Mixed Reality Technology Helps NASA Astronauts Prepare for Starliner Returns from the Space Station

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts, wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, rehearse returning to Earth from the International Space Station during recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. The astronauts wearing the mixed reality gear see a digital version of the interior of the Starliner as it would look in the real-life scenario while interacting with the environment around them. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts training to fly test missions to and from the International Space Station are practicing returning to Earth from the microgravity laboratory. Recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia combines mixed reality simulations with astronauts wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, and secured in mock-up Starliner seats – the spacecraft being developed by Boeing. The testing allows astronauts to perform an exit from their seats in uncommon landing conditions. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. The astronauts wearing the mixed reality gear see a digital version of the interior of the Starliner as it would look in the real-life scenario while interacting with the environment around them.

In total, 30 practice runs were completed, some to familiarize the crew with the exit procedures and some additional timed runs. The Starliner is designed to land in the Western United States under parachutes and touch down on airbags located on the bottom of the spacecraft.  In the event that the capsule does not land upright, testing in extreme conditions helps prepare astronauts for any situation, including an inverted position.

Boeing already has completed a series of parachute drop tests and full-scale landing qualification tests to understand a wide range of spacecraft conditions when returning to earth. The company also has used test dummies in stand-alone seat tests and incorporated the dummies into landing drop tests to understand impacts to crew members.

Both Boeing and SpaceX have been working with the astronauts training to fly the test missions to the International Space Station. The two commercial providers have been developing unique systems to meet the goal of returning crew launches to the United States. Boeing’s Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A. Both companies will begin their journeys from Florida’s Space Coast. Boeing plans to return on land, while SpaceX will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Recent SpaceX testing for return to Earth has included rescue and recovery training in the Atlantic with spacesuit-clad astronauts and personnel who will assist upon return to Earth.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers.

Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Commercial Crew 2018 Preview

Combined image with Boeing Starliner in production on the left, and SpaceX Falcon 9 build on the rightNASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

Since NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, the companies have matured space system designs and now have substantial spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware in development and testing in preparation for the test flights. The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a public-private approach. NASA, Boeing and SpaceX have significant testing underway, which will ultimately lead to test missions when the systems are ready and meet safety requirements.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.

After completion of each company’s uncrewed and crewed flight tests, NASA will review the flight data to verify the systems meet the requirements for certification. Upon NASA certification, the companies are each slated to fly six crew missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2024.

Here’s a look at (some of) what’s ahead in 2018:

Boeing

Spacecraft: In 2018, Boeing will continue with the production and outfitting of three crew modules and multiple service modules inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has a structural version of its spacecraft going through loads, shock and separation test events in Huntington Beach, California. It will conduct a series of service module hot-fire tests in White Sands, New Mexico, as well as environmental testing to include thermal, vacuum and electromagnetic frequency in El Segundo, California.

Spacesuit: Boeing’s spacesuit will continue to undergo integrated system verification tests. These include environmental control and life support system testing, immersing the suit in water, egress demos with the aid of virtual reality, suited launch and landing cabin operations, prelaunch emergency exit with ground crews, ascent simulations with mission operations teams and post-landing egress.

SpaceX

Spacecraft: SpaceX is making significant progress on the six Crew Dragon spacecraft that the company currently has in various stages of production and testing. SpaceX’s structural qualification module has undergone extensive testing, which is scheduled to be complete in the first half of 2018. The company will continue ongoing hardware and software testing on its Environment Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS, module, through early 2018. The crew module that will be used to support SpaceX’s upcoming Demonstration Mission 1 has had its critical onboard avionics powered up and has completed integration of the module’s pressure section and service section’s structural components with preparations ongoing for its flight in 2018. Progress continues on SpaceX’s spacecraft for Demonstration Mission 2 and both of the company’s initial crew rotation missions.

Spacesuit: SpaceX will continue ongoing qualification and validation testing on its advanced spacesuits next year, including NASA’s four CCP flight test astronauts for a variety of the assessments, including suit-fit, reach and visibility assessments, and pressure tests. The company is in the process of manufacturing custom suits for each of the four astronauts, which will ensure a proper fit and comfortable ride to and from the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Read the full feature here:
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-commercial-crew-program-mission-in-sight-for-2018

Commercial Crew Program 2017 Year in Review

In this composite image, at left, an astronaut wears the SpaceX spacesuit design. At right, an astronaut wears the Boeing spacesuit design.
Left: SpaceX unveiled the first look at its new spacesuit design that astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station will wear inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Right: Boeing unveiled the company’s new, blue spacesuit astronauts will wear while aboard the Starliner spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, made significant strides in 2017 to return human spaceflight to the United States. Each company continued to develop and test unique space systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the International Space Station. Both companies are targeting flight tests in 2018.

Here’s the 2017 year in review:

Crew Rotation Missions Secured
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program started the year by securing an additional four crew rotation missions from Boeing and SpaceX. The missions will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station through 2024. The four additional missions fall under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts and bring the total number of crew rotation missions awarded to each provider to six. The missions will fly following NASA certification.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, each company will carry out a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The Crew
NASA’s four astronauts training to fly the test flights on Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spent time evaluating both providers’ progress during 2017. The astronauts are learning about the systems, being fitted for spacesuits and readying for flight tests to and from the International Space Station.

The International Space Station
The International Space Station continued to prepare for the new commercial spacecraft to arrive. During Orbital ATK’s resupply mission to the space station in November, the cargo spacecraft maneuvered above the Harmony module prior to its release. There, it gathered data relevant to future rendezvous and docking operations for U.S. commercial crew vehicles that will be arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters. Other work included the space station crew installing and performing check-outs of a control panel on Harmony for the docking adapter.

Check out more progress – the full feature here:
https://www.nasa.gov/specials/CCP2017/