Defence News

NASA uses new Senator armored vehicles to support historic mission to ISS – Defence Blog

On Wednesday (May 27), astronauts will take off from American soil for the first time since 2011, riding aboard a SpaceX capsule in a historic test flight to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts haven’t launched from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, relying instead on Russian rockets as commercial companies like SpaceX and Boeing developed their vehicles.

NASA during SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission will use recently-ordered Senator light armored vehicles to defend Astronauts Bob Behnken and Colonel Doug Hurley on a short ride from the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center, where they will suit-up, and to the launchpad.

The Senator is a unique vehicle in terms of technical characteristics, design and assembly. It is developed by the Roshel Defence Solutions that specializes in the design, developing and manufacturing of an extensive range of armored personnel carriers.

A Roshel Senator is its flagship model specifically designed for military, law enforcement, peacekeeping and civilian applications.

The company said the body of the vehicle has been specifically designed to incorporate advanced heat and noise insulation materials providing an uncompromised level of comfort to its occupants. The vehicle is fully air-conditioned for comfort use in harsh environments.

The Senator’s perimeter armouring of the passenger compartment and engine bay is designed to provide protection up to CEN B7 ballistic protection level. The floor is fitted with blast protection to defend occupants in case of a simultaneous explosion of 2 DM-51 German ordnance hand grenades or equivalent light anti-personnel mines.

In addition to standard security features such as perimeter gunports, escape hatches, advanced locks, external view cameras, crowd-control systems, siren/PA system, emergency lighting, Roshel equips its vehicles with advanced defense solutions to enhance vehicle’s ability to accomplish its mission in a secure and efficient way. Among available security solutions are remote weapon systems, turrets, escape hatches, video surveillance equipment, night vision systems, fire source detection systems, chemical protection units and other.

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NASA Space Flight News

NASA outlines the near and far future of the Space Station

NASA has laid out plans for their future utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) over the next decade, including upgrades scheduled to be conducted on the outpost in the near term, its future use as an analog for human exploration missions beyond Earth Orbit, and the commercial expansion to the orbital outpost.

During the NASA Advisory Council meeting, Kirk Shireman, NASA’s head of the ISS program, delivered a presentation on the near and long-term future for the orbital outpost.

In the near term, the Station should see the end of the drawn out battery replacement process. For over three years, the batteries located on the Station’s Integrated Truss Structure (ITS) have been systematically replaced and upgraded, which has seen the old Nickel-Hydrogen (NiH2) batteries on the S4, P4 and P6 truss segments of the outpost replaced with newer Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries. 

The first spacewalk to conduct these replacements, US EVA-38, was done by NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson on 6 January 2017. Since then, ISS crews have worked tirelessly to continue these replacements, notably the Expedition 61 crew, who performed five spacewalks in support of this task.

The final set of NiH2 batteries, located on the S6 truss segment, will be replaced over a series of four spacewalks carried out by Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy and SpaceX Demo-2 Joint Operations Commander Robert Behnken no earlier than June of this year. The extension of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission was, in part, to allow the crew to take part in these spacewalks. 

Also, Cassidy and Behnken will be focused on installing new equipment onto the European Space Agency’s Columbus module.

Bartolomeo being removed from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft it arrived aboard the ISS on. (Credit: NASA)

The duo will prepare Columbus for the installation of Bartolomeo, a European exposed experiment platform built by Airbus which is planned to act as a platform for hosting experiments and other pieces of equipment operated by all kinds of institutions and private organizations.

The fifth spacewalk will also install the Columbus Ka-Band (COL-Ka) Terminal onto the module. COL-Ka, developed by MDA Space and robotics alongside ESA and its partners, will upgrade the communication systems on Columbus to a Ka-Band frequency (between 26.5 and 40 GHz) and allow communication with European Data Relay System (EDRS) satellites in geostationary orbit.

This will allow for much faster communications with the European laboratory and ground stations located on Earth.

While all five spacewalks will be performed by Cassidy and Behnken, Demo-2 spacecraft commander Douglas Hurley will act as IV for all of the excursions, supporting the spacewalks from inside the station and controlling the robotic systems.

During the presentation to the NASA Advisory Council, Shireman also pointed out another spacewalk scheduled for September, although without an exact mission duration for Demo-2 (potentially up to 119 days), it is unknown if Behnken and Hurley will still be on the Station to support the spacewalk.

Looking to the future, the overview to the advisory council promoted the Station’s role in NASA’s long-term future in deep space.

COL-Ka during testing at ESTEC in The Netherlands. (Credit: ESA)

Although most of the focus in NASA’s exploration plan is on the American return to the lunar surface with the Artemis Program, the administration has already set its sights set on a future goal, that being Mars.

NASA and its Human Research Program (HRP) are planning for a series of extended flights to the ISS that will simulate the transit time to Mars. 

The agency plans to fly ten ‘year-long’ flights to the Station starting in 2021. These missions will help researchers gain a better understanding of how a prospective flight to Mars would effect the human body and what can be done to mitigate the negative effects. 

So far, little information has been provided on these upcoming flights, including crew assignments, launch dates, and what spacecraft will be utilized. But NASA did confirm early overall flight plans and that coordination is ongoing with Roscosmos, who have so far declined to fly any more missions extended beyond the usual six months.

The only dedicated year-long flight to the ISS was the 340 day flight performed by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who remained on the Station from March 2015 to March 2016. Christina Koch’s recent 328 day flight was the result of a last minute extension and was not planned to last a year originally. 

“So far we have an N of 1,” said Shireman, referring to only a single official one year mission having been carried out. “We really need to be having an N of 10 or 12” to get to data on how a year plus in space affects humans, he added.

Also part of the Mars analog program, the agency is preparing to add communication delay and on-orbit medical exercises to the crew’s activities in the years to come. 

Kelly (Left) and Kornienko (Right) on the ISS, 300 days into their 340 day flight. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has had the capability to carry out comm delay activities (where the communications between the ISS crew and ground control would be manually delayed several minutes each way to simulate the time delay that would occur on deep space missions.) since Fall 2019 and could begin as earlier as late 2020.

A decision whether to begin this year is expected in the September-October timeframe. 

If NASA decides to implement this, communication delay periods will last from one day to two weeks.

Another important aspect of a deep space travel analog will be on-orbit medical exercises. With a deep-space mission, astronauts would not be able to simply return to Earth as soon as a serious medical issue is detected, as has been done in the past, notably with the Soviet Soyuz T-14 mission to the Salyut 7 space station which returned to Earth 64 days into a six month mission after the commander fell seriously ill.

The problem here is that NASA and its partners don’t know how to deal with too many serious medical issues on-orbit, as demonstrated earlier this year when the University of North Carolina published an article surrounding an event in 2018 when an astronaut two months into a six month mission to the ISS discovered a Deep Vein Thrombosis (a blood clot) in one of their Jugular veins in their neck. 

Luckily, NASA and its medical partners were able to tele-medically treat the astronaut’s blood clot and no early return was necessary, although it was considered. The anomaly in 2018 highlighted the issue of a similar event occurring on a future deep space mission where astronauts will be essentially on their own with no possible quick return to Earth and a communications delay factoring in.

NASA plans to carry out a series of medical exercises with future Station crews and ground control teams to build experience and learn more about these kinds of practices. The agency plans to ramp up these activities fast, with four, one to two day long full-fledged on orbit medical situation simulations starting in 2021. 

Rendering of what the “Axiom Segment” might look like. (Credit: Axiom Space)

Finally, the commercial expansion of the US Segment of the ISS was also mentioned. On 27 January 2020, NASA announced they had given the Houston-based Axiom Space, Inc. permission to use the forward docking port of the US Segment’s Node 2 “Harmony” module on the Station.

Axiom plans to use the docking port as the starting point for an Axiom Segment of the ISS starting no earlier than 2024 when they will launch their first module, Axiom Habitation Module 1 (AxH1).

The Axiom Segment will allow the company to support a wide range of commercial ventures, including space tourism, technology demonstrations, and on-orbit manufacturing. Axiom has already signed a deal with SpaceX for at least one commercial Crew Dragon flight, which will ferry one astronaut and three commercial spaceflight participants to the ISS for an eight to ten day flight sometime in 2021.

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NASA Reveals Principles for ‘Safe and Peaceful’ Moon Exploration


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Sputnik International

Together with the European Space Agency and other partners, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis program. Although the US space agency plays a leading role in the program, it expects its partners to develop it further, including by establishing a permanent presence on the Earth’s satellite.

NASA has revealed its principles for Moon exploration. The space agency said all countries and private sector players that will join NASA’s Artemis program will do so by observing the principles laid out by the agency. “It’s critical to establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space”, NASA said in a statement.

The Artemis Accords consists of 10 principles. Here are the most important ones:

  • Peaceful Purposes – is one of the most important requirements. The agency said cooperation between countries is intended not only to bolster space exploration but also to enhance peaceful relations between states.
  • Transparency – is another key aspect of the program, requiring all partners to present their plans and policies in a transparent manner.
  • Interoperability – this principle calls on all players to utilize open international standards to ensure safe and robust exploration.
  • Emergency Assistance – under the agreement, NASA and its partners commit to do everything possible to help astronauts in distress.
  • Protection of sites and artefacts that have historic value.
  • Space Resources – extraction and utilization of resources will be conducted under the auspices of the Outer Space Treaty, which was signed and ratified by 109 countries. One of the provisions states that outer space is “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.
  • Release of Scientific Data – all parties will be required to publicly release material so that the whole world can benefit from the Artemis program.

The introduction of the principles comes as the US space agency works on returning astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the 1972 landing. NASA also plans to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface and is especially interested in the Moon’s south pole, where there is water in the form of ice. NASA’s head Jim Bridenstine voiced hope that Russia, the agency’s historical ally, would become a signatory to the Artemis Accords. “We think it would be good for all the world to agree to the right approach to peacefully explore space”, he said.

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News Sputnik

FBI Arrests NASA Researcher Who Failed to Disclose Ties to China


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The FBI has arrested a researcher for NASA who reportedly did not disclose his connections to the Chinese government and other Chinese entities.

According to the US Justice Department (DoJ), Simon Saw-Teong Ang, a 63-year-old Arkansas professor, was arrested Friday and charged with wire fraud.

​“In the one-count complaint, Ang was charged with one count of Wire Fraud. The complaint charges that Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties when required to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA” the DoJ wrote in a May 11 news release. 

“These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud.”

The DoJ claims that the electrical engineering professor, who has worked at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville since 1988, committed fraud against the university and NASA “by failing to disclose that he held other positions at a Chinese university and Chinese companies.” 

The affidavit filed in US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas specifically states that “Ang’s close ties to the Chinese government and employment with numerous Chinese companies would have made him ineligible to receive grants issued by United States government agencies.” If convicted, Ang could spend up to 20 years in prison.

Court documents obtained by CNN reveal that Ang’s ties became known after a University of Arkansas-Fayetteville employee tried to find the owner of a hard drive that was in the lost-and-found at a campus library. The employee came across a September 2018 email exchange between Ang and a researcher from Xidian University in Xi’an, China in which Ang stated that the political climate was making his situation at the university challenging.

“You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars,” Ang wrote, the complaint obtained by CNN says. “Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles (sic).”

The FBI explains on its website that individuals involved in China’s Thousand Talents programs are Chinese people who work and study outside of China in “high-priority research programs.”

“While mere participation in a talent plan is not illegal, investigations by the FBI and our partner agencies have revealed that participants are often incentivized to transfer to China the research they conduct in the United States, as well as other proprietary information to which they can gain access, and remain a significant threat to the United States. In some cases, this has resulted in violations of US laws, including economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and grant fraud,” the FBI explains in a November 2019 release.

The criminal complaint alleges that while Ang did reveal his participation in a Thousand Talents scholar program to the University of Arkansas in 2014, he did not divulge other ties to Chinese government programs between 2012 and 2018.

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News RT

NASA quietly buys additional Soyuz seat as SpaceX prepares for historic manned space flight — RT World News

NASA has inked a deal with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to allow a US astronaut to travel into space aboard a Soyuz rocket in the fall, even as SpaceX gears up for its first manned launch later this month.

“A contract was signed today on providing a seat for a US astronaut onboard a Soyuz MS manned spaceship to be launched to the ISS in the autumn of 2020,” Roscosmos told Tass on Tuesday.

Though the agency refused to disclose the sum Washington paid for the seat, calling it “a commercial secret,” NASA spokespeople told reporters the deal was valued at $90.25 million, which includes the cost of the flight, as well as training and pre-launch and post-landing services.

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Pence vows to return Americans to space ‘before summer’ as Boeing & SpaceX scramble to deliver… and NASA seeks backup Soyuz seats

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this month that the two countries were close to an agreement for the seat, saying it was to be signed “within days” and stressing that American astronauts should always have access to the International Space Station (ISS), where the Soyuz will head in autumn.

SpaceX – the private spacecraft firm founded by Elon Musk – meanwhile, is preparing for a historic manned mission to the ISS on May 27, which will see NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ride the company’s Falcon 9 rocket into orbit, and then link up with the ISS aboard its Crew Dragon capsule. Depending on how well the gear performs, the duo will remain in space between one and four months, and will be replaced by a crew of four.

After suffering a series of delays, the upcoming launch will mark the first manned US space mission initiated from American soil since 2011, when NASA scrapped its shuttle program, forcing its astronauts to hitch rides aboard Russian craft to the tune of millions of dollars per seat.

At a recent briefing, NASA’s program manager for the ISS, Kirk Shireman, said that the decision to purchase additional Soyuz seats will depend on whether SpaceX can offer “repeatable” missions on the Crew Dragon, not merely one successful manned flight, adding “We’ll watch how things progress” before looking to buy another slot on a Russian rocket.

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Roscosmos vs Musk: Russian Space Agency chief & SpaceX CEO cross virtual swords on Twitter

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NASA Space Flight News

NASA Selects Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX Human Landers for Artemis

NASA has selected three companies to develop Human Landing Systems (HLS) to support future crewed moon landings. Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX will develop their designs over a ten month period, before a down-selection to one or two vehicles that will fly uncrewed demonstration missions. The Artemis III mission will then utilize one of these vehicles to land humans on the moon, as soon as 2024.

The three awarded designs are drastically different from each other, utilizing different numbers of stages and offering different balances between performance and schedule risk. Blue Origin was awarded $579 million for its design, which was associated with the least schedule risk of the three offerings. Dynetics was awarded $253 million, and SpaceX was awarded $135 million, noting that significant schedule risk was associated with the Starship system. The Starship and Dynetics designs, however, more closely resembled the sustainable, reusable capabilities NASA wishes to utilize in the long term.

Additional submissions by Boeing and Vivace Corp. were removed from consideration early in the source selection process.

Blue Origin’s National Team

Blue Origin’s proposal leverages experience from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to produce a three stage lander. Each stage, or element, is launched separately aboard the New Glenn and Vulcan launch vehicles. The “National Team” has strong ties to both launch vehicles; New Glenn is operated by Blue Origin, and Vulcan utilizes Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine and Northrop Grumman’s GEM-63XL solid rocket boosters. Lockheed Martin is also a parent company of Vulcan’s operator, United Launch Alliance.

The Blue Origin vehicle can also be launched fully integrated aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), but there are currently no plans to make an SLS rocket available to launch HLS elements.

The lander is capable of docking either to the Lunar Gateway station or directly to the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday that it is “unlikely” NASA will utilize the Gateway for initial landings.

Once the Artemis III crew transfers to the lander, the Cygnus-based Northrop Grumman Transfer Element delivers the lander to Low Lunar Orbit. From there, the Blue Origin-developed Descent Element completes the final descent to the lunar surface.

The Descent Element is powered by two Blue Origin BE-7 engines and is an adaptation of their Blue Moon lander design. Once the surface mission is complete, the Lockheed Martin Ascent Element, based on Orion spacecraft hardware, returns to either the Lunar Gateway or Orion for the crew’s return to Earth. The Ascent Element can be refueled to perform multiple ascents from the lunar surface, utilizing new transfer and descent elements.

The HLS source selection statement released by NASA outlines the methodology behind the selections of all three awardees. In selecting the Blue Origin vehicle, NASA cited a “highly effective, human-centric approach for its rendezvous, proximity operations, docking and undocking system,” resulting in reduced crew workload and improved safety. The spaceflight experience of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman was also identified as a strength of the Blue Origin proposal.

Blue Origin’s proposal also meets or exceeds every single performance requirement set by NASA, including the long term goal values for future evolved, sustainable operations. Other strengths outlined in the Blue Origin proposal were a “comprehensive, detailed plan for training and certification of launch and mission operations personnel” and they plan to demonstrate the Descent Element in 2023. The uncrewed demonstration mission would land at the same landing site as selected for the 2024 crewed landing.

The only technical weakness identified by NASA is the power and propulsion system, which “has numerous attributes that introduce appreciable risk into its proposal.” However, the concern with the system was not attributed to a flawed design, but rather the reliance on an aggressive development timeline. The report concludes that this weakness does not outweigh the many strengths of the Blue Origin design.

Dynetics Human Landing System

The Dynetics HLS is a two stage design that utilizes horizontal drop tanks during descent. Dynetics plans to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, although the design is capable of launching on multiple launch vehicles.

Render of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the lunar surface – via Dynetics

Like the Blue Origin proposal, the Dynetics HLS is capable of docking either to the Lunar Gateway or to Orion. The capability to abort a landing at any time during descent and the low-sitting crew cabin were highlighted as positive capabilities of the Dynetics vehicle. Dynetics also plans to conduct an uncrewed demonstration landing prior to any crewed missions.

Also, like the Blue Origin proposal, Dynetics meets or exceeds all performance requirements and goal values. But Dynetics also had a similar weakness with their power and propulsion system, demanding an “unprecedented” pace of development. The report does state, though, that Dynetics’ system is “exactly the kind of innovative solution that NASA sought through the HLS solicitation,” counterbalancing the risk associated with the system.

The Dynetics HLS is easily adapted into a large cargo delivery system, and meets or exceeds all sustainability requirements for the HLS program, and the primary element of the lander is reusable. Of the three HLS proposals selected, Dynetics earned the highest technical and management ratings.

Dynetics is partnering with several other companies to complete HLS development. Notably, the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) will lead development of the crew module. SNC is leveraging lessons learned from the Commercial Resupply Services program, where they are planning to debut the Dream Chaser spacecraft next year, and their experience developing a prototype for the Lunar Gateway habitat module.

SpaceX Starship

The third vehicle selected by NASA is SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. Starship is the only HLS selected that is fully reusable, and the only single stage design. While the Starship vehicle is not a new proposal, there appear to be new changes and details for the variant of Starship which would serve the HLS role.

A flight profile to the lunar surface would see a fuel tanker variant of Starship launched to Low Earth Orbit first, utilizing the Super Heavy booster. The crew-rated Starship would launch second, rendezvous with the tanker in order to refuel, and then perform a trans-lunar injection to lunar orbit. Like the other HLS proposals, Starship is capable of docking either to Orion or the Lunar Gateway.

While the Starship’s primary propulsion is still the Raptor engine, it would likely use a different engine to perform the final descent to the lunar surface, according to renders SpaceX shared on social media. These thrusters appear higher up on the vehicle and are likely to mitigate the potential hazards with powerful engine plumes near the lunar surface.

Render of the Starship HLS during final descent to the lunar surface – via SpaceX

The renders also show a lack of aerodynamic control surfaces, meaning that the Starship would never return to land on Earth. Instead, the spacecraft would travel to and from the lunar surface many times. The vehicle offers a payload capability of up to 100 tons to the lunar surface.

Starship meets or exceeds all performance requirements, and features a significant strength in extravehicular activity (EVA) support capabilities. According to NASA’s source selection statement, Starship thoroughly addressed these requirements with an effective dust mitigation strategy and two fully redundant airlocks.

Other strengths of the Starship proposal include the immediate capability to support sustainable operations through full reusability and plans to conduct numerous ground and flight demonstrations. The Starhopper and Starship flight test campaign is already underway at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and the Raptor engine has been tested extensively on test stands in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX plans to conduct a Low Earth Orbit demonstration of Starship and the Super Heavy booster, a reflight of a Starship vehicle, a long duration orbital Starship mission, and a flight beyond Low Earth Orbit, all prior to an uncrewed lunar landing demonstration mission in 2022. Through these flights, in-space propellant transfer between Starship vehicles would also be demonstrated.

NASA did highlight two weaknesses with SpaceX’s proposal. Starship’s propulsion systems were described as “notably complex,” and the report referred to prior delays under the Commercial Crew program and Falcon Heavy launch vehicle development as evidence for potential threats to their development schedule. However, the report also commends the rigorous testing and demonstration plans as a potential mitigation to these concerns.

NASA will monitor and review the development process of all three vehicles leading up to a down-selection in February 2021. Following the down-selection and the completion of uncrewed demonstration missions, one HLS will be chosen to land crew on the moon. This landing, no earlier than 2024, would be the Artemis III mission, following the Artemis I mission to lunar orbit with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in 2021 and a crewed free return Artemis II mission in 2022.

The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I is undergoing launch preparations at the Kennedy Space Center, and the core stage of the SLS rocket is at the Stennis Space Center awaiting the crucial Green Run test.

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News Sputnik

NASA, US Space Force Roll Out Ten-Year Plan to Address Near Earth Asteroid Flybys


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Sputnik International

The plan comes as the scientific community expects the Apophis asteroid to come close enough to Earth in 2029 for astronomers to study its size, shape, composition and possibly its interior, as close flybys of objects this large are exceedingly rare.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is looking into plans to deal with asteroids that pass as close as 20,000 miles to Earth, agency administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

“Apophis is going to come close to the Earth in 2029. It will be below some of our satellites in geosycnronous orbit (22,000 miles)”, Bridenstine said during an online press conference on Tuesday.

According to him, the threat of Apophis or any other asteroid to come as close to Earth that a collision could be possible has been studied by NASA in cooperation with the US Space Force.

“We have a space force that is willing to work with us now […] We have to make sure we are prepared for an asteroid impact which could be devastating. We have to work on how are we going to deal with an asteroid that would impact with the Earth,” Bridenstine said.

US Space Force Commander Gen. Jay Raymond has expressed his enthusiasm to work with NASA to “keep the space domain safe for all”. 

​The goal of a Space Force/NASA partnership is stated to “develop cislunar situational awareness” with the help of the military branch to “monitor further out in space”. Scientific data, including observations of Apophis, representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), “could one day be used for planetary defence”, according to Center for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS) astronomer Davide Farnocchia.

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NASA Space Flight News

NASA, SpaceX enters the critical month of May on track to end the gap

With the news SpaceX completed the 27th and the final test of the upgraded Mark-3 parachutes for the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the day of a series of flagship news conferences, there is growing excitement ahead of the return to US domestic crew launch capability as soon as the end of this month.  SpaceX’s Demonstration Mission-2 (DM-2) mission duration also received an update, with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noting it will be extended from its shorter planned stay.

“We have extended planned length of Demo-2 from standard test flight to ensure Behnken & Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members,” he noted.

Bridenstine also repeated his message that NASA does not want tourists and other space fans to travel to the Kennedy Space Center for the DM-2 launch due to COVID-19 concerns. Instead, he hopes the public would follow the mission at home on NASA TV.

The recent MK3 parachute test. Photo Credit: SpaceX.

The crew will consist of Doug Hurley as “Spacecraft Commander” and Bob Behnken as “Joint Operations Commander”.

Hurley previously flew on STS-127 and the final Shuttle mission, STS-135 in 2011. Behnken previously flew on STS-123 and STS-130. Behnken also was assigned to STS-400 which was a contingency rescue mission that was never needed.

“Just yesterday (April 30), we had an all-day meeting doing our staged Operational Readiness Review for the SpaceX Demo-2 launch,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA Program Manager, International Space Station.

“I am very pleased to announce that we passed that review successfully and moving on to our subsequent milestones culminating in a Flight Readiness Review and Launch Readiness Reviews in the very near future.”

It was revealed during the press conference that one issue from the Mission Elapsed Time (MET) anomaly – which occurred on the maiden flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, Orbital Flight Test-1 – did impact on the preparations for the Crew Dragon’s flight.

SpaceX was directed by NASA to make sure that Crew Dragon could lock on to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) network after launch, as already proven during the previous DM-1 mission in 2019.

“I want to make it clear that this is one of many exciting and hard days we have in front of us. Gwynne’s team and my team are intelligently working on getting the vehicles ready,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA Program Manager, Commercial Crew Program – pointing to numerous milestones yet to be passed in the run-up to launch.

This includes May 4, when the crew will participate in a Crew Dry Dress Rehearsal for the launch, similar to the one prior to the In-Flight Abort test in January.

Hurley and Behnken stand next to one of the two Tesla Model Xs. Photo Credit: NASA.

The crew will enter quarantine starting May 16 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. After a period of time, Hurley and Behnken will fly east to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where they will enter their stay in the Crew Quarters.

Crew Quarters is where NASA mission crews stay prior to launch. The complex has been renovated from its configuration from the Shuttle Program.

The launch of Demo-2 is currently scheduled for May 27.

“We have worked with NASA since 2006, and all that work is culminating in this historic event that we have up and coming in the next few weeks. My heart is up to here (throat) and I think it is going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station,” added SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell.

Hurley and Behnken will enter the suit-up room and will don their SpaceX launch and entry suits at about four hours prior to launch. Around three hours before launch, the crew will depart the Crew Quarters inside one of the two white Tesla Model X cars, an expected move from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The vehicles will be located in the middle of a motorcade for security reasons, like Shuttle missions in the past.

The two Teslas will then arrive at Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The crew and their support teams will then take an elevator ride up to the 255 foot level of the Fixed Service Structure (FSS).

The Gaseous Oxygen arm (GOX) used to be located at the 255 foot level. Hurley and Behnken previously entered the Space Shuttle Orbiter at the Orbiter Access Arm (OAA) on their missions on the 195 foot level on the FSS.

Both the FSS and the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) served Shuttle launches for the program until the conclusion of it in 2011.

Since then, the RSS has been demolished, a crew access arm has been installed, and the slidewire baskets have been raised to the same level that the crew access arm is located. Some other cosmetic modifications have also been made.

The astronauts will then enter the spacecraft and the hatch will be subsequently closed. At the T-38 minute mark, the crew arm will be retracted. This will be followed by the activation of the abort system.

The DM-2 mission will be using a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. Specifically, booster 1058.1 will be used and sports special livery. The side of the booster will feature the NASA worm logo along with the NASA meatball and an American flag. The other side will feature the standard SpaceX livery. The meatball and flag will also be on both sides of the second stage.

At the T-35 minute mark, the fueling will begin, a procedure that SpaceX calls “load and go.” This is different from the Space Shuttle, which was fully fueled when the crew arrived.

At 4:32 pm EST, Hurley and Behnken will launch from LC-39A on Crew Dragon C206. If there is a scrub on launch day, there is a backup launch window scheduled for May 30.

“We recently had a video put together by the team down in Florida on the SpaceX side that combined the video of the ascent of both the Demo-1 mission and the In-Flight Abort mission with the audio. That combination of video and audio let us hear all of the cues from engine start to engine shutdown to parachute deploys which was a real cool thing to be able to see,” said Astronaut Bob Behnken.

“We are expecting a smooth ride, but we are expecting a loud ride, especially at the beginning of the mission.”

The final space shuttle launch, STS-135

An advancement from the Shuttle era – which had three types of abort modes, Return To Launch Site (RTLS), Trans Atlantic Landing (TAL), and Abort to Orbit, each with their own varying levels of risk – the crew on Dragon have a “safe way out” through the ascent.

“This thing (Crew Dragon) has end to end abort capability. That perspective for me is huge compared to Shuttle where there were black zones. There were scenarios where it didn’t really matter if you had the right combination of failures, you were likely not going survive an abort,” added Hurley.

The Crew Dragon is similar to the Space Shuttle in the way that the weather in the recovery zones may cause scrubs. So, the chances of a scrub are significantly higher than a Cygnus launch from Wallops or a Cargo Dragon launch to the station.

Hurley and Behnken next to LC-39A prior to the IFA test in January. Photo Credit: NASA.

Booster 1058.1 will attempt an autonomous landing on the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” downrange of the Kennedy Space Center in the Atlantic Ocean.

If Dragon launches as planned on May 27, the spacecraft should arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) on May 28.

Like all other crewed NASA missions,  Crew Dragon flights will have a CAPCOM controller from NASA talking to the crew during the mission. But, SpaceX will also introduce the CORE position which will be a group of SpaceX people who can talk to the crew at any time.

Crew Dragon will approach the ISS from the nadir or Earth-facing side. The spacecraft will then enter the Keep Out Sphere and the Approach Ellipsoid. The spacecraft will then approach the ISS from the forward direction.

A simulation showing Crew Dragon approaching the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA TV.

Around 200 meters from the ISS, Hurley will take the controls to test the manual control capabilities of the spacecraft during approach if the automation failed. After holding in that position, the spacecraft will then autonomously take control for the rest of the docking process, which will include a final go, no-go poll 20 meters from the station.

Crew Dragon will then dock to the IDA-2 which is attached to PMA-2 on the forward port of the Harmony module. Space Shuttle Atlantis also docked to the same port on STS-135. The mission will only be the second time that an American spacecraft has autonomously docked to the ISS.

“Dragon is the most advanced spacecraft. It should be inspiring in look – just like the control system – which is a “modern feat of engineering” utilizing touchscreens,” said Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX.

Once on the ISS, both Hurley and Behnken will give Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy some more help since he currently is the sole astronaut on the American segment.

Hurley and Behnken will be able to take the American flag that Hurley left himself in 2011 on STS-135.

The DM-2 crew will stay on the ISS for a minimum of 30 days and with a maximum stay of 119 days. The spacecraft’s stay on the ISS is limited due to the degradation of the solar cells on the solar panels which are on the trunk below the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Soyuz too has a limited on orbit life which is due to the degradation of the hydrogen peroxide thrusters.

After undocking, the spacecraft will remain on orbit for two days. Then the Crew Dragon will de-orbit and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off of Florida. Reed also said that the goal for SpaceX is that the crew will be extracted from the spacecraft in under an hour.

“As far as splashing down in the water, we do expect it to be a little softer than a Soyuz landing, but definitely harder than a Space Shuttle landing,” said Behnken.

The crew and the spacecraft will then board the SpaceX recovery craft Go Searcher. Another SpaceX ship, Go Navigator will also be in the recovery zone to assist.

The Crew-1 capsule in its current state. Photo Credit: NASA.

The next SpaceX Crew Dragon launch will be USCV-1 also known as Crew-1, the mission will be the first long-duration Crew Dragon mission. The Crew-1 capsule, C207 is currently in the cleanroom at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The crew will consist of NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

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Actor Tom Cruise, Space X, and NASA discuss movie on board the space station : NPR

NASA confirmed that actor Tom Cruise and private spaceflight company Space X are considering a feature film shot on board the International Space Station. Cruise is shown above in New York City in June 2017.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

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NASA confirmed that actor Tom Cruise and private spaceflight company Space X are considering a feature film shot on board the International Space Station. Cruise is shown above in New York City in June 2017.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a long way to liftoff — there’s not even a studio attached yet — but the latest news about Tom Cruise is not just a Hollywood rumor. The film industry website Deadline reports that the Top Gun and Mission Impossible star is in preliminary talks with both NASA and with Elon Musk’s Space X to film a feature-length action-adventure in orbit.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed by tweet that “NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station! We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.”

At 57, the actor is a good deal older than the run-of-the-mill astronaut (if there is such a thing) though a number “spaceflight participants” (the official NASA and Roscosmos — the Russian space agency — designation for non-astronauts) have flown before.

Cruise is demonstrably in excellent shape, and evidently fearless when it comes to doing his own stunts. That’s fortunate, as up to this point, Space X has launched only unmanned missions of its Dragon 2 craft, which is designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Its first launch with a human crew is scheduled for later this month.

Cruise’s penchant for daredevil filming has occasionally resulted in injury. Filming was halted for a time after he hurt his ankle while shooting a rooftop-to-rooftop jump in Mission Impossible: Fallout, a film in which he also hung from a flying helicopter.

There were no mishaps in other recent Mission Impossible installments, when he did stunts while hanging the 123rd floor of the Burj Kalifa skyscraper in Dubai and while clinging to the exterior door of a cargo plane during take-off. Something literally out-of-this-world is, arguably, just the next step. If it happens.

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