Dynetics Completes ‘Lunar Lander’ Preliminary Design Review

The U.S. is another “small step” closer to landing Americans on the moon, thanks to a Huntsville company.

Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has completed the preliminary design review of its Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis Program, marking another critical milestone in human spaceflight. This review provided NASA with insight into the design of the human lander that Dynetics hopes will carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon, Dynetics said in a news release.

“This review, a culmination of nine months of intense design and analysis, included a robust portfolio of development and risk reduction testing,” said Robert Wright, Dynetics HLS program manager. “The PDR demonstrated that our team’s preliminary lander design meets all the system requirements with acceptable risk while remaining within current cost and schedule constraints.”

Additionally, the team presented detailed technical descriptions of design trades, analyses conducted, and a design status to NASA. Verification methods were also explained.

“This is another step toward the lunar surface,” said Kim Doering, vice president of Space Systems at Dynetics. “The PDR confirmed that our team is ready to proceed with a detailed design as we approach the next milestone, Critical Design Review.

“This is yet another notable review that brings us one step closer to landing the next Americans on the moon.”

The Dynetics team has completed four reviews in the 10-month initial Base phase – a systems requirements review, a certification baseline review, the continuation review, and now the preliminary design review.

Space & Rocket Center Launches Shuttle Restoration Project

Some three decades of Huntsville weather have taken its toll on a Rocket City landmark.

The Pathfinder space shuttle is facing a multi-year, multi-million dollar restoration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Work is underway on the $1.5 million first phase of the project, which begins with removing the Pathfinder orbiter from atop the external fuel tank. Once the orbiter is on the ground, the Rocket Center will work with NASA to evaluate its original metal frame to determine the damage and cost for restoration.

Originally a top priority for 2020, the Rocket Center put the Pathfinder project on hold due to the severe financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic and reduced attendance at the museum and Space Camp.

In August, however, the Rocket Center received a Save America’s Treasures grant for $500,000 from the National Park Service. Subsequent donations from Tim Sheehy, a multi-time Space Camp and Aviation Challenge alumnus and CEO and Founder of Montana-based Bridger Aerospace; Lockheed Martin; the late Dr. Joyce Neighbors; The Daniel Foundation of Alabama; and PPG Industries matched the grant, allowing the project to begin.

Matt Sheehy, Tim’s brother and a Space Camp alumnus and president of Tallgrass Energy in Leawood, Kan., has also made a significant donation for the Pathfinder project as well as other Rocket Center restoration efforts.

“We were honored to receive the Save America’s Treasures grant to help us restore the Pathfinder Space shuttle, a beloved exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and a critical piece of hardware in the American space program,” said Rocket Center Executive Director/CEO Louie Ramirez. “We are grateful for the support of community partners and the Sheehy family for their help in getting us started on this important project.

“We look forward to working with our USSRC Education Foundation to raise additional funds to continue the work of restoring this important artifact in the future.”

The Pathfinder shuttle stack was erected in 1988, and is the only full-stack shuttle exhibit in the world. The property of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Pathfinder was originally used as a heavy-lift article to test handling, transportation and other procedures for the shuttle program. Pathfinder is a name NASA gives to articles used to test infrastructure and logistics for its programs.

In the early 1980s, a group of Japanese businessmen paid to modify the structure with plywood and fiberglass to more closely resemble a real orbiter and displayed it from 1983 to 1984 at an exposition in Tokyo. After the expo, Pathfinder returned to Huntsville and was mounted for the display seen today.

The Pathfinder shuttle stack consists of:

  • Orbiter
  • External tank
  • Two prototype solid rocket boosters
  • Three space shuttle main engines, including one flown on STS-1, the first shuttle fight. The other two were engineering development engines.

The Rocket Center has contracted with the Signature Renovations office in Loretto, Tenn., to manage the first phase of the restoration. The second phase will be determined by what is learned in the evaluation stage.

To donate to the Pathfinder Restoration Project, visit rocketcenterfoundation.org.

Blue Origin Mission Demonstrates Crew Capsule Upgrades

It was a picture-perfect launch and landing Thursday for Blue Origin’s New Shepard program.

The NS-14 booster touches down at the landing pad about two miles from where it lifted off at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Van Horn, Texas. (Blue Origin Photo)

Named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, New Shepard is Blue Origin’s fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle.

New Shepard is designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line (100 km), the internationally recognized boundary of space, returning them to Earth with minimal refurbishment required between flights. Thursday’s flight was the 14th mission to space and back for the New Shepard program. 

The rocket engine company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a $200 million, 350,000 square-foot plant in Cummings Research Park. The plant will make the company’s reusable BE-4 and BE-3U engines for the New Glenn program.

Named after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, New Glenn is a single-configuration, heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, cislunar, and beyond.

The engines will be tested at Test Stand 4670, the historic site at Marshall Space Flight for testing the Saturn V first stage and the space shuttle main engine. Blue Origin has begun refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history, bringing the sound of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville. 

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard. There were no passengers on Thursday’s flight.

Among the upgrades in the six-passenger capsule are speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control; an alert system with a panel at each seat relaying safety messages to passengers; and cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.  

The NS-14 crew capsule descends to the West Texas desert after Thursday’s mission. (Blue Origin Photo)

Blue Origin said the flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine. 

The New Shepard vehicle has completed 14 successful consecutive launches, 13 consecutive successful booster landings, three successful escape tests (from the pad, mid-flight at Max Q, and in the vacuum of space), and 15 consecutive successful crew capsule landings, including a pad escape. One of New Shepard’s boosters has flown five times consecutively; the other has flown a record seven times consecutively, both with minimal refurbishment between flights.

 Key Mission Stats 

      • 15th consecutive successful crew capsule landing (every flight in program, including pad escape test in 2012). 
      • The crew capsule reached an apogee of 347,568 feet. 
      • The booster reached an apogee of 347,211 feet.
      • The mission elapsed time was 10 minutes, 10 seconds and the maximum ascent velocity was 2,242 mph.

Dynetics Achieves Critical NASA Milestone

Dynetics has submitted its proposal for Option A of the Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis Program. The team has also completed the HLS Continuation Review, a critical milestone during the 10-month base period, which NASA will use to assess progress on HLS hardware development and program plans.

The Huntsville company is performing main engine tests at its propulsion test site in Huntsville and at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has also conducted tests of its smaller reaction control system engines at its own facilities.

Dynetics is using a low-fidelity hardware simulator and has added a software simulator provided by Draper Laboratory. The new simulator component enables early human testing of the Dynetics HLS guidance, navigation, and control software.

“Our team is making great progress on our system design and analysis, hardware development, and testing. The incredible volume of technical data and outstanding products delivered to date speak to the power of the swift, yet rigorous, engineering approach with which the team has executed,” said Kim Doering, vice president of space systems at Dynetics. “We believe this body of work lays a solid foundation for our crew-centric, sustainable solution to become NASA’s choice for safe human transportation to and from the lunar surface.”

Members of the team are Sierra Nevada, Oceaneering, Paragon Space Development and Maxar Technologies. The team will continue with the subsystem- and system-level design reviews and critical technology demonstrations as it awaits NASA’s Option A selection decision early this year.

Dr. Kimberly Robinson Named U.S. Space & Rocket Center Executive Director and CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, a 31-year NASA veteran, has been named the executive director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. She will assume her role Feb. 15.

“I look forward to joining the remarkable team at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to inspire our next generation of explorers,” Robinson said. “The Rocket Center is a vital part of our community that honors the Rocket City’s storied accomplishments and helps shape tomorrow’s space industry.

“I am excited to bring my knowledge and experience from three decades in the field of space exploration to the Rocket Center and help plan for our vibrant future.”

Robinson is NASA’s Utilization Manager for Advanced Exploration Systems and was previously the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis I, the first integrated flight test of the NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System rocket and the Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center.

She also served as the SLS Strategic Communications manager and has received several NASA performance awards including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and a Silver Snoopy.

Robinson received her Ph.D. and master’s degrees in engineering management and systems engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University.

“Along with her vast experience with NASA, Dr. Robinson brings an innovative spirit and the leadership skills needed to guide the Rocket Center as we plan for the future,” said Joe Newberry, chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission board. “Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and brought her to the top of a rigorous and exhaustive search for our new executive director and CEO.”

Louie Ramirez, who has served as executive director and CEO since January, will remain in a part-time capacity as chief operations officer to assist Robinson in her transition.

Robinson is married to Keith Robinson and has three sons. She is an avid community volunteer and serves as vice president for A New Leash on Life animal rescue organization and has taught at Oakwood University and UAH.

Stellar Group Named to Advisory Board for Drake State Space Construction Research Program

A nine-member advisory board has been named to oversee Drake State Community  & Technical College’s new Frontiers Research Program.

The Frontiers Research  Program was established after Drake State was selected by NASA’s Marshall Space  Flight Center as a partner to develop 3D printing technologies to support the Artemis  mission

The Frontiers Advisory Board, made up of technical experts, NASA officials and  community leaders will provide guidance to the research team throughout the year long project. 

“NASA is calling on us to help develop construction techniques suitable for use on the  moon,” said Dr. Pat Sims, president of Drake State Community & Technical College. “Our advisory board has the expertise to help guide our efforts as we complete this  significant work.” 

In addition to the advisory board, the Frontiers Research team will be supported by  representatives from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and ICON, a construction technologies company leading the 3D space construction research efforts for NASA. 

Drake State is the first community college and only Historically Black community college to receive a cooperative agreement award from Marshall’s CAN opportunity since its inception in 2013.

The Frontiers Research Program team – which consists of students, instructors and administrators from the college’s Engineering Design program  – will test 3D-printed concrete structures to help develop construction techniques for building landing pads, roads, and other large structures on the Moon. 

Frontiers Research Program Advisory Board Members 

Joe Fitzgerald – Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Alabama 

Jeff Haars – Vice President and Deputy Program Manager, Jacobs Space Exploration

Laura Hall – State Representative (D) District 19 

Larry Lewis – Cofounder and President, PROJECTTXYZ, Inc. 

John Mankins – President, Artemis Innovation Management Systems 

John Meredith – President Pro Tem, District 5, Huntsville City Council 

Raymond Pierce – President and CEO, Southern Education Foundation 

Ritchie Whorton – State Representative (R) District 22 

Lisa Williams – Cofounder and President, 3D Research Corp.

Evan Jensen – ICON

Jason Ford – ICON

Dmitri Julius – ICON

Failure Not an Option: Space & Rocket Center Launches ‘Save Space Camp’ Campaign

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are in jeopardy of permanent closure due to devastating economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an effort to remain open for future generations of visitors and campers, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are launching a “Save Space Camp” campaign. The campaign is seeking donations from Space Camp alumni, residents of Alabama and fans and visitors to continue Space Camp’s mission of education and inspiration.  

In a news release, the center said it must raise a minimum of $1.5 million to keep the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum open past October and to reopen Space Camp in April 2021.

The Space & Rocket Center closed in March due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. The museum reopened in late May, but with far fewer than normal visitors.

Space Camp did not reopen until June 28, and then with only 20 percent of its usual attendance. With limited admission from international students and school groups this fall and winter, Space Camp will again close for weeklong camp programs in September. 

Facing a nearly 67 percent loss of revenue, the Rocket Center laid off one third of its full-time employees in May and was unable to employ an additional 700 part-time employees who typically work in all areas of Space Camp and the museum. The majority of the remaining full-time employees have been furloughed since April. 

At this time, local, state and federal agencies have not been able to help the Rocket Center though these difficult times.

“However, we firmly believe that failure is not an option, and we are turning to the public for support,” the center said in the news release.

As an educational facility, the center has helped launch thousands of successful careers in aerospace, engineering, science, education and other fields.

According to the most recent economic impact studies, the Space & Rocket Center generates $120 million in annual revenue for the state of Alabama and serves as a magnet for visitors to Huntsville. The Rocket Center has been the top paid tourist attraction in the state for seven straight years. 


Teledyne Brown Completes Major Hardware for NASA’s Artemis Rocket

One of the largest pieces of hardware for NASA’s Space Launch System left Marshall Space Flight Center recently to begin its voyage to Kennedy Space Center in the coming weeks.

Teledyne Brown Engineering, the prime contractor on the project with several small business partners, designed and built the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter. LVSA provides the fundamental structural strength required to withstand the launch loads and the maximum dynamic pressure.

It also provides the critical separation system used to separate the core stage of the rocket from the second stage, which includes the astronauts in the Orion crew vehicle. The cone-shaped adapter is roughly 30 feet in diameter by 30 feet tall and consists of 16 aluminum-lithium alloy panels.

“LVSA is not only a significant achievement for our company, but it is monumental for Marshall Space Flight Center and the Huntsville Community,” said Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown Engineering.  “It’s the largest hardware to be completed for the SLS in Huntsville.

“Our company was an integral part of the country’s first rocket programs with Werner Von Braun, and we continue our legacy and support of space programs with this successful hardware completion for the latest Space Launch System.”

LVSA will be moved by barge to Kennedy Space Center where it will join the rocket’s Core Stage to the ICPS and Upper Stage.  It will be incorporated into the final configuration of the SLS for the first Artemis lunar mission.

The SLS is the only rocket able to send the Orion capsule, cargo and astronauts to the Moon in a combined mission.

The Artemis Mission, including this hardware, will be a part of the first moon landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Teledyne is building an LVSA for the second Artemis lunar mission and starting work on the LVSA for the Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024.

With $915M Contract Extension, Boeing to Support International Space Station Through 2024

Boeing, NASA’s lead industry partner for the International Space Station (ISS) since 1993, will continue supporting the orbiting laboratory through 2024 under a $915 million contract extension.

This award comes as the world marks 20 years of constant human habitation on the ISS — a record no other crewed spacecraft has come close to achieving.

“As the International Space Station marks its 20th year of human habitation, Boeing continues to enhance the utility and livability of the orbiting lab we built for NASA decades ago,” said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manager for the International Space Station. “We thank NASA for their confidence in our team and the opportunity to support the agency’s vital work in spaceflight and deep-space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.”

Boeing employees in Huntsville work closely with NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center and perform sustaining engineering and advanced studies, providing technology advancements, including engineering and manufacturing support for the ISS.

An international crew of six astronauts work and live on the ISS while traveling at the speed of 5 miles per second, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes. More than 240 people from 19 countries have visited the ISS and conducted almost 3,000 experiments onboard.

Boeing in Huntsville supports additional NASA programs including the Space Launch System, the world’s most powerful rocket, and Starliner commercial crew capsule.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center Reopening to Public

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is reopening to museum members Friday and to the general public Saturday. The Rocket Center has been closed since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To maintain social distancing, visitors will enter at the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Davidson Center, Rocket Park and Shuttle Park will be open, but some exhibits and all simulators will remain closed.

The traveling exhibit, “Playing with Light,” in the original museum building will be open.

Enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other safety measures include:

  • Timed tickets are required for admission.
  • One-directional paths are laid out through exhibits.
  • Plexiglass shields are in place at visitor service and ticketing desks.
  • Masks are strongly recommended for visitors and required for staff.

Reopening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed Mondays for cleaning.

To purchase tickets, visit rocketcenter.com.