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What’s in Store for 2017 at NASA?

What’s in Store for 2017 at NASA?

With 2016 behind us, we take the time to not only reflect on what we’ve
accomplished, but also take a look to what’s ahead for the next year.

Here are a few things to
look forward to in 2017… 

New Telescope in Town

This year marked big
progress on our James Webb Space Telescope and there are still a number of
large milestones before the telescope is launched in 2018. Once launched, JWST will
be the premier observatory of the next decade. It will study every phase in the
history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big
Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets
like Earth, to the evolution of our own solar system.


In 2017, the telescope
will be shipped to our Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where end-to-end
optical testing in a simulated cryo-temperature and vacuum space environment
will occur.

Epic Final Year at Saturn

After more than 12 years
studying Saturn, its rings and moons, our Cassini
is in its
final year of its epic voyage
. The conclusion of the historic scientific
odyssey is planned for September 2017, but not before the spacecraft completes
a daring two-part endgame.


Cassini’s final phase –
called the Grand Finale – begins in earnest in April 2017. During this time,
Cassini will make the closest-ever observations of Saturn, mapping the planet’s
magnetic and gravity fields with exquisite precision and returning ultra-close
views of the atmosphere.

Delivering Supplies to Space

Our ambitious commercial
space program has enabled a successful partnership with two American
companies to resupply
the International Space Station. 


The companies are
successfully resupplying the space station, and more missions to deliver
scientific investigations and cargo are planned for 2017.  

Launching Two Earth Missions

New Earth science
missions got underway in 2016 to enable studies that will unravel the
complexities of our planet from the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere to
its core. In 2017, we will launch two Earth-observing instruments to the
International Space Station as part of our ongoing use of the orbiting space
laboratory to study our changing planet.


The Stratospheric
Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III)
will give us a new way to monitor
Earth’s protective ozone layer and document its ongoing recovery. The Lightning
Imaging Sensor (LIS)
will measure both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground
lightning over much of the planet, data that will help improve our
understanding of lightning’s connections to weather and related phenomena.

Commercial Crew

Our Commercial
Crew Program
is working with American aerospace industry as companies
develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable
of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.


In 2017, astronauts will
train for commercial flights and launch pad 39A will be completed at Kennedy
Space Center in Florida. Work is
wrapping up on a new structure built specifically for the needs of astronauts
climbing into Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch
Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. In 2017, the
200-foot-tall Crew Access Tower and Crew Access Arm will see installation and testing
of emergency evacuation systems. 


has also overhauled the historic Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy and built new support
structures for the company’s line of Falcon rockets. The Crew Access Arm,
currently under construction, will be connected in mid-2017
to provide a bridge from the fixed service structure to the Crew Dragon
spacecraft so astronauts can board before launch

Orion Progress

Our Orion spacecraft is
being built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will
serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide
emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel and
provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.


In 2017, computers in
the Orion
crew module
for the spacecraft’s first mission with our Space Launch System
rocket will be turned on for the first time to verify the spacecraft can route
power and send commands. While the Orion outfitting and assembly process for
the first mission of the spacecraft atop the SLS rocket continues in 2017,
construction will also begin on the vehicle for the first Orion flight with
astronauts that will fly as early as 2021.

Cutting Edge Technology

Our Space Technology office
is dedicated to pushing the technological envelope, taking on challenges not
only to further space agency missions near Earth, but also to sustain future
deep space exploration activities. 


In 2016, the office focused on and made
significant progress in advancing technologies and capabilities that will
continue into 2017. 

Advances in Aeronautics

Our rich aeronautical
research heritage added to its history of technical innovation in 2016 with
advancements that will help make airplanes use less fuel, release fewer emissions
and fly more quietly…and that includes working to return supersonic flight to
the commercial marketplace.


We took steps in 2016 to
resume designing, building and flying several experimental aircraft, or
X-planes, as a means to demonstrate key green technologies and help accelerate
their use by industry. In 2017, this research will continue to grow and

Thanks for joining us in 2016, we look forward to sharing our progress with you in the coming year. 

Happy New Year!

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Space station battery work starts New Year’s Eve

Space station battery work starts New Year’s Eve


Working over the New Year holiday weekend, robot arm operators at the Johnson Space Center will begin a complex procedure to replace 12 aging batteries in the International Space Station’s solar power system with six state-of-the-art lithium-ion power packs, a multi-step process over the next two weeks that will require two spacewalks to complete.

Without the remotely-controlled arm operations, it would take six spacewalks to carry out the battery swap out. But arm operators in Houston, starting New Year’s Eve, will swap out three batteries before Expedition 50 commander Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson venture outside on Jan. 6 to continue the work.

After additional robot arm operations, Kimbrough and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet will carry out a second spacewalk Jan. 13 before a final round of robot arm operations Jan. 14 and 15.

It is the most complex remotely controlled robot arm work yet implemented aboard the space station, an intricate, multi-step, multi-shift procedure that resembles a shell game of sorts, with old and new batteries moving to and fro between a cargo pallet, temporary mounting fixtures and a solar array electronics unit.

The space station is equipped with four huge sets of solar arrays that slowly rotate to track the sun as the laboratory circles the Earth. Each set of arrays powers two of the station’s eight electrical buses and each set of arrays is equipped with 12 nickel-hydrogen batteries to provide electricity when the lab is in Earth’s shadow.

Station assembly began in 1998 and the original-equipment batteries are losing strength. So, over the next few years, all 48 of the nickel-hydrogen batteries will be replaced with 24 smaller, more efficient lithium-ion batteries that will keep the station in good health through its remaining life.

The first set of six replacement batteries was carried to the station aboard a Japanese HTV cargo ship that reached the lab complex Dec. 13. Flight controllers in Houston used the station’s robot arm, equipped with a multi-appendage hand-like special purpose dexterous manipulator, or SPDM, to remove a pallet carrying the new batteries on Dec. 14.

The pallet then was maneuvered to the right side of the station’s power truss and temporarily mounted near the inboard starboard 4, or S4, set of arrays powering electrical channels 1A and 3A. The S4 arrays, and their batteries, were launched in June 2007.

Along with carrying the six new batteries to the station, the pallet will be used to carry nine of the 12 older batteries away from the station. They will burn up, along with the HTV, when the cargo ship re-enters the atmosphere after departing the station. Three of the older batteries will be left in storage aboard the lab.

Six adapter plates also were carried up on the HTV, three for electrical channel 1A and three for channel 3A. The adapter plates feature cables and circuitry to connect the new lithium-ion batteries to the station’s power grid. The three nickel-hydrogen batteries remaining on the station will be mounted atop three of the adapter plates.

Starting New Year’s Eve and continuing through Jan. 3, arm operators in Houston plan to begin the channel 3A work, moving three lithium-ion batteries from the HTV pallet to the integrated electronics assembly, or IEA, at the base of the S4 arrays. Three nickel-hydrogen batteries will be installed on the HTV pallet while a fourth will be temporarily mounted on a SPDM attachment fixture.

During U.S. EVA-38 on Jan. 6, Kimbrough and Whitson will complete the channel 3A swap-out, moving three adapter plates to the IEA and mounting two of the three nickel-hydrogen batteries that will remain in place atop those plates. Three lithium-ion batteries will already be in place thanks to earlier robotic arm operations.

Starting Jan. 8 and continuing through Jan. 12, arm operators will focus on channel 1A. Three nickel-hydrogen batteries in the electronics assembly will be moved to the HTV pallet and two more will be temporarily mounted on the SPDM. Three lithium-ion batteries will be moved from the pallet to the electronics assembly.

Kimbrough and Pesquet then will venture outside on Jan. 13, moving an adapter plate and one of the older batteries to the IEA. At this point, the three nickel-hydrogen batteries that will remain aboard the station will be in their designated positions. The astronauts will move two more adapter plates to the IEA.

Robot arm operators then will finish the battery replacement work on Jan. 14 and 15, moving the three nickel-hydrogen batteries mounted on the SPDM and a nearby attachment fitting to the HTV pallet. The pallet will be moved back to the HTV and mounted in its unpressurized cargo bay on Jan. 17. The HTV is scheduled to depart the station on Jan. 27.

With the battery replacement work out of the way, the station crew will focus on research as Kimbrough, Soyuz MS-02 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Sergey Borisenko wind up their stay in orbit before returning to Earth in late February.

Their replacements, Soyuz MS-04 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA flight engineer Jack Fischer, are expected to launch at the end of March.

The Russians have not yet revealed the results of an investigation to find out what triggered the loss of a Progress cargo ship Dec. 1 or what impact that might have on downstream flights.

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Brazilian satellite manufacturer seeks new business as it completes its first satellite

Brazilian satellite manufacturer seeks new business as it completes its first satellite
SGDC Visiona Thales Brazil

WASHINGTON — In the absence of a guaranteed order for a second geostationary satellite, Brazil’s emerging domestic satellite manufacturer Visiona Tecnologia Espacial is building up a remote sensing business and weighing a small satellite project in order to gain more experience.

Established in 2012, Visiona is a joint venture between Telebras Telecomunicações Brasileiras and Embraer Defense and Security tasked with cultivating a geostationary satellite manufacturing capability in Brazil. The company’s flagship project is the Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications (SGDC) satellite, a Ka- and X-band spacecraft for Telebras and the Brazilian Ministry of Defense constructed in partnership with Thales Alenia Space of France.

SGDC is slated to launch in March, toward the end of a six-month window with launch provider Arianespace on an Ariane 5 rocket. Visiona awarded the SGDC contract to Thales Alenia Space in the fourth quarter of 2013, which included a technology absorption program organized by the Brazilian Space Agency that let more than 65 Brazilians work alongside Thales experts in France. Visiona received the finished satellite this month and is preparing to have it shipped to French Guiana in February.

Visiona worked as the interface for Telebras and the Ministry of Defense to help design the satellite and integrate the payloads into a Thales Alenia Space’ Spacebus 4000 platform. To prevent a loss of momentum, Visiona is considering a satellite project in low Earth orbit that would allow the company to showcase its manufacturing abilities until other avenues of business become clear, according to company President and Chief Executive Eduardo Bonini.

“Next year the next step for Visiona could be building a new small satellite for observation. This would bring more confidence from customers and that could bring more chances to build products and capabilities,” Bonini told SpaceNews.

Visiona’s background is in low Earth orbit satellites. Much of the company’s technical acumen came from INPE, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, which has built several remote sensing spacecraft and led Brazil’s half of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS) series. The latest such satellite, CBERS-4, launched in December 2014 on a Chinese Long March 4B rocket.

“Visiona is not waiting only for a second satellite in geostationary. We are working in front of all the necessary government areas that could use not a geostationary satellite, but a new satellite for observation, data collecting, or other applications,” Bonini said.

SGDC is Visiona’s first geostationary satellite project. The company would not have been able to complete the project without the support of Thales Alenia Space, which helped build the satellite and its ground stations in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. A smaller satellite, however, is something Bonini believes it can complete on its own.

“We feel we have capacity to build a small satellite here in the weight of 100 kilograms that could meet the demands of several applications. Our idea is to use a Visiona platform that could fit into data collecting, remote sensing or strategic tactical communications and optical applications,” Bonini explained.

Earth imagery business

Visiona has also formed a new business unit called Observation Services that stitches together imagery from international satellite operators with coverage of Brazil.  Bonini said his company has partnerships with Airbus, DigitalGlobe, Restec (Remote Sensing Technology Center) of Japan, South Korea’s SI Imaging Services and UrtheCast. That service has generated a few million dollars in revenue from about 12 to 15 customers.

Bonini said Visiona is investing in value added services for the imagery, such as creating models and simulations, rather than just being an intermediary supplier. Visiona’s imagery partners were represented in Brazil in the past, but Bonini said the volume of business was too little to justify having a large individual presence. With the combined resources of the five imagery providers, Bonini said the company has optical coverage of Brazil ranging from 0.3 to 25 meters, and radar from 0.25 to 50 meters, as well as access to UrtheCast video from the International Space Station.

Bonini said Visiona is marketing this service to Brazil’s Ministry of Defense, but could also build a dedicated satellite constellation if they preferred a proprietary system. Visiona is pursuing customers with this imagery business in addition to trying to find additional customers who might buy satellites.

Future satellite plans

The SGDC communications satellite is designed primarily for government services. Its 50 Ka-band transponders are meant to provide full coverage of Brazil mainly for digital inclusion programs to bring internet access to remote parts of the country. The seven X-band transponders are for military applications.

Bonini said the country’s new government needs more time to determine if it wants to invest in a second SGDC satellite. The president of Telebras also changed with the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, Bonini said, and new leadership wants to ensure that continued investment in SGDC would be a profitable investment. He added that none of these changes have affected the first SGDC satellite.

Should Visiona obtain another geostationary satellite contract, be it an SGDC-2 or something else, Bonini said the company would seek to build more of the satellite with Brazilian parts and labor. “We have in mind that the integration of a second satellite should happen in Brazil,” he said.

This would likely involve using an assembly, integration and testing facility through INPE. Thanks to skills gained with SGDC, Bonini said Visiona would be able to build more composite materials, participate in building solar arrays and construct some of the power system for its next geostationary satellite project, whenever one starts.

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