Today’s Tidbits: October 13, 2020

Today’s Tidbits: October 13, 2020

Here are’s tidbits for October 13, 2020: latest SLS Green Run and launch dates, Blue Origin scores another success, Arecibo update. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Latest SLS Green Run, Launch Dates

During a media teleconference today, Boeing’s Space Launch System (SLS) program manager John Shannon laid out the current schedule for completing the critical “Green Run” tests of the first SLS core stage and shipping it to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for what NASA hopes will be a November 2021 uncrewed test flight.

All the other elements of the SLS needed for the first launch, Artemis I, already are at KSC. That includes the two 5-stage Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and the Interim Cryogenic Upper Stage (ICPS), as well as the Orion spacecraft SLS will send out to a distance of 280,000 miles from Earth during a three-week mission. NASA SLS program manager John Honeycutt said that is the furthest any human spacecraft has ever flown. In this case, however, no one will be aboard.

First, however, the core stage must get through the last two of a series of eight tests at Stennis Space Center collectively called the Green Run. The “wet dress rehearsal” where the stage is fully fueled is planned for October 30. The stage then will be drained and data studied before the final “hot fire” test scheduled for November 14.

That time it will be fueled and all four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines fired for the full 8 minutes they will have to work to get Orion into space. The RS-25s were built for the space shuttle. As shuttle engines, they were designed to be reusable and these four are from a group of 16 remaining from the shuttle program. NASA is repurposing them for SLS and they will not be recovered this time.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Jim Maser, Senior Vice President of the Space Business Unit, pointed out today that this is the first time four RS-25s will be fired simultaneously.  Only three were used for the space shuttle. The enormous B-2 test stand at Stennis had to be refurbished to account for the extra thrust they will generate.

Assuming Stennis can avoid any more work stoppages due to hurricanes or COVID-19, and if the hot fire test goes as planned, the core stage will ship to KSC on January 14, 2021.  Shannon said they have 29 days of schedule reserve if needed.

The first SLS/Orion launch, then called Exploration Mission-1, was supposed to take place in November 2018, but technical problems and, most recently, pandemic- and hurricane-related delays have impeded progress.

Blue Origin Scores Another Success

Launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard-13 (NS-13) from West Texas, October 13, 2020. Screengrab.

Blue Origin successfully launched New Shepard-13 (NS-13) today. New Shepard rockets are reusable and this was the seventh flight of this specific rocket.

The plan is to send people on suborbital trips to space aboard the rocket, but none of the 13 New Shepard flights have carried anyone yet.  It is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space — on a suborbital flight in 1961.

The roughly 10-minute ride up and back crosses over the Von Karman line at 100 kilometers altitude that many consider the demarcation between air and space, although others consider 80 kilometers to be that mark. The NS-13 crew capsule reached a height of 346,964 feet (105.8 kilometers) today.

Aboard today’s trip were 12 experiments from NASA and private companies, as well as postcards from children as part of Jeff Bezos’ Club for the Future.  Bezos owns Blue Origin.

Among the highlights was a NASA Lunar Landing Sensor demonstration that was mounted on the booster rather than inside the capsule, the first time such an experiment has been carried. The sensors are being designed to allow pinpoint landings on the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

You can watch a video of the launch on YouTube.

Arecibo Update

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) are still trying to determine what happened to cause a cable to fail on the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. NSF owns the facility. UCF operates it for NSF. NASA uses the observatory to find, track and characterize asteroids.

On August 10, one of the cables supporting the scientific equipment that hovers over the 305-meter diameter dish broke, falling onto and damaging the dish and imperiling the Gregorian Dome suspended above it.  The Dome protects sensitive equipment.

Arecibo radio telescope, Puerto Rico.

In a media update yesterday, UCF said the root cause remains unknown.  “We continue to make progress, but the process is slow, as we develop a comprehensive plan for facility repairs while prioritizing the safety of our staff,” said Francisco Cordova, director of the facility.

What they do know is that a socket holding the cable in place failed. It has been removed and shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for forensic evaluation.  The work is expected to be completed by the end of October. Meanwhile, temporary friction clamps have been ordered for installation at two backstay locations in case those cables fail at their sockets.  An auxiliary suspension cable also has been ordered and should arrive in December.

UCF said NSF has asked them to come up with a proposal for the supplemental costs involved. No estimate was provided as to when the radio telescope might resume operations.

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