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NASA/Sam Lott Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recently installed a key component called the frangible joint assembly onto the adapter that connects the core stage to the upper part of the NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. The cone-shaped stage adapter, called the launch vehicle stage adapter, will be part of the SLS mega rocket that will power NASA’s Artemis III mission to the Moon. The frangible joint sits atop the adapter and operates as a separation mechanism. The frangible joint is designed to break apart upon command, allowing the upper part of the rocket, NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and the crew inside Orion to quickly separate from the SLS core stage and adapter. Frangible joint assemblies are widely used across the space industry in a variety of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft to efficiently separate fairings or stages during launch, during ascent, in orbit and during payload deployment. The stage adapter used for Artemis III is set to be the last of its kind as SLS evolves into a larger and more powerful configuration for future Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis IV. The adapter is fully assembled at Marshall by NASA and lead contractor Teledyne Brown, which is also based in Huntsville.
The cone-shaped launch vehicle stage adapter, seen in yellow, is in a production area.NASA/Sam Lott SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, and commercial human landing systems. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single launch.
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A view of the Earth with Aurora Borealis and an orbital sunrise taken by the Expedition 35 crew aboard the International Space Station.NASA Two small businesses are benefitting from NASA’s expertise as they develop heat shield technologies, cargo delivery systems, and new protective materials for spacecraft and space stations in the growing commercial industry of low Earth orbit operations.
The two American companies – Canopy Aerospace Inc. of Littleton, Colorado and Outpost Technologies Corp. of Santa Monica, California – recently announced progress in the development of a new heat shield manufacturing capability and a new cargo transportation system for potential use on the International Space Station and future commercial space stations.
“These projects are a great example of how NASA is supporting a growing commercial space industry,” said Angela Hart, manager of NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “There is an entire ecosystem emerging where companies are working together and innovating to meet NASA’s needs and also positioning themselves to reach new customers, so that NASA can be just one of many customers in low Earth orbit.”
The companies work with NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program through SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) contracts funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Both contracts are part of an innovative pilot program known as SBIR Ignite, focused on small businesses with commercially viable technology ideas aligned with NASA mission needs that can help support the expanding aerospace ecosystem.
Improving heat shields, saving time
A piece of Thermal Protection System (TPS) material undergoes high temperature testing at Canopy Aerospace’s facility in Littleton, Colorado. Canopy Aerospace Canopy Aerospace Inc., a venture-funded startup, is collaborating with NASA to develop a new manufacturing system that can improve production of ceramic heat shields – otherwise referred to as thermal protection systems (TPS). In the vacuum of space, spacecraft and space station hardware must withstand extreme cold and heat environments. Upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, these craft in low Earth orbits are exposed to temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
To protect spacecraft and space stations during re-entry, engineered TPS are required. NASA developed the first TPS types under the Space Shuttle Program, and similar technologies are still used today to protect the Orion spacecraft as it returns to Earth from space. Canopy’s RHAM (Reusable Heatshields Additive Manufacturing) platform builds on the shuttle program’s heritage methods, but utilizes novel materials, new binding, and heat treatment processes to create a new type of ceramic heat shield and produce it at scale in the commercial sector.
As more companies enter the commercial space market, improved heat shield manufacturing methods are critical to driving down launch costs, shortening lead times, and enabling new mission capabilities for future spacecraft.
Transporting cargo, saving space
A concept infographic depicting the Cargo Ferry cargo transportation vehicle’s launch and return process. Outpost Technologies Outpost Technologies Corp. is collaborating with NASA to develop a new cargo transport vehicle, named Cargo Ferry. The reusable vehicle consists of a payload container for cargo, solar array wings to power the vehicle, a deployable heat shield to protect it on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, and a robotic paraglider system to deliver it safely to the ground with “landing pad” precision.
Cargo Ferry could transport non-human cargo including science and hardware from space stations back down to Earth more frequently, freeing up vital research and stowage space on board the station. Commercial space stations are expected to be smaller than the International Space Station, thus systems like Cargo Ferry could offer a more versatile and adaptable solution for cargo transportation.
NASA is supporting the design and development of multiple commercial space stations with three funded partners, as well as several other partners with unfunded agreements through NASA’s Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 project.
NASA’s commercial strategy for low Earth orbit will provide the government with reliable and safe services at a lower cost and enable the agency to focus on Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars while also continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
For more information about NASA’s commercial space strategy, visit:
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(Oct. 4, 2023) — The Roscosmos Progress 84 cargo craft is pictured docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk module.NASA NASA will provide live launch and docking coverage of the Roscosmos Progress 86 cargo spacecraft carrying about three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the Expedition 70 crew aboard the International Space Station.
The unpiloted spacecraft is scheduled to launch at 4:25 a.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 1 (2:25 p.m. Baikonur time), on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
NASA coverage will begin at 4 a.m. on the NASA+ streaming service via the web or the NASA app. Coverage also will air live on NASA Television, YouTube, and on the agency’s website. Learn how to stream NASA TV through a variety of platforms including social media.
The Progress spacecraft will be placed into a two-day, 34-orbit journey to the station, leading to an automatic docking to the Poisk module at 6:14 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 3. Coverage of rendezvous and docking will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
The spacecraft will remain at the orbiting laboratory for approximately six months, then undock for a destructive but safe re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere to dispose of trash loaded by the crew.
The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology, and human innovation that enables research not possible on Earth. For more than 23 years, NASA has supported a continuous U.S. human presence aboard the orbiting laboratory, through which humans have learned to live and work in space for extended periods of time. The space station is a springboard for the development of commercial destinations in space and a low Earth orbit economy, as well as NASA’s next great leaps in exploration, including Artemis missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.
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NASA and Boeing are working to complete the agency’s verification and validation activities ahead of Starliner’s first flight with astronauts to the International Space Station. While Boeing is targeting March to have the spacecraft ready for flight, teams decided during a launch manifest evaluation that a launch in April will better accommodate upcoming crew rotations and cargo resupply missions this spring.
The Starliner team works to finalize the mate of the crew module and new service module for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test that will take NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams to and from the International Space Station.Boeing/John Grant Once the spacecraft meets the agency’s safety requirements, NASA’s Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) will see astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams perform the first crewed mission of the spacecraft designed to take astronauts to and from the orbital laboratory.
Ahead of CFT, Boeing has completed P213 tape removal in the upper dome of the Starliner crew compartment and work is underway to remove or remediate the tape in the lower dome of the spacecraft. These hardware remediation efforts inside the Starliner production facility at NASA Kennedy are expected to be completed during the next several weeks. After the P213 tape remediation efforts conclude, engineers will conduct final assessments to ensure acceptable risk of any remaining tape.
A set of parachutes is on track to be delivered and installed on the CFT spacecraft by the end of this year to support the current target launch date. Separately, the team also is planning a drop test of Starliner’s updated drogue and main parachutes. The parachutes will incorporate a planned strengthening of main canopy suspension lines and the recent design of the drogue and main parachute soft-link joints, which will increase the safety factor for the system. The drop test is planned for early 2024 based on the current parachute delivery schedule.
Boeing and NASA also are planning modifications to the active thermal control system valves to improve long-term functionality following a radiator bypass valve issue discovered during ground operations earlier this year. As discussed during a Starliner media teleconference in June, teams have modified the spacecraft hardware and identified forward work to prevent a similar issue in the future. Options include a system purge to prevent stiction, component upgrades and operational mitigations.
Additionally, about 98% of the certification products required for the flight test are complete, and NASA and Boeing anticipate closure on remaining CFT certification products early next year. Meanwhile, NASA and Boeing have made significant progress on requirement closures related to manual crew control of the spacecraft and abort system analysis.
The latest version of Starliner’s CFT flight software completed qualification testing and is undergoing standard hardware and software integration testing inside Boeing’s Avionics and Software Integration Lab. Starliner’s crew and service modules remain mated and await continuation of standard preflight processing.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket also is in Florida at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station awaiting integration with the spacecraft.
The NASA astronauts who will fly aboard CFT continue to train for their roughly eight-day mission to the orbiting laboratory, which includes working with operations and mission support teams to participate in various simulations across all phases of flight.
Starliner completed two uncrewed flight tests, including Orbital Flight Test-2, which docked to the space station on May 21, 2022, following a launch two days prior from Kennedy. The spacecraft remained docked to space station for four days before successfully landing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Follow NASA’s commercial crew blog or CFT mission blog for the latest information on progress. Details about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew on X, and commercial crew on Facebook.
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