Five Years After Shuttle, Missions Near for Commercial Crew

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4X v1A new era of human spaceflight in America is approaching on the horizon five years after the space shuttle era ended with the touch down of Atlantis on the runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Built from the best of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s expertise plus the innovation of top American aerospace companies, spacecraft and rockets designed and built using a new approach to development are taking shape inside factories across the nation. Intensive test programs are underway on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon transportation systems, both built to take astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States. A lot has happened during the past five years, and the pace is picking up:

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Dragon Arrives at Station with Docking Adapter

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CRS9-capture IDA-1onstationschematicThe Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX launched early Monday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida arrived at the International Space Station today carrying a docking adapter that is crucial to future spacecraft including those in development with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The International Docking Adapter-2 will be pulled from the trunk of the Dragon by the station’s robotic arm Aug. 16. Then astronauts will make a spacewalk two days later to permanently connect the adapter to the end of the station’s Harmony node.

The adapter – a 1,020-pound metal ring big enough for astronauts to move through – has been built with a host of sensors that visiting spacecraft will use to help them dock to the station autonomously. Another docking adapter currently in assembly at Kennedy Space Center will be flown to the station on a future flight and connected to give the orbiting laboratory a second updated docking location. Currently, supply craft such as the Dragon have to be captured by the robotic arm and placed at a hatch. That process requires extensive work by the astronauts aboard the station. With the adapter in place however, automated systems on the spacecraft can steer towards the station and make a safe connection.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are designed with computerized guidance and navigation systems that will conduct the flight plan by themselves even when astronauts are aboard. Of course, the both spacecraft also include the ability for astronauts to take over if needed.IAD_Install_4[6]

NASA, Boeing Experts Detail IDA-2’s Importance

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NASAmediaCRS9The 1,020-pound docking adapter scheduled to fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s CRS-9 mission will become an integral part of the orbiting laboratory in short order, experts from the agency’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing told news media and social media participants this morning.

NASASocialcrs9-jonanddavidJon Cowart of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and David Clemen of Boeing stood in front of an identical adapter – still in assembly for launch on an upcoming SpaceX CRS mission – as they talked to the groups inside the Space Station Processing Facility. Once in place on the station, the docking ring will give visiting spacecraft the ability to autonomously steer themselves to a safe connection with the station without requiring astronaut involvement. The ring now in assembly will provide a second port compatible with the new spacecraft so two spacecraft can be docked at the station at the same time. There is much more to the adapter’s story at

I Will Launch America: Steve Payne

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When he’s not building model rockets, Payne is hard at work performing launch integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Both Boeing and SpaceX are developing spacecraft and launch systems to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Read what Payne is doing to help Launch America’s new generation of human-rated spacecraft at

Testing Starliner’s Accommodations

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Boeing CST-100

Boeing is evaluating the flight deck designs for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as development work continues toward the final layout of the seating and control panels. Former astronaut Chris Ferguson, now deputy program manager and director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, is performing the tests that look into a number of factors of comfort and usability for the systems. The Starliner is being developed by Boeing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to take astronauts to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will launch into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, just a few miles from the Starliner’s assembly factory at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing Opens Training Facility for Commercial Crew Missions

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DATE: 6-21-16 LOCATION: 3700 Bay Area Blvd, Houston, TX 77058 SUBJECT: Boeing showing commercial crew training simulations and hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Space Training, Analysis and Review (STAR) Facility. PHOTOGRAPHER: Lauren Harnett

301356_STAR Opening-109DATE: 6-21-16 LOCATION: 3700 Bay Area Blvd, Houston, TX 77058 SUBJECT: Boeing showing commercial crew training simulations and hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Space Training, Analysis and Review (STAR) Facility. PHOTOGRAPHER: Lauren HarnettAstronauts, engineers and trainers are expected to learn how to fly and operate Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft prior to launch inside a new training facility dedicated to the spacecraft now in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Called the Space Training, Analysis and Review facility, or STAR, the building opened June 21 a few miles from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, training home of NASA’s astronaut corps as well as mission control.

The STAR facility will be used in concert with other simulators that Boeing will base at Johnson. The simulators built to incorporate various aspects of launch, mission and landing will be used to train teams of astronauts and spaceflight specialists for flight tests and eventually operational missions to the International Space Station. The simulators also will be connected to training consoles at Mission Control to allow fully integrated simulations for the crew and flight controllers. Such simulations are valuable because expose crews and designers to a wide variety of experiences.

“As a pilot, nothing beats being in a simulator and getting hands-on training to fly a vehicle,” said former space shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, now deputy program manager and director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.



Crew Dragon Pressure Vessel Put to the Test

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure

Pressure vessels built by SpaceX to test its Crew Dragon designs are going through structural testing so engineers can analyze the spacecraft’s ability to withstand the harsh conditions of launch and spaceflight. A pressure vessel is the area of the spacecraft where astronauts will sit during their ride into orbit. It makes up the majority of the Crew Dragon’s structure but does not include the outer shell, heat shield, thrusters or other systems.

Even without those systems in place, however, the company and NASA can learn enormous amounts about the design’s strength by placing the pressure vessel in special fixtures that stress the structure. SpaceX completed two pressure vessels that will be used for ground tests and two more are in manufacturing right now to fly in space during demonstration missions for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

After the ground testing, the pressure vessels will be outfitted with all the systems they would need to be fully functional spacecraft. Photo credit: SpaceX

I Will Launch America: Kathleen O’Brady

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Kathleen O’Brady provided an engineering perspective to the group of spaceflight experts laying out requirements for the next spacecraft that will take astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil. O’Brady began her time with commercial crew working on contract source evaluation boards – the committees of specialized engineers, government officers and lawyers that develop contract requirements, analyze proposals and present the findings to the person who makes the final decision. The boards are small groups that work in secluded rooms by themselves for months at a time, often arriving before the sun rises and leaving long after it’s gone down.

The work performed by the source boards has been vital to NASA in achieving the goals of commercial crew, which is ultimately to turn over human missions to low-Earth orbit to private companies so NASA can focus its research and development resources on its journey to Mars, including human deep space exploration. NASA’s partnerships with private aerospace industry, were established through the Space Act Agreements and contracts that stem from panels or source boards.

The final board O’Brady worked on ultimately led to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to build the spacecraft and launch systems that will return human launch capability to American soil. Each company works independently on different systems – Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and SpaceX is building the Crew Dragon to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. Both work closely with NASA to build systems that meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements.  One goal of this unique approach is to acquire cost-effective transportation services from providers that own and maintain the spacecraft systems themselves. The companies also expect to offer orbital flights for non-NASA customers in the future.

“It’s definitely different than a traditional program where we own the hardware,” O’Brady said, noting that for the space shuttle, Apollo and its predecessors the space agency owned the hardware, designs, and more of the processes used in building and maintaining the vehicles. Read O’Brady’s full story at

Steady Progress Marks Commercial Crew Advances

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CCPprogressvideosnipNASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX are making 2016 a year of advancement as they work toward opening a new era in human-rated spaceflight from America to the International Space Station. Astronauts, engineers and spaceflight specialists across the spectrum continue to apply unique innovations for the performance and manufacturing of the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon. Read much more about the work Commercial Crew and its industry partners have performed so far in 2016 in our three-part series:
Part I: 2016 Advances Mark Commercial Crew Progress
Part II: Manufacturing Gains Momentum Coast to Coast
Part III: Astronauts Give Vital Feedback for Commercial Spacecraft

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Modifications Transforming Pad A for Falcon Launches

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Pad 39A - Commercial Crew ProgramPad 39A - Commercial Crew ProgramRemoving hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and adding robust, new fixtures, SpaceX is steadily transforming Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use as a launch pad for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The launchers will lift numerous payloads into orbit, including the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts aboard bound for the International Space Station.

Shots of Pad 39A for Commerical Crew Program (CCP).

A horizontal integration facility was built at the base of the pad and rails installed running up the incline to the flame trench. Instead of arriving to the pad on the back of the crawler-transporters, SpaceX rockets will roll on a custom-built transporter-erector that will carry them up the hill and then stand the rocket up for liftoff. The fixed service structure at the pad deck will remain, although more than 500,000 pounds of steel has already been removed from it. SpaceX has already started removing the rotating service structure, which is attached to the fixed structure. Built for the need to load a shuttle’s cargo bay at the pad, it does not serve a purpose for Falcon launchers whose payloads are mounted on the top of the rocket.

SpaceX leased the historic launch pad from NASA in April 2014 and has been steadily remaking it from a space shuttle launch facility into one suited for the needs of the Falcon rockets and their payloads. It is the same launch pad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on July 16, 1969, to begin their Apollo 11 flight that would make history as the first to land people on the moon. Almost all signs of Apollo-era hardware were removed from the launch pad when it was rebuilt for the shuttle. Photos by NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis


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