NASA Orders Second Operational Mission for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon

Crew_Dragon_DockingNASA’s Commercial Crew Program placed an order for the second operational mission to carry astronauts to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The order means that eight vehicles are now in different levels of planning for Commercial Crew flight tests and operational missions by SpaceX and by Boeing, which also is developing the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for human-rated missions to the space station. The eight missions in process are:

  • 2 uncrewed flight tests, one for each company,
  • 2 crewed flight tests, one each,
  • 4 operational missions ordered to date.

The order was placed now because of the long lead time to build a spacecraft, test it and process it for launch.

“The order of a second crew rotation mission from SpaceX, paired with the two ordered from Boeing will help ensure reliable access to the station on American spacecraft and rockets,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “These systems will ensure reliable U.S. crew rotation services to the station, and will serve as a lifeboat for the space station for up to seven months.”

This is the fourth and final guaranteed order NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts. Boeing received its two orders in May and December of 2015, and SpaceX received its first order in November 2015. Both companies have started planning for, building and testing the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first flight tests, and ultimately missions for the agency. NASA will identify at a later time which company will fly the first post-certification mission to the space station.

Dream Chaser Spacecraft Ready for Free-Flight

SNC_ETA_7_2016_001smSierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft will soon be shipped to California to begin its second phase of free-flight testing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Dream Chaser is a lifting body design that utilizes short winglets to fly back to Earth in a manner akin to NASA’s space shuttles. The same full-scale Dream Chaser engineering test article that performed the first free-flight at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California in October 2013 has been rebuilt and upgraded to perform the second set of tests. The evaluation will culminate with the test article carried high above the runways at Edwards Air Force Base, adjacent to Armstrong.

Without anyone aboard, the Dream Chaser will be released to glide on its own and land. The test, expected at the end of 2016, will evaluate the Dream Chaser’s systems as outlined in the companies’ Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The information gathered during the test will be used to advance the Dream Chaser cargo vehicle tailored to carry equipment, experiments and supplies to the International Space Station, under the agency’s second cargo resupply services contract.

“These tests are significant for us in multiple ways: building on our previous flight test, completing a significant milestone under our CCP agreement, as well as gathering crucial data that will help complete the design of the vehicle being built for our CRS-2 contract,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area.

Melanie Weber: Supporting Starliner for Five Years


Inside of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility is a full-size mock-up of the company’s CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft under development in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mock-up is more than just for looks as it makes the CAD drawing, or computer-aided design, of the vehicle a tangible reality. It also allows engineers, like Boeing’s Melanie Weber, to have a physical model to test and validate the design of the spacecraft for astronauts and cargo.melanie_2

Weber has worked on the Starliner for 5 years and supports many elements of the interior design of the spacecraft including crew safety and protection. When the Starliner spacecraft launches on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 with astronauts headed for the International Space Station, Weber knows where her thoughts will be.

“The whole time I’ll be thinking about the crew,” said Weber. “Our team will have done everything we can to make sure that they arrive safely, and that they have a nice ride too.”

Learn more about how the Commercial Crew Program here:

I Will Launch America: Jon Cowart

Photo of Jon Cowart, CCP mission managerJon Cowart is part of a team helping to lead the nation’s effort to facilitate the development and certification of commercial spacecraft to enable the safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation of humans to and from the International Space Station.

In his key role as a mission manager in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, he will guide the agency’s mission-related activities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida when astronauts are ready to fly to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Learn more about how Cowart will help Launch America’s new generation of human-rated spacecraft at

Boeing Debuts Modernized High Bay at Kennedy

Boeing unveils its modernized high bay in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space CenterBoeing on Tuesday unveiled its clean-floor facility that serves as the hub for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as they are manufactured and prepared for flight to and from the International Space Station, and where they’ll refurbished between missions. The high bay in the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, formerly known as Orbiter Processing Facility 3, is now modernized and ready to support the Starliner program.

It was once filled with about 1,000 tons of steel work platforms that enshrouded the space shuttle orbiters as they were refurbished and prepared for flight. Today, the facility contains several pieces of hardware and a mock-up that are key to Boeing’s and NASA’s efforts to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast through the Commercial Crew Program.

Read the full story here.

(Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests Starliner Service Module Engines

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.The small jets designed to steer Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit were fired in a vacuum chamber recently at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Testing continues for elements of the new Starliner spacecraft before components are installed into the first space-bound capsule. Aerojet Rocketyne built the reaction control engines and used a chamber to pulse fire three engines up to 4,000 times for a total of 1,600 seconds each. Both are record times for lightweight thrusters with composite chambers.

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.Aerojet Rocketdyne is testing and will provide the service module propulsion system production hardware, including launch abort engines, orbital maneuvering and attitude control engines and reaction control system engines. Boeing will assemble hardware kits into the service module section of the Starliner spacecraft at its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. While Boeing develops and manufactures Starliners, SpaceX is doing the same with its own spacecraft, Crew Dragon. Both companies plan to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast on missions to the International Space Station. With up to four astronauts at a time, plus more than 200 pounds of cargo, the new line of spacecraft will allow the station’s crew to grow to seven. That addition gives astronauts In orbit another 35 hours of research time to enhance the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory.

(Photo credits: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Five Years After Shuttle, Missions Near for Commercial Crew

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:

Dragon Arrives at Station with Docking Adapter

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

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

I_Will_Launch_Steve Payne_FB_final

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