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Kennedy Space Center Looks Ahead to a Busy Year in 2024


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NASA's Space Launch System rocket Mobile Launcher moves to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
The mobile launcher, carried by the crawler-transporter 2, rolls out from its park site location to Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in August 2023 for testing ahead of the agency’s Artemis II mission.
NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Another jam-packed year is in store for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the momentum of a busy 2023 is carried forward into the new year. On the horizon are missions to the Moon, more crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station, and several upgrade projects across the spaceport.

NASA’s first CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative mission with Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is set to begin work in 2024 after lifting off on the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. These missions will help the agency develop capabilities needed to explore the Moon under Artemis ahead of sending astronauts to the lunar surface. 

Another CLPS mission, set for launch early in the year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will send the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander to a landing site at the Moon’s South Pole region. The mission will carry NASA payloads focusing on plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies.  

A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November 2023 on the company’s 29th commercial resupply services mission for the agency to the International Space Station.
SpaceX

Development toward Artemis II, NASA’s first crewed test flight of its lunar-focused Artemis program continues across Kennedy. SLS (Space Launch System) hardware, including twin solid rocket boosters and a 212-foot-tall core stage for the Artemis II mission, will begin stacking and integration inside the Vehicle Assembly Building in the coming months, after which teams will begin a series of testing prior to launch. Processing also is underway on the core stage for Artemis III. 

The Artemis II Orion crew and service modules will continue prelaunch processing inside Kennedy’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building alongside the crew modules for Artemis III and Artemis IV– NASA’s initial missions to land the next humans on the lunar surface.  

Technicians work around Boeing's Starliner spacecraft supported by a yellow crane during processing.
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

NASA and its commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, have three Commercial Crew Program missions set to fly from Florida’s Space Coast, setting up another busy year of traffic for the International Space Station in 2024. Teams are readying for the short-duration Crew Flight Test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner no earlier than April. Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX will continue crew rotation missions to the orbiting laboratory with Crew-8 expected no earlier than mid-February and Crew-9 to follow in mid-August.  

Other crewed missions to the space station include SpaceX and Axiom Space’s short-duration Axiom Mission 3 and Axiom Mission 4 private astronaut missions.  

SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn, the second private short-duration orbital flight will also lift off from Kennedy with four individuals that plan to attempt the first-ever commercial spacewalk. 

Along with crewed flights, three of the agency’s Commercial Resupply Services missions hosted on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, and the debut flight of Sierra Space’s cargo spaceplane, Dream Chaser, are slated to fly from Kennedy next year to deliver thousands of pounds of supplies, equipment, and science investigations to the orbiting laboratory. 

Four astronauts sit inside a SpaceX Dragon crew capsule.
The four SpaceX Crew-8 crew members (from left) Alexander Grebenkin from Roscosmos, and Michael Barratt, Matthew Dominick, and Jeanette Epps, all NASA astronauts, are pictured training inside a Dragon mockup crew vehicle at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX

NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy has several science and CubeSat missions manifested to fly on commercial rockets next year. They represent a mix of some of the agency’s most complex robotic and scientific missions, as well as smaller cost-efficient missions, and missions sponsored by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative

The first of three primary missions is NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft that will launch early next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. PACE’s science goals include extending ocean color, atmospheric aerosol, and cloud data records for Earth system and climate studies.  

GOES-U (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U) is slated to launch in April on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, the fourth and final satellite in NOAA’s GOES-R Series of advanced geostationary weather-observing satellites. Scheduled for an October launch on a Falcon Heavy, the agency’s Europa Clipper mission will investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa to determine if it has conditions suitable to support life.  

Among the small spacecraft and CubeSat missions slated to launch in 2024 are two dedicated launches on Rocket Lab’s Electron for PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Infrared Experiment), which aims to give researchers a more accurate picture of the energy entering and leaving Earth. Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket will host NASA’s EscaPADE (Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers) mission that will send two spacecraft to study solar wind energy and momentum through Mars’ unique hybrid magnetosphere. 

ksc-20231204-ph-kls01-0018-1.jpg?w=1920
Technicians process the NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) observatory on a spacecraft dolly in a high bay at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA/Kim Shiflett

While next year’s expected cadence of nearly 100 launches from Florida’s Space Coast is likely to mirror 2023’s record-setting pace, something else to look out for will be upgrade and sustainability efforts around the spaceport.  

The Indian River Bridge construction project, which opened the first of two spans in June of 2023, and the solar site 6 project of the Utility Energy Services Contract, are expected to wrap up and become fully operational next year. 

Restoration and beautification efforts across Kennedy also include the consideration of several sites for development into natural wildflower prairies. In the spring, Spaceport Integration’s sustainability team will work on “Project Arbor at the Spaceport.” It will focus on planting Florida native trees and one seedling from the Artemis Moon Tree project along the Fitness Trail near Operations Support Building II to provide shade, benefit wildlife, and help improve air quality. 

A historical marker sponsored by NASA and the Florida Department of State will be installed in early 2024 at the site of Kennedy’s original Headquarters Building making it the first to be located within Kennedy’s secure area. 

As 2023 draws to a close, Kennedy Space Center is gearing up to support more groundbreaking missions that will expand human knowledge of Earth and our solar system while protecting the local ecosystem and natural resources. 

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      There are several factors influencing what could make a planet suitable for life as we know it. One of those factors is the amount of harmful X-rays and ultraviolet light they receive, which can damage or even strip away the planet’s atmosphere.
      Based on X-ray observations of some of these stars using data from Chandra and XMM-Newton, the research team examined which stars could have hospitable conditions on orbiting planets for life to form and prosper. They studied how bright the stars are in X-rays, how energetic the X-rays are, and how much and how quickly they change in X-ray output, for example, due to flares. Brighter and more energetic X-rays can cause more damage to the atmospheres of orbiting planets.
      The researchers used almost 10 days of Chandra observations and about 26 days of XMM observations, available in archives, to examine the X-ray behavior of 57 nearby stars, some of them with known planets. Most of these are giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn or Neptune, while only a handful of planets or planet candidates could be less than about twice as massive as Earth.
      These results were presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, by Breanna Binder (California State Polytechnic University in Pomona).
      NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge, Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.
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      NASA Announces New System to Aid Disaster Response
      In early May, widespread flooding and landslides occurred in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, leaving thousands of people without food, water, or electricity. In the following days, NASA teams provided data and imagery to help on-the-ground responders understand the disaster’s impacts and deploy aid.
      Building on this response and similar successes, on June 13, NASA announced a new system to support disaster response organizations in the U.S. and around the world.
      Members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team in Adiyaman, Turkey, conducting rescue efforts in the wake of powerful earthquakes that struck the region in February 2023. NASA provided maps and data to support USAID and other regional partners during these earthquakes.USAID “When disasters strike, NASA is here to help – at home and around the world,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As challenges from extreme weather grow, so too does the value of NASA’s efforts to provide critical Earth observing data to disaster-response teams on the frontlines. We’ve done so for years. Now, through this system, we expand our capability to help power our U.S. government partners, international partners, and relief organizations across the globe as they take on disasters – and save lives.”
      The team behind NASA’s Disaster Response Coordination System gathers science, technology, data, and expertise from across the agency and provides it to emergency managers. The new system will be able to provide up-to-date information on fires, earthquakes, landslides, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other extreme events.
      “The risk from climate-related hazards is increasing, making more people vulnerable to extreme events,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “This is particularly true for the 10% of the global population living in low-lying coastal regions who are vulnerable to storm surges, waves and tsunamis, and rapid erosion. NASA’s disaster system is designed to deliver trusted, actionable Earth science in ways and means that can be used immediately, to enable effective response to disasters and ultimately help save lives.”
      Agencies working with NASA include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Agency for International Development – as well as international organizations such as World Central Kitchen.
      “With this deliberate and structured approach, we can be even more effective in putting Earth science into action,” said Josh Barnes, at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Barnes manages the Disaster Response Coordination System.
      NASA Administrator Bill Nelson delivers remarks June 13 during an event launching a new Disaster Response Coordination System that will provide communities and organizations around the world with access to science and data to aid disaster response. NASA/Bill Ingalls NASA Disasters Team Aiding Brazil
      When the floods and landslides ravaged parts of Brazil in May, officials from the U.S. Southern Command – working with the U.S. Space Force and Air Force, and regional partners – reached out to NASA for Earth-observing data.
      NASA’s response included maps of potential power outages from the Black Marble project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Disaster response coordinators at NASA Goddard also reviewed high-resolution optical data – from the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program – to map more than 4,000 landslides.
      Response coordinators from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology produced flood extent maps using data from the NASA and U.S. Geological Survey Landsat mission and from ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. Response coordinators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center also provided photographs of the flooding taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
      Building on Previous Work
      The Brazil event is just one of hundreds of responses NASA has supported over the past decade. The team aids decision-making for a wide range of natural hazards and disasters, from hurricanes and earthquakes to tsunamis and oil spills. 
      “NASA’s Disasters Program advances science for disaster resilience and develops accessible resources to help communities around the world make informed decisions for disaster planning,” said Shanna McClain, manager of NASA’s Disasters Program. “The new Disaster Response Coordination System significantly expands our efforts to bring the power of Earth science when responding to disasters.”
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