Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Mission Day 2
Posted on Aug 22, 2012 04:34:11 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member David Coan, an engineer with United Space Alliance at NASA's Johnson Space Center
Mission Day 2 was an exciting day for the pilot in all of us. We changed plans up from our usual days of collecting rocks out on a "spacewalk" (Extra Vehicular Activity or EVA) to do some more challenging flying tasks. Our new mission today was to pilot the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) down to several different asteroids that spin at a variety of rates. These asteroids varied from relatively easy, slowly spinning objects to ones that moved at rates such that the ground seemed to whiz by quickly underneath the spacecraft.
The Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) viewed from outside during the RATS simulated mission; video screens in front of the MMSEV windows project images of the asteroid as crew members pilot the MMSEV. Photo credit: NASA
Once we rendezvoused with our target on the ground, we had to manually pilot the MMSEV to station keep, or in other words hold the spacecraft in one small spot such that an EVA crewmember on the end of the arm could collect samples. Our station keeping goal was to keep the spacecraft to within a half meter of a given location. While that may sound easy, when the ground is moving quickly under you in unexpected directions, and you have limited visual cues out the windows, it becomes challenging to hold position in one spot. This is made even more complicated by trying to maneuver the spacecraft manually in all six axis (forward/back, left/right, up/down, roll, pitch, and yaw).
Once we completed our planned flying evaluations, we even had the opportunity to try out some potential techniques for holding the MMSEV steady at a worksite. This technique had us use a telescoping pole ('stinger') sticking out the front of the vehicle to help 'stick' us to the ground. Basically, we flew the MMSEV directly at the asteroid and pushed the 'stinger' into the ground, using light thrust to keep it buried. In theory, this would help us stay in one location, though the asteroid rotation rates made it challenging to stay balanced on our spacecraft sized pogo stick. But, it all made for a fun and exciting of day of piloting on an asteroid.
Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: The Asteroid Out Our Window
Posted on Aug 22, 2012 10:58:40 AM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member Trevor Graff (Planetary Geologist)
Although we are living and working within the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) located within the Building 9 hi-bay of the Johnson Space Center (JSC), you would never know it from our perspective inside the vehicle. Our view out the windows of the MMSEV is a fantastic representation of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa. Surrounded by a high-resolution video wall that displays the asteroid in front of us, we are totally immersed in this simulated environment. Here inside the MMSEV, we use the displays, controls, and views out the windows to operate the vehicle within this amazing environment. One of the other great aspect are the sounds; not only are we surrounded by the whirl of electronics and communication systems, we can hear the simulated thrusters firing outside as we maneuver the MMSEV.
What's really remarkable is that the shape, motion, and imagery of the asteroid Itokawa that we see out our windows are all derived from actual mission data from the Hayabusa mission. This spacecraft, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), launched in 2003 and arrived at Itokawa in 2005. After a few months in orbit surveying and studying the asteroid from a distance, it landed and collected samples which were returned to Earth in 2010 (for more information on the Hayabusa mission see the JAXA website). Some of those samples returned from the surface of Itokawa are now located at JSC, just a short distance from where I currently sit in the MMSEV. For its support of the Hayabusa mission, NASA will eventually receive approximately 10% of the returned samples; the first 15 particles were delivered in late 2011. This material is curated at JSC and made available to the scientific community for research (get more information on these samples and their curation at JSC).
RATS crew members see a visualization of asteroid Itokawa from the windows of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). Photo credit: NASA
Itokawa is a stony (or S-type) asteroid that is shaped sort of like a potato. Its length is approximately five football fields long; the actual dimensions are 535 x 294 x 209 meters. It has been described as a rubble-pile, and looking at it from our view in the MMSEV I can see why. It has a very rough rocky appearance with many large boulders perched on the surface; there are also a few areas where it appears smooth. From the data collected during the Hayabusa mission, we know that Itokawa has a low bulk density and high porosity – indicating that it is likely made up of material previously broken up by other asteroid impacts that loosely reformed to make Itokawa as we see it today.
Viewing screen showing the Itokawa asteroid simulation. Photo credit: NASA
Exploring and learning about an asteroid utilizing data from a robotic precursor spacecraft, as we are during this year's RATS test, is exactly the strategy that we would likely use to eventually send humans to an asteroid in the future. This analog test and others like it are a great step in achieving that goal. As great as this view is today within this simulation, the view and knowledge we would get from sending humans on an actual mission to an asteroid in the future will be spectacular.
Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Mission Day 1
Posted on Aug 21, 2012 02:42:35 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member David Coan, an engineer with United Space Alliance at NASA's Johnson Space Center
Trevor and I started the day by getting sealed up in the Multi-Mission
Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) to kick off the RATS 2012 simulated asteroid mission. The
vehicle looks rather small from the outside, but on the inside it seems
to be just roomy enough. Packing can be a little tricky, since there's
just enough space crammed into every conceivable location, but we got it
all in with the help of our Human Factors guru. Once settled in the
cabin, we got down to the day's mission.
Our goal was to virtually "fly" down to the
asteroid and have one of us go out on a spacewalk (an Extra Vehicular Activity or EVA) to collect some rock samples. I started off flying the
MMSEV, and Trevor headed out the door. To go on an EVA, Trevor used the
suitports in the back of the MMSEV, where his spacesuit was attached on
the outside. He opened the inner hatch, climbed into the suit, closed
the hatch, and then was off on his EVA.
View from inside the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) as the simulated asteroid mission is running on video screens. Photo credit: NASA
To simulate being on EVA,
Trevor headed up to the Virtual Reality Lab, where he donned goggles that
made it appear to him as if he were near the asteroid. Having Trevor
settled on the front of the MMSEV, I then flew it down to each of the
sample sites. With the virtual simulation projected out my front
windows, it seemed as if I was really on the asteroid. Liz, Allison, and
Marc helped a lot by choreographing our mission from the Deep Space Habitat.
Flying the MMSEV was great. It reacted really well to all control
inputs, and it wasn't too difficult to precision fly near the asteroid surface
with Trevor's helmet just inches from the rocks. We worked like that for
a couple of hours, and then switched places. Climbing into the Mark III
spacesuit to egress for my EVA was definitely fun, even though I was only
in the suit for a few minutes.
Having trained in the space shuttle and
space station airlock mockups, I found using the suitport to be very
quick and easy. Once we were done with our flying tasks, we settled in
for our evening tasks. That involved making a freeze dried dinner,
setting up our cycle and exercising, and filling out a bunch of data
sheets. Exercising in the confined quarters was challenging, and we
mostly stuck with using the cycle. We finished the night by configuring
our bunks for sleeping, and shutting things down for the night.
Suitport with spacesuit on the outside of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). Photo credit: NASA
Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Virtual Field Work
Posted on Aug 21, 2012 01:28:01 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member Trevor Graff (Planetary Geologist)
This is my third year as part of NASA's Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team. In 2010, I was a member of the science team and supported the GeoLab operations in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH). I was part of the field science team in Arizona again in 2011, in addition to having the unique opportunity to train and prepare as a backup crew member. This year I'm one of the prime crew members for RATS 2012.
As a geologist, I greatly enjoy being in the field – exploring, mapping, sampling and analyzing the rocks, soil, and terrain. Geologist crew members for RATS get to apply the years of knowledge and experience we've gained from our field and lab work to exploration missions beyond our Earth. Our "field" environment for this year's test is extremely unique.
Unlike many of the previous RATS tests conducted in the field in Arizona, this year we are exploring an actual asteroid. Well... sort of. Let me explain. This year's test, conducted here at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), has us exploring the asteroid 25143 Itokawa. This is accomplished in a few very cool ways. First, our vehicle (the Generation 2A Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle or MMSEV) is in front of a large simulation screen that displays the asteroid in front of us. Using data and imagery from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa mission - that visited, landed, and returned samples from Itokawa – the simulated asteroid looks and moves just like the real thing.
RATS crew members Marc and Trevor running an asteroid mission simulation from within the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV).
This extremely realistic simulation allows us to fly around, approach, and anchor to the asteroid, all while monitoring our flight controls, propellant usage and many other factors. Once we approach or anchor to the asteroid, one or more of us will perform a simulated spacewalk, also known as an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity). This involves two additional very cool aspects of this year's testing.
For EVAs, we either go to the Virtual Reality Laboratory (VR Lab) or to the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS). In the VR Lab, we put on a special set of glasses that allows us to view and explore the asteroid as if we were in a space suit external to the MMSEV. From here we can fly to and sample the asteroid - getting our "hands dirty" in the virtual reality world. The other EVA option is to get strapped into ARGOS. The ARGOS facility provides the ability to offload our weight to simulate weightlessness, all while conducting our exploration and sampling of the simulated asteroid surface.
RATS crew member performs a simulated spacewalk using the ARGOS system.
Analog missions like this one are vital in providing the data that will influence the development of mission architectures and technology critical to future human spaceflight. As a scientist, it's great to be a part of helping evaluate and develop the equipment, techniques, and strategies that will eventually take us to places like asteroids and on to Mars!
What Would We Mine in Space?
Posted on Aug 03, 2012 04:18:11 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
NASA is actively planning to expand the horizons of human space exploration, and with the Space Launch System and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, humans will soon have the ability travel beyond low Earth orbit. But before we send humans to explore deep-space destinations -- like near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and Mars and its moons -- we need to demonstrate and refine capabilities here on Earth.
Image at right: The RESOLVE experiment package atop CSA's Artemis Jr. Rover.
Each potential destination contains a vast spectrum of resources that space architects, engineers, and mission planners can work into spacecraft designs and operations to make a mission more safe, cost-effective, and efficient. Harnessing local resources is a practice called In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), and it offers very attractive benefits for human space exploration, including mass reduction for the payload - and therefore cost reduction, since the number of launches will be fewer and size of launch vehicles could be smaller. ISRU also reduces risk for crew members, increases mission flexibility, and encourages commercialization of space by blazing a trail and demonstrating a market that is waiting to be cornered.
But What Would We Mine at Each Destination?
Earth's moon offers four major resources. The regolith, or layer of loose soil overlying rock beds, has a rich mixture of oxides and metals. The lack of atmosphere on the moon exposes the regolith to solar wind volatiles, including hydrogen, helium, and carbon. And recent robotic missions have proven that the shadowed polar craters have water-ice. NASA and its partners have already demonstrated the technology and proven the capabilities necessary to harness all of these resources for sustainable human exploration of the lunar surface.
Near-Earth asteroids present a unique challenge for space explorers. There are several types and classes of asteroids and the compositions vary greatly; some are very iron-rich, with magnesium, nickel, water, rare platinum groups, and varieties of silicates, while others will be rich with oxygen, water, and other volatiles. The rotation and spin rates can be erratic and unpredictable, making anchoring and mining precarious for humans. During the past two NEEMO analog missions, astronauts practiced different navigation and translation techniques for asteroid exploration, including human-robotic sampling and translation techniques in which the astronauts could deploy robotic systems to mine the asteroid resources.
The red planet’s atmosphere contains 95.5% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen, and 1.6% argon. We know from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that water concentration varies by location, but we have proof of significant ice beneath the regolith at the poles. Mars also has oxides and metals in the soil, making it yet another resource-rich destination that we hope one day will be home to humans.
Could Planetary Resources Really Sustain Humans Away from Earth?
Robotic precursor missions can help prepare an extraterrestrial destination for a long-duration human visit. A system the size of RESOLVE, mounted on a rover like the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Artemis Jr., would be used to locate resources that could be used by the crew for life support, protection, power, and propulsion. With the information, another small rover and processing plant can be delivered to mine an area less than 1 inch deep the size of a soccer field for one year prior to humans arriving in order to have enough initial resources to sustain a crew of astronauts when they arrive. If we had a shorter precursor timeframe, the robotic hardware would have to be much bigger in order to produce and store an initial repository of consumables for when the astronauts arrive. Another advantage of early robotic deployment, also known as a robotic precursor mission, is that it enables us to do more science experiments to learn about the area before the astronauts get there.
To learn more about In-Situ Resource Utilization, visit www.nasa.gov/exploration/analogs/isru.
From the ARC Science Back Room
Posted on Jul 31, 2012 04:35:41 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
By Kimberly Ennico, July 20, 2012, 43rd anniversary of “One small step, One giant leap”
I write this after the conclusion of our multi-day field demo of the RESOLVE payload. Prior to any activity, as with all organized operational tests, a clear set of success criteria is identified. RESOLVE, having being defined by NASA’s exploration and technology divisions, has the following goals:
CAT 1 Objectives (Mandatory):
- Travel at least 100m on-site to map the horizontal distribution of volatiles
CAT 2 Objectives (Highly Desirable):
- Perform at least 1 coring operation. Process all regolith in the drill system acquired during the coring operation
- Perform at least 1 water droplet demo during volatile analysis.
CAT 3 Objectives (Desirable):
- Map the horizontal distribution of volatiles over a point to point distance of 500m.
- Surface exploration objective is 1km
- Perform coring operations and process regolith at a minimum of 3 locations.
- Volatile analysis will be performed on at least 4 segments from each core to achieve a vertical resolution of 25cm or better.
- Perform a minimum of 3 augering (drilling) operations
- Surface exploration objective is 6 augers
- Perform at least 2 total water droplet demos. Perform 1 in conjunction with hydrogen reduction and perform 1 during low temperature volatile analysis.
CAT 4 Objectives (Goals):
- Perform 2 coring operations separated by at least 500m straight line distance
- Surface exploration is 1km
- Travel 3km total regardless of direction
- Travel directly to local areas of interest associated with possible retention of hydrogen
- Process regolith from 5 cores
- Perform hardware activities that can be used to further develop surface exploration technologies
At first glance, they are pretty much very operations based: 100 m (328 ft) here, 1 km (3,281 ft) there, three locations, three auger (drilling) ops, etc. They were the driving forces of this demo, no pun intended. Our main focus was to demonstrate the technology and the operations. However, as each day went on, you could hear on the voice loop the engineers asking more and more about what we scientists – those on site or in our “Ames science backroom” – were discussing and observing with each new scan, spectra, and image. Also, we actually found ourselves demonstrating science in this activity. That was the whole beauty of this project: science enabling exploration and exploration enabling science. Each team member, excited about roles played by others, united by our shared excitement in the concept of pushing our ability to explore beyond our home planet.
At the end of our field demo, we clocked 1,140 m (3,740 ft.) total in-simulation roving distance, 475 m (1,558 ft.) separation travel distance between hot spots, with total separation of traverses greater than 500 m. (1,640 ft.) We located nine hot spots, completed four auger operations, four drill operations, and four core segment transfers to the crucible (oven) for volatile analysis and characterization. We had seven remote operations centers plugged in to our central system. We logged 185,918 rover positions, collected 227,880 near-infrared spectra, 136,273 neutron spectrometer measurements, 139,703 drill measurements, 3,630 image data products, and wrote 2,446 console log entries.
(Left) Band-depth (a measurement of abundance) for a water band (at 1.5 microns) plotted for the whole simulation. Most of the water detected this way turned out to be “grass” in the spectrometer’s field of view, but we did rove over some pretty “dry areas.” Variety indeed. The red line shows our traverse path on July 19. (Right) Counts for the neutron spectrometer for the simulation. This aerial photo shows how we traversed over a range of geological features, a mixture of glacial (old outwash) and volcanic (olivine basalt) deposits. Image credit: NASA
While some of the ISRU technology demonstrations focused on pre-arranged drill tubes filled with pre-planned test materials, we were particularly excited to drill into the native tephra. Its saturated soil (up to 20%) is more consistent with the Mars surface rather than the lunar surface. If successful, this test also would show practical drill performance parameters for future Mars drill missions. The approved procedures allowed us to core down to a maximum of 50 cm (19.6 inches). We reached 45 cm in about 56 minutes. Then, instead of putting the sample into the oven, the core tube was “tapped” out onto the surface while the rover moved forward to lay out the sample for evaluation by the near infrared and neutron spectrometers. This was a new procedure developed jointly by the rover, drill, and science teams, which demonstrated a new way of extracting material and quickly evaluating it.
Artemis Jr rover DESTIN (drill) acquiring sample from native soil. Image credit: NASA
The Ames science backroom team, clockwise from top left: Erin Fritzler, project manager; Bob McMurray, system engineer; Kayla La France, intern; Ted Roush, scientist; Carol Stoker standing, scientist; and Jen Heldmann, scientist. Not shown: Stephanie Morse, system engineer; Josh Benton, electrical engineer; and me - Kim Ennico, scientist. With our team of nine people we staffed three consoles in two shifts, for eight-days.
Ames science team members in Hawaii. They were our main interface for the Ames backroom to the Flight, Rover and Drill teams, whose leads were in Hawaii, but whose support teams were at KSC in Florida, JSC in Texas, and CSA in Canada. Left to right: Rick Elphic, Real Time Science and Tony Colaprete, Spec. Photo by Matt Deans.
To end on a fun note: mid-way through the sim, I got my updated console request so I could monitor the neutron spectrometer and near infrared spectrometer simultaneously to look for correlations (this combination of techniques had never been done before). I spotted this one (image below) as we were roving about. Camera imagery had been down, so we were “in the dark” from visual clues. Upon seeing the two signals, I called out a strong hydrogen and water signal to the Science team in Hawaii over the voice loop.
Screengrab of one of my console screens. Top trace is the neutron spectrometer Sn counts showing a modest signal. Bottom traces are two different near-infrared water spectral regions that showed changes at the same time.
And it turns out we roved over this, a trench of water and a piece of aluminum foil reflecting the clear blue Hawaiian skies. The neutron spectrometer is designed to detect hydrogen at depth, whereas our near infrared spectrometer is more suited for surface water.
A test target along traverse path for July 19. Image credit: NASA
This target, like others we traversed over the past week (buried pieces of plastic, netting, etc.) had been dug out in the wee hours of the morning by other members of the RESOLVE operations team. Good way to get a few hours exercise after being cooped up behind monitors!
So what’s next? A “lessons learned” exercise is called out for next week. The different teams wrote down our learning points daily when they were fresh in our minds. We will review them as a team and move forward with the next steps – building a version that works in a vacuum. And our Ames backroom science team has identified a few science papers to write. We are excited!
Camping vs. Settling
Posted on Jul 19, 2012 02:24:26 PM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration
NASA is currently building the capabilities for long-term, deep-space human exploration. We know from experience on the International Space Station (ISS) that harnessing and recycling space resources increases mission flexibility, reduces payload mass requirements, and reduces risk to a crew who might otherwise be dependent on a cargo delivery. The ISS Water Recycling System, for instance, leverages local resources by recycling as much water as possible. It recycles urine from waste systems and even moisture from the air. This system is vital to continual operations because the cost of transporting all of the water needed for consumption and waste management is prohibitively expensive.
Image at right: Sitting atop the Canadian Space Agency's Artemis Jr. rover, RESOLVE is an experiment package designed to find, characterize and map the presence of ice and other volatiles in almost permanently shadowed areas at the lunar poles.
Here in Hawaii, during NASA's In-Situ Resource Utilization demonstrations, we are simulating a lunar robotic mission with the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction) experiment package. It is designed to find, characterize and map the presence of ice and other volatiles on the moon. The last few days, the RESOLVE package, mounted on a Canadian Space Agency rover, has traversed the volcanic deposits of Hawaii’s Big Island and is using several science instruments to locate volatiles in the regolith, drill for samples, then characterize and separate the samples for processing.
Bill Larson, ISRU Technology Development Project Manager, explains how ISRU is a vital component of long-duration missions, offering the analogy of "camping vs. settling" at a destination.
For instance, when you're camping, you bring canned and perishable food, bottled water, other temporary consumables, and batteries for your flashlight. When you are settling at a new location, you are likely to bring some perishables to sustain you in the beginning, but you'll also bring buckets to gather fresh water, seeds for a garden, spices to flavor the food you'll grow, and, instead of batteries, a reusable method of power generation.
In this analogy, you don't need ISRU for a camping trip, but if you are going to settle a any destination in space and be productive, you need to be able to harness local resources to generate gases and metals for human consumption, building materials, and propellants.
For more information about In-Situ Resource Utilization, visit www.nasa.gov/exploration/analogs/isru.