Tag Archive for: Nasa

Digital twins have gained significant attention in the space industry as a promising technology for designing complex satellite networks. Although the technology is still evolving, companies specializing in this sector are witnessing an increasing demand for digital engineering tools.

Sedaro, a startup based in Arlington, Virginia, is among the companies at the forefront of developing digital engineering software specifically for space systems. Founded in 2016, Sedaro has received approximately $3 million in small business research awards from the Defense Department and NASA. The company has also attracted venture capital funding.

According to Robbie Robertson, the co-founder and CEO of Sedaro, the scale and complexity of satellite constellations make digital twins a necessity. However, he noted that in some cases, legacy digital design tools have been rebranded as digital twins, causing confusion, especially in military programs. Robertson emphasized the potential of digital twins to manage complexity in the planning and design of large satellite constellations, enabling a level of management that surpasses human capabilities.

The adoption of digital twins is gaining momentum in military satellite programs as the Department of Defense (DoD) plans for the next generation of space systems. Sedaro’s digital engineering software has found utility in the Pentagon’s requirements organization, which is responsible for overseeing major systems acquisitions. By employing a digital twin of a missile-tracking satellite network, decision-makers can fine-tune requirements before procuring the actual satellites.

Additionally, the U.S. Space Force is utilizing a digital twin to facilitate the planning of an experiment called Tetra 5, which aims to refuel satellites in orbit. In this case, the program necessitates the delivery of a digital twin alongside the physical system, showcasing the importance of incorporating digital twins in space-related initiatives.

Istari, a digital engineering startup, has gained the attention of military space programs with its innovative approach. The company is backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and led by former Pentagon procurement official Will Roper. Roper believes that the development of military aircraft, satellites, and other systems could be accelerated and made more cost-effective by utilizing modeling and simulation for design, testing, and certification processes.

Currently, the lack of integration among various models and simulations used by different contractors in military procurement programs hinders efficiency. Istari aims to address this challenge by offering an AI platform that serves as a common operating system for models and simulations. This approach allows for seamless integration and interoperability, enabling any model to be utilized regardless of its ownership.

The Space Force stands to benefit greatly from this technology. For instance, satellite operators and engineers would be able to train on the same model, creating a true digital thread. This would enable engineers to continually update and improve their designs with real-time data from users, fostering a more efficient and collaborative design process.

Robbie Robertson emphasizes the importance of clarifying the concept of digital twins to customers who may be overwhelmed by the marketing buzzwords and varying definitions. He defines a digital twin as a high-fidelity virtual representation of a physical system that remains synchronized with its real-world counterpart throughout its entire lifecycle.

Sedaro, recognizing the skepticism surrounding digital engineering, launched an updated version of its cloud-based digital engineering tool in April. The company aims to demonstrate that digital engineering is not merely an overhyped trend but a valuable technology with practical applications.

Robertson acknowledges that many people have been disappointed with the current state of digital engineering for space systems. This disappointment stems from the lack of significant improvements in the complexity and quality of hardware technologies enabled by software tools.

In the realm of DoD satellite programs, a combination of in-house and outdated commercial software products has traditionally been used to develop digital twins. However, these legacy technologies are ill-equipped to handle the scale and complexity of future military satellite constellations, including those planned by the Space Development Agency for low Earth orbit architecture.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is requesting digital representations of communications satellites from contractors in its latest solicitation. While the agency has not explicitly called for digital twins, Robertson notes that they are moving in that direction. The concept of digital twins can be customized to meet the specific needs and goals of each organization.

Robertson believes that the most exciting future application of digital twins for the Department of Defense (DoD) is to have digital twins of operational satellites. Traditionally, engineering simulations are seen as design tools used before the physical system is created. However, the primary use of digital twins will be in operations, where they can simulate systems at a high fidelity to optimize their utilization, identify vulnerabilities from a military perspective, and enable predictive maintenance. This aligns with the widespread use of digital twins in other industries.

With one gesture, SpaceX’s President and COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a glimpse into her perspective ahead of the historic NASA and SpaceX Demo-2 test mission coming up on May 27, in which a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket and travel to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. SpaceX, NASA Ready

“I’ll feel a little relief when they’re in orbit, and I’ll feel more relief when they get to the station, and then obviously, I will start sleeping again when they’re back safely on planet Earth,” Shotwell said in a Friday press conference previewing the mission.

The May 27 mission will be the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since the conclusion of the space shuttle era in 2011. It is an end-to-end test mission to demonstrate systems on orbit, docking at the ISS, and descent with crew on board. This is the final flight test for the system to be certified for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceX received its first NASA Commercial Crew contract in 2011. Shotwell said the SpaceX team has kept the astronauts at the forefront of their minds during this entire process. SpaceX, NASA Ready

“I wanted to make sure everyone at SpaceX understood and knew Bob and Doug as astronauts, as test pilots, badasses — but dads and husbands. I wanted to bring some humanity to this deeply technical effort as well. I’m really excited to fly them here in a few weeks,” she said.

While NASA and Shotwell previewed the mission on Friday morning, SpaceX Founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk went on Twitter to launch an erratic tweet storm. Musk, who has been openly critical of social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, called for returning people their freedom, said Tesla‘s stock price is too high, and that he is selling nearly all of his physical possessions. He also said his girlfriend, the musician Grimes, was mad at him, quoted the poet Dylan Thomas, and tweeted the lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner.” Tesla shares dropped after the tweets.

When the rocket takes off on May 27, it will be against the backdrop of the pandemic. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stressed having our own access to the ISS is a critical capability, as well as having maximum crew on the station, and that remains the same despite the pandemic.

One notable difference is that Americans are being asked to watch the historic launch at home instead of visiting the Kennedy Space Center, which in the past has opened its gates to welcome visitors to watch Space Shuttle launches. SpaceX, NASA Ready

“We’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Center, and that makes me sad to even say it,” Breidenstein said. “Boy I wish we could make this into something really spectacular. But where we are at right now, we need to get Commercial Crew launched, we need Demo-2 to be successful, and the best way we can do that is to do it while keeping everybody safe. … We need a spectacular moment that all of America can see, and all of the world can see. To inspire — not just those of us who have been waiting years for this — but to inspire the generations coming. And we need to do it in a way that’s responsible.”

Moving forward, the experts said Commercial Crew flights will increase presence on the ISS and the United State’s research capabilities in space. ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman said he is looking forward to repeatable, sustainable, Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Commercial Crew transportation flights, and test flights of varying duration to explore how the human body responds to space.

But Bridenstine said NASA is still negotiating a price to utilize the next Russian Soyuz launch to the ISS in October. The agency will evaluate after Demo-2 if another Soyuz ride will need to be purchased for Spring 2021. Bridenstine said he sees a future where the U.S. and Russia will trade to launch on each other’s vehicles to reach the ISS.

The Administrator cast this upcoming mission as the start of a new era in human spaceflight.

“NASA has long had this idea that we need to purchase, own and operate hardware to get to space — and in the past — that has been true,” Bridenstine said. “Now in this new era, NASA, especially in Low-Earth Orbit, Nasa has an ability to be a customer, one customer of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in Low-Earth Orbit. But we also want to have numerous providers that are competing against each other on cost and innovation. And that’s really what we are entering into in this new era of human spaceflight.”

Boeing has agreed to repeat the test flight of its Starliner space capsule, a decision that sets its crewed space ambitions back by months and makes it likely SpaceX will win the race to return NASA’s astronauts to space from United States soil. The announcement comes after the initial flight late last year was marred by software glitches that prevented the capsule from reaching the International Space Station. The repeat flight likely will occur sometime in October or November, meaning the company probably won’t fly a mission with astronauts on board this year, according to a person familiar with the plans but not authorized to speak publicly. SpaceX is scheduled to make the first crewed flight of its Dragon capsule next month. Repeating the mission and investigating other problems with Starliner is an expensive proposition: Earlier this year, Boeing said it was taking a $410 million charge to offset the cost.  Boeing will refly its Starliner

The maiden mission of the Starliner spacecraft — a test demonstration without crews on board — went awry shortly after lift off from Cape Canaveral in December. Since then, NASA and Boeing have revealed that there were several problems, including a timing issue with the spacecraft’s computer that was 11 hours off.

Given the importance of the launches — to fly NASA astronauts for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 — Boeing did not want to take any chances, the official said, especially given the crisis it endured when two of its 737 Max airplanes crashed killing 346 people.

“The last thing you want is to have crews on board and have something go wrong,” the official said.

It was unclear how much NASA influenced Boeing’s decision to refly the mission. The move was portrayed as a Boeing recommendation to NASA, which the space agency approved. In a statement, the space agency said it “has accepted the proposal to fly the mission again and will work side-by-side with Boeing to resume flight tests.” If Boeing had proposed moving directly to a crewed mission, NASA said it “would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan.”

Shortly after The Post published this story, Boeing confirmed it would repeat the mission without crews, which “will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer. We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station.”

It said it is “committed to the safety of the men and women who design, build and ultimately will fly on the Starliner just as we have on every crewed mission to space.”

When NASA awarded contracts, worth $6.8 billion combined, in 2014 to Boeing and SpaceX, Boeing was viewed as the industry stalwart that would likely earn the honor of restoring human spaceflight to American soil for NASA. But since then, SpaceX, which also flies cargo to the space station and was recently awarded a contract to resupply the outpost NASA wants to put in orbit around the moon, has become a force in the space industry long dominated by traditional contractors.

SpaceX is proceeding swiftly with its program. And after flying a successful mission without astronauts on board to the station last year, it is currently planning a flight with crews as early as May.  Boeing will refly its Starliner

Boeing had hoped to fly crews this year, but in addition to the timing issue, the company has said it encountered a software problem that would have caused the wrong thrusters to fire during the craft’s return to Earth, when what’s known as the service module separates from the crew module.

Controllers on the ground discovered the problem while the spacecraft was in orbit and were able to correct it. Had they not, however, it could have led to an array of significant problems, from damaging the spacecraft’s heat shield to sending it tumbling off course.

NASA and Boeing initially played down the significance of the spacecraft’s woes and held out hope that Boeing would be able to proceed with a flight with astronauts this year. But as the company and space agency uncovered more problems, NASA grew more pointed in its criticism of one of its most trusted contractors.

Earlier this year, NASA said in a blog post that “there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects. It added that those problems would have had serious consequences and “led to risk of spacecraft loss.”

As a result, Boeing is now reviewing all 1 million lines of code on the spacecraft — a lengthy and expensive process.  Boeing will refly its Starliner

Last month, SpaceX announced a problem leading up to the test of its spacecraft’s parachute system. A capsule-shaped device designed to simulate the weight and mass of the spacecraft became unstable as it was being hoisted aloft by a helicopter. Out of an abundance of caution, the pilot released the test device, destroying it.

But officials said they didn’t think the setback would delay the company’s progress. And a crewed launch remains scheduled for next month.

Climate change is a hot topic, and many are concerned about how it is affecting the world we live in. But how is it influencing the way we look at the world outside our atmosphere? Rising ocean temperatures can lead to stronger hurricanes, and the United States’ most valuable space asset is being threatened. Mother nature won’t be denied, so how can the American space industry prepare for the inevitable?

As Floridians on the east coast of the U.S. flooded grocery stores for water and food in preparation for the oncoming storm, Hurricane Dorian grew swiftly from a manageable Category 1 hurricane into a Category 5 heading straight for eastern Florida. Cape Canaveral Air Force Base and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) began their emergency preparations. As the U.S. held its breath awaiting the landfall of Hurricane Dorian, we watched in horror as it fell over the Bahamas and came to a standstill. The islands took a continual beating with rain, debris, and sustained winds of 185 mph tearing the islands’ structure apart. Florida, in the end, received little more than rain.

The United States let out a breath of relief, but one question weighed on the minds of officials in the aerospace industry: “What if?”

The U.S. space industry is not immune to the risks of natural disasters or climate change. These risks are growing, and the space economy will suffer greatly should a storm hit. It is crucial to understand these risks and how to prepare for the inevitable.

The Looming Predicament

“Nobody in their right mind thought that Hurricane Dorian would sit there and pummel the Bahamas for two days with 200 mph winds. It’s just unheard of,” says former assistant administrator for research and development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Norine Noonan. “The previous thinking was that these very large hurricanes simply could not maintain the intensity of 180 or 200 mph winds over long periods of time because they would simply implode.”

What we thought we knew about hurricanes is being challenged. They’re becoming stronger, they’re lasting longer, and their lifetime maximum intensity is shifting northward. While it’s a common misconception that hurricanes in general are becoming more frequent, there isn’t any evidence to support that claim. But what is happening, according to Dr. Carl Schreck — an affiliate at NOAA who has been studying hurricane data for over 10 years — is that hurricanes aren’t becoming more frequent: hurricanes are getting stronger.Mother Nature Will Not be Denied

What’s causing these increasing intensities? The short, two-worded answer is climate change. For a hurricane to form, ocean water needs to be at least 27 degrees Celsius for 50 meters below the ocean surface. Hurricanes get their energy from warm water, but the intensity of a storm depends on the difference between that ocean temperature and the temperature at the troposphere 7 miles above the surface of the earth. “It does seem like the warming at the surface, especially the Atlantic, is happening faster than what’s happening further up,” Schreck comments.

Let’s step back in time to see how hurricanes have affected defense and space in the past: Labor Day Weekend, 2004. Hurricane Frances barreled into the east coast of Florida as a Category 2 storm and shredded apart the coast for two days. The storm caused $9 billion dollars in damages. At KSC, two buildings on site had their roofs lifted by the winds. The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) had its siding ripped open, causing damage not only to the VAB, but also the rockets, satellites, and aircraft that were stored inside for protection.

Just three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne, the deadliest storm of 2004, came through Florida’s east coast with wind speeds of 120 mph. The VAB again was damaged, compounding the damage done by Frances just weeks earlier. The total cost of damages done to KSC in 2004 was $123 million.

According to KSC Emergency Manager Wayne Kee, “The storm peeled the siding of the VAB off like it was an onion; it was a very hazardous situation.” After these two storms, the facilities at both Cape Canaveral AFB and KSC were shut down for three weeks for damage repairs.Mother Nature Will Not be Denied

On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael hits the contiguous U.S. as the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall since 1992, and the damages were heartbreaking. Although Michael only held Category 5 status for just under an hour, it caused a total of $25 billion in damages, $5 billion of which was attributed to the destruction at Tyndall AFB.

Tyndall AFB was nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael. Air Force officials described the damage to the base as “catastrophic,” with all the base’s facilities being declared “unlivable.” Billions of dollars’ worth of stealth jets and aircraft were destroyed, and 11,000 individuals became homeless within the base alone. Tyndall was a massive employer, with 3,600 employed personnel on site shortly before Michael made landfall, and the Air Force is to this day thinking very seriously about how much of the base to rebuild.