The opportunity to help NASA successfully usher in a new age of spaceflight in partnership with private aerospace companies is part of what drives Mike Ravenscroft to excel in his work as a Launch Site Integration lead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Ravenscroft said the unique nature of commercial crew is exciting, because it is being performed in a tight partnership between the agency and aerospace companies Boeing and SpaceX. Both Boeing and SpaceX are building separate spacecraft and launch systems, along with their own unique launch pads at Kennedy and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Instead of NASA dictating designs and owning the spacecraft, NASA is overseeing design and production and then buying the services from the companies to take astronauts to the International Space Station in order to enhance research there and to provide additional human launch capability from American shores.
“My personal opinion is, this is an opportunity to allow private industry to show what they can do,” Ravenscroft said. “We’ve given the companies requirements, but we’ve let them show how they can perform and answer the requirements. We have not forced them into a design we think they should have – we want them to innovate. It also allows them to achieve their own goals, which I believe is going to help sustain the industry.” Read more about what Ravenscroft is doing to help Launch America at http://go.nasa.gov/2bCj2a2
Check out these two additional views of the drop tests campaign for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner design at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. The Starliner mock-up was dropped several times from about 30 feet and released on angles and at speeds to evaluate realistic conditions the spacecraft could encounter during the end phase of an actual mission when astronauts are aboard and the spacecraft is touching down in the American Southwest.
Starliner is equipped with airbags to help cushion the impact for the crew inside. Whether it lands on solid ground as planned, or has to splash down into water for an abort, the airbags are to inflate to provide a buffer for the spacecraft. The tests at Langley are being performed inside a landmark red and white gantry at the center that has been used throughout NASA’s history to evaluate many designs ranging from airplanes to the lunar lander for Apollo. The Starliner completed water landing qualification testing earlier this year in Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin. The results are used to confirm the design and NASA Commercial Crew Program engineers will also make their own evaluations from test results.
Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with Commercial Crew to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Tasked with carrying up to four people at a time, both the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon are big enough to allow an expansion of the resident crew on the orbiting laboratory which means research time on the station will double.
Boeing engineers recently evaluated the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft’s ability to withstand the shocks and other challenges of landing on the ground with a series of drop tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Hoisted using a gantry at Langley that’s tested everything from private planes to the lunar lander of Apollo, a Starliner mockup with a full-size airbag system in place was released from about 30 feet to see how it behaved when contacting the Earth. The airbags have been designed to absorb much of the impact. A nominal Starliner mission, such as those planned to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station during Commercial Crew Program flights, is to end with the spacecraft touching down on land in the American southwest where ground support teams can more easily reach the spacecraft and crew than if they splashed down in water.
The Starliner was already tested in water-landing scenarios in the same gantry. All the results will be used by Boeing to confirm the designs of the landing systems and by NASA to certify the systems for use during upcoming flight tests without and then with a crew aboard. Rad many more details about the Starliner testing at http://go.nasa.gov/2bFMZZk
Brittani Sims doubted at times she would ever get a chance to put her engineering acumen to work at NASA, but an internship stressing science, technology, engineering and math education – STEM – showed her what was possible. She began her NASA career in the Space Shuttle Program and is now working in Commercial Crew as a certification systems engineer for the team working with SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station. Read more about Sims at http://go.nasa.gov/2bf9GFt
A Crew Dragon test article successfully deployed its four main parachutes as planned during a test that saw the SpaceX-made test article dropped from a C-130 aircraft 26,000 feet above Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. The Crew Dragon, designed to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, will use four parachutes when returning to Earth. SpaceX plans to land the initial flight tests and missions in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX is working on a propulsive landing system the company intends to use in the future missions to propulsively land on land using its SuperDraco engines.
The parachute test is just one of an evaluation regimen that is expected to include many additional parachute drops of increasing complexity. SpaceX and NASA engineers will use the results throughout the test program to confirm the system and get it certified for use first on flight tests and then for operational missions. Photos by SpaceX.
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins floated outside the Quest airlock on the International Space Station at 8:04 a.m. EDT to begin a 6 1/2-hour EVA. The spacewalkers will connect the International Docking Adapter to the station so that visiting vehicles including those in development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can connect to the station in the near future. The IDA itself, built by Boeing, has been pulled from the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft and positioned next to the port it will be connected to. The video below shows the IDA’s extraction, and you can watch NASA TV’s spacewalk coverage this morning in the window to the right, on Web streaming or on NASA TV. The coverage will include conversations with spacewalk officers, astronauts and Commercial Crew Program officials.
Also, you can tweet questions to astronaut Doug Wheelock – @Astro_Wheels – throughout the morning. Just use #AskNASA.
Can’t get enough of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s hot-fire test of one of the RL10 engines that will power the Centaur upper stage, the Starliner and its crew to the International Space Station for the Crew Flight Test? Watch the engine roar to life and read more about the test, at http://go.nasa.gov/2aZ2XPN.
Three NASA astronauts, including two training for flight tests aboard Commercial Crew Program spacecraft, toured the Aerojet Rocketdyne facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday and watched as an RL10 engine was successfully test-fired. The engine, which burns hydrogen and oxygen to produce 22,300 pounds of thrust, has been used for numerous NASA missions to send satellites into their correct orbits and to loft planetary probes into the solar system. The engine has never been used for human spaceflight, though.
That is slated to change because the engine tested in West Palm Beach is one of two slated to power the United Launch Alliance Atlas V Centaur upper stage being built for the Crewed Flight Test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will fly for Commercial Crew. Read the details of the tour and testing, as well as some of the thoughts of the astronauts: http://go.nasa.gov/2aZ2XPN Photos credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station looks different today after workers attached the Crew Access Arm and White Room to the Crew Access Tower. The work at the launch pad was done in preparation for missions to the International Space Station by astronauts aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. The addition completes major construction of the tower which was added to the launch pad specifically so astronauts could board the Starliner on launch day. The arm, a 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound structure, will provide a bridge from the tower to the hatch of the spacecraft as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Although the launch pad and Atlas V have launched many missions including some of NASA’s landmark exploration spacecraft, astronauts have never left the planet from that launch pad on an Atlas V. The companies are working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to change that and to restore America’s capability to launch astronauts to the station from Florida’s Space Coast. Read more about today’s progress in our feature at http://go.nasa.gov/2aP3ALQ Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
A 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound bridge to space known as the Crew Access Arm was installed today at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Workers have been modifying the launch pad so astronauts can climb aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft ahead of NASA Commercial Crew Program missions to the International Space Station.
When poised for space on launch day, the Starliner will be standing atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The arm and a White Room were attached to the Crew Access Tower, a 200-foot-tall structure at the launch pad that has been built specifically for the unique needs of astronauts. For example, crews wearing pressure suits and helmets need more room to move around than people wearing regular clothes, so the areas and elevators are wide enough to accommodate them. There also was special care to avoid anything that could snag a spacesuit.
The construction by ULA has taken place even as the pad has remained active for launches of the Atlas V on missions to deliver satellites into orbit and to loft NASA spacecraft on their own missions, including September’s launch of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft.
The arm’s placement is the latest in a growing list of accomplishments for the Commercial Crew Program and its partners as NASA works to restore America’s capability to launch astronauts to the space station from its own soil. With Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flying astronauts to the station, the crew there can grow to seven residents and the amount of science time available for astronauts will double. That means enhanced research opportunities to figure out the mysteries of long-duration spaceflight as well as more time to work on aspects of life on Earth that can be improved with the help of science performed in space.
“You have to stop and celebrate these moments in the craziness of all the things we do,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s going to be so cool when our astronauts are walking out across this access arm to get on the spacecraft and go to the space station.”