Archive for October, 2009

NASA Selects 18 University Proposals for Ralph Steckler Space Grant Colonization Space Grants

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Source: Johnson Space Center


HOUSTON — NASA has chosen 18 proposals from universities around the country to receive up to $70,000 for Phase One of the NASA Ralph Steckler Space Grant Colonization Research and Technology Development Opportunity.

Grant money will support university research and technology development activities that support a sustained human presence in space, increase understanding of the moon’s environment and develop basic infrastructure for future space colonies.

“I’m excited that many of the awards will provide a dual benefit to exploration and to Earth conservation by focusing on important issues such as water recycling, food production and power storage,” said Frank Prochaska, manager of the Steckler Space Grant Project at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA selected two proposals from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the University of Arizona in Tucson and one proposal from each of the following academic institutions:

* Desert Research Institute in Reno
* Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
* Montana State University in Bozeman
* New Mexico State University in Las Cruces
* Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland
* Old Dominion University Research Foundation in Norfolk, Va.
* Pennsylvania State University in University Park
* Texas Tech University System in Lubbock
* University of California in San Diego
* University of Central Florida in Orlando
* University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.
* University of Idaho in Moscow
* University of North Texas in Denton
* University of Wisconsin in Green Bay

The projects selected to receive Steckler Space Grants will be implemented through three funding and development phases. Phase One will last nine months with a maximum award up to $70,000. The purpose of Phase One is to establish the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a proposed innovation, research, or technology development effort that could enable space colonization or settlement. Primary exploration elements include habitation, rovers, surface power, communications and extravehicular activity systems.

Phase Two, which lasts two years, will provide a maximum of $250,000 each to four of the most promising Phase One projects through a competitive selection based on scientific and technical merit. The purpose of Phase Two is to begin conducting the research and technology development effort. Two awards of up to $275,000 each will be given for the third phase, also two years, during which time the Phase Two efforts will be integrated with NASA programs or projects.

NASA received 35 proposals. The agency released the cooperative agreement notice inviting lead institutions of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program to submit proposals for these grants in November 2008. The Space Grant national network includes more than 850 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research and public outreach efforts for NASA’s aeronautics and space projects. These affiliates belong to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Ralph Steckler was an assistant film director and photographer from southern California who had a lifelong interest in space colonization. He left part of his estate to NASA for the colonization of space and the betterment of mankind. Those funds are now providing universities with NASA research opportunities based on his vision.

With this program and NASA’s other college and university programs, the agency continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s education programs with the goal of developing science, technology, engineering and math skills and capabilities critical to achieving the nations’ exploration goals.

For more information about NASA’s education programs visit:


NASA Blog: Explaining The 4 Hour Launch Window for Ares 1-X

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Source: NASA Blogs


One question that comes up a lot is why Ares I-X has a four-hour launch window. After all, unlike the Space Shuttle, it doesn’t have to rendezvous with the Space Station
, so what’s the challenge? Actually, there are several.

First, the Eastern Range typically allots 4-hour launch windows. Given the duration of Ares I-X (about seven minutes from liftoff until the final pieces splash down), more time is not required. As was demonstrated on the first launch attempt, the rocket can be reset quickly, so four hours was considered plenty of time to wait out weather and technical challenges.

Next, there are human limitations. Console operators in the Launch Control Center must be at their consoles at least 7 hours before the planned launch. When you add the 4-hour window this means that operators may have to be on station for 11 hours before launch. There is also a lot of work to do after launch or after a scrub.

Additionally, anyone familiar with Florida weather understands that winds typically pick up later in the day as the atmosphere heats up and interacts with evaporation from the ocean. Central Florida’s “afternoon thunderstorms” produce a terrific number of lightning strikes. High winds are a problem for any launch. Because of its experimental nature, Ares I-X has very conservative wind constraints–20 knots (nautical miles per hour–about 23 statute miles per hour) as opposed to the Space Shuttle, which can fly in winds up to 30 knots (34.5 miles per hour).

A 4-hour window, gives the team the ability to complete all the preparation work, wait for the right combination of winds, weather and clouds and then go. Following the LCC guidelines gives Ares I-X the best chance to collect the important data that we need for next exploration steps we take.

Liftoff! The Ares I-X Flight Test Begins

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Source: NASA HQ


Rising into the Florida sky, the 327-foot rocket thunders away from the launch pad, marking the first time a new vehicle has launched from the complex since the first space shuttle launch
in 1981.

The mission will last two minutes, during which constant data received from the rocket.

At about the T+2 minute point in the flight, the upper stage simulator and first stage will separate at approximately 130,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. The unpowered simulator will splash down in the ocean. The first stage will be fired for a controlled ocean landing with parachutes that will allow recovery by one of NASA’s booster recovery ships, while the other ship tracks the upper stage.

Innovative Partnership Tests Fuels of the Future

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s exactly what everyone’s looking for: an engine that works on cheaper, less toxic, more readily available fuels.

This engine just happens to be for a rocket.nasa1

Engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and White Sands Test Facility teamed up with Dallas-based Armadillo Aerospace through an Innovative Partnership Program agreement to design and test a rocket engine that runs on liquid oxygen and liquid methane, for use on the moon or other extraterrestrial surfaces. Armadillo developed the engine, JSC designed and fabricated the nozzle and provided oversight on the project, and White Sands contributed the testing facilities. The project was jointly funded through the NASA Innovative Partnership Program office, the Propulsion and Cryogenic Advanced Development project, and Armadillo Aerospace.
The result was an engine that runs reliably on propellants that are not only cheaper and safer here on Earth, but could also be potentially manufactured on the moon or even Mars.

For decades – since the Apollo program – NASA has been using hypergolic propellants. They’re nice because all you have to do to make them ignite is mix them together – once they come into contact with each other, you can depend on them to perform as planned.

But you pay a price for that dependability, literally and figuratively. They’re expensive, they’re heavy and they’re toxic. So, since the late 1990s NASA has been looking into other options. One of those options is a combination of liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

Cryogenic liquid methane and liquid oxygen are 10 to 20 times less expensive than hypergol propellants. They weigh less, which is important because every pound of weight carried into space requires 15 pounds of fuel to send it there. And they’re nontoxic, so if, for instance, they’re used by a lunar lander, astronauts performing moonwalks won’t have to worry about traces of it hanging around on the lunar surface and contaminating their spacesuits.
And as an added bonus, a team at NASA is already working on reactors that can convert moon dust into oxygen or create methane from the Martian atmosphere. Called in-situ resource utilization, methods such as these have the potential to further reduce the amount of propellants carried into space.

So, with all those advantages, the next logical progression is to prove the feasibility of the technology in a simulated space environment. That’s where Armadillo Aerospace and the Innovative Partnership came in. NASA’s Innovative Partnership Program is designed to allow NASA to share limited resources with outside partners who can help develop technologies that are important to NASA’s missions. Armadillo is a private company that aims to eventually build a spacecraft that could be used for space tourism. Because of that, it shares NASA’s interest in engines that run on low-cost, readily available, safe fuels.

Through the partnership, NASA was able to offer Armadillo expert advice and infrastructure for designing and testing a Vertical Takeoff / Landing vehicle. For its part, Armadillo was able to experiment with the engine design in order to develop the engine while making quick-turnaround changes as needed.

“They are a rapid turnaround facility,” said Jacob Collins, an aerospace engineer at Johnson who worked with Armadillo on the project, “while we are a detailed engineering design team. Armadillo often does not have drawings for their designs. But they are able to design, fabricate, and test faster than drawings can be completed and approved. This partnership offers the best of both worlds: rapid prototyping and testing guided by engineers experienced with cryogenics.”

That proved a winning combination. The engine and nozzle assembly was tested inside the vacuum chamber at the White Sands Test Facility. More recently, an un-tethered flight test was successfully completed – . The altitude isn’t the important part, though. Federal Aviation Administration regulations controlled the altitude, but the flight experience gained – including all phases of the check-out, ground loading, flight, and recovery operations – is identical regardless of altitude.

The flight testing and the White Sands vacuum testing have enabled the team to achieve many technological firsts. For instance, they achieved the first liquid oxygen/liquid methane hot-fire test of a dual-bell nozzle while simulating a descent in altitude; the first pyrotechnic ignition at altitude using this combination of propellants; and the first self-pressurized throttling liquid oxygen/liquid methane lander.

Those tests wrap up the first phase of the partnership between NASA and Armadillo, and both sides of the equation continue to reap the benefits as they move into a second phase. In the meantime, the achievements so far represent good progress.

“We went through the tests and generated test data where none existed,” Collins said. “Just mentioning a liquid oxygen / liquid methane hot-fire is foreign to a lot of people. The data collected on this project is a huge leap forward toward demonstrating the feasibility and many advantages of this technology.”

More Chunks of SUV-Smashing Meteorite Found

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Three golf ball-sized fragments have been found from a meteorite that created a brilliant fireball seen over Ontario, Canada on September 25, 2009. The first meteorite fragment recovered did some damage to the windshield of a Nissan Pathfinder, and now two other fragments have been found on nearby properties. The meteor made headlines initially because it was captured on video by Western’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network (SOMN) on seven of its ‘all-sky’ cameras. The brightness was estimated to be approximately 100 times brighter than a full moon.

Initially, the owners of the SUV didn’t realize the “unusual” rock they found on the hood of the vehicle was a meteorite and chalked up the shattered windshield to vandalism and filed a police report.
Grimsby homeowner Yvonne Garchinski and Western Physics and Astronomy associate professor Peter Brown speak to national media where a 4.6-billion-year-old meterorite smashed the window of Garchinski’s truck Sept. 25. The pair are wearing gloves to protect the meteorite.
Tony Garchinski said heard a loud crash just after 9 p.m. the night of the meteor flyby he didn’t think much of it. That is, until he awoke the next morning to find the windshield of his mom’s truck with a huge crack in it.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that his mother, Yvonne Garchinski, heard media reports that researchers from Western were searching West Grimsby, Ontario for possible fragments of a freshly fallen meteorite. The Garchinskis realized who the real culprit was in the case of the broken windshield — or more specifically, what.

The ‘what’ was a 46-gram completely fusion-crusted (melted exterior) fragment of an ordinary chondrite meteorite. Chondrites are arguably the most important type of meteorite because they are the least processed of meteorites and provide a window into the material which formed the early solar system. The meteorite is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old.

Phil McCausland, a postdoctoral fellow at Western’s Centre for Planetary Science & Exploration said, “Having both the video and the sample is golden because we get the dynamic information and the orbital direction from the video, and by having recovered material on the ground, we can complete the picture. We can take a rock that we now have in hand and we can study it in the best laboratories in the world and we can put it back into its solar system context. We can put it back into where it came from.”

The Garchinski property is just 200 meters off the fall line of the meteorite the Western Meteor Physics Group calculated using data from its video, radar and sound detection systems and thanks in large part to this research – along with a lot of luck – two more meteorite fragments have been found.

The second meteorite was found by the Western team not far from the Garchinski home but the land owner wishes to remain anonymous. The third fragment was found Oct. 18 by professional meteorite hunter Mike Farmer ( on the side of a road in West Grimsby.

The Western-led search continues and both Brown and McCausland believe more fragments will be found.

STS-129 Crew Returns to JSC

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Wed, 21 Oct 2009 06:59:31 PM GMT+0530
After two days of prelaunch mission practice at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the six STS-129 mission astronauts returned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, they will continue their training and perform customary housekeeping projects for Atlantis’ upcoming flight to the International Space Station.

The crew members are scheduled to return to Kennedy to complete the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, on Nov. 2 and 3. At that time, they will participate in a full launch countdown exercise, safety briefings and payload bay walkdown.

Meanwhile at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A, technicians continue to check systems to verify there was no damage to the space shuttle from a lightning strike at the pad last week. So far no damage has been found.

Also at the pad today, workers are testing the solid rocket booster hydraulic system and completing the shuttle interface test — which means confirming the various components and connections are “talking” to each other.

The agency’s Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, for the STS-129 mission is set for Oct. 29 at Kennedy. Afterward, NASA will announce an official launch date and broadcast a post-meeting briefing on NASA TV.

Space Shuttle Mission: STS-129

Space Shuttle Mission: STS-129
Image above: The STS-129 crew pose for a group portrait in the White Room at Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Kneeling from left are Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik and Commander Charles O. Hobaugh; standing from left are Mission Specialists Mike Foreman, Leland Melvin and Robert L. Satcher Jr.; and Pilot Barry E. Wilmore. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
› High-res image

Preparations for STS-129 Mission in Full Swing
The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.

Launch of Atlantis on the STS-129 mission is targeted for 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

STS-129 Additional Resources
› Mission Summary (518Kb Pdf)
› More about STS-129 Crew
› Remaining Shuttle Missions (730Kb)

Orbiter Status
› About the Orbiters

Ares I-X Secured at the Launch Pad

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The Ares I-X now is secured on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test rocket, sitting on a mobile launcher platform, was “hard down” on the pad’s pedestals at 9:17 a.m. EDT. The rotating service structure is expected to be rolled into place at about 12:30 p.m.

Ares I-X

Ground teams began rolling out Ares I-X and its launch platform aboard a crawler-transporter from Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building at 1:39 a.m. It arrived at the pad about 7:45 a.m.

Managers will meet at Kennedy on Friday for a Flight Test Readiness Review to thoroughly discuss whether the flight test is ready to proceed and set an official launch date. Currently, Ares I-X is targeted to launch Oct. 27 at 8 a.m.

Launch Vehicle: Ares I-X
Targeted Launch Date: Oct. 27
Launch Window: 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. EDT
Launch Pad: 39B
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

NASA’s first flight test for the agency’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system, called Ares I-X, will bring NASA one step closer to its exploration goals. The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

› Comment on the upcoming Ares I-X launch