earth, including the first rain and cannonball into a pool after returning.)

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18 March, 2016

The global aerospace community is celebrating an historic achievement, as well as the enabling technologies and astronaut behind it.

This month, Astronaut Scott Kelly set a new record for the longest stay in space for an American when he returned to Earth, following nearly one year in space, on 1 March 2015 aboard a Soyuz TMA-18M Russian spacecraft. Kelly — and Mikhail Kornienko, flight engineer and Russian cosmonaut — spent 340 days on the International Space Station (ISS) performing myriad experiments. The most important of which was to test the long-term effects of space on the human body. The results of the study will help government agencies and private companies engineer spacecraft, space habitats, and other enabling aerospace technologies that are engineered to safely transport us to the stars and enable us to setup camp (as well as live and even thrive in habitats) on distant worlds.

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA rest in a chair outside of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft just minutes after he and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 (Kazakh time). Kelly and Kornienko completed an International Space Station record year-long mission to collect valuable data on the effect of long duration weightlessness on the human body that will be used to formulate a human mission to Mars. Volkov returned after spending six months on the station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA rest in a chair outside of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft just minutes after he and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos landed. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Space is typically portrayed as a vast, expansive, and empty environment, but it is wrought with dangers. For starters, it is a high-radiation environment — and radiation wreaks havoc on the human body, as well as electronics. In fact, the radiation in space can quickly cut short hardware life cycles, which is why a majority of satellite, spacecraft, and space-based systems designs call for radiation-hardened or radiation-tolerant components able to withstand harsh conditions and the rigors of space.

While on Earth, all living things rely on the planetary magnetic field to protect our fragile bodies from high-speed particles from the sun and other celestial events, such as supernovae. These high-speed particles can literally destroy our DNA, attack our bone marrow, and greatly increase the chance of contracting cancer and other diseases.

NASA has revealed little about any adverse effects a year in space inflicted upon the human body of Astronaut Kelly. The entire aerospace community, including this mil/aero geek, is watching and waiting.

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31 December, 2014

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) engineers and executives know all too well the (very long) time it takes to see a new technology designed, developed, tested, manufactured, and fielded.

Long acquisition cycles have long plagued the mil/aero community—in some cases, leaving soldiers and astronauts waiting egregiously long for much-needed solutions. Times are changing, however, and new tools, systems, and components just might be delivered to awaiting mil/aero personnel sooner rather than later. After all, NASA and its contractor were able to deliver a tool to the International Space Station (ISS) in just one week’s time—a major mil/aero achievement and an historic first.

It can take months or even years, depending on the launch resupply schedule, to get equipment to space, and for exploration missions, resupply from Earth may be impossible, NASA officials explain. Yet, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) may change not only how NASA completes exploration missions, but also the way science is conducted on the ISS, they say.

In just one week, California-based contractor Made in Space Inc. designed a 3D model of a ratchet wrench and delivered it to NASA engineers, who performed safety qualification testing. Once the design was finalized, the ground station print of the ratchet was sent to NASA authorities for a safety qualification. After qualification, the file for the ratchet was emailed (also called uplinked, or uploaded via a link between the ISS and NASA on the ground) to the ISS laptop connected to the Zero-G Printer. Made In Space engineers confirmed that the file was uploaded correctly and sent the command to initiate the print.


“This wrench will not be used in space, but what if it were a tool the crew needed?” ponders Niki Werkheiser, space station 3D printer program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “We are breaking new ground not only in the way we manufacture in space but also in the way we operate and approve space hardware that is built in space, rather than launched from Earth.

“If you can transmit a file to the station as quickly as you can send an email, it opens up endless possibilities for all the types of things that you can make from CubeSat components to experiment hardware,” Werkheiser adds. “We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn’t even be launched to space.”

The 3D-printed ratchet wrench will be delivered to Earth for analysis and testing, along with the other parts printed at the ISS. Great work this year, mil/aero community. Here’s to an innovative new year!

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31 December, 2014

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) completed the first phase of a NASA technology demonstration by printing a tool (a ratchet wrench) with a design file transmitted from the ground to the Zero-G 3D printer in space.

“For the printer’s final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars,” says Niki Werkheiser, manager of the space station 3D printer program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours.”

The Zero-G 3D printer built the wrench by depositing 104 layers of plastic, a process called additive manufacturing.


The 4.48-inch-long by 1.29-inch-wide wrench was designed by Noah Paul-Gin, an engineer at Made In Space Inc., a northern California company that NASA contracted to design, build, and operate the printer. Paul-Gin digitally crafted a 3D model of the tool using Autodesk Inventor, a popular 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software used in product simulation, 3D mechanical design, tooling creation, design communication, and engineer-to-order applications.

This is the first time a design file has been sent from the ground to make a tool, a NASA spokesperson explains. The entire process – from tool design through qualification testing and printing – was accomplished in just one week. Military and aerospace (mil/aero) geeks everywhere recognize that achieving this feat in such a small window of time is very rare.

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30 December, 2014

One of the hottest trends to hit the military and aerospace (mil/aero) market is additive manufacturing, which is more widely known as three-dimensional (3D) printing. This year, in fact, NASA hit a new milestone with 3D printing.

Mil/aero systems, applications, and end users are benefitting more and more from the adoption of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and components, especially from the fast-paced world of entertainment—an industry vertical that has employed 3D printing for years and years.

Additive manufacturing is now harnessed by various industries, from automotive to healthcare, and now mil/aero. In fact, TechRepublic editor Lyndsey Gilpin predicts: “As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.” (Read more at

The size of the global market, including 3D printer sales, materials, and associated services, is predicted to reach $16.2 billion by 2018 from $3.8 billion in 2014, according to independent research company Canalys. Analysts forecast the 3D printing market will grow by more than 500 percent with a year-over-year growth rate of 45.7 percent over the next five years.

made in space

Engineers, scientists, and executives at NASA have certainly embraced the disruptive technology—and they’ve achieved historic firsts in the process.

The International Space Station (ISS), for the first time in history, gained use of an onboard 3D printer (read about the first 3D printer in space in my previous blog posts). Astronauts on the ISS also output the first items 3D-printed in space; the first test print was of a printer component. Perhaps most impressive, the ISS team produced a ratchet wrench using a design file that was transmitted from the ground (Earth) to the 3D printer. Be sure to read on for the specifics.

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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. also speculated that the event “could be a spectacularly bright sight for observers, weather permitting.”


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.


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.


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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