Click the arrow to watch Part 1 of “Mir, Mir Off the Wall.” Video source: chalkieathome2000 YouTube channel.
Click the arrow to watch Part 2 of “Mir, Mir Off the Wall.” Video source: chalkieathome2000 YouTube channel.
“The Cape” was a syndicated TV series produced by MTM Enterprises. It aired only one season, in 1996-1997, then disappeared forever into memory.
MTM never released the series on VHS or DVD. According to various online posts, the rights to the series were sold by MTM and have gone from one studio to another.
The series was fairly sappy, but many space geeks were riveted as each week brought us an episode filmed on location in the Space Coast. Click here to find an episode guide. How plausible was, “Bull has a crisis on his hands when a bomb threatens Atlantis”?
Orbital Sciences was one of two companies delivering cargo to the International Space Station under a Commercial Resupply Services contract. Orbital's Cygnus module launched atop the company's Antares rocket, boosted by Aerojet-Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines. Those engines were originally unused 1970s Soviet engines purchased by Aerojet and modified for Orbital's use.
Orbital merged in February 2015 with ATK to become Orbital ATK.
The press release states:
The team determined the proximate cause of the Antares launch vehicle failure was an explosion within the AJ-26 rocket engine and identified three credible technical root causes, any one or combination of which could have resulted in the engine failure. The team outlined six technical findings and made seven recommendations to address those technical findings. In addition, since Orbital ATK was in the process of procuring and testing new engines to replace the AJ-26 for future Antares flights while the investigation was ongoing, the team provided several recommendations for Orbital ATK and the ISS Program that were used to support those testing activities and to reduce overall risk for Antares return-to-flight and follow-on mission efforts.
Apparently NASA released only the executive summary because their findings refer to proprietary features of the Orbital engine and rocket. The executive summary mentions in several places that it cannot provide details of their findings due to proprietary information.
According to the summary, the NASA Independent Review Team (IRT) “determined that the proximate cause of the Antares launch vehicle failure was an explosion within the AJ26 rocket engine installed in the Main Engine 1 position.”
Specifically, there was an explosion in the E15 Liquid Oxygen (LO2) turbopump, which then damaged the AJ26 rocket engine designated E16 installed in the Main Engine 2 position. The explosion caused the engines to lose thrust, and the launch vehicle fell back to Earth and impacted the ground, resulting in total destruction of the vehicle and its cargo ...
The IRT also developed a detailed system-level fault tree, timeline of events, and failure scenarios, and performed analysis and forensic investigation of the hardware recovered from the accident.
The IRT concluded that the cause of the explosion on launch was loss of rotor radial positioning resulting in contact and frictional rubbing between rotating and stationary components within the Engine LO2 turbopump Hydraulic Balance Assembly (HBA) seal package. This frictional rubbing led to ignition and fire involving LO2 within the turbopump HBA. This conclusion is consistent with the
proximate cause determination made by the Orbital ATK [Accident Investigation Board] investigation findings.
The report lists three possible “technical root causes” but cannot say for certainty if one or more caused the loss of rotor radial positioning:
“... [T]he HBA and thrust bearing designs have several intricacies and sensitivities that make it difficult to reliably manage bearing loads. As a result, this area of the turbopump is vulnerable to oxygen fire and failures. The AJ26 engines were not subjected to a thorough delta-qualification program to demonstrate their operational capability and margin for use on Antares.
Performing a thorough delta-qualification program for Antares would likely have revealed these issues.”
“Forensic investigation identified the presence of both titanium and silica [Foreign Object Debris] within E15 prior to its impact on the beach. However, no firm conclusions can be drawn with respect to the quantity of FOD introduced to or already present within the engine prior to or at the time of the explosion. The lack of significant particle impact damage to the recovered impeller and other components indicates that there were not gross-levels of FOD present within the system. In addition, there is no clear forensic evidence that FOD directly or indirectly led to the E15 failure.”
“Forensic investigation performed by Orbital ATK and NASA discovered the presence of a defect on the turbine housing bearing bore that was not consistent with baseline design requirements.
The investigation determined that the defect was introduced during machining of the bearing bore housing and was therefore present prior to the engine [Acceptance Test Program] and Antares launch for Orb-3. Forensic investigation of Engine E17, which failed during ATP in May 2014, discovered the presence of a similar non-conforming defect in the housing bearing bore.”
The report lists seven technical recommendations. The first is that “NASA should not rely on the AJ26 for further missions without undertaking a more thorough inspection ...” That's not a concern, because Orbital ATK has ordered new RD-181 engines from Russian supplier NPO Energomash.
A redesigned Antares with Russian-made RD-181 engines is scheduled for a pad test fire in early 2016. Image source: NASA.
In order to accommodate the RD-181 engines, several modifications were made to the Antares vehicle design. Upgrades completed and installed over the summer include a newly-developed and qualified thrust adapter structure, modifications to the first stage core propellant tanks, modified engine control avionics and new propellant feedlines.
In addition to the work being conducted for the hot fire test, the team is also receiving hardware for the full Antares rocket that will be used for its return to flight in the spring of 2016. The crew will be assembling that vehicle in parallel with the hot fire test vehicle. The next set of Antares engines recently completed acceptance testing and is scheduled to arrive at Wallops in December.
The summary also recommends cultural changes at both Orbital ATK and NASA suggesting that pre-launch processing was inadequate by both.
Technical recommendations call for Orbital to do a more thorough engine acceptance test, including more sensors, ensuring cleanliness, and “a more robust and verifiable moisture barrier approach.”
Three programmatic findings fault the relationship between Orbital and Aerojet-Rocketdyne. The report cites the “lack of an integrated partnership” between the two companies, which created “a low level of confidence in loss-of-mission predictions.”
In September, Aerojet agreed to pay Orbital $50 million and retake possession of Orbital's remaining ten AJ-26 engines. The agreement effectively ended any claims the two companies had against one another because of the accident.
The executive summary also states that the “management and risk model established for commercial services is well understood and embraced by and at all levels of the NASA team and community.” But the review team cited four “opportunities for improvement,” a polite way of pointing four metaphorical fingers.
The team concluded that “there is clear and consistent understanding and acceptance of the CRS risk approach throughout NASA and by the Service Providers,” but “[t]he perception of acceptable risk for any given CRS mission varied significantly within and between NASA organizations.”
The Launch Vehicle Assessment (LVA) as currently developed may provide a false sense of security in the overall risk associated with the launch vehicle design and a particular mission ... The proprietary nature of launch vehicle information may be serving as an artificial barrier to communications and leading to communication shortfalls.
The report recommends:
The ISS Program should reassign LVA management responsibility to a senior engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) with significant launch vehicle development and assessment experience, as well as increase the number of individuals from MSFC engineering supporting development of the LVA.
In other words, Big Brother should be watching more closely.
Releasing the report today has a curious timing beyond just the one-year anniversary of the incident.
It's strictly my speculation, but I think NASA may issue contracts to as many as three or four vendors. The last year demonstrated that two vendors are inadequate for redundancy. It would be in the agency's interest to grow the market with more delivery options.
The LockMart Jupiter appears to be a paper exercise, so that would seem to be the least likely to win a contract.
Desperately needing a contract is SNC, which is still fulfilling milestones for earlier rounds of a commercial crew contract. Dream Chaser failed to win any crew flights when those contracts were issued in September 2014. The spaceplane offers NASA an option other than SpaceX for returning cargo to Earth, and it's designed to land at any international airport runway. SNC has proposed delivering cargo to runways near NASA space centers in Houston and Huntsville, as well as Kennedy Space Center.
The crew version of the Boeing CST-100 will use parachutes and airbags to land in the U.S. southwest desert, so presumably the cargo version would do the same.
My worthless prediction is a few more cargo flights for SpaceX and Orbital ATK, with some flights circa 2020 going to Boeing and Sierra Nevada.
Check back on November 5.
UPDATE October 29, 2015 9:45 PM EDT — Jeff Foust of Space News reports he was able to get a copy of Orbital's internal report, and they reached a somewhat different conclusion on the root cause.
The Orbital report, though, identified a single “highly probable” technical root cause of the failure: a machining defect in turbine assembly of the turbopump that dates back to when the engine was manufactured in the former Soviet Union more than 40 years ago. An adjacent piece of the engine, recovered with little damage after the explosion, showed a “clear defect” in its machining, according to the report.
Orbital's report also identified several other technical root causes it deemed “credible” but less likely to have caused the explosion. Those additional causes included other technical problems with the engine and “poor long-term storage” of the engine, causing corrosion of engine components.
At first glance, it sounds like Orbital ATK is trying to put the blame on Aerojet-Rocketdyne.
The image released that day made the SLS look like the Apollo-era Saturn V, even though its center core was based on the Shuttle's external tank. The tank was insulated with a cream-colored polyurethane-type foam that would discolor and eventually turn orange over time. There was no reason to think the SLS tank would be painted to look like a Saturn V; my thought at the time was that the paint scheme was to placate the congressional politicians who want to pretend they're doing Apollo again.
Derided by critics as the Senate Launch System, it seemed designed with the primary goal not of humans exploring the solar system, but to protect the jobs of those working for contractors in the districts and states of House and Senate space committee members.
The 2010 NASA authorization act created the SLS, mandating that NASA use existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors and their work force. One such contractor was Utah-based Alliant Techsystems, commonly known as ATK, which built the Shuttle's solid rocket boosters. ATK completed a merger in February 2015, and is now known as Orbital ATK.
The press release was accompanied by a new artist's concept of the SLS. The Saturn V paint job is gone, replaced as expected by the orange polyurethane form.
A new artist's concept of the Space Launch System released on October 22, 2015. Click the image to see it at a larger size. Image source: NASA.
But an unexpected flourish had been added to the Orbital ATK solid rocket boosters.
They serve no purpose, of course, other than to look sporty.
The cynic in me wonders how much extra NASA will have to pay Orbital ATK for the stripes.
They also seemed hauntingly familiar.
After a couple days of contemplation, I remembered where I'd seen them before.
On the ATK Liberty.
2012 conceptual images of the ATK Liberty. Original source: ATK via Space.com.
Liberty was a last-minute effort by ATK to win a commercial crew contract, even though it had not competed in earlier rounds of the competition. The design proposed using a single-stage solid rocket booster similar to the cancelled Constellation Ares I. The independent Government Accountability Office issued a report in August 2009 concluding that Constellation lacked “a sound business case.” The report found “significant technical and design challenges” with Ares I, including vibration during launch and the risk of hitting the launch tower during liftoff. Unlike a liquid-fueled booster, a solid-fueled stage cannot be turned off once lit.
Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.
This week's Retro Saturday film is a 1976 ten-minute promotional documentary by Rockwell International's Space Division about Space Shuttle design and construction.
Although not specifically stated, the film shows the early construction of elements of what would eventually become known as the orbiter Enterprise.
Rockwell International was created in 1973 as the result of a series of mergers, including Rockwell Standard and North American Aviation in 1967. Most of Rockwell's early aerospace heritage actually traces up the NAA family tree. The aerospace business was sold in 1996 to the Boeing Company.
Because the public hasn't had access in nearly six months, no one outside badged employees has been able to witness the deterioration of several historic sites.
Today I visited Launch Complex 34. Originally built for the Saturn I program, it's most famous for the site of the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967.
I found barricades blocking vehicular entrance to the pad, and barricades around the pedestal where the Saturn I and IB launched.
Several places around the concrete pad seem to be suffering from uneven settling. I have to wonder if this is due to environmental remediation of trichloroethylene poured into the ground near the pad. According to this 2011 USA Today article:
From 1959 to 1968, during Apollo when NASA launched Saturn rockets from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, trike went straight into the ground.
An estimated 88,000 pounds of the solvent soaked into the soil and groundwater.
Kennedy's sandy, alkaline soils are thought to neutralize most metals and other contaminants before they become a problem up the food chain. But trike dies hard.
And workers kept pouring it into the ground in the early years of the shuttle program, thinking it would evaporate.
This 2008 consultant report described LC-34 as “Florida’s largest known dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) site.” It described the site as “a complexly layered island hydrogeologic system.”
A 2008 Geonsyntec consultant presentation described LC-34 as “330 acres of groundwater negatively impacted by historic releases of chlorinated solvents (1 mile by ½ mile plume).” It stated that groundwater contamination existed to 118 feet below the land surface, which was described as “Sand aquifer with inter-bedded silt, clay, and shell layers (8 Layers).”
The source of the contamination was the Engineering Support Building, which once existed to the southwest of the blockhouse. The ESB was long ago demolished. These illustrations from the 2008 Geosyntec presentation show the location of radial groundwater flow and the distribution of contamination:
Is the treatment plan responsible for the uneven settling at Pad 34? I've no idea.
I'm sure that Dr. Kurt Debus and the rest of the design team in 1960 gave little thought to the long-term stability of the pad. The Saturn 1 program itself began with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in the late 1950s. It transferred with Dr. Wernher von Braun and his ABMA team to NASA in 1960.
Watch a 1962 NASA documentary on construction of Launch Complex 34. Video source: AF Space & Missile Museum YouTube channel.
Whatever the cause, I'm simply documenting that it's happening.
The first three photos are to document when the site was constructed. Individuals scrawled dates into the concrete.
This one says “1-4-61” but it's almost impossible to read. It faded in recent months after someone placed a barrier atop it.
These are easier to read:
These next photos are from around the pad. They speak for themselves.
The remaining photos are of the abandoned LC-34 blockhouse.
Click the arrow to watch the October 16, 2015 “Space Station Live.” Video source: NASA Johnson YouTube channel.
For decades, NASA has promised that human spaceflight would lead to medical miracle cures and treatments.
Until recently, those promises have remained unfulfilled. Myths abound. A common one is that NASA invented Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). NASA admits the agency didn't invent MRI, but “it has contributed to its advances over the years.”
The Space Shuttle could carry a microgravity science laboratory, but its research was limited to no more than three weeks. The vibrations by crew movements were less than ideal for microgravity research, but some results looked promising.
The International Space Station serves as humanity's only full-time microgravity science laboratory. NASA selected the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) in 2012 to manage the U.S. National Laboratory on the International Space Station, to accelerate and facilitate space research.
The principle aim of this Shenzhou spaceflight is to investigate how thyroid carcinoma cells react, when they are exposed to real microgravity. These experiments will confirm and/or extend the knowledge, which we gained when we characterized the thyroid cancer cells after exposure to simulated microgravity. The expected information may help to improve in vitro cancer studies such as antitumor drug or transendothelial migration tests.
Click the arrow to watch a film on the Simbox experiment on Shenzhou-8. Video source: Ian Benecken YouTube channel.
Our experiments indicate that microgravity, preferably real as in spaceflight, but also in some respects simulated on the [Random Positioning Machine] RPM, induce changes in the expression and secretion of genes and proteins involved in cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and survival, shifting the cells toward a less aggressive phenotype. Further studies to investigate the involved mechanisms in more detail are expected to yield novel targets for cancer therapy, which may then be exploited in the form of new chemotherapeutics.
The principle aim of NanoRacks-CellBox-Effect of Microgravity on Human Thyroid Carcinoma Cells (NanoRacks-CellBox-Thyroid Cancer) is to investigate the effects of real microgravity on human thyroid carcinoma cells (FTC-133 cell line). Data obtained from this experiment is compared to the thyroid cancer cells characterized after exposure to simulated microgravity and after the successful SIMBOX on Shenzhou-8 mission (2011, Experiment 14).
Preparation of the samples and their launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 were documented in the video short, A Space Odyssey of Cancer Cells.
The results from the second flight are discussed by Dr. Grimm in the above NASA Space Station Live video posted October 16, 2015 on YouTube. She states the results will be published soon, but the results were promising.
A third experiment, called ESA Spheroids, is scheduled to fly on SpaceX CRS-8. According to the ISS database, “the goal of Spheroids is to investigate the three-dimensional cell assembly under real microgravity, while emphasizing proliferation, differentiation and induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death).”
Next week we will have a telecon with ESA, RUAG and Kayser Italia to discuss the logistic for our trip to Cape Canaveral. We already stated during a telecon last week that the first persons of our science team will arrive on December 17th in Cape Canaveral to reculture the cell. Which means some of us will already be in Florida for X-Mas. The whole team will celebrate New Year together.
Since Monday, we are in contact with Julien Harrod, an editor from ESA, who will follow and promote ESA astronaut Tim Peakes's Principia mission. Here your find Tim Peakes Principia Blog. In this blog you will find some information about our SPHEROIDS project.
The SpaceX CRS-8 payload that will probably receive the most publicity is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), the prototype for the company's full-scale expandable habitats currently under construction in North Las Vegas.
But if the Grimm research flights lead to a treatment for cancer, these SpaceX flights could remembered for pulling the trigger on the first magic bullet.
For me, the presence of commercial crew and cargo vendors was my primary interest.
SpaceX had a minimal presence, apparently because the decision was made at the last minute to participate.
Boeing was handing out foam CST-100 Starliner miniatures.
It should be noted that Boeing pulled up stakes after the first day. SpaceX shifted over to the Boeing spot on the second day.
Sierra Nevada had a major presence, promoting the use of Dream Chaser for commercial cargo. Former NASA astronaut Lee Archambault was at the table on the first day; Archambault joined SNC in 2013.
In chatting with the SNC folks, I had the impression that SNC has decided that commercial cargo is its last chance for a NASA contract. NASA is scheduled to announce its next round of cargo contracts on November 5.
Just my guess, but I suspect NASA may choose to give Dream Chaser one or two cargo flights towards the end of the decade. With SpaceX and Orbital ATK established as cargo delivery companies, it's in NASA's interests to grow their list of available vendors. Dream Chaser has the potential to return ISS cargo to any runway that can handle a 737, according to an SNC representative at the event. That versatility may be worth the investment.
SNC had a custom model available of the cargo Dream Chaser, along with an older and larger model of the crew version.
United Launch Alliance had a model of the service tower currently being erected at the Cape's Launch Complex 41. It will service the Boeing CST-100 atop the ULA Atlas V, and possibly the SNC Dream Chaser. An SNC rep told me that the Dream Chaser test flight in November 2016 was contingent on winning a commercial crew contract; they've decided not to proceed with this test flight. I have to wonder if their thinking might change again if they win a cargo contract.
NASA had its own commercial crew display in an area separate from the NewSpace vendors.
International Space Station
NASA lost its first International Docking Adapter when the SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded after launch on June 28. A spare is currently being built at Johnson Space Center, but Boeing provided this mockup for inspection.
A functioning replica of Robonaut 2 was on display. I asked why R2 doesn't have his legs yet. I got the impression that R2 isn't a priority on the ISS these days, understandable given all the demands for crew time.
NASA's Vegetable Production System (Veggie) recently produced its first edible red leaf lettuce on the ISS. One expo display table replicated the experiment, which caught the attention of several young female visitors.
Space Launch System
Congress' favorite job protector was on full display. This huge model invoked memories of Senator Bill Nelson, one of its creators, calling it “the monster rocket.”
Boeing had this display showing the ISS, Space Launch System and commercial crew:
These models were also at the Boeing table:
Other NASA Diplays
Swamp Works is a KSC engineering lab featuring a simulated lunar regolith used for testing robotic technologies.