Astronauts Tour SpaceX Rocket Facility in Texas

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Bob Behnken at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts who will be the first humans to fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft recently toured the company’s Rocket Development Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to crew SpaceX’s Demo-2 flight test in June 2019, which will be the first flight of Crew Dragon with people onboard.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will crew SpaceX’s first regular mission to the International Space Station, following Demo-2 and NASA’s certification of SpaceX commercial crew systems.

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and with Boeing to return human spaceflight launch capability from the United States.

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

Launch Teams Simulate Boeing Uncrewed Flight Test Prelaunch Procedures

Inside the Boeing Mission Control Center at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., launch control teams for the CST-100 Starliner rehearse a fully integrated prelaunch simulation of the spacecraft’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test. Boeing Spacecraft Launch Conductor Louis Atchison speaks on console to the Mission Management Team as the countdown in the launch simulation progresses.

Boeing, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and NASA completed an integrated rehearsal of prelaunch procedures for Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket for commercial crew missions to the International Space Station. The simulation, conducted on Nov. 7, focused on launch procedures beginning at five hours before launch, and continuing through a simulated scrub before liftoff.

Inside the White Flight Control Room in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Boeing’s Flight Control Team rehearses prelaunch procedures for the company’s Orbital Flight Test of Starliner.

The rehearsal consisted of launch teams participating from Boeing and NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston. It incorporated voice communications, pad closeout events, polling for tanking, or fueling, readiness, and discussions about conditions, including flight hardware and weather.

Boeing’s Pad Team Lead, Melanie Weber, performs simulated prelaunch operations inside the Boeing Mockup Trainer for the Starliner located in Houston. As launch control teams from NASA, Boeing and ULA participate in a prelaunch rehearsal for the Starliner’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test, Weber practices her launch day pad operations from inside the trainer.

Prelaunch anomalies were introduced into the rehearsal to provide opportunities for the teams to execute their resolution process. A scrub was called during the countdown rehearsal, allowing participants to test procedures for a delay and a decision to de-tank and prepare for a launch attempt the next day.

Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), is slated for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in March 2019. This will be the first flight of the Starliner, and it is a major step toward demonstrating that the spacecraft is ready to begin carrying astronauts to the space station.

Members of NASA’s launch support team gather in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. to rehearse prelaunch operations for the Orbital Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The EOC is where directors for medical triage and launch rescue will execute real-time responses in the unlikely event of an emergency on launch day.

Boeing is manufacturing three Starliner spacecraft in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Starliner is designed to be reused up to 10 times.

Astronauts Tour Boeing Spacecraft Test Facilities

Commercial crew astronauts Nicole Mann, Eric Boe and Chris Feguson in El Segundo, Calif.

Astronauts slated to fly on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner for its upcoming Crew Flight Test recently toured two spacecraft testing facilities in southern California. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, met with employees who conduct the structural and environmental testing on the spacecraft built to ferry them to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

NASA astronaut Eric Boe in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Upcoming environmental qualification testing is a major milestone on the road to launch. Performed at the El Segundo, Calif. test facility, it ensures that the CST-100 Starliner, designed and built in Florida, can withstand the extreme environments of space. Likewise, structural testing conducted in Huntington Beach verifies that the vehicle hardware is adequately built to withstand the pressures and load dynamics during flight.

Commercial crew astronauts Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Boeing test teams will put the spacecraft through several assessments including thermal vacuum testing which simulates hot and cold temperature swings the vehicle experiences on orbit. They’ll also perform acoustic testing, meant to safely shake the capsule to ensure it’s been properly built, and electromagnetic testing to see whether the frequencies expected in space would cause any dangerous interference.

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson takes a selfie with a Boeing employee in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Launch Gear Arrives for Boeing’s Uncrewed Flight Test

Mariner sailed into Port Canaveral carrying the Launch Vehicle Adapter. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

The Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) that will attach Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to an Atlas V rocket for an uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station arrived at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Nov. 12, after traveling by ship nearly 2,000 miles from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) factory in Decatur, Ala.

Technicians unloaded the elements and they were transported for the LVA to begin integrated operations with the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

The crated LVA rolls off Mariner. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

The LVA is the specially-designed structure that will be fitted to the top of Centaur. It will soon be attached to the Centaur during pre-launch stacking operations and eventually support the Starliner spacecraft during launch of Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT), targeted for March 2019.

The LVA is seen here readied for shipping from Decatur. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

Also part of the LVA is the aeroskirt, which ULA designed in collaboration with Boeing and NASA for added aerodynamic stability during flight. This metallic orthogrid structure will smooth the air flow over the Starliner-Atlas V vehicle, and will separate from the vehicle after the first stage of flight during normal operations. The aeroskirt also has provisions for venting in the unlikely event the Starliner abort engines are fired.

OFT is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launch capability to the U.S. Following the uncrewed flight test, Boeing will launch its Crew Flight Test, which will carry two NASA astronauts and one Boeing astronaut to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Rehearses Helicopter Landing at Sea

When astronauts splash down into the ocean after their journey to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, recovery teams must be able to transport them to land quickly. In the unlikely event of an astronaut medical emergency, SpaceX has outfitted its recovery ship, GO Searcher, with a medical treatment facility and a helipad in the center of the vessel.

Recently the company completed helicopter landing and patient loading rehearsals on the ship, practicing how the helicopter will pick up astronauts and fly them to a nearby hospital.

The aircraft will also serve to carry doctors and paramedics to care for the astronauts. This will allow the SpaceX medical team to provide the best possible care to astronauts on the ship, in-flight, and get them safely to a hospital.

In a normal scenario, Crew Dragon will splash down off of Florida’s eastern coast. GO Searcher is equipped with a crane to lift the capsule out of the water and onto the main deck of the ship. NASA and SpaceX doctors will work together to evaluate the crew onboard the vessel. From there, GO Searcher will head for Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX teams will take the astronauts to a nearby airport for transport back to Houston.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to begin launching astronauts from American soil for the first time since 2011. The goal of the program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States. Commercial transportation to and from the space station will enable expanded station use, additional research time and broader opportunities of discovery aboard the orbiting laboratory.