Lockheed Martin-Built Orion Spacecraft is Ready for Moon Mission

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is ready for its mission to the Moon. Lockheed Martin has completed assembly and testing of the Orion Artemis I spacecraft and has transferred possession to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team today. Assembled at Kennedy Space Center, the EGS team will then perform final preparations on the spacecraft for its mission to the Moon later this year. 

Ready for the Moon
Orion is NASA’s new human-rated exploration-class spaceship that will take astronauts into deep space including the Moon and Mars. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for NASA and built the crew module, crew module adaptor and launch abort system. The European Space Agency provides the European Service Module for Orion. 

The Artemis I mission will be the first launch of the Orion spacecraft aboard NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Over the course of three weeks, the uncrewed Orion capsule will fly out and orbit the Moon and return to Earth. This test mission will validate the spacecraft, rocket and ground systems for future crewed missions. 

“Orion is a unique and impressive spacecraft and the team did an outstanding job to get us to this day,” said Mike Hawes, Orion vice president and program manager for Lockheed Martin. “The launch and flight of Artemis I will be an impressive sight, but more importantly it will confirm Orion is ready to safely carry humans to the Moon and back home. This tremendous advancement opens the door to a new era of deep space exploration that will ultimately benefit us back here on Earth.”

Orion is being transferred from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, where it was assembled, to multiple Kennedy facilities where EGS will load propellants and other consumables such as ammonia, helium and nitrogen, and integrate the launch abort system and protective ogive fairing. After this is completed, it will be taken to the Vertical Assembly Facility to be lifted onto the SLS rocket and prepared for roll to the launch pad.

Crewed Missions Underway
The launch later this year will be the beginning of many Artemis missions to the Moon. The next mission, Artemis II, will be the first with a crew onboard and will go out to orbit the Moon and return. That Orion crew module and service module adapter are well under assembly at Kennedy and will see its first power-on of its integrated computers this summer. 

Artemis III will see the first woman and the next man to walk on the Moon. Orion will carry them out to orbit the Moon where they will ultimately land on the surface using a lunar landing system. That spacecraft is already under construction as major structural elements of the crew module pressure vessel are arriving at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. 

As part of an Orion production and operations contract, NASA ordered three Orion spacecraft from Lockheed Martin for Artemis missions III-V with plans to order three additional Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions VI-VIII and options for up to 12 missions.

Arthur D. Little Partners with European Space Agency to Deliver Multiple SatCom Studies

Arthur D. Little (ADL) has been awarded multiple high impact projects by the European Space Agency (ESA) to help identify the most promising services for next generation satellite communication (SatCom) infrastructure. ADL will conduct a consultation process with members of the transport, energy, infrastructure and media industries, plus stakeholders in law enforcement and emergency services, to identify and assess potential applications and services that could be delivered via satellite in the next decade.

ADL will be responsible for four studies in total. Three of the studies are part of the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) 4.0 Strategic Program Line “Space Systems for Safety and Security” (4S), and are supported by the Italian Space Agency:

  • Safety of Future Transport
  • Safeguarding Essential Services
  • Satellite Applications for Public Safety

As part of its ‘Open Consulting’ approach, ADL will conduct these studies with input from Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale (DTA).

The fourth study is an ARTES4.0 Business Applications Feasibility Study and is supported by the Norwegian Space Agency:

  • Port of the Future

ADL says it will conduct this study in collaboration with Marlink and CLS.

With society and the economy dependent on telecommunications networks, the aim of 4S is to support the development of secure SatCom systems to both improve digital infrastructure resilience across Europe and the rest of the world, and provide innovative services and solutions. As terrestrial networks become increasingly vulnerable to disruption and attack, integrating next generation SatCom systems with the existing digital infrastructure can help make these networks more resilient and secure.

The Safety of Future Transport study will focus on how next generation SatCom solutions can increase safety and efficiency in the fast-evolving aviation, maritime and railway sectors, with potential applications relating to unmanned aircraft and ships, and automated traffic management systems. Safeguarding Essential Services will focus on how SatCom can help protect critical infrastructure such as energy utilities as well as public media. Satellite Applications for Public Safety will focus on how SatCom can supplement and support existing Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) networks used by first responders such as the police, fire brigade, health services and search and rescue.

The Port of the Future study will assess the technical feasibility and economic viability of new Earth observation and SatCom-based services for the port industry, focusing not only on operations of the port itself, but also on monitoring their environmental impact in terms of air and water quality.

“SatCom has an increasingly vital role to play in protecting our society and making its infrastructure more secure and resilient,” said Francesco Marsella, managing partner and global S&O practice leader at ADL. “As terrestrial networks become more prone to failure, whether due to natural disaster or cyberattack, SatComs can support and maintain European telecoms systems. These studies will be key to developing existing satellite systems and identifying the services of the future.”

Lars Thurmann-Moe, managing partner, ADL Norway, added: “It is not always appreciated quite how important the maritime sector remains, with the great majority of goods still transported by sea. SatCom is already central to modern maritime operations in terms of communication and navigation, but there is still so much more that can be done to improve these operations, and also reduce the industry’s environmental footprint – for instance, helping to quickly pinpoint oil spillages.”

Matteo Ainardi, head of the Aerospace & Defense Competence Center at ADL, comments: “The satellite industry is today being disrupted by the introduction of new technologies such as large scale low earth orbit (LEO) constellations, reusable launchers and phased-array antennas. It is the right time to assess the evolving demand for SatCom solutions, and develop a next generation SatCom capability that can leverage these major technological breakthroughs to the benefit of the European society and economy. ADL is highly involved in the commercial space sector – as such, we are very pleased to be working with ESA on these studies, and look forward to applying our industry expertise to help define the SatCom-based services and applications of the future.”

NASA Explores Upper Limits of Global Navigation Systems for Artemis

The Artemis generation of lunar explorers will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon, prospecting for resources, making revolutionary discoveries, and proving technologies key to future deep space exploration.

To support these ambitions, NASA navigation engineers from the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program are developing a navigation architecture that will provide accurate and robust Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for the Artemis missions. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals will be one component of that architecture. GNSS use in high-Earth orbit and in lunar space will improve timing, enable precise and responsive maneuvers, reduce costs, and even allow for autonomous, onboard orbit and trajectory determination.

Global Navigation Satellite System

GNSS refers to PNT satellite constellations operated by the U.S., the European Union, Russia, China, India, and Japan. GPS, the PNT constellation created by the U.S. Air Force, is probably the example most Americans are familiar with.

On Earth, GNSS signals enable navigation and provide precise timing in critical applications like banking, financial transactions, power grids, cellular networks, telecommunications, and more. In space, spacecraft can use these signals to determine their location, velocity, and time, which is critical to mission operations.

“We’re expanding the ways we use GNSS signals in space,” said SCaN Deputy Director for Policy and Strategic Communications J.J. Miller, who coordinates PNT activities across the agency. “This will empower NASA as the agency plans human exploration of the Moon as part of the Artemis program.”

Spacecraft near Earth have long relied on GNSS signals for PNT data. Spacecraft in low-Earth orbit below about 1,800 miles (3,000 km) in altitude can calculate their location using GNSS signals just as users on the ground might use their phones to navigate.

This provides enormous benefits to these missions, allowing many satellites the autonomy to react and respond to unforeseen events in real time, ensuring the safety of the mission. GNSS receivers can also negate the need for an expensive onboard clock and simplifies ground operations, both of which can save missions money. Additionally, GNSS accuracy can help missions take precise measurements from space.

NASA to Air Departure of Upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon from Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon that arrived to the International Space Station on the company’s 21st resupply services mission for NASA is scheduled to depart on Monday, Jan. 11, loaded with 5,200 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 9 a.m. EST.

The upgraded Dragon spacecraft will execute the first undocking of a U.S. commercial cargo craft from the International Docking Adapter at 9:25 a.m., with NASA astronaut Victor Glover monitoring aboard the station.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module, then initiate a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to make its parachute-assisted splashdown around 9 p.m. – the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean. The deorbit burn and splashdown will not air on NASA TV.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, and back into the hands of the researchers. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. For splashdowns in the Pacific Ocean, quick-return science cargo is processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

Dragon launched Dec. 6 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, arriving at the station just over 24 hours later and achieving the first autonomous docking of a U.S. commercial cargo resupply spacecraft. Previous arriving cargo Dragon spacecraft were captured and attached to the space station by astronauts operating the station’s robotic Canadarm2. The spacecraft delivered more than 6,400 pounds of hardware, research investigations and crew supplies.

The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule used for this mission contains double the powered locker availability of previous capsules, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:

Cardinal Heart
Microgravity causes changes in the workload and shape of the human heart, and it is still unknown whether these changes could become permanent if a person lived more than a year in space. Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level using 3D-engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip. Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Space Organogenesis
This investigation from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression. Cell cultures on Earth need supportive materials or forces to achieve 3D growth, but in microgravity, cell cultures can expand into three dimensions without those devices. Results from this investigation could demonstrate advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.

Sextant Navigation
The sextant used in the Sextant Navigation experiment will be returning to Earth. Sextants have a small telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. Sailors have navigated via sextants for centuries, and NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft. This investigation tested specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on spacecraft such as NASA’s Orion, which will carry humans on deep-space missions.

Rodent Research-23
This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina of mice before and after spaceflight. The aim is to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) on long-duration spaceflights, which could adversely affect mission success.

Thermal Amine Scrubber
This technology demonstration tested a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from air aboard the International Space Station, using actively heated and cooled amine beds. Controlling CO2 levels on the station reduces the likelihood of crew members experiencing symptoms of CO2 buildup, which include fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes, and itchy skin.

Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion
Bacteria and other microorganisms have been shown to grow as biofilm communities in microgravity. This experiment identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, and evaluates the effectiveness of a silver-based disinfectant. This investigation could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-duration spaceflights.

NASA Approves Heliophysics Missions to Explore Sun, Earth’s Aurora

NASA has approved two heliophysics missions to explore the Sun and the system that drives space weather near Earth. Together, NASA’s contribution to the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, or EZIE, will help us understand the Sun and Earth as an interconnected system.

NASA says that understanding the physics that drive the solar wind and solar explosions – including solar flares and coronal mass ejections – could one day help scientists predict these events, which can impact human technology and explorers in space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) leads the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope (EUVST) Epsilon Mission (Solar-C EUVST Mission), along with other international partners. Targeted for launch in 2026, EUVST is a solar telescope that will study how the solar atmosphere releases solar wind and drives eruptions of solar material. These phenomena propagate out from the Sun and influence the space radiation environment throughout the solar system. NASA’s hardware contributions to the mission include an intensified UV detector and support electronics, spectrograph components, a guide telescope, software, and a slit-jaw imaging system to provide context for the spectrographic measurement. The budget for NASA contributions to EUVST is $55 million. The principal investigator for the NASA contribution to EUVST is Harry Warrenat the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

The Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer (EZIE) will study electric currents in Earth’s atmosphere linking aurora to the Earth’s magnetosphere – one piece of Earth’s complicated space weather system, which responds to solar activity and other factors. The Auroral Electrojet (AE) index is a common measure of geomagnetic activity levels, even though the details of the structure of these currents is not understood. EZIE will launch no earlier than June 2024. The total budget for the EZIE mission is $53.3 million. The principal investigator for the mission is Jeng-Hwa (Sam) Yee at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“We are very pleased to add these new missions to the growing fleet of satellites that are studying our Sun-Earth system using an amazing array of unprecedented observational tools,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In addition to my enthusiasm at selecting a pioneering multi-point observatory focused on the auroral electrojets, I am particularly excited to follow up the success of the Yohkoh and Hinode solar science missions with another international collaboration with JAXA and other European partners on EUVST.”

The EUVST mission addresses the recommendations of a July 2017 final report delivered by the multi-agency Next Generation Solar Physics Mission Science Objectives Team. EUVST will take comprehensive UV spectroscopy measurements of the solar atmosphere at the highest level of detail to date, which will allow scientists to tease out how different magnetic and plasma processes drive coronal heating and energy release.

“We’re excited to work with our international partners to answer some of our fundamental questions about the Sun,” said Nicky Fox, Heliophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “EUVST’s observations will complement our current missions to give us new insight into our star.”

EZIE is an investigation comprising a trio of CubeSats that will study the source of and changes in the auroral electrojet, an electric current circling through Earth’s atmosphere around 60-90 miles above the surface and extending into the Earth’s magnetosphere. The interaction of the magnetosphere and the solar wind compresses the Sun-facing side of the magnetosphere and drags out the night-time side of the magnetosphere into what is called a “magnetotail.” Auroral electrojets are generated by changes in the structure of the magnetotail. The same space weather phenomena that power the beautiful aurora can cause interference with radio and communication signals and utility grids on Earth’s surface, and damage to spacecraft in orbit.

“With these new missions, we’re expanding how we study the Sun, space, and Earth as an interconnected system,” said Peg Luce, deputy director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “EZIE’s use of instrument technology proven on Earth science CubeSat missions is just one example of how science and technology development at NASA go hand in hand across disciplines.”

Funding for these missions of opportunity comes from the Heliophysics Explorers Program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Record Year for FAA Commercial Space Activity

A record number of launches, new streamlined launch and reentry licensing regulations, and a historic licensed crewed mission are some of the noteworthy commercial space transportation achievements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2020. The FAA will build on these accomplishments in the coming year.

“This record-setting year in launches, and the new streamlined launch and reentry licensing regulations, bode well for continued rapid growth of America’s commercial space sector,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

In 2020, the FAA licensed 41 commercial space operations (launches and reentries), the most in the agency’s history. Those operations included a record 39 FAA-licensed launches, including the first-ever NASA crewed mission to be licensed by the FAA. For 2021, the FAA is forecasting the number of licensed operations could reach 50 or more.

“The FAA is well positioned to keep pace with the dramatic increase in commercial space operations and support the innovation driven by the aerospace industry while keeping public safety a top priority,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. 

Contributing to this year’s accomplishments are the benefits of a recent reorganization of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The changes increased the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the office, allowing it to dynamically scale its processes to meet the burgeoning private sector licensing demand.

The organizational changes will help the FAA implement a new rule that modernizes how the agency regulates and licenses commercial space launch and reentry operations. The rule consolidates multiple regulatory parts to create a single licensing regime for all types of launch and reentry operations, replaces prescriptive requirements with performance-based criteria, and allows the aerospace industry to continue to innovate and grow.

In 2021, the FAA will continue to provide policies and guidance to support the streamlined licensing rule by publishing advisory circulars that will identify possible means of compliance. Working with the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council (COMSTAC), the FAA also will prioritize its other regulations for updates and streamlining. Additionally, the agency anticipates the private sector will make notable progress toward commercially viable space tourism.

In the coming year, the FAA also will continue to test new technologies to further enable the safe and efficient integration of space-vehicle operations with other types of air traffic in the National Airspace System. Additionally, the FAA will establish an interagency working group to develop a recommended National Spaceport Strategy to advance a robust, innovative national system of spaceports. It will also support the directives and other tasks of America’s National Space Policy (PDF).

An FAA license is required to conduct any commercial space launch or reentry, the operation of any launch or reentry site by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world, or by any individual or entity within the United States. Once the FAA issues a license or permit, the agency works with operators to make sure they are meeting the requirements to conduct launches and reentries. This includes having FAA safety inspectors monitor licensed activities.

Houston Spaceport Slated to Become Home to the World’s First Commercial Space Station Builder

Houston Spaceport, the nation’s 10th commercially licensed Spaceport, will be home to the world’s first commercial space station builder, Axiom Space. The aerospace company announced plans to create a 14-acre headquarters campus to train private astronauts and begin production of its Axiom Station—the world’s first free-flying, internationally available private space station that will serve as humanity’s central hub for research, manufacturing and commerce in low Earth orbit.

“While we have confronted the challenges of a global pandemic this year, our work to move our city forward never stops. Today’s announcement is another leap that demonstrates how Houston embraces humankind’s boldest challenges and lives-up to every bit of its namesake – The Space City,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “With Axiom Space at the Houston Spaceport, we expect to energize our workforce by adding more than a thousand high-quality jobs and engage our communities that are focused and dedicated to the STEM fields.”

The new Axiom Space Headquarters campus will be located in phase one of the 400 acres Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport, EFD. The first phase, 153 acres, was completed in December and includes vital infrastructure like streets, utilities, robust communications systems. The Houston Spaceport is ideally located minutes from downtown Houston. 

“We had a vision of Houston Spaceport bringing together a cluster of aviation and aerospace enterprises that would support the future of commercial spaceflight,” Houston Airports Aviation Director Mario Diaz said. “Today, we have an urban center for collaboration and ideation, a place where the brightest minds in the world can work closely together to lead us into the next frontier of space exploration.”

Axiom Space’s Houston Spaceport headquarters campus will include the construction of approximately 322,000 square feet of facility space to accommodate Axiom Station modules and terminal building space to house private astronauts, operations, engineering and other requirements. The campus will have ease of access to the Ellington airfield.

“Houston Spaceport represents an ideal headquarters location with its infrastructure and benefits as well as its co-location at Ellington Airport,” Axiom Space CEO Mike Suffredini said. “The opportunity to build high-bay hangars where we can assemble the Axiom Station while simultaneously training our private astronauts for missions gives us the flexibility we need as we build the future of commercial space.”

The development is estimated to bring more than a thousand jobs to Houston, which already has one of the highest concentrations of engineering talent in the nation. Johnson Space Center, which employs more than 11,000 people and utilizes airfields at Ellington Airport, is just minutes from the Houston Spaceport.

“Axiom Space’s announcement is a game-changer for Houston as we extend our position as a commercial aerospace leader,” President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the economic development organization serving the Greater Houston area, Bob Harvey said. “Houston is a city built on innovation with a technology-focused workforce, and this move adds to the region’s momentum as one of the country’s leading next-generation tech hubs.”

One of Houston Spaceport’s tenants includes Intuitive Machines, a private company that secured a NASA contract to build the NOVA-C Spacecraft, a nearly 13-foot lunar lander that will deliver cargo to the moon in 2021. San Jacinto College has also invested in building its Edge Center, the official education partner for Houston Spaceport that offers aerospace training and career pathways for students.

“The same great environment that produced so many technological advancements in Houston’s past is, once again, creating its next successful venture into space – Axiom Station – the world’s first commercial space station,” President of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership Bob Mitchell said. “The synergies now being realized at the Houston Spaceport – between Houston’s dynamic industry partners, its world class training and academic providers, and its far-sighted community investors – are not only benefitting Axiom but will only get stronger over time.  We are all in this together and the best is yet to come!”

FAA Begins Scoping Period for Environmental Review at SpaceX Launch Site

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is holding a public scoping period for the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) related to plans by SpaceX to apply for licenses for suborbital and orbital launches of its Starship/Super Heavy project at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

The scoping period will help the FAA in determine the scope of issues for analysis in the draft EA. The FAA requests public comments on potential alternatives and impacts, and identification of any relevant information, studies, or analyses of any kind concerning impacts affecting the quality of the human environment. The FAA also invites comments on its consideration of preparing a Programmatic EA for this effort.

The deadline to submit comments is January 22, 2021, and may be submitted to the following email address: spacexbocachica@icf.com.

The proposed update to Starship/Super Heavy operations falls outside of the scope of the existing final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the Boca Chica launch site and requires additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). SpaceX is working with the FAA to prepare a draft EA which will be subject to the FAA’s evaluation and approval.

The EA will allow the FAA to determine the appropriate course of action: preparation of an EIS because the proposed action’s environmental impacts would be significant; issuance of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI); or issuance of a “Mitigated FONSI” providing for mitigation measures to address the proposed action’s environmental impacts. The FAA may determine which course of action it will take during the EA process or after SpaceX presents a draft EA for FAA approval. 

As part of the application process, SpaceX must also complete a safety review and develop agreements in addition to the environmental review. 

Information about the FAA environmental review process as it relates to commercial space transportation is posted at faa.gov/space/environmental.

NTS Test Lab in Los Angles Adds More Thermal Vacuum Chambers to Expand Role in Race to Space

Testing, inspection, and certification solutions specialist NTS announced that its laboratory in Los Angeles, Calif., has substantially expanded its Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing capabilities, further solidifying the company’s position in space qualification testing. The NTS lab secured two additional TVAC Chambers and completed a series of upgrades to increase the lab’s overall capacity to provide customers with rapid scheduling options. The company says the upgraded TVAC testing capability is critical for helping their customers in the new Race to Space.

Thermal vacuum testing is an essential aspect of qualification testing for space flight components, sub-assemblies, and mission-critical equipment. TVAC testing simulates upper atmosphere conditions of space including temperature and altitude by removing air and pressure while cycling very high and very low temperatures. In addition to testing sub-assemblies and mission-critical equipment, thermal vacuum chambers are also used for evaluating seals and rings, High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) programs, vacuum bakeout testing, and any program that requires a sterilized test environment. Each function is critical testing for identifying design issues before components are integrated into larger systems.

As the Race to Space intensifies, demand for thermal vacuum chambers is steadily increasing, accordign to NTS. This is what prompted the NTS Los Angeles lab to enhance capabilities. The added TV-5 and TV-10 chambers brings its total number of thermal vacuum chambers to eight. These two additional chambers give the ability to meet demanding scheduling needs more easily.

Key features of the TV-5 are as follows:

  • Size: 25” Diameter, 28” Long
  • Integral Rough Pump and Cryogenic Pump, Vacuum Level 10-6 Torr
  • Two heating/cooling zones, each 18”X24” (+200°C/-180°C)
  • Sixty data channels (expandable)
  • TQCM compatible

The TV-10 offers the following:

  • Size: 5.5’ Diameter, 10’ Long
  • Integral Rough Pump, Tubromolecular Pump and Cryogenic Pump, Vacuum Level 10-6 Torr
  • 4’ X 8’ X 6 Layer Bake-Out Rack (up to +200°C)
  • Two control zones with up to eight 3’ X 4” heating/cooling panels (+200°C/-180°C)
  • Sixty data channels (expandable)
  • Numerous feed throughs (DB-25, Douglas 24255, others as required)

NTS says they have more TVAC test capabilities than any other third-party lab in North America making them a sought after source for Space Testing. Most of the NTS thermal vacuum capabilities can be found at the NTS Los Angeles laboratory, which is home to a TV-25. NTS built the TV-25 (25 feet long by 15 feet deep) thermal vacuum in Los Angeles for client-spaceflight hardware. The facility contains one control room, two client rooms, a three-ton crane within a class 100,000 Clean Room, two gowning areas, and two uninterruptible power sources connected to an automatically engaged backup generator complete the highly specialized testing area.

Testing components for space applications requires extreme temperatures, higher pressures, lower vacuum levels, and more drastic environmental simulation. “The NTS Los Angeles Lab is a highly specialized lab that leverages a unique blend of expert engineering and customized facilities to meet these extreme testing challenges,” said Charles Diemen, general manager at NTS, Los Angeles. “Our investment demonstrates this continued commitment to NTS customers to ensure the best test experience possible.”

NTS has qualified components for nearly every space launch platform including the Space Shuttle, Atlas, Delta IV, and Space Launch System (SLS). This rich history highlights the undisputed industry leadership of NTS in performing extreme, complex testing on assemblies utilizing robust, high output test systems. As a winner of the 2019 NASA Space Award—and with a multi-decade history in extreme environmental and dynamics testing—NTS is the world’s most trusted test lab for space testing.

U.S. DOT Supports Record Number of Licensed Commercial Space Launches

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports a record year with their support of 35 licensed commercial space launches thus far in 2020 with the potential for even more before the year ends. The prior record of 33 was established in 2018.

“The record number of launches demonstrates this administration’s commitment to support the innovation and growth of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry and lead the world in aerospace capabilities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

For 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is forecasting a continued growth in licensed commercial space launches that could possibly reach 50 or more.

The 2020 commercial space launches cover a diversity of missions including the first FAA licensed crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), cargo-only resupply of the ISS, delivery of private enterprise satellites into orbit and the testing of space capsules and rocket systems. The launches occurred from seven locations both domestic and foreign:  Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia and New Zealand.

The FAA recently streamlined and modernized the regulations governing commercial space launch and reentry licensing as directed in the President’s May 2018 Space Policy Directive -2.  The new rule facilitates greater growth and innovation in the aerospace industry, maintains public safety, and helps the U.S strengthen its leading position in the world. 

An FAA license is required to conduct any commercial launch or reentry, the operation of any launch or reentry site by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world, or by any individual or entity within the United States. Once the FAA issues a license or permit, the agency works with operators to make sure they are meeting the requirements to conduct launches and reentries. This includes having FAA safety inspectors monitor licensed activities.

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