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NASA Expects Commercial Crew Providers to Achieve Safety Requirements

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A NASA manager says Boeing and SpaceX should be able to achieve, or come close to, safety requirements established by NASA for their commercial crew spacecraft.

WASHINGTON — As the two companies developing commercial crew vehicles prepare for test flights in the next 12 months, a NASA official said the agency expects those companies to be able to meet, or come close to, stringent safety requirements for those spacecraft.

At a Nov. 29 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee, Lisa Colloredo, deputy program manager for NASA’s commercial crew program, said Boeing and SpaceX were making good progress towards achieving a “loss of crew”, or LOC, requirement established by NASA at the beginning of the program.

The LOC requirement states that the odds of an accident killing or causing serious injury to a crewmember be no more than 1 in 270 flights for a 210-day mission at the International Space Station. That covers all aspects of the mission, including launch and re-entry.

“We have a very difficult LOC requirement to meet, and we knew that when we going in,” Colloredo said. The 1-in-270 LOC requirement for commercial crew is more stringent than the 1-in-90 value at the end of the shuttle program. “I would say that we’ve made a lot of progress, and the providers have both done a lot of redesign work to improve their LOC numbers.”

Those changes, she said, include “more robustness” to the thermal protection systems on the spacecraft and additional parachute testing. “It’s served its purpose of getting the right look at the top drivers for LOC,” she said, including making design changes to improve those values.

Colloredo said she expected that both companies would meet the 1-in-270 LOC requirement, or come close enough that NASA would be willing to accept the vehicles as safe enough for its astronauts. “It’s pretty likely in the end that SpaceX and Boeing will come in with their evidence that they meet the requirement or close to it,” she said. Ultimately, she said, it will require NASA due diligence to either confirm they meet the requirement or be willing to accept a variance from the requirement in a specific area.

Another NASA committee has also monitored the ability of Boeing and SpaceX to meet the LOC requirement. At the October meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), committee members discussed the progress both companies were making on addressing key risk issues for their systems.

“The ASAP believes that NASA is judiciously continuing to address the risk drivers with the providers for the most serious scenarios through continued analysis, modeling, testing, and design development. It remains challenging,” the panel noted in the minutes from that meeting. “Nevertheless, the focus on worst case scenarios has driven positive design decisions for both providers, as well as other aspects such as increases in systems testing for some of the systems that carry notable risks.”

The biggest challenge, ASAP reported, was meeting micrometeoroid and orbital debris protection requirements. NASA was working to improve the modeling of the risks posed to those spacecraft from micrometeoroids and orbital debris through experiments mounted on the station as well as on Dragon cargo spacecraft.

At the NASA Advisory Council committee meeting, Colloredo said the LOC requirement was the biggest programmatic issue facing the overall program, but not the only one. She said NASA was assessing if it had included all the costs of various government-provided services for commercial crew missions. It was also working to ensure that search and rescue training for Air Force personnel supporting commercial crew launches would be ready in time for the first missions.

Both companies are working to schedules that call for both uncrewed and crewed test flights in 2018, although later in the year than previously planned. SpaceX is planning an uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon in April, previously scheduled for February. The crewed test flight is now planned for August, instead of June. Between the two flights will be an in-flight abort test.

Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner is now scheduled for August, two months later than previously planned. The crewed test flight has shifted from August to November, although the company said earlier this fall that the crewed test flight might slip into early 2019.

“We’re making a lot of progress with the providers,” Colloredo said. “We’re getting prepared for flight and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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'Stargate Origins' Brings Classic Sci-Fi Back Tonight

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Mars Meteorite Will Return to the Red Planet with NASA Rover

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Rohit Bhartia of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission holds a slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars. This slice will likely be used here on Earth for testing a laser instrument for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover; a separate slice will go to Mars on the rover.

A chunk of rock that was once part of Mars, but landed on Earth as a meteorite, will return to the Red Planet aboard a NASA rover set to launch in 2020

The meteorite, known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) was found in Oman in 1999, but geologists determined that it likely originated on Mars, according to a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists think collisions between Mars and other large bodies in the solar system’s early days sent chunks of the Red Planet into space, where they might wander for eons before falling onto Earth’s surface.  

Now, NASA scientists are using the meteorite to calibrate an instrument that will fly on the Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to drop down on the Red Planet’s surface and collect rock samples that could one day be returned to Earth. One of the rover’s main goals is to evaluate the potential habitability of ancient and present-day Mars. [How NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Will Work (Infographic)]

The meteorite is being used to calibrate an instrument called the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals), which will use techniques often used in forensic science to identify chemicals in the Martian rock samples, in features as thin as a human hair.

A close-up of a meteorite that likely came from Mars.

A close-up of a meteorite that likely came from Mars.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The researchers will study the meteorite on Earth, where they are able to make sure their instruments are producing a correct analysis of the rock, and understand what features of the rock are perceptible to their instruments. When the rover settles onto Mars, researchers can once again use the rock to make sure their instruments are working as they should be, before pointing them at features of the Martian surface. 

“We’re studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” said Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC, in the statement. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”

There are only about 200 confirmed Martian meteorites that have been found on Earth, according to the statement. The SaU008 meteorite comes from London’s Natural History Museum, which lends out hundreds of meteorites (most of them not from Mars) every year for scientific studies. The SHERLOC team needed a Martian meteorite that was robust enough to endure the journey to Mars without flaking or crumbling. (Launch from Earth and entry into the Martian atmosphere are both very strenuous events for everything on board.) The rock also “needed to possess certain chemical features to test SHERLOC’s sensitivity. These had to be reasonably easy to detect repeatedly for the calibration target to be useful,” according to the statement.  

A slice of a Martian meteorite undergoes oxygen cleaning to remove organics. This slice will remain on Earth to be used for testing and calibrating instruments.

A slice of a Martian meteorite undergoes oxygen cleaning to remove organics. This slice will remain on Earth to be used for testing and calibrating instruments.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Usually, instruments like SHERLOC are calibrated with a variety of materials including rock, metal and glass. And Mars meteorites have been used for instrument calibration in the past. In fact, another instrument aboard the Mars 2020 rover, called SuperCam, will be adding a Mars meteorite to NASA’s calibration target, according to the statement. And while this would be the first Mars meteorite to return to the surface of the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, which orbits the Red Planet, carries a chunk of a Martian meteorite.

SHERLOC will carry other materials from Earth in addition to Su008, including materials that could be used to make a spacesuit for use on Mars. Observations of how the material withstands the radiation, atmosphere and temperature variations on Mars will provide valuable information for possible crewed trips to the Red Planet.  

“The SHERLOC instrument is a valuable opportunity to prepare for human spaceflight as well as to perform fundamental scientific investigations of the Martian surface,” Marc Fries, a SHERLOC co-investigator and curator of extraterrestrial materials at Johnson Space Center, said in the statement. “It gives us a convenient way to test material that will keep future astronauts safe when they get to Mars.”

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Kepler Space Telescope Discovers 95 More Alien Planets

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Planets around other stars are the rule rather than the exception, and there are likely hundreds of billions of exoplanets in the Milky Way alone. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 2,400 alien worlds, including a new haul of 95 planets announced on Feb. 15, 2018.

The exoplanet discoveries by NASA’s Kepler space telescope keep rolling in.

Astronomers poring through data gathered during Kepler’s current extended mission, known as K2, have spotted 95 more alien planets, a new study reports. 

That brings the K2 tally to 292, and the total haul over Kepler’s entire operational life to nearly 2,440 — about two-thirds of all the alien worlds ever discovered. And more than 2,000 additional Kepler candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations or analysis. [7 Greatest Exoplanet Discoveries by NASA’s Kepler (So Far)]

Kepler launched in March 2009, on a mission to help scientists determine just how common rocky, potentially habitable worlds such as Earth are throughout the Milky Way. For four years, the spacecraft stared continuously at about 150,000 stars, looking for tiny dips in their brightness caused by the passage of planets across their faces.

This work was highly productive, as noted above. But in May 2013, the second of Kepler’s four orientation-maintaining “reaction wheels” failed, and the spacecraft lost its superprecise pointing ability, bringing the original mission to a close.

But mission managers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, and the spacecraft soon embarked on its K2 mission, which involves exoplanet hunting on a more limited basis, as well as observing comets and asteroids in our own solar system, supernovas and a range of other objects and phenomena.

For the new study, researchers analyzed K2 data going all the way back to 2014, zeroing in on 275 “candidate” signals.

“We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft,” study lead author Andrew Mayo, a Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Denmark’s National Space Institute, said in a statement. “But we also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.”

Indeed, 149 of the signals turned out to be caused by bona fide exoplanets, 95 of which are new discoveries. And one of the new ones is a record setter.

“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet,” Mayo said. “Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories.”

The new study was published today (Feb. 15) in The Astronomical Journal.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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Russian Cargo Ship Delivers 3 Tons of Supplies to Space Station

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