NASA prepares Orion simulator for lunar mission training
NASA is setting up a high-tech simulator, made by Lockheed Martin, to teach astronauts how to operate the Orion capsule during planned moon missions.
Weak funding from Congress has cast doubt over the schedule for such lunar missions, but NASA is moving forward with preparations, officials have said.
Lockheed delivered the Orion simulator to Johnson Space Center in mid-December, ahead of the first potential crewed flight to the moon in 2023.
Astronauts will practice every step of their planned flights to the moon, from launch to lunar landing, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik told UPI.
"The training teams will be able to have the highest-fidelity, most realistic flight simulations that are possible," said Bresnik, who trained in simulators for his space shuttle mission in 2009 and aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station in 2017.
"Shuttle simulators had two TVs mounted where the windows were, and that was as good as we could get with the technology then," he said. "But the windows themselves in the Orion simulator will be screens showing views of Earth, space and the moon that will be pretty darn impressive."
NASA is installing Orion's display and control system and crew seats to mimic what astronauts will experience in flight. Crews will be trained once they are named for specific missions, the first of which will be the Artemis II mission to fly around the moon.
Although scheduled for 2023, the mission may not occur at that time, according to numerous space experts who have previously told UPI that congressional funding has fallen well short of required levels.
The Trump administration had moved a lunar landing goal up from 2028 to 2024, but President-elect Joe Biden's administration hasn't stated such a goal.
The Orion simulator doesn't move on a mechanical axis as the shuttle did, Bresnik said, because the virtual reality and computer simulations have improved so much as to make that unnecessary.
"The new simulator has a unique capability of pulling out the seat bottoms allowing us to stand, so we're not just stuck in the seat. That's more like how we would float in weightlessness and operate the controls," Bresnik said.
Like shuttle and Apollo simulators, the Orion simulator will prepare astronauts for various emergencies and unplanned events, he said.
Sights and sounds will help the astronauts understand what the spacecraft is doing, in addition to instruments and data, said Bryan Doyle, software architect on the capsule for Lockheed Martin.
"We will generate audio cues, to simulate when mortars fire to release a heat shield, for example, or when a fan turns on," Doyle said. "They need to know what to expect and be able to sense when things are right or not."
Lockheed uses the same software in the simulator that has been used in simulations for the flight controllers and in the capsule itself, Doyle said.
The simulator even would provide views of the Earth in case the mission goes into abort mode upon liftoff, he said.
"We can start the mission at different points throughout the flight," he said. "They don't have to run through an entire 10-day journey to experience events at the moon."
NASA Accelerates SLS Rocket Hot Fire Test, Invites Media to Pretest Briefing
Following a test readiness review on Monday, NASA is now targeting Saturday, Jan. 16, for the final test in the Green Run testing series for the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will launch the agency’s Artemis Imission. NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Tuesday, Jan.12, to discuss the test, known as the hot fire, which will take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
During the test, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks and fire all four engines at the same time.
The Green Run test series is a comprehensive assessment of the rocket’s core stage prior to SLS launching Artemis missions to the Moon. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank, four RS-25 engines, and the computers, electronics, and avionics that serve as the “brains” of the rocket. NASA has completed seven of the eight core stage Green Run tests, including loading and draining propellant for the first time during the most recent test, the wet dress rehearsal, on Dec. 20. During the upcoming hot fire test, all four engines will fire to simulate the stage’s operation during launch.
SLS core stage ready for Green Run test firing
WASHINGTON — NASA officials expressed confidence that a key test of the Space Launch System scheduled for Jan. 16 will go well, keeping open the chances that the vehicle will make its long-delayed debut before the end of the year.
NASA has scheduled a full-duration static-fire test of the SLS core stage at the Stennis Space Center for Jan. 16. Ignition is planned for 5 p.m. Eastern, with the engines firing for 485 seconds.
The test will be the culmination of the Green Run test campaign for the SLS core stage, which started almost exactly a year ago when the stage was installed on a test stand at Stennis. That series of tests included, most recently, a “wet dress rehearsal” Dec. 20 where the tank was loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants and went through a practice countdown.
That test, agency officials said at a Jan. 12 briefing, went well, with no signs of leaks or other major issues. “As a result of all the wet dress rehearsal testing, we really gained a lot of confidence in the hardware and in our ground support systems,” said Julie Bassler, SLS stages manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
That test was not perfect, though. The countdown stopped a few minutes before the scheduled end because of a timing problem with a valve. John Shannon, vice president and SLS program manager at Boeing, the prime contractor for the vehicle, said a liquid hydrogen fill-and-drain valve closed 0.2 seconds later than expected, halting the test. The issue was that helium used in the pneumatically actuated valve was colder than expected.
Shannon said they decided to adjust the timing to account for any such lags in the future. “We don’t have to be quite that precise and cut it quite that close, so we expanded the timer out so we’ve got sufficient margin,” he said.
The Dec. 20 test was the second attempt at the wet dress rehearsal. A test Dec. 7 stopped while still in its early phases because liquid oxygen flowing into the stage was warmer than expected. NASA attributed that problem to issues with ground systems, and not the SLS itself.
After that earlier test, NASA managers warned there was “very little margin” left in the schedule for a November 2021 launch of the SLS on the Artemis 1 mission, a point they reiterated at the briefing. If the hotfire test goes as planned on Jan. 16, the stage is scheduled to ship to the Kennedy Space Center in February to be integrated with its solid rocket boosters and upper stage, as well as the Orion spacecraft that will be launched on that uncrewed mission.
“Our team is locked in and focused on delivering the rocket for a 2021 launch. We’re continuing to look for opportunities to do things concurrently and improve our schedule,” John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA, said.
Anticipating a successful test, workers at KSC have started stacking segments of the solid rocket boosters, a process that traditionally required the boosters to launch within 12 months. “It’s an opportunity for us to do some risk mitigation” regarding the stacking process, he said. He added they are collecting data about the boosters “to give us the best opportunity to do some sort of a life extension on the booster stacking in the event that we need that.”
Those plans, though, depend on getting through the Green Run successfully. “The reason we test is to learn, and from my perspective and the team’s perspective, we don’t want to do anything that puts the vehicle at risk,” Honeycutt said.
A successful test need not las the full 485 seconds. The key elements of the test are in the first few minutes, said Jeff Zotti, Aerojet Rocketdyne program director for the RS-25 engines that power the core stage. The four engines will ignite one at a time at intervals of 120 milliseconds and then power up to 109% of rated thrust. The engines will remain at that level for 90 seconds, then throttle back to 95% to simulate passing through maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q, during ascent. After about a minute the engines will throttle back up to 109%.
“If we had an early shutdown for whatever reason, we get all of the engineering data that we need to have high confidence in the vehicle at about 250 seconds,” Shannon said, which includes both the engine throttling as well as some gimbaling of the nozzles. “But we’re going to go ahead and put it through the entire flight profile as long as everything is looking OK.”
NASA’s hot fire test to be heard for many miles today
The Space Launch System rocket will be the world’s most powerful rocket when assembled.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - History is set to be made this weekend at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
A hot fire test as part of the Artemis program is scheduled between a 4 - 6 p.m. window Saturday, January 16.