Commercial Crew Spacecraft Will Offer a Quick Escape from Station

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The crew of the International Space Station will be able to count on Commercial Crew Program spacecraft in case of an emergency in orbit. As with all the needs for the new spacecraft, NASA outlined a list of requirements for designers to meet. For the most part, it means the spacecraft can be powered on quickly while docked to the station, even if it has been dormant for weeks or a couple of months. From air circulation fans to life support systems to thrusters, the spacecraft’s systems will be designed to engage in minutes.

“Some systems will take longer to bring online, but the idea is to have spacecraft that astronauts can get into quickly for survival and then use to pull away from the station and come home if that is needed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Read the full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2ordbuQ

Astronauts Work with Crew Dragon Qualification Vehicle

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Bob Behnken and Eric Boe, two of NASA’s four veteran astronauts who supported SpaceX as it refines its crew transportation system designs, checked out the Crew Dragon being used for qualification testing. NASA astronauts routinely travel to industry facilities during spacecraft and mission development to train and offer insights to engineers.

As seen here, Behken is evaluating the Crew Dragon’s hatches. The top hatch, at the nose of the spacecraft, will be the connecting port at the International Space Station. The side hatch will be the entryway for crews getting into the spacecraft when on Earth.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft and related test vehicles are being manufactured at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California. The Crew Dragon is being built to routinely fly four astronauts to the International Space Station although it can carry up to seven people. Flight tests, first without a crew then with astronauts aboard, will take place before operational crew rotation missions.

NASA also partnered with Boeing to build and operate a separate, independent space system called the CST-100 Starliner to carry astronauts to the station. Both vehicles are being developed in close coordination with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photos by SpaceX.

Boeing Powers On Starliner Spacecraft For First Time

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Engineers for the first time powered up the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will fly Boeing’s inaugural flight test of the next-generation spacecraft. Working inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the test team activated the flight avionics system for the Starliner known as Spacecraft 1. The system is the same astronauts will use for all Starliner missions.

The avionics is the complex suite of equipment and software that work together to maneuver the spacecraft in orbit, conduct the rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station and communicating with Mission Control on the ground. Whether under manual control by the crew or in automatic mode, the flight computers have to work seamlessly with the thrusters,  guidance and navigation system and other subsystems to perform the mission and then return back to Earth safely.

The Starliner is being built as an upper half and lower half that will be bolted together following successful systems testing. Once completed, Spacecraft 1 will be launched without a crew on a flight test to demonstrate its capability to abort a mission from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency. Later flight tests will demonstrate Starliners in orbital missions to the station without a crew, and then with astronauts aboard. The flight tests will preview the crew rotation missions future Starliners will perform as they take up to four astronauts at a time to the orbiting laboratory in order to enhance the research taking place there. Photo credits: Boeing

Zip Lines Installed at SLC-41 for Starliner Missions

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Engineers evaluate the Emergency Egress System as they ride in folding seats attached to slide wires at Space Launch Complex 41. United Launch Alliance and Boeing continue modifications to the pad in order to host missions by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner carrying astronauts and crew. The system recently completed its final test. In the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff, each person on the Crew Access Tower would get into their own seat attached to the wire and slide more than 1,340 feet to a safe area. The wires are situated 172 feet above the pad deck on level 12 of the tower. The Starliner will launch on a ULA Atlas V on mission to low-Earth orbit including those flying astronauts to the International Space Station during missions by NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

ULA Emergency Egress System (EES) Demonstration from the Crew Access Tower at Pad 41.

Engineers tested a new slide wire emergency escape system at Space Launch Complex 41 as United Launch Alliance continues to modify the pad for upcoming launches of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard ULA’s Atlas V rockets on missions to and from the International Space Station.

There are seats in place on four wires so up to 20 astronauts and ground support personnel can quickly get down from the tower in case a dangerous situation develops during the countdown. The system has been designed with the astronauts’ suit in mind, including making the seats easier to get into and the handles that control speed on the way down easy to operate.

The crew access tower is new to the launch complex, which has hosted uncrewed spacecraft and rockets for years. The egress system is located on the same level as the crew access arm, which provides the connection for astronauts to enter the Starliner spacecraft on top of the Atlas V rocket. It is the first new emergency evacuation system that has been installed at the Florida spaceport since the slide wire baskets used during the Space Shuttle Program.

Apollo missions had similar escape systems in place on its launch towers. The systems have never been needed in an emergency, but are required in case a condition develops before launch that prohibits those on the tower from taking the elevator down to safety. See our photos of the new system on Commercial Crew Program’s Flickr album at https://go.nasa.gov/1EVPaCG Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Astronaut Michael Good on NASA TV During Spacewalk

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Astronaut Michael Good, a veteran spacewalker who is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, will discuss the advances in development of NASA’s next generation of human-rated spacecraft. The discussion will come as astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough conduct the next spacewalk to outfit the orbiting laboratory to host new spacecraft in the near future including Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Both companies are working closely with NASA to build and certify the spacecraft to fly up to four astronauts at a time to the station. Watch Good’s interview below on the NASA TV feed, watch it on TV or go to www.nasa.gov/ntv  

Updated Collector Cards and Bookmarks Available Now!

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We’ve updated our collector cards and bookmarks for our aerospace industry partners in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to once again launch astronauts from the U.S.  You can download and print out your own copies today! Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin feature in these items that show each company’s role. You can read more about the low-Earth orbit marketplace emerging for commercial space companies in our feature, “A New Market Emerges: NASA Partnerships Open the Path from Ground to Space.”

Partnerships Drive Low-Earth Orbit Marketplace

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NASA’s efforts to establish new partnerships began about 10 years ago with agreements that would become regular cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station by rockets owned and operated by private companies. NASA continues to drive for safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to low-Earth orbit with a growing diversity of crewed vehicles and cargo-carrying craft – all privately developed and operated with insight from NASA’s spaceflight experts. As NASA focuses on deep space exploration, industry stands on the cusp of the emerging marketplace of low-Earth orbit: https://go.nasa.gov/2mJG2hq

Behnken Discusses Commercial Crew Program on NASA TV

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CCPBlog-Stitch2Veteran astronaut Bob Behnken is discussing NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development and training during an interview on NASA TV. Behnken is one of four NASA astronauts training for flight tests for the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing and SpaceX are working closely with NASA to build a new generation of human-rated spacecraft capable of flying astronauts to the International Space Station in order to return America’s capability to launch its astronauts from its own soil and to enhance research on the unique orbiting laboratory. Along with Behnken, astronauts Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams are training with Boeing and SpaceX for missions aboard spacecraft and launch systems that each company is building and will operate.

Behnken’s interview comes as NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet conduct a spacewalk this morning to further outfit the station for commercial spacecraft that will dock to the station in the future. You can watch the interview and spacewalk live here on the Commercial Crew Blog, on NASA TV or on the NASA TV website at www.nasa.gov/ntv

A rundown of the spacewalk activities can be seen in the video below, too.

I Will Launch America: Dana Hutcherson

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Dana Hutcherson, NASA's Commercial Crew ProgramDana Hutcherson is part of NASA’s team of engineers working with private industry to bring a new class of spacecraft into operation. A veteran of space shuttle processing, Hutcherson is the deputy manager of Systems Engineering and Integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Her work is vital to the program’s goal of returning human spaceflight to U.S. soil using a model that calls for closer cooperation among the agency and the private sector. Read more about Hutcherson at https://go.nasa.gov/2nc3WyO.

Campaign Tests Parachutes Designed to Provide Astronauts a Soft Landing

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Starliner-ParachuteTestopeningA flight-sized boilerplate of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner touched down gently under parachutes against the backdrop of the San Andres Mountains in late February, providing a preview of how the spacecraft will return to Earth in upcoming NASA missions. Boeing is developing the Starliner to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The parachute test is one in a series that will allow the vehicle to pick up the same velocity as the actual spacecraft when returning to Earth in the southwest region of the United States from the International Space Station. The goal of the test series is to prove the design of the Starliner’s parachutes.

“Completion of this test campaign will bring Boeing and NASA one step closer to launching astronauts on an American vehicle and bringing them home safely,” said Mark Biesack, spacecraft systems lead for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The test began at the Spaceport America facility near the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. During the test, the Starliner was lifted about 40,000 feet in the air, the flying altitude of a typical commercial airline flight, by a Near Space Corp. helium balloon and then released over the White Sands Missile Range. Read the full story at http://go.nasa.gov/2n8qLq5

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