28 Min Read

The Marshall Star for January 17, 2024

‘Be King’: Team Redstone Invites All to Honor Civil Rights Icon’s Legacy

By Jessica Barnett

Several accomplished speakers took to the stage Jan. 11 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to share how Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy helped shape their lives.

The event was hosted by Marshall’s ODEO (Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity), along with the FBI and U.S. Army, in the center’s Activities Building 4316 as a way of honoring King, a minister and activist from Atlanta who rose to national prominence as a key figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. King would have been 95 on Jan. 15.

Several guest speakers took to the stage Jan. 11 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to share how Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy impacted them personally, as well as how others can continue his legacy by being like King today. Pictured here, from left, are Tora Henry, director of Marshall’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity; Kenny Anderson, director of Huntsville City’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Jacquelyn Gates Shipe, CEO of Global Ties Alabama; Darell Ezell, social scientist, professor, administrator, and corporate strategist; Bryan Samuel, vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Alabama in Huntsville; and Larry Leopard, associate center director, technical, at Marshall.
NASA/Alex Russell

Marshall ODEO Deputy Director Carolyn Magsby and Associate Center Director-Technical Larry Leopard kicked off the event before welcoming Kenny Anderson, Huntsville City’s director of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Though the theme for the event was “It Starts with Me,” Anderson helped set the tone by encouraging everyone to honor King by “being King” and choosing peace, compassion, and education over violence, criticism, and ignorance.

Following Anderson’s remarks, Bill Marks, who serves as deputy director of Marshall’s Office of Center Operations, moderated a panel featuring Darrell Ezell, a social scientist, administrator, professor, and corporate strategist; Jacquelyn Gates Shipe, CEO of Global Ties Alabama; and Bryan Samuel, vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Kenny Anderson, director of Huntsville City’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, speaks about Martin Luther King Jr. during an Jan. 11 event honoring King’s life and legacy ahead of what would have been the civil rights icon’s 95th birthday. Joining Anderson on stage are, from left, Global Ties CEO Jacquelyn Gates Shipe; social scientist and professor Darell Ezell; and Bryan Samuel, vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
NASA/Alex Russell

The panelists each shared King’s impact on their personal lives, from school desegregation to interactions with foreign visitors to how they work to highlight and overcome injustice in their community. They also discussed the impacts of social media, cross-cultural connections, and access to education on the injustices faced by minority communities.

Marshall ODEO Director Tora Henry said she looks forward to the event inspiring courageous conversations throughout 2024.

Barnett, a Media Fusion employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.

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National Mentor Month: Navigating Mentorship with Michoud’s Cynthia Spraul and Marie Allain

By Celine Smith

As a mentor at NASA’s MAF (Michoud Assembly Facility), Cynthia Spraul says her goal is the success of her mentee, Marie Allain.

“It feels really good to pass on my experience to somebody who can get there faster and go beyond,” Spraul said.

Mentor and Michoud Assembly Facility integrations lead Cynthia Spraul, left, smiles with mentee, Marie Allain, project coordinator, at a holiday party in 2022.
NASA/Courtesy of Marie Allain

For some, a mentorship may seem daunting. A mentee looking for a mentor in a new environment can find it difficult to find someone they trust to guide their career and personal growth. Meanwhile, mentors may feel discouraged, thinking they might not have enough knowledge to be in their role.

Hoping their experience can help others during National Mentor Month, Spraul and Allain shared their insight about finding and starting a mentorship.

Spraul worked for Lockheed Martin at Michoud on the Space Shuttle Program’s External Tank for 20 years. For the past 17 years, she has worked for NASA at Michoud, where she is currently the integrations lead.

“I work on strategic site management, resource management, and contract management,” Spraul said.

Allain graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from LSU (Louisiana State University) in 2021. “I got involved with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at LSU, an aerospace professional society, which is how I really got into aerospace,” she said.

Allain now works as a project coordinator on Spraul’s integrations team. She performs project management in the Michoud Directorate and contract administration along with Component Processing Facility management.

Spraul was asked to coordinate the summer internship program at Michoud, which is how she got started as a mentor. Spraul was the program’s first mentor at MAF. So, when Allain approached her requesting mentorship, she gladly took her on.

Question: What does mentorship mean to you?

Spraul: Seeing someone’s interest in what you do, like Marie taking an interest in my past experience, reinvigorates my love for my job and my desire to work. Mentoring makes work fun for me again. I might be doing the same things, but since I’m teaching somebody while I’m doing it, I get to listen to myself when I talk. It makes me go, ‘Oh, wow, I really get to do this.’ I get excited about my work all over again.

Allain: My mentor makes me feel like I’m starting my career with the insight a person at the peak of their career wishes they had when they started. This mentorship gives me an opportunity to start on the right foot. I get to start out with tools that will help me later down the line. It gives me the opportunity to glean a lot of insight from people who have been at Michoud for a long time. They know the history of the place firsthand. A lot of people in this office are getting near retirement, and before too long, we’re going to have a lot of information, a lot of our history, that’s lost. I get the opportunity to retain some of that history from somebody who experienced it firsthand.

Question: What impact has mentorship had on you and your career?

Spraul: Someone having an interest in what I’m doing is a catalyst for me and my own career growth. The more I get reinterested in what I’m doing, the more I ask myself, ‘What’s my next step and how do I get there?’ Especially because Allain’s watching me. It’s always better to perform when someone’s watching you. There’s a reason to do better and grow because young people are watching. I also tend to turn my focus on the coming generations, because they’re going to be here when I’m gone.

Allain: Before going into this mentorship, I struggled visualizing what my career could look like. Especially coming right out of college, nobody knows what jobs actually exist. Spraul knows what our organization is and what exists in it, and what it’s like to work in different roles in the organization. The kind of insight she provided completely changed how I feel about my career. I have an actual vision of where I’m headed. Beforehand, I felt I was somewhat free floating in space.

Question: How did you find and connect with your mentor/mentee?

Spraul: After mentoring college interns over the years, I’m always excited when I learn something new from them. When Marie came to me requesting mentorship, she had already taught me so many things that I thought it was a great idea to expand our dialogue.

Allain: It was natural for us.After the first few months of working together on projects, we would have lunch together. We’d spend some time together and talk. I started to realize she and I have a lot in common.

Question: What steps did you take to approach your mentor/mentee to initiate the partnership?

Allain: I started asking her for insight about her experience and her career. The mentorship relationship developed from there. It started with discussions during lunch and developed into conversations about everything from work stories to life experience.

Spraul: Allain asked introspective questions that would lead us on a good tangent while we worked together as well. We also started staying after work so I could have longer conversations with Allain about a path for her future.

Question: What advice do you have for someone else considering finding or being a mentor?

Allain: For mentees, find somebody you look up to in your organization and just ask. Most potential mentors see it as a huge compliment. The worst thing that can happen is being told no. I think most people at NASA would say yes. Don’t feel like you’re putting somebody out by asking them to mentor you. Also, don’t sit around assuming mentors are going to come to you.

Spraul: I would suggest that mentees observe other people above them. Mentees should watch how potential mentors conduct themselves to see who they would like to model themselves after. For mentors, a lot of work goes into being mentor. It’s more than showing up. Be prepared by knowing what you’re going to have your mentee do and try. Being a mentor does take some work, but you receive tenfold in your own career and the enjoyment of your day. Don’t be afraid is my best advice. Even showing up is valuable to the mentee. You’ll get results from anything else you put into it.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a Marshall Star series during National Mentor Month in January. Marshall team members can learn more about the benefits of mentoring on Inside Marshall.

Smith, a Media Fusion employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.

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NASA Shares Progress Toward Early Artemis Moon Missions with Crew

NASA announced Jan. 9 updates to its Artemis campaign that will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon, land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all. To safely carry out these missions, agency leaders are adjusting the schedules for Artemis II and Artemis III to allow teams to work through challenges associated with first-time developments, operations, and integration.

NASA will now target September 2025 for Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission around the Moon, and September 2026 for Artemis III, which is planned to land the first astronauts near the lunar South Pole. Artemis IV, the first mission to the Gateway lunar space station, remains on track for 2028.

From left, Artemis II crew members CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen, and NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, and Reid Wiseman walk out of Astronaut Crew Quarters inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Artemis crew transportation vehicles prior to traveling to Launch Pad 39B as part of an integrated ground systems test at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 20, to test the crew timeline for launch day.
NASA

“We are returning to the Moon in a way we never have before, and the safety of our astronauts is NASA’s top priority as we prepare for future Artemis missions,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We’ve learned a lot since Artemis I, and the success of these early missions relies on our commercial and international partnerships to further our reach and understanding of humanity’s place in our solar system. Artemis represents what we can accomplish as a nation – and as a global coalition. When we set our sights on what is hard, together, we can achieve what is great.”

Ensuring crew safety is the primary driver for the Artemis II schedule changes. As the first Artemis flight test with crew aboard the Orion spacecraft, the mission will test critical environmental control and life support systems required to support astronauts. NASA’s testing to qualify components to keep the crew safe and ensure mission success has uncovered issues that require additional time to resolve. Teams are troubleshooting a battery issue and addressing challenges with a circuitry component responsible for air ventilation and temperature control.

NASA’s investigation into unexpected loss of char layer pieces from the spacecraft’s heat shield during Artemis I is expected to conclude this spring. Teams have taken a methodical approach to understand the issue, including extensive sampling of the heat shield, testing, and review of data from sensors and imagery.

The new timeline for Artemis III aligns with the updated schedule for Artemis II, ensures the agency can incorporate lessons learned from Artemis II into the next mission, and acknowledges development challenges experienced by NASA’s industry partners. As each crewed Artemis mission increases complexity and adds flight tests for new systems, the adjusted schedule will give the providers developing new capabilities – SpaceX for the HLS (human landing system) and Axiom Space for the next-generation spacesuits – additional time for testing and any refinements ahead of the mission.

“We are letting the hardware talk to us so that crew safety drives our decision-making. We will use the Artemis II flight test, and each flight that follows, to reduce risk for future Moon missions,” said Catherine Koerner, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “We are resolving challenges associated with first-time capabilities and operations, and we are closer than ever to establishing sustained exploration of Earth’s nearest neighbor under Artemis.”

In addition to the schedule updates for Artemis II and III, NASA is reviewing the schedule for launching the first integrated elements of Gateway, previously planned for October 2025, to provide additional development time and better align that launch with the Artemis IV mission in 2028.

NASA also shared that it has asked both Artemis human landing system providers – SpaceX and Blue Origin – to begin applying knowledge gained in developing their systems as part of their existing contracts toward future variations to potentially deliver large cargo on later missions.

“Artemis is a long-term exploration campaign to conduct science at the Moon with astronauts and prepare for future human missions to Mars. That means we must get it right as we develop and fly our foundational systems so that we can safely carry out these missions,” said Amit Kshatriya, deputy associate administrator of Exploration Systems Development, and manager of NASA’s Moon to Mars Program Office at headquarters. “Crew safety is and will remain our number one priority.”

NASA leaders emphasized the importance of all partners delivering on time so the agency can maximize the flight objectives with available hardware on a given mission. NASA regularly assesses progress and timelines and as a part of integrated programmatic planning to ensure the agency and its partners can successfully accomplish its Moon to Mars exploration goals.

With Artemis, NASA will explore more of the Moon than ever before, learn how to live and work away from home, and prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet. NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket, exploration ground systems, and Orion spacecraft, along with the human landing system, next-generation spacesuits, Gateway lunar space station, and future rovers are NASA’s foundation for deep space exploration.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the SLS and HLS programs. NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, which is managed by Marshall, manufactures several Artemis components, including the SLS core stage.

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IXPE Helps Researchers Maximize ‘Microquasar’ Findings

By Rick Smith

The powerful gravity fields of black holes can devour whole planets’ worth of matter – often so violently that they expel streams of particles traveling near the speed of light in formations known as jets. Scientists understand that these high-speed jets can accelerate these particles, called cosmic rays, but little is definitively known about that process.

Recent findings by researchers using data from NASA’s IXPE (Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer) spacecraft give scientists new clues as to how particle acceleration happens in this extreme environment. The observations came from a “microquasar,” a system comprised of a black hole siphoning off material from a companion star.

The microquasar in question – Stephenson and Sanduleak 433, or SS 433 – sits in the center of the supernova remnant W50 in the constellation Aquila, some 18,000 light-years from Earth. SS 433’s powerful jets, which distort the remnant’s shape and earned it the nickname the “Manatee Nebula,” have been clocked at roughly 26% of the speed of light, or more than 48,000 miles per second. Identified in the late 1970s, SS 433 is the first microquasar ever discovered.

IXPE’s three onboard telescopes measure a special property of X-ray light called polarization, which tells scientists about the organization and alignment of electromagnetic waves at X-ray frequencies. X-ray polarization helps researchers understand the physical processes taking place within extreme regions of our universe – such as the environment around black holes – and how particles get accelerated in these regions.

IXPE spent 18 days in April and May of 2023 studying one such acceleration site in the eastern lobe of SS 433, where emissions are made by energetic electrons spiraling in a magnetic field – a process called synchrotron radiation.

“The IXPE data show that the magnetic field near the acceleration region points in the direction the jets are moving,” said astrophysicist Philip Kaaret of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and principal investigator of the IXPE mission, along with lead author of a new paper about the findings at SS 433.

“The high level of polarization seen with IXPE shows that the magnetic field is well ordered, with at least half of the field aligned in the same direction,” Kaaret said.

That finding was unexpected, he said. Researchers have long theorized that the interaction between the jet and the interstellar medium – the environment of gas and dust between stars – likely creates a shock, leading to disordered magnetic fields.

The data suggests a new possibility, Kaaret said – that the magnetic fields within the powerful jets may be “trapped” and stretched when they collide with interstellar matter, directly impacting their alignment in the region of particle acceleration.

Since the 1980s, researchers have surmised that SS 433’s jets act as particle accelerators. In 2018, observers at the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory in Puebla, Mexico, verified the jets’ acceleration effect, and scientists used NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatories to pinpoint the region of acceleration.

As researchers continue to assess IXPE findings and study new targets in space, its data also could help determine whether the same mechanism acts to align magnetic fields in outflows expelled by a variety of phenomena – from black hole jets streaming away from supernova remnants to debris ejected from exploded stars such as blazars.

“This very delicate measurement was made possible by the imaging capabilities of IXPE’s X-ray polarimeters, making possible the detection of the tenuous signal in a small region of the jet 95 light-years from the central black hole,” said Paolo Soffitta, Italian principal investigator for the IXPE mission.

The new paper, detailing IXPE’s observations at SS 433, is available in the latest edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

IXPE is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency with partners and science collaborators in 12 countries. IXPE is led by Marshall.

Smith, an Aeyon/MTS employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.

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NASA Shares Lessons Learned in Low Earth Orbit Through Payload Workshop

By Jessica Barnett

NASA welcomed commercial partners from around the globe to Marshall Space Flight Center for a three-day workshop last fall, highlighting what the agency has learned during its more than 20 years in Low Earth orbit.

Through tours, panels, and one-on-one discussions, the workshop provided an overview and best practices of what NASA does to prepare International Space Station payloads for operations, so commercial partners can leverage NASA’s knowledge and experience as they build their own space stations and presence in Low Earth orbit.

NASA experts discuss International Space Station payload operations during a three-day workshop held Nov. 7-9 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The workshop provided NASA’s commercial partners an overview and NASA’s best practices for preparing space station payloads for operations.
NASA/Sherresa Lockett

“We have so much history and knowledge, and we want to impart on them what we know so they can think about it, and see what applies to them and what doesn’t,” said Eleasa Kim, who serves as the Payload Operations Lead for NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program, also known as CLDP, supporting Marshall’s Human Exploration Development and Operations Division.

NASA’s CLDP is supporting the development of commercially owned and operated Low Earth orbit destinations from which NASA, along with other customers, can purchase services and stimulate the growth of commercial activities. As commercial Low Earth orbit destinations become available, NASA intends to implement an orderly transition from current space station operations to these new commercial destinations.

More than 70 people joined the workshop in person and online. Attendees were able to listen to experts discuss a litany of topics, from a general overview of the payload life cycle to safety reviews and flight readiness checks to real-time support and anomaly response.

Among the attendees, was John Selmarten, senior manager, Payload Project Management at Axiom Space. Selmarten said the workshop offered invaluable help to the company.

“The CLDP workshop offered industry access to, and an overview of, NASA’s wide variety of subject matter experts, tools, and facilities currently utilized to operate payloads on the ISS,” Selmarten said. “This information is invaluable to Axiom Space as we begin the transformation of low-Earth orbit into a global marketplace through research, in-space manufacturing, and tech demos.”

For Alex Stuetz and Denis Healy of Los Angeles-based aerospace company Vast, it was an amazing opportunity to hear from people with decades of experience.

“I certainly benefited from the breadth of topics covered,” said Healy, who serves as Vast’s mission operations engineer II. “It wasn’t three or four very specific, niche areas, but there was a good scope of subjects covered, and the details and nuance as it relates to each.”

The pair also took part in the tours and one-on-one discussions made available through the workshop.

Kirt Costello, standing, speaks to a room of NASA’s commercial partners during the Payload Operations Workshop. Costello is the utilization manager for the commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program.
NASA/Jessica Barnett

“It’s incredibly helpful to be able to have face-to-face conversations and get a tour of the facilities, to see the hardware,” said Stuetz, Vast’s mission manager. “It’s these types of events that really push everything forward rapidly and in a collaborative manner.”

Marshall team members were equally excited to share their knowledge with NASA’s commercial partners.

“It’s a chance to share and build something new, to continue the Low Earth orbit presence,” said Joe Kitchen, operations discipline lead for the Planning and Analysis Branch of the Payload Mission Operations Division at Marshall. “Commercializing is really the only way to enable it, so it’s cool to be part of this.”

Marty O’Toole, the Starlab payloads lead on the Voyager team, also shared his appreciation for the MSFC Payload Ops team and the workshop.

“It was a very informative briefing on all aspects of ISS payload operations, from early integration activities through planning, certification, real-time ops and return,” said O’Toole. “The presentation format with a group of experienced individuals assuming their CADRE (Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration) roles helped to demonstrate and emphasize the detailed coordination needed across all the ops functions. This exercise stimulated lots of discussion and thinking about how Starlab can implement and streamline its operations program going forward.”

Kim explained that the workshop is the first of its kind for her team, which spent three months preparing, including dry runs on each Friday of the final month leading up to the workshop. In addition to preparing tours and panels, they arranged social events, networking opportunities, case studies with filmed simulations, and more for the commercial partners.

Learn more about Commercial Destinations in Low Earth Orbit.

Barnett, a Media Fusion employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.

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Brr, It’s Cold in Here! NASA’s Cryo Efforts Beyond the Atmosphere

Establishing sustained operations at the Moon and Mars presents a multitude of opportunities and challenges NASA has yet to encounter. Many of these activities require new technologies and processes to ensure the agency is prepared for its ambitious Artemis missions and those beyond.

One of those challenges is working with cryogenic fluids, meaning fluids existing in a liquid state between minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit and absolute zero (minus 460 F). These fluids – liquid hydrogen (the most difficult to work with), methane, and oxygen – are vital to spacecraft propulsion and life support systems. The fluids may also be produced in the future on the lunar and Martian surfaces via ISRU (in-situ resource utilization).

A 2019 image of the SHIIVER tank sitting inside the In-Space Propulsion Facility’s vacuum chamber at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. The tank was part of a Cryogenic Fluid Management project effort to test the tank at extreme temperatures and ensure the new technologies kept the propellants inside cold and in a liquid state.
Credit: NASA

Human exploration in deep space requires storing large amounts of cryogenic fluids for weeks, months, or longer, as well as transferring between spacecraft or fuel depots in orbit and on the surface. Each aspect is challenging, and, to date, large amounts of cryogenic fluids have only been stored for hours in space. Engineers working in NASA’s Cryogenic Fluid Management, or CFM, Portfolio – led by Technology Demonstration Missions within the Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed at the agency’s Glenn Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center – are solving those issues ahead of future missions.

“This is a task neither NASA, nor our partners, have ever done before,” said Lauren Ameen, deputy CFM Portfolio manager. “Our future mission concepts rely on massive amounts of cryogenic fluids, and we have to figure out how to efficiently use them over long durations, which requires a series of new technologies far exceeding today’s capabilities.”

For a cryogenic fluid to be useable, it must remain in a frigid, liquid state. However, the physics of space travel – moving in and out of sunlight and long stays in low gravity – make keeping those fluids in a liquid state and knowing how much is in the tank complicated.  

The heat sources in space ­– like the Sun and the spacecraft’s exhaust – create a hot environment inside and around storage tanks causing evaporation or “boiloff.” When fluid evaporates, it can no longer efficiently fuel a rocket engine. It also increases the risk of leakage or, even worse, a tank rupture.

Being unsure of how much gas is left in the tank isn’t how our explorers want to fly to Mars. Low gravity is challenging because the fuel wants to float around – also known as “slosh” – which makes accurately gauging the amount of liquid and transferring it very difficult.

“Previous missions using cryogenic propellants were in space for only a few days due to boiloff or venting losses,” Ameen noted. “Those spacecraft used thrust and other maneuvers to apply force to settle propellant tanks and enable fuel transfers. During Artemis, spacecraft will dwell in low gravity for much longer and need to transfer liquid hydrogen in space for the first time, so we must mitigate boiloff and find innovative ways to transfer and measure cryogenic propellants.”

NASA’s CFM portfolio encompasses 24 development activities and investments to reduce boiloff, improve gauging, and advance fluid transfer techniques for in-space propulsion, landers, and ISRU. There are four near-term efforts taking place on the ground, in near-Earth orbit, and soon on the lunar surface.  

Flight Demos

In 2020, NASA awarded four CFM-focused Tipping Point contracts to American industry – Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance – to assist in developing and demonstrating CFM technologies in space. Each company is scheduled to launch its respective demonstration in either 2024 or 2025, performing multiple tests using liquid hydrogen to validate technologies and processes.

Radio Frequency Mass Gauge

To improve gauging, NASA has developed RFMG (Radio Frequency Mass Gauges) to allow for more accurate fluid measurement in low-gravity or low-thrust conditions. Engineers do this by measuring the electromagnetic spectrum, or radio waves, within a spacecraft’s tank throughout the mission, comparing them to fluid simulations to accurately gauge remaining fuel.

The RFMG has been proven in ground tests, sub-orbital parabolic flight, and on the International Space Station, and it will soon be tested on the Moon during an upcoming Commercial Lunar Payload Services flight with Intuitive Machines. Once demonstrated in the lunar environment, NASA will continue to develop and scale the technology to enable improved spacecraft and lander operations.

Cryocoolers

Cryocoolers act like heat exchangers for large propellant tanks to mitigate boiloff when combined with innovative tank insulation systems. With industry partners, like Creare, NASA has begun testing high-capacity cryocooler systems that pump the “working” fluid through a network of tubes installed on the tank to keep it cool. NASA plans to increase tank size and capabilities to meet mission requirements before conducting future flight demonstrations.

CryoFill

NASA is also developing a liquefaction system to turn gaseous oxygen into liquid oxygen on the surface of the Moon or Mars to refuel landers using propellant produced in situ. This approach uses various methods to cool oxygen down to critical temperature (at least minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit), where it condenses, turning from a gas to a liquid. Initial development and testing have proven NASA can do this efficiently, and the team continues to scale the technology to relevant tank sizes and quantities for future operations.

Ultimately, NASA efforts to develop and test CFM systems that are energy-, mass-, and cost-efficient are critical to the success of the agency’s ambitious missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. 

For more info, view the CFM fact sheet.

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Astronomers Find Spark of Star Birth Across Billions of Years

Four images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes represent a sample of galaxy clusters that are part of the largest and most complete study to learn what triggers stars to form in the universe’s biggest galaxies, as described in a press release.

This research showed that the conditions for stellar conception in these exceptionally massive galaxies have not changed over the last ten billion years.

These images represent a sample of galaxy clusters that are part of the largest and most complete study to learn what triggers stars to form in the universe’s biggest galaxies. Clusters of galaxies are the largest objects in the universe held together by gravity and contain huge amounts of hot gas seen in X-rays. This research, made using Chandra and other telescopes, showed that the conditions for stellar conception in these exceptionally massive galaxies have not changed over the last ten billion years. In these images, X-rays from Chandra are shown along with optical data from Hubble.
X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/M. Calzadilla el al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk & J. Major

Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the universe held together by gravity and contain huge amounts of hot gas seen in X-rays. This hot gas weighs several times the total mass of all the stars in all the hundreds of galaxies typically found in galaxy clusters. In the four galaxy cluster images in this graphic, X-rays from hot gas detected by Chandra are in purple and optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, mostly showing galaxies in the clusters, are yellow and cyan.

In this study, researchers looked at the brightest and most massive class of galaxies in the universe, called BCGs (brightest cluster galaxies), in the centers of 95 clusters of galaxies. The galaxy clusters chosen are themselves an extreme sample – the most massive clusters in a large survey using the SPT (South Pole Telescope), with funding support from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy – and are located between 3.4 and 9.9 billion light-years from Earth.

The four galaxy clusters shown here at located at distances of 3.9 billion (SPT-CLJ0106-5943), 5.6 billion (SPT-CLJ0307-6225), 6.4 billion (SPT-CLJ0310-4647) and 7.7 billion (SPT-CLJ0615-5746) light-years from Earth, and the images are 1.7 million, 2 million, 2.4 million and 2.2 million light-years across, respectively. By comparison our galaxy is only about 100,000 light-years across.

In SPT-CLJ0307-6225 the BCG is near the bottom right of the image and in the other images they are near the centers. Some of the long, narrow features are caused by gravitational lensing, where mass in the clusters is warping the light from galaxies behind the clusters. The images have been rotated from standard astronomer’s configuration of North up by 20 degrees clockwise (SPT-CLJ0106-5943), 6.2 degrees counterclockwise (SPT-CLJ0307-6225), 29,2 degrees counterclockwise (SPT-CLJ0310-4647) and 24.2 degrees clockwise (SPT-CLJ0615-5746).

The team found that the precise trigger for stars to form in the galaxies that they studied is when the amount of disordered motion in the hot gas – a physical concept called “entropy” – falls below a critical threshold. Below this threshold, the hot gas inevitably cools to form new stars.

In addition to the X-ray data from Chandra X-ray Observatory and radio data from the SPT already mentioned, this result also used radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array, and the Australian SKA Pathfinder Telescope, infrared data from NASA’s WISE satellite, and several optical telescopes. The optical telescopes used in this study were the Magellan 6.5-m Telescopes, the Gemini South Telescope, the Blanco 4-m Telescope (DECam, MOSAIC-II) and the Swope 1m Telescope. A total of almost 50 days of Chandra observing time was used for this result.

Michael Caldazilla of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) presented these results at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in New Orleans, Louisana. In addition, there is a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal led by Caldazilla on this result.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

Read more about Chandra.

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NASA Selects 12 Companies for Space Station Services Contract

NASA has selected 12 companies to provide research, engineering, and mission integration services for the International Space Station Program.

The $478 million Research, Engineering & Mission Integration Services-2 or REMIS-2 contract will support the work of the International Space Station Program based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The companies will provide spaceflight, ground hardware and software, sustaining engineering functions and services, payload facility integration, and research mission integration operations services.

Each company will receive a multiple-award, indefinite-quantity contract with firm-fixed price and cost-plus-fixed-fee task orders. The seven-year contract extends through Sept. 30, 2030, with an option to extend through Sept. 30, 2032.

The companies selected are:

Aegis Aerospace, Inc., Houston

Axient Corp, Huntsville, Alabama

Cimarron Software Services, Houston

Consolidated Safety Services, Exploration Park, Florida

JES Tech, Houston

KBR Wyle, Fulton, Maryland

Leidos, Webster, Texas

Metis, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Oceaneering, Houston

Tec-Masters, Huntsville

Teledyne Brown Engineering, Huntsville

University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama

The majority of the work will take place at contractor facilities across the country. Services also may be required at other NASA centers, contractor or subcontractor locations, or vendor facilities as requirements warrant.

The contract also includes a small business reserve, which was fulfilled by selecting Aegis, Cimarron, Consolidated Safety Services, JES Tech, Metis, and Tec-Masters. 

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