Successful Chandra, Space Station, X-Vehicle milestones highlight 1999 for NASA's Marshall Center

December 09, 1999

From the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory to the first test flight of the X-34 rocket plane, from delivery of key elements of the International Space Station to Space Shuttle safety upgrades, NASA¹s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., played a key role in NASA¹s many memorable successes in 1999.

One of NASA¹s most notable achievements in the past year was the successful launch in July of Chandra aboard STS-93. The Marshall-managed space observatory will spend five or more years in high Earth orbit, documenting the history of the cosmos through study of X-ray emissions.

"It¹s literally a dream come true," said Arthur G. Stephenson, director of the Marshall Center, following Chandra¹s successful delivery to orbit aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. "There are people here at Marshall, and elsewhere, who have devoted more than 20 years of their lives to the Chandra program. Now they have seen their dreams become reality."

The earliest captured images from the Chandra Observatory -- named for the late Nobel Laureate Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar -- are already benefiting research into the mysteries of exploding stars, black holes and other celestial phenomena.


1999 was a year of accomplishment for the "X" programs, next-generation launch vehicle demonstrators managed by the Marshall Center and aimed at making the future of flight -- both in space and in Earth atmosphere -- more reliable and affordable.

The workhorse in NASA¹s line of reusable rocket planes, the X-34, made remarkable progress in 1999. Unveiled in April at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Calif., the X-34 made its maiden flight in June, attached to the underbelly of its L-1011 carrier aircraft. The X-34 is expected to begin a series of 27 solo test flights in spring of 2000.

In February, the X-33 rocket plane¹s rugged thermal-protection system panels passed an intensive series of tests. Three months later, Marshall completed testing of the vehicle¹s aluminum liquid oxygen tank. Testing also began at Marshall on one of the X-33's two composite liquid hydrogen tanks. Damage to the skin of the tank, discovered following a successful pressure and structural test, is now being investigated.

In July, NASA and the Boeing Co. of Seal Beach, Calif., entered into a $173 million cooperative agreement to develop the X-37, an experimental space plane designed to test new technologies for reusable launch vehicles. Its first test flight -- an unpowered drop from an aircraft -- is scheduled for 2001, followed by orbital and atmosphere reentry testing in 2002.


The Marshall Center continues to play a vital role in building and managing the International Space Station, now being assembled in orbit by the United States and 15 partner nations. The 470-ton Space Station will be wholly devoted to scientific research conducted in microgravity -- one of Marshall¹s primary NASA missions.

The Space Station¹s Airlock Module and two of the Station¹s primary truss segments -- the starboard-side S1 truss and the port-side P3/P4 truss -- were delivered to Marshall in 1999 for structural and design testing as well as installation of critical flight hardware.

In October, outfitting and testing of the Boeing-built S1 truss was completed. The spine-like truss segment was flown from Marshall to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where it will be taken to orbit aboard the Space Shuttle in 2001. Testing of the airlock is due to conclude in January of 2000 for delivery to Kennedy. The airlock also will be carried to orbit by the Shuttle in 2001.

Marshall also manages several international partnership Station components. In July, the second of three Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules -- or Station supply transports -- was delivered to Kennedy by Italian Space Agency contractor Alenia. Managed by Marshall, the first of the modules will be flown to orbit in late 2000.

Marshall continues to oversee testing of two Italian-built connecting nodes -- pressurized modules that will link living and working quarters aboard the Station. The nodes will be sent aloft separately; the first is scheduled for delivery in 2002.

Development of water recycling and oxygen generating systems for the Space Station¹s Environmental Control and Life Support System also is proceeding at Marshall. In May, the Station¹s Water Processor was successfully flight-tested aboard Space Shuttle during the STS-96 mission. The Shuttle crew tested the processor¹s Volatile Removal Assembly (VRA) to ensure proper function of the Station¹s water reclamation system.


The Space Shuttle¹s role in delivering Space Station elements, Chandra and other NASA mission objectives to space spurred NASA and Marshall in 1999 to rededicate their efforts toward the safety and reliability of the Shuttle.

From the Solid Rocket Boosters to the Main Engines and the External Fuel Tank, all Shuttle propulsion elements managed at Marshall continue to be upgraded. In 1999, Marshall initiated development of Main Engine enhancements that include a more reliable high-pressure fuel turbo pump -- scheduled for flight in late 2000 -- and the Advanced Health Monitoring System, which measures vibration and tracks proper engine function during takeoff and flight.

Upgrades are also being made to the Solid Rocket Booster and Solid Rocket Motor elements -- to improve response to flight commands and protect against excess wear, respectively. A 1999 redesign of the External Tank's fuel port will eliminate the potential for fuel leaks that could delay or scrub a launch.


Marshall¹s Advanced Space Transportation Program continues to pave the "highway" to space. "Safe, reliable, affordable transportation has been the key to exploration and development of frontiers that emerged throughout history," said Dr. Row Rogacki, director of the Space Transportation Directorate at Marshall. "And transportation is again the driver as we boldly prepare to explore and develop the largest frontier of all -- the space frontier."

Among the technologies Marshall is developing that will dramatically increase safety and reduce the cost of space travel:MICROGRAVITY & SPACE SCIENCE RESEARCH

NASA¹s reach for the stars not only advances humanity's exploration of the cosmos, but new technologies derived from space research continue to improve the lives of people all over the world. The Marshall Center made some noteworthy scientific advances in 1999.

In January, Marshall opened its Microgravity Development Laboratory, which helps researchers develop Space Station experiments and perform other ground-breaking investigations conducted in the microgravity environment. The Microgravity Research Program Office at Marshall also continues to work with investigators nationwide, helping to plan and prepare the first Space Station experiments.

Tasked by NASA with overseeing all science operations aboard the Space Station, Marshall has designed, equipped and will staff the Payload Operations Center, a 24-hour-a-day control facility at Marshall coordinating all Space Station science operations. The first online tests of the facility -- which will communicate with Station crew, on-board experiments and researchers around the world -- now are being conducted. The center is to become fully functional in early 2000.

The latest milestone for the Payload Center was the delivery of the Telescience Resource Kit, or TReK. Developed by Marshall engineers, TReK is a software system enabling scientists teaming with Marshall to remotely operate Station experiments from their own laboratories on Earth. Software validation testing is in progress.

Other highlights of Marshall¹s 1999 space science programs included accomplishments in the microgravity and astrophysics fields: EARTH SCIENCES & PLANETSIDE RESEARCH

The Global Hydrology and Climate Center in Huntsville, managed by the Marshall Center, made significant progress in a number of research areas this year. Satellite tracking of hurricanes promises to improve global severe-weather forecasting capabilities -- saving lives and mitigating property damage. Likewise, NASA research into lightning activity is providing new insight on the formation of tornadoes.

Thermal studies of metropolitan areas are helping Marshall "heat hunters" alert citizens and urban planners to the detrimental effects of the urban heat island. NASA remote sensing technologies are even exploring new ways to aid farm productivity and identify outbreaks of disease.

NASA announced in 1999 that Marshall and the State of Alabama will form the National Space Science and Technology Center. The center will offer unique opportunities for NASA scientists to collaborate with industry, academia and other federal agencies for research in materials sciences, Earth sciences, biotechnology, propulsion, optics and other disciplines that support NASA¹s mission.

In the past year, Marshall helped translate a number of NASA¹s scientific achievements into commercial successes through the Technology Transfer process. The program seeks commercial applications of NASA technology, resulting in marketable products for industry or the public. For example:

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is NASA's premier organization for development of space transportation and propulsion systems, and NASA's leader in microgravity research -- unique scientific studies conducted in the near-weightlessness of space.

In the past, Marshall played key roles in the development and operation of the Saturn V rocket, Skylab, the Lunar Roving Vehicle, Spacelab and the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, the Center's primary management responsibilities include Space Shuttle propulsion systems; the Chandra X-ray Observatory and future large-scale space optics systems; the X-33 and X-34 rocket planes and X-37 space plane; and all science operations aboard the International Space Station.

Marshall is responsible for developing advanced space transportation systems designed to further humankind's exploration of space while slashing the cost of getting there from today's $10,000 per pound to only hundreds of dollars per pound, or even less. The Center is working to bring a future among the stars closer to reality for the people of Earth.

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

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