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Teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center install a new RS-25 engine nozzle in early February in preparation for continued testing on the Fred Haise Test Stand. NASA is conducting a series of tests to certify production of new RS-25 engines for future (Space Launch System) missions, beginning with Artemis V.NASA/Danny Nowlin NASA will conduct an RS-25 hot fire Friday, Feb. 23, moving one step closer to production of new engines that will help power the agency’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond.
Teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, are set to begin the second half of a 12-test RS-25 certification series on the Fred Haise Test Stand, following installation of a second production nozzle on the engine.
Teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center install a new RS-25 engine nozzle in early February in preparation for continued testing on the Fred Haise Test Stand. NASA is conducting a series of tests to certify production of new RS-25 engines for future (Space Launch System) missions, beginning with Artemis V.NASA/Danny Nowlin Teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center install a new RS-25 engine nozzle in early February in preparation for continued testing on the Fred Haise Test Stand. NASA is conducting a series of tests to certify production of new RS-25 engines for future (Space Launch System) missions, beginning with Artemis V.NASA/Danny Nowlin The six remaining hot fires are part of the second, and final, test series collecting data to certify an updated engine production process, using innovative manufacturing techniques, for lead engines contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3Harris Technologies company.
As NASA aims to establish a long-term presence on the Moon for scientific discovery and exploration, and prepare for future missions to Mars, new engines will incorporate dozens of improvements to make production more efficient and affordable while maintaining high performance and reliability.
Four RS-25 engines, along with a pair of solid rocket boosters, launch NASA’s powerful SLS rocket, producing more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff for Artemis missions.
During the seventh test of the 12-test series, operators plan to fire the certification engine for 550 seconds and up to a 113% power level.
“NASA’s commitment to safety and ‘testing like you fly’ is on display as we plan to fire the engine beyond 500 seconds, which is the same amount of time the engines must fire to help launch the SLS rocket to space with astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft,” said Chip Ellis, project manager for RS-25 testing at Stennis.
The Feb. 23 test features a second certification engine nozzle to allow engineers to gather additional performance data on the upgraded unit. The new nozzle was installed on the engine earlier this month while it remained at the test stand. Using specially adapted procedures and tools, the teams were able to swap out the nozzles with the engine in place.
Teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center install a new RS-25 engine nozzle in early February in preparation for continued testing on the Fred Haise Test Stand. NASA is conducting a series of tests to certify production of new RS-25 engines for future (Space Launch System) missions, beginning with Artemis V.NASA/Danny Nowlin In early February 2024, teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, completed an RS-25 nozzle remove-and-replace procedure as part of an ongoing hot fire series on the Fred Haise Test Stand. The new nozzle will allow engineers to collect and compare performance data on a second production unit. The RS-25 nozzle, which directs engine thrust, is the most labor-intensive component on the engine and the hardest to manufacture, said Shawn Buckley, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 nozzle integrated product team lead.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has focused on streamlining the nozzle production process. Between manufacture of the first and second production units, the company reduced hands-on labor by 17%.
“The nozzle is a work of machinery and work of art at the same time,” Buckley said. “Our team sees this nozzle as more than a piece of hardware. We see the role we play in the big picture as we return humans to the Moon.”
With completion of the certification test series, all systems will be “go” to produce the first new RS-25 engines since the space shuttle era. NASA has contracted with Aerojet Rocketdyne to produce 24 new RS-25 engines using the updated design for missions beginning with Artemis V. NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne modified 16 former space shuttle missions for use on Artemis missions I through IV.
Through Artemis, NASA will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon, land the first woman, first person of color, and first international partner astronaut on the lunar surface, and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all.
Last Updated Feb 22, 2024 EditorNASA Stennis CommunicationsContactC. Lacy Thompsoncalvin.firstname.lastname@example.org / (228) 688-3333LocationStennis Space Center Related Terms
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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
Deep Space Station 13 at NASA’s Goldstone complex in California – part of the agency’s Deep Space Network – is an experimental antenna that has been retrofitted with an optical terminal. In a first, this proof of concept received both radio frequency and laser signals from deep space at the same time.NASA/JPL-Caltech Capable of receiving both radio frequency and optical signals, the DSN’s hybrid antenna has tracked and decoded the downlink laser from DSOC, aboard NASA’s Psyche mission.
An experimental antenna has received both radio frequency and near-infrared laser signals from NASA’s Psyche spacecraft as it travels through deep space. This shows it’s possible for the giant dish antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which communicate with spacecraft via radio waves, to be retrofitted for optical, or laser, communications.
By packing more data into transmissions, optical communication will enable new space exploration capabilities while supporting the DSN as demand on the network grows.
A close-up of the optical terminal on Deep Space Station 13 shows seven hexagonal mirrors that collect signals from DSOC’s downlink laser. The mirrors reflect the light into a camera directly above, and the signal is then sent to a detector via a system of optical fiber.NASA/JPL-Caltech The 34-meter (112-foot) radio-frequency-optical-hybrid antenna, called Deep Space Station 13, has tracked the downlink laser from NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration since November 2023. The tech demo’s flight laser transceiver is riding with the agency’s Psyche spacecraft, which launched on Oct. 13, 2023.
The hybrid antenna is located at the DSN’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, near Barstow, California, and isn’t part of the DSOC experiment. The DSN, DSOC, and Psyche are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Our hybrid antenna has been able to successfully and reliably lock onto and track the DSOC downlink since shortly after the tech demo launched,” said Amy Smith, DSN deputy manager at JPL. “It also received Psyche’s radio frequency signal, so we have demonstrated synchronous radio and optical frequency deep space communications for the first time.”
Now that Goldstone’s experimental hybrid antenna has proved that both radio and laser signals can be received synchronously by the same antenna, purpose-built hybrid antennas (like the one depicted here in an artist’s concept) could one day become a reality.NASA/JPL-Caltech During a test of the experimental antenna, this photo of the project team at JPL was downlinked by the DSOC transceiver aboard Psyche. NASA/JPL-Caltech In late 2023, the hybrid antenna downlinked data from 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) away at a rate of 15.63 megabits per second – about 40 times faster than radio frequency communications at that distance. On Jan. 1, 2024, the antenna downlinked a team photograph that had been uploaded to DSOC before Psyche’s launch.
Two for One
In order to detect the laser’s photons (quantum particles of light), seven ultra-precise segmented mirrors were attached to the inside of the hybrid antenna’s curved surface. Resembling the hexagonal mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, these segments mimic the light-collecting aperture of a 3.3-foot (1-meter) aperture telescope. As the laser photons arrive at the antenna, each mirror reflects the photons and precisely redirects them into a high-exposure camera attached to the antenna’s subreflector suspended above the center of the dish.
The laser signal collected by the camera is then transmitted through optical fiber that feeds into a cryogenically cooled semiconducting nanowire single photon detector. Designed and built by JPL’s Microdevices Laboratory, the detector is identical to the one used at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, in San Diego County, California, which acts as DSOC’s downlink ground station.
“It’s a high-tolerance optical system built on a 34-meter flexible structure,” said Barzia Tehrani, communications ground systems deputy manager and delivery manager for the hybrid antenna at JPL. “We use a system of mirrors, precise sensors, and cameras to actively align and direct laser from deep space into a fiber reaching the detector.”
Tehrani hopes the antenna will be sensitive enough to detect the laser signal sent from Mars at its farthest point from Earth (2 ½ times the distance from the Sun to Earth). Psyche will be at that distance in June on its way to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to investigate the metal-rich asteroid Psyche.
The seven-segment reflector on the antenna is a proof of concept for a scaled-up and more powerful version with 64 segments – the equivalent of a 26-foot (8-meter) aperture telescope – that could be used in the future.
An Infrastructure Solution
DSOC is paving the way for higher-data-rate communications capable of transmitting complex scientific information, video, and high-definition imagery in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars. The tech demo recently streamed the first ultra-high-definition video from deep space at record-setting bitrates.
Retrofitting radio frequency antennas with optical terminals and constructing purpose-built hybrid antennas could be a solution to the current lack of a dedicated optical ground infrastructure. The DSN has 14 dishes distributed across facilities in California, Madrid, and Canberra, Australia. Hybrid antennas could rely on optical communications to receive high volumes of data and use radio frequencies for less bandwidth-intensive data, such as telemetry (health and positional information).
“For decades, we have been adding new radio frequencies to the DSN’s giant antennas located around the globe, so the most feasible next step is to include optical frequencies,” said Tehrani. “We can have one asset doing two things at the same time; converting our communication roads into highways and saving time, money, and resources.”
More About the Mission
DSOC is the latest in a series of optical communication demonstrations funded by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program and the agency’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages DSOC for TDM within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and SCaN within the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate.
For more about NASA’s optical communications projects, visit:
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By European Space Agency
ESA’s very latest laboratory extension is portable in nature: hosted within a standard shipping container, this ESA Transportable Optical Ground Station, ETOGS, can be transported all across Europe as needed, to perform laser-based optical communications with satellites – including NASA’s Psyche mission, millions of kilometres away in space.
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5 Min Read NASA’s Laser Navigation Tech Enables Commercial Lunar Exploration
Navigation Doppler Lidar is a guidance system that uses laser pulses to precisely measure velocity and distance. NASA will demonstrate NDL’s capabilities in the lunar environment during the IM-1 mission. Credits: NASA / David C. Bowman Later this month, NASA’s commercial lunar delivery services provider Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C lunar lander carrying several NASA science and technology payloads, including the Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL). This innovative guidance system, developed by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), can potentially revolutionize landing spacecraft on extraterrestrial worlds.
The NDL technology is a NASA payload for this Intuitive Machines Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) delivery, meaning NASA will demonstrate NDL’s capabilities in the lunar environment during the mission but the data is not considered mission-critical for the successful landing of Nova-C, as Intuitive Machines has its own navigation and landing systems.
The Artemis mission will take humans back to the Moon and Navigation Doppler Lidar will ensure a safe landing for everyone onboard. NDL Chief Engineer Glenn Hines explains how lasers will relieve astronauts of some of the burdens of making safe, precise landings on the Moon. The NDL story started almost 20 years ago when Dr. Farzin Amzajerdian, NDL project manager at NASA Langley, made a breakthrough and successfully found a precise way to land rovers on Mars. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several attempts at landing rovers on the surface of Mars were met with several significant challenges.
Radar was inherently imprecise for this application. Radio waves cover a large area on the ground, meaning smaller craters and boulders that are commonly found on the Martian surface could ‘hide’ from detection and cause unexpected hazards for landers.
“The landers needed the radar sensor to tell them how far they were off the ground and how fast they were moving so they could time their parachute deployment,” said Amzajerdian. “Too early or too late, the lander would miss its target or crash into the surface.”
Radio waves also couldn’t measure velocity and range independently of one another, which is important, according to Aram Gragossian, electro-optics lead for NDL at NASA Langley, who joined the team about six years ago.
“If you go over a steep slope, the range changes very quickly, but that doesn’t mean your velocity has changed,” he said. “So if you just feed that information back to your system, it may cause catastrophic reactions.”
Amzajerdian knew about this problem, and he knew how to fix it.
“Why not use a lidar instead of a radar?” he asked.
LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a technology that uses visible or infrared light the same way radar uses radio waves. Lidar sends laser pulses to a target, which reflects some of that light back onto a detector. As the instrument moves in relation to its target, the change in frequency of the returning signal – also known as the Doppler effect – allows the lidar to measure velocity directly and precisely. Distance is measured based on the travel time of the light to the target and back.
Lidar offered several advantages over radar, notably the fact that a laser transmits a pencil beam of light that can give a more precise and accurate measurement.
In 2004, Amzajerdian proposed NDL as a concept to the Mars Science Laboratory team. In 2005, he and his team received funding from Langley to put together a proof of concept. Then, in 2007, they received funding for building and testing a prototype of a helicopter. This is when Langley’s Dr. Glenn Hines joined NDL — first as electronic lead and now as chief engineer.
Since then, Amzajerdian, Hines, and numerous other team members have worked tirelessly to ensure NDL’s success.
Hines credits the various NASA personnel who have continued to advocate for NDL. “In almost everything in life, you’ve got to have a champion,” Hines said, “somebody in your corner saying, ‘Look, what you’re doing is good. This has credibility.’ ”
The Intuitive Machines delivery is just the beginning of the NDL story; a next-generation system is already in the works. The team has developed a companion sensor to NDL, a multi-functional Flash Lidar camera. Flash Lidar is a 3D camera technology that surveys the surrounding terrain — even in complete darkness. When combined with NDL, Flash Lidar will allow you to go “anywhere, anytime.”
Other future versions of NDL could have uses outside the tricky business of landing on extraterrestrial surfaces. In fact, they may have uses in a very terrestrial setting, like helping self-driving cars navigate local streets and highways.
Looking at the history and trajectory of NDL, one thing is certain: The initial journey to the Moon will be the culmination of decades of hard work, perseverance, determination, and a steadfast belief in the project across the team, but held most fervently by NDL’s champions, Amzajerdian and Hines.
NDL was NASA’s Invention of the Year in 2022. Four programs within STMD contributed to NDL’s development: Flight Opportunities, Technology Transfer, Small Business Innovation Research & Small Business Technology Transfer, and Game Changing Development.
NASA is working with multiple CLPS vendors to establish a regular cadence of payload deliveries to the Moon to perform experiments, test technologies, and demonstrate capabilities to help NASA explore the lunar surface. Payloads delivered through CLPS will help NASA advance capabilities for science, technology, and exploration on the Moon.
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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaks during a NASA Safety Town Hall, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024 at the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington. The Safety Town Hall is held annually near the Day of Remembrance to learn from past errors and pay tribute to those that lost their lives in the quest for space exploration.
Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
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