Virginia Is For Launch Lovers | Electron

Featured Image: Rocket Lab/Trevor Mahlman
Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)

December 09, 2022 – 23:00 UTC | 18:00 EST

Mission Name

Virginia Is For Launch Lovers

Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)

Rocket Lab

Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)

HawkEye 360

Rocket

Electron

Launch Location

Launch Complex 2 (LC-2), Wallops Island, Virgnia, USA

Payload mass

90 kg (198 lb)

Where are the satellites going?

550 km low Earth orbit at a 40.5 degree inclination

Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?

No, this is currently not a capability for Rocket Lab from the United States

Where will the first stage land?

It will crash into the Atlantic Ocean

Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?

No, this is not a capability of Rocket Lab

Are these fairings new?

Yes

How’s the weather looking?

TBD

This will be the:

– 1st launch of Electron from the United States
– 33rd mission for Rocket Lab
– 10th mission for Rocket Lab in 2022
– 173rd orbital launch attempt

Where to watch

Once avaialble, an official livestream can be found here

What’s All This Mean?

For the first time ever, Rocket Lab will be launching their Electron rocket, a small satellite launcher from the United States. Electron is typically launched from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand from Launch Complex 1 (LC-1). Rocket Lab is collaborating with Virgina Space and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in support of this launch. Onboard are three Cluster 6 HawkEye 360 satellites from HawkEye 360, a Virginia based space satellite manufacturer.

Virginia Is For Launch Lovers

Rocket Lab has the notion of choosing clever mission titles. Because Electron will be launching from Virginia, a state in the United States, for the first time Rocket Lab aptly named this mission Virginia Is For Launch Lovers. Unlike some previous missions from New Zealand, there will be no air recovery attempt as the infrastructure and permits are not available in the United States, yet.

Rocket Lab has previously attempted to catch Electron’s first stage with a helicopter with some success, but has not completed a full recovery yet. Every mission that has featured recovery has seen fully successful satelite deployment resulting in mission success.

HawkEye 360 Cluster 6

The Virginia Is For Launch Lovers mission will launch a trio of satellites for the Virgnia based satellite manufacturer, HawkEye 360. HawkEye 360’s vision is to “Transform the invisible into solutions for a better world”. In more technical terminology, HawkEye 360’s satellites study radio frequencies (RF) of wide ranges across the globe to provide data about RF interference to customers of various industries.

This launch will be the sixth launch of the constellation which is estimated to be completed in the late 2020s. Prior to this launch, HawkEye 360 has only launched their Cluster satellites with SpaceX on Falcon 9 rockets. In a discussion with Everyday Astronaut, Chief Operating Officer Rob Rainhart stated that the constellation will consist of 20 clusters containting three satellites each. The current goal is to launch two to three clusters a year.

Three HawkEye 360 satellites prepared for installation (Credit: Rocket Lab)

After payload deploy, the satellites will use a specially designed and highly efficient propulsion system to separate to their designated points on their orbit. In this case, the orbit is at 550 km in altitude and is inclined to 40.5 degree inclination. Once the satellites are separated to their desired point, the propulsion system will maintian that position. The formation is not active, therefore the satellites will not move once they are in position.

HawkEye 360 will be launching their Cluster 7 satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket sometime in early 2023. According to Chief Operating Officer Rob Rainhart, the various launch providers enable them to be able to get to a variety of orbits. The company will continue to use the launch provider that works best for them, so future clusters will launch on a variety of rockets.

Launch Complex 2

A new launch pad requires new infrastructure to support it. Infrastructure includes an Integration and Control Facility (ICF) and launch pad. The ICF includes a large room for rocket assembly and payload integration in addition to a control room to montitor launch vehicle systems throughout the countdown and until satellite deployment, when Rocket Lab’s mission has concluded.

What Is Electron?

Rocket Lab’s Electron is a small-lift launch vehicle designed and developed specifically to place small satellites (CubeSats, nano-, micro-, and mini satellites) into LEO and Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO). Electron consists of two stages with optional third stages.

Electron is about 18.5 meters (60.7 feet) in height and only 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) in diameter. It is not only small in size, but also light-weighted. The vehicle structures are made of advanced carbon fiber composites, which yields an enhanced performance of the rocket. Electron’s payload lift capacity to LEO is 300 kg (~660 lb).

An Electron booster with a thermal protection system upgrade. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The maiden flight It’s A Test was launched on May 25, 2017, from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-1 (LC-1) in New Zealand. On this mission, a failure in the ground communication system occurred, which resulted in the loss of telemetry. Even though the company had to manually terminate the flight, there was no larger issue with the vehicle itself. Since then, Electron has flown a total of 26 times (23 of them were fully successful) and delivered 146 satellites into orbit.

First And Second Stage

First StageSecond StageEngine9 Rutherford engines1 vacuum optimized Rutherford engineThrust Per Engine24 kN (5,600 Ibf)25.8 kN (5,800 Ibf)Specific Impulse (ISP)311 s343 s

Electron’s first stage is composed of linerless common bulkhead tanks for propellant, and an interstage, and powered by nine sea-level Rutherford engines. The second stage also consists of tanks for propellant (~2,000 kg) and is powered by a single vacuum optimized Rutherford engine. The main difference between these two variations of the Rutherford engine is that the latter has an extended nozzle that results in improved performance in near-vacuum conditions.

For the Love At First Insight mission, the company introduced an update to the second stage by stretching it by 0.5 m. Moreover, they flew an Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) for the first time.

Rutherford Engine

Rutherford engines are the main propulsion source for Electron and were designed in-house, specifically for this vehicle. They are running on rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOx). There are at least two things about the Rutherford engine that make it stand out.

The CEO of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, standing next to an Electron rocket holding a Rutherford engine. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Firstly, all primary components of Rutherford engines are 3D printed. Main propellant valves, injector pumps, and engine chamber are all produced by electron beam melting (EBM), which is one of the variations of 3D printing. This manufacturing method is cost-effective and time-efficient, as it allows to fabricate a full engine in only 24 hours.

Rutherford is the first RP-1/LOx engine that uses electric motors and high-performance lithium polymer batteries to power its propellant pumps. These pumps are crucial components of the engine as they feed the propellants into the combustion chamber, where they ignite and produce thrust. However, the process of transporting liquid fuel and oxidizer into the chamber is not trivial. In a typical gas generator cycle engine, it requires additional fuel and complex turbomachinery just to drive those pumps. Rocket Lab decided to use battery technology instead, which allowed eliminating a lot of extra hardware without compromising the performance.

Kick Stage

Electron has optional third stages, also known as the Kick Stage, Photon, and deep-space version of Photon. The Kick Stage is powered by a single Curie engine that can produce 120 N of thrust. Like Rutherford, it was designed in-house and is fabricated by 3D printing. Apart from the engine, the Kick Stage consists of carbon composite tanks for propellant storage and six reaction control thrusters.

Kick Stages tailored for three individual missions (Credit: Peter Beck via Twitter)

The Kick Stage in its standard configuration serves as in-space propulsion to deploy Rocket Lab’s customers’ payloads to their designated orbits. It has re-light capability, which means that the engine can re-ignite several times to send multiple payloads into different individual orbits. One example includes Electron 19th mission, They Go Up So Fast, launched in March of 2021. The Curie engine was ignited to circularize the orbit, before deploying a payload to 550 km. Curie then re-lighted to lower the altitude to 450 km, and the remaining payloads were successfully deployed. For the There and Back Again mission, the kick stage was ignited once to circularize its orbit.

The post Virginia Is For Launch Lovers | Electron appeared first on Everyday Astronaut.

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Power upgrade: Station crew install new iROSA, work power channel issue on ISS

Two NASA astronauts conducted a spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, Dec. 2, to install a new iROSA (ISS Roll-Out Solar Array).

Installation of the new array marked the third such iROSA to be attached to the space station since a power augmentation program to add at least six new sets of arrays to the ISS began in 2021.

The spacewalk, officially known as an Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), primarily focused on the installation of an iROSA to the 3A power channel on the starboard truss of the ISS.

However, an unrelated event on Nov. 23 on the 1B electrical channel added an element to this EVA.

According to NASA, on Nov. 23, “Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) 1B experienced two power on resets (POR) and then tripped off. Ground teams performed a Seamless Power Channel Handover (SPCH) of the loads on Channel 1B to Channel 1A to recover power to the Channel 1B loads.”

“After an initial review of data, ground teams recommended to leave Channel 1B shunted and perform a survey of the 1B [solar array wing] to gather additional data for investigation.”

See Also

ISS US EVA 82 UpdatesNSF StoreL2 SpaceX SectionClick here to Join L2

On Nov. 26, crewmembers took photos of the base of the solar array wing for the investigation.

During the Dec. 2 EVA, astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio disconnected a cable to ensure the 1B power channel could be reactivated — with the goal of restoring 75 percent of the array’s functionality and ensuring the connected batteries charge at expected levels.

A subsequent EVA to install a fourth iROSA, this time to the 4A power channel on the port truss of the ISS, is currently scheduled for Dec. 19.

iROSAs

The iROSAs are part of a plan by NASA to increase the ISS’s power generation capability back to what it essentially was when the eight original solar array wings were launched between 2000 and 2009.

The ISS, seen with three of its new iROSAs. (Credit: Mack Crawford for NSF/L2)

With the placement of six iROSAs on the station, the orbital lab will once again be capable of producing 215 kW of power for its scientific and operational needs.

The original arrays, as expected, degraded in efficiency over time and are now only capable of generating approximately 160 kW.

Each new iROSA will contribute approximately 10 kW of power to the ISS.

Following the launch and installation of the first two iROSAs on the ISS in 2021, lessons learned have resulted in slight alterations to the third and fourth iROSAs launched on CRS-26.

“There were a couple of operational things that we learned,” said Matt Mickle, Senior Manager for ISS Developmental Projects, Boeing, in an interview with NASASpaceflight.

The roll-out solar array has been installed on its mounting bracket on the Starboard-4 truss segment and will soon be mated to cables and deployed. https://t.co/yuOTrZ4Jut pic.twitter.com/S1IKgvSeQz

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 3, 2022

“There was a little bit of interference when the iROSAs were unhinged that we had to work around during the first EVAs.”

The iROSAs are launched hinged and are then mounted to the station’s mast canisters of the original arrays. During unfolding after attachment, clearances became an issue.

“So we made some minor modifications to the design to elongate a slot that enables the bracket that’s on the mounting structure to have clearance so that we don’t have that interference anymore,” added Mickle. 

Another item noticed during the first two iROSA installations that resulted in a modification to the third and fourth arrays related to their sunshades.

“Another thing that we noticed when we unfurled the solar arrays was that there was some buckling and shuttling of the sunshades.”

Angle showing how the new IROSAs will be deployed over the current arrays. (Credit: NASA)

The sunshades shield the original arrays’ longeron masts from the Sun to stop them from undergoing thermal and structural loading.

“There was a little bit of buckling in that,” noted Mickle, “so we made a minor modification to the design. We’re using a thinner cable that the sunshades are deployed on, and we’ve tested that on the ground and it looks great. And then we also added an additional hinge to prevent some of the buckling.”

Lastly, a third lesson learned from the first two iROSAs was related to crew handling during the orbital installation process.

“After [the iROSAs] are removed from the flight support equipment and the crewmember is translating them over to the space station structure to be attached, the handrail locations made it a little bit awkward for the length of time they had to hold on to it,” related Mickle.

An operation change has now been made for the crew, enabling them to use a multi-use tether to attach to handrails to make it more comfortable during the translation process.

Should additional items of interest be seen during the installation of the third and fourth iROSAs, there would be time to make slight alterations to operational procedures and potentially to the arrays themselves given that the next set is not scheduled to launch until June 2023 on the SpaceX CRS-28 mission.

While the iROSAs are slated to be launched shortly before their installation, as was the case with the first two sets of arrays and is the plan for the third, there is a way to store the iROSAs outside the ISS if needed.

“One of the things we look at is the thermal environment in which they would be stowed,” noted Mickle. “We want to make sure that — because the design of the iROSAs basically is a rolled up array that has potential energy stored in a boom which allows the iROSAs to be deployed without any type of motor — we want to make sure that that potential energy is still capable for the full deployment.”

To do that, the arrays — if they needed to be stored before installation — would be stored in a thermally benign area outside the station.

(Lead image: The first two iROSA arrays seen during Crew-2 flyaround on Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: NASA)

The post Power upgrade: Station crew install new iROSA, work power channel issue on ISS appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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OneWeb 15 | Falcon 9 Block 5

Featured Image Credit: ISRO
Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)

December 6, 2022 – 22:37 UTC | 17:37 EST

Mission Name

OneWeb 15

Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)

SpaceX

Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)

OneWeb

Rocket

Falcon 9 Block 5 B1069-4; 51.72

Launch Location

Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA

Payload mass

6,000 kg (~13,000 lbs)

Where are the satellites going?

Polar low-Earth orbit. Initial orbit TBD, final orbit of 1,200 km

Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?

Yes

Where will the first stage land?

Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?

Yes, the fairings will be recovered by Bob

Are these fairings new?

TBD

This will be the:

– 188th Falcon 9 launch
– 124th Falcon 9 flight with a flight-proven booster
– 128th re-flight of a booster
– 49th re-flight of a booster in 2022
– 154th booster landing
– 79th consecutive landing (a record)
– 55th launch for SpaceX in 2022 (a record)
– 58th SpaceX launch from LC-39A
– 169th orbital launch attempt of 2022

Where to watch

Official livestream

What’s All This Mean?

SpaceX is set to launch 40 OneWeb internet communication satellites atop its Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, the OneWeb 15 mission will place satellites into a polar orbit, which will raise to a 1,200 km polar orbit. OneWeb 15 will boost the number of satellites launched to 494.

What Is OneWeb?

OneWeb is a planned satellite internet constellation with the goal of providing internet coverage to the entire globe. Similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, the OneWeb constellation aims to deliver semi-low-latency internet to locations where ground-based internet is unreliable or unavailable.

OneWeb plans to have 648 satellites in its constellation, providing them with the 600 satellites needed for global coverage and an additional 48 on-orbit spares in case a satellite fails. These satellites are in a 1,200 km low-Earth polar orbit, which is significantly lower than the global internet services available today. The current satellite internet solutions orbit 35,786 km above the Earth, in geostationary orbit. However, the orbit of OneWeb’s satellites is still significantly higher than the ~550 km orbit that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites use. OneWeb is expecting the final 648 satellite constellation to provide download speeds of roughly 50 Mb/s.

Final orbits of the 648 satellite constellation (Credit: Airbus)

The constellation consists of 18 orbital planes, with 36 satellites in each plane. However, in May 2020, OneWeb submitted an application to the FCC, requesting to increase its constellation size to 48,000 satellites. OneWeb has also announced that the second generation of the OneWeb network will be a global navigation satellite system (GNSS), like GPS.

What Is A OneWeb Satellite?

Each OneWeb satellite has a compact design and a mass of 147.5 kg. The satellites are each equipped with a Ku-band antenna, operating between 12 and 18 GHz. One interesting note is that these satellites will use a slightly abnormal frequency, eliminating interference with satellites in geostationary orbit.

The OneWeb satellites were built by OneWeb Satellites, which is a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus.

The satellites are designed to deorbit after 25 years safely. However, this leaves many concerned as this orbital region is already the most crowded with space debris.

Artist depiction of a OneWeb satellite (Credit: TechCrunch)

OneWeb’s Return

In March 2020, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laid off most of its employees. However, OneWeb was able to maintain operations for the 74 satellites they currently had in orbit. In November 2020, the UK government and Bharti Enterprises invested over a billion US dollars into OneWeb with the goal of finishing the constellation.

As if these issues weren’t enough, in wake of new European sanctions at the start of the year OneWeb was unable to launch their satellites on the Soyuz vehicle–the rocket that launched the first 13 OneWeb missions. In lieu of this, on April 20, 2022, OneWeb announced launches atop the GSLV Mk III.

What Is Falcon 9 Block 5?

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. The vehicle consists of a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and, when in payload configuration, a pair of reusable fairing halves.

First Stage

The Falcon 9 first stage contains 9 Merlin 1D+ sea-level engines. Each engine uses an open gas generator cycle and runs on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Due to the powerful nature of the engine, and the large amount of them, the Falcon 9 first stage is able to lose an engine right off the pad, or up to two later in flight, and be able to successfully place the payload into orbit.

The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantaneously burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon 9 first stage is able to propulsively land, three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9) contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.

Second Stage

The Falcon 9 second stage is the only expendable part of the Falcon 9. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing the Falcon 9 to put payloads in several different orbits.

For missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns, the second stage is able to be equipped with a mission extension package. When the second stage has this package it has a grey strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB.

Falcon 9 Block 5 launching on the Starlink V1.0 L27 mission (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Booster

The booster supporting the OneWeb 15 mission was B1069, which has supported three previous flights. Hence, its designation for this mission was B1069-4.

B1069’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turnaround Time (Days)CRS-24December 21, 2021 10:07N/AStarlink Group 4-23August 27, 2022 03:41249.73Hotbird 13FOctober 15, 2022 05:2248.07OneWeb 15December 5, 2022 22:3751.72

Falcon 9 landing on Of Course I Still Love You after launching Bob and Doug (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Fairings

The Falcon 9’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.

Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On OneWeb 15, SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing halves from the water with their recovery vessel Bob.

In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon 9 fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.

An active Falcon 9 fairing half (Credit: Greg Scott)

Falcon 9 passive fairing half (Credit: Greg Scott)

Half of the fairing being taken off Go. Navigator. (Credit: Lupi)

A passive fairing half being unloaded from Shelia Bordelon after the Starlink V1.0 L22 mission (Credit: Kyle M)

OneWeb 15 Countdown

All times are approximate

HR/MIN/SECEVENT00:38:00SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load00:35:00RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway00:35:001st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway00:16:002nd stage LOX loading underway00:07:00Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch00:01:00Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks00:01:00Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins00:00:45SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch00:00:03Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start00:00:00Falcon 9 liftoff

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RS-25 engine performance “perfect” on Artemis I debut launch

The four RS-25 engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully propelled the Core Stage, Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System, and Orion/Service Module stack into its initial Earth orbit during the system’s debut launch on Nov. 16, 2022.

The engines fired for a full duration of nearly eight and a half minutes, inserting the SLS stack into a 30 x 1,800 km initial Earth orbit trajectory before their destructive plunge with the Core Stage back into the atmosphere near the Hawaiian islands.

The reentry ended the careers for RS-25 engines 2045, 2060, 2056, and 2058, all four of which were responsible for launching 118 individual people into low Earth orbit during their use with the Shuttle fleet.

During their final use with Artemis I, the engines saw the performance they returned during the Shuttle era: “perfect.”

The four RS-25 engines that powered Artemis I into its initial Earth orbit. (Credit: NASA/Aerojet Rocketdyne)

“As our chief engineer likes to say, the performance was perfect. And that’s not too far from the facts,” said Doug Bradley, RS-25 Deputy Program Director, Aerojet Rocketdyne, in an interview with NASASpaceflight.

See Also

Artemis 1 UpdatesSLS L2 SectionNSF StoreClick here to Join L2

Aerojet Rocketdyne completed an initial quick-look data review of the four RS-25 engines on Artemis I within an hour of the launch via telemetry sent back to the ground during flight.

A more in-depth review followed a week later, with a joint Aerojet Rocketdyne/NASA review coming on Monday, Nov. 28.

The joint review was a moment for both teams to come together and review their independent analyses of the four RS-25 engines’ performances.

“We like to do them independently to start with to see if we’re coming up with the same answers,” noted Bradley.

Those reviews all point to excellent and within family performance of all four engines.

To this, Bradley said, “Before the flight, we’ll predict where they should run within a couple of sigmas statistical accuracy. And boy they were just going right between those lines, all of the different parameters. So it was very satisfying and a relief when you see the engines working the way they should.”

Part of the pre-flight performance predictions for the engines stemmed not only from their Green Run test firings at the Stennis Space Center in 2021 but also from their individual flight histories with the Shuttle Orbiters, with engine 2045 having flown 12 times while the least flown engine, 2060, had flown three times.

But these particular post-flight data reviews for Artemis I are different than the ones conducted for the RS-25 series of engines, which were formally known as the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), during the Shuttle Program.

Previously, the engines were recovered after each flight and disassembled and inspected to confirm data readings telemetered to the ground during the flight.

(Photo acronyms: HPOTP: High-Pressure Oxidizer Turbopump; LPFTP: Low-Pressure Fuel Turbopump; LPOTP: Low-Pressure Oxidizer Turbopump; HPFTP: High-Pressure Fuel Turbopump; MCC: Main Combustion Chamber. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

So how does Aerojet Rocketdyne ensure the same degree of reliability and safety now that the engines are expended?

“Most rocket engines don’t come back,” said Bradley. “And we have to deal in that world for some of our engines. But [RS-25s] engines are so well known we can really derive a lot since in the Shuttle Program we flew them for 30 years.

“We would look at data, you [brought] the engines back and [saw] what the hardware [looked] like. And you [did] that over and over and over again.”

“And so now it’s not so important to have the hardware back again because we can look at the data and we know how that hardware is performing and what it looks like. What we have learned is really benefiting us now for this program.”

On their final mission, four RS-25 Shuttle-veteran engines carry the SLS toward orbit (left) as the mission’s destination hangs overhead. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

Part of this, too, stemmed from the design and use of a new engine controller, replacing the old 90s and early 2000s technology that closed out the Shuttle era.

The new controllers check and monitor the health of the engines 50 times per second and are the main tool Aerojet Rocketdyne relies on to report back on the health of the engines during flight.

“We want to hold on to reliability for the safety of the astronauts and also for the success of the mission,” stated Bradley. “So we didn’t change our philosophy about reliability and how we analyze the engine. We did get a really good picture of how the engines [ran]. We’ve got over 100 measurements, and we’ve got about 60 measurements that we really focus in on.”

“We did get a really good picture of how the engines [ran]. We’ve got over 100 measurements, and we’ve got about 60 measurements that we really focus in on.”

Those measurements include information on pressures and temperatures, flows and speeds, and vibrations throughout the engine.

“It’s a complete survey of the engine,” said Bradley. “So we’ve really got a lot of instruments covering this engine to make sure we know exactly how it’s running. So we’re comfortable, even though we don’t get the engines back, we’re very comfortable with its operation.”

The RS-25s were not the only propulsion element Aerojet Rocketdyne contributed to the SLS, with the RL10B-2 engine on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage performing near flawlessly with its various burn executions.

RS-25 upgrades for SLS and the Artemis Program. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Additionally, the Launch Abort System (LAS) jettison motors are also provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne. These are the motors that pull the LAS away from Orion during a nominal launch.

The actual abort motors which would pull Orion and its crew away from the SLS in the event of an emergency during launch are provided by Northrop Grumman.

For the LAS jettison motors on Artemis I, Bradley noted that they “ran beautifully as well.”

As post-flight data reviews continue on the first set of SLS RS-25 engines, preparations to install the four RS-25s onto the Core Stage that will power the Artemis II mission and carry the first Artemis program crew to the Moon continues at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

The four RS-25s continue pushing SLS toward orbital velocity after Solid Rocket Booster separation on the Artemis I mission. (Credit: Michael Baylor for NSF)

Current timelines from Boeing, the prime contractor for the Core Stage of SLS, indicate engine installation later this month.

Beyond Artemis II, Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to prepare the final eight Shuttle-era RS-25 engines for their use on the Artemis III and IV missions before the new-build RS-25s debut on Artemis V.

This all takes place while Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to develop an even-more-powerful variant of the engine which will operate at a nominal thrust setting of 111% compared to the current SLS RS-25s that operate at 109% rated performance.

The rated performance level is calculated against the original 100% rated power level of the first RS-25 series of engines which flew with the first handful of Shuttle fights in the early 1980s.

(Lead image: The four Core Stage RS-25 engines ignite on LC-39B on Nov. 16, 2022, ahead of Artemis I’s launch. Credit: Nathan Barker/NSF)

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Webb tracks clouds on Saturn’s moon Titan

Image:

These are images of Saturn’s moon Titan, captured by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument on 4 November 2022. The image on the left uses a filter sensitive to Titan’s lower atmosphere. The bright spots are prominent clouds in the northern hemisphere. The image on the right is a color composite image. Click here for an annotated version of this image.

Titan is the only moon in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere, and it is also the only planetary body other than Earth that currently has rivers, lakes, and seas. Unlike Earth, however, the liquid on Titan’s surface is composed of hydrocarbons including methane and ethane, not water. Its atmosphere is filled with thick haze that obscures visible light reflecting off the surface.

Scientists have waited for years to use Webb’s infrared vision to study Titan’s atmosphere, including its fascinating weather patterns and gaseous composition, and also see through the haze to study albedo features (bright and dark patches) on the surface. Further Titan data are expected from NIRCam and NIRSpec as well as the first data from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) in May or June of 2023. The MIRI data will reveal an even greater part of Titan’s spectrum, including some wavelengths that have never before been seen. This will give scientists information about the complex gases in Titan’s atmosphere, as well as crucial clues to deciphering why Titan is the only moon in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere.

[Image Description: Side-by-side images of Saturn’s moon Titan, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera on 4 November 2022, with clouds and other features visible. Left image is various shades of red. Right image is shades of white, blue, and brown.]

Note: This post highlights data from Webb science in progress, which has not yet been through the peer-review process.

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NASA Awards Environmental Compliance, Restoration Services Contract

NASA has awarded the Architect-Engineer Services Contract for Environmental Compliance and Restoration Services to Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. of Dallas, to provide environmental compliance, monitoring, and remediation services at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) located in Ventura County, California.

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