NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Boeing Test Flight Dates and SpaceX Demo-2 Update

Illustration of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon in Earth orbit, along with International Space Station and MoonNASA and Boeing are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation for crew systems that will return human spaceflight launches from American soil on missions to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station.

Boeing now is targeting the company’s uncrewed mission, called Orbital Flight Test, in August 2019, although this is a working target date and to be confirmed. The CST-100 Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The decision to adjust the launch date was guided by limited launch opportunities in April and May, as well as a critical U.S. Air Force national security launch – AEHF-5 – atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 in June.

Following the uncrewed flight, Boeing is planning to fly a test mission with crew on board to the space station in late 2019, with the specific date to be confirmed closer to that timeframe. NASA and Boeing have agreed to extend the duration of that flight test to the International Space Station after completing an in-depth technical assessment of the Starliner systems. Boeing also will fly a Pad Abort Test before those two orbital flights to demonstrate the company’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from a launch vehicle emergency, if necessary. Find a full mission and Boeing progress feature here: https://go.nasa.gov/2FM8zcQ.

Following the test flights, NASA will review performance data and resolve any necessary issues to certify the systems for operational missions. NASA and Boeing are actively working to be ready for the operational missions. As with all human spaceflight vehicle development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.

The following planning dates reflect updated schedule inputs for Boeing’s test flights as of March 26, 2019.

Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Summer 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): current target working date August 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): current target working date late 2019

SpaceX Demo-2 Update

NASA also is working with SpaceX to return human spaceflight launches to American soil. The company completed an uncrewed flight test, known as Demo-1, to the space station in March.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX are reevaluating target test dates.

Crew Dragon Lifted Onto Recovery Ship

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is safely aboard the company's recovery vessel, Go Searcher, following splashdown at 8:45 a.m. EST on Friday, March 8, 2019.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is safely aboard the company’s recovery vessel, Go Searcher, following splashdown at 8:45 a.m. EST on Friday, March 8, 2019. Image credit: NASA TV

About 200 miles off Florida’s east coast, SpaceX teams have recovered the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and lifted it aboard SpaceX’s primary recovery ship, Go Searcher. The spacecraft splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST, wrapping up the Demo-1 flight test that began one week ago today with liftoff aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Demo-1 is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership. The mission also marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.

Splashdown!

The SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off Florida's east coast at 8:45 a.m. EST, Friday, March 8, 2019.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off Florida’s east coast at 8:45 a.m. EST, Friday, March 8, 2019. Image credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST about 200 miles off Florida’s east coast, returning from the uncrewed Demo-1 flight test to the International Space Station and the company’s inaugural flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The mission, known as Demo-1, is a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory.

The Crew Dragon launched March 2 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the first commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station and autonomously dock to the station. To complete the docking, both the station and Crew Dragon’s adapters used the new international docking standard.

Crew Dragon is returning to Earth some critical research samples from science investigations conducted to enable human exploration farther into space and develop and demonstrate in the U.S. ISS National Laboratory new technologies, treatments, and products for improving life on Earth.

Also traveling aboard the spacecraft is an anthropomorphic test device named Ripley outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on humans traveling in Crew Dragon.

SpaceX’s recovery ship, Go Searcher, is equipped with a crane to lift Crew Dragon out of the water and onto the main deck of the ship within an hour after splashdown.

NASA and SpaceX still have work to do to review the systems and flight data to validate the spacecraft’s performance and prepare it to fly astronauts. Already planned upgrades, additional qualification testing, and an in-flight abort test will occur before NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will climb aboard for Demo-2, the crewed flight test to the International Space Station that is necessary to certify Crew Dragon for routine operational missions.

Crew Dragon Chutes Deployed

The SpaceX Crew Dragon descends under its four main parachutes toward a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m. EST, Friday, March 8, 2019.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon descends under its four main parachutes toward a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m. EST, Friday, March 8, 2019. Image credit: NASA TV

The main parachutes have deployed and are slowing the SpaceX Crew Dragon as it approaches the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off the Florida coast. SpaceX has two recovery ships standing by, ready to recover the spacecraft as the Demo-1 flight test comes to a close.

Crew Dragon Heads Toward Splashdown

The returning SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft viewed from a camera on board a NASA WB-57 aircraft.
The returning SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft viewed from a camera on board a NASA WB-57 aircraft. Image credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is making its final plunge through Earth’s atmosphere, heading toward a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off Florida’s east coast.

At about 8:41 a.m. EST, drogue parachutes will deploy, and the four main chutes will begin to open less than a minute later to slow the Crew Dragon during its final descent prior to its water landing at about 8:45 a.m. EST.

Crew Dragon’s Nosecone Closed

In this view from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the nosecone has closed.
In this view from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the nosecone has closed. Image credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Crew Dragon’s nosecone has closed in preparation for re-entry. The spacecraft is on its way toward a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 8:45 a.m. EST.

Did you know? The last time a U.S. spacecraft designed for humans landed in the Atlantic Ocean was on March 13, 1969, when the Apollo 9 vehicle and crew splashed down.

Crew Dragon undocked from the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST and is on track for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the eastern shore of Florida. SpaceX’s two recovery ships are positioned nearby to recover Crew Dragon and return it to Port Canaveral. The “Go Searcher” is the company’s primary recovery vessel responsible for recovering the spacecraft.

 

The Demo-1 mission is SpaceX’s first flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The flight test marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.

Deorbit Burn Complete: Crew Dragon on Journey Home

In this view from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the nosecone has closed.
In this view from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the nosecone has closed. Image credit: NASA TV

Deorbit burn is complete and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is on its way back to Earth. It will take the uncrewed spacecraft about 35 to 40 minutes to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on its way to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 8:45 a.m. EST.

This is a view from the Crew Dragon during the deorbit burn.
This is a view from the Crew Dragon during the deorbit burn. Image credit: NASA TV

The Crew Dragon undocked from the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST and is on track for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the eastern shore of Florida. SpaceX’s two recovery ships are positioned nearby to recover Crew Dragon and return it to Port Canaveral. The “Go Searcher” is the company’s primary recovery vessel responsible for recovering the spacecraft.

The Demo-1 mission is SpaceX’s first flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The flight test marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.

Deorbit Burn Underway

One of SpaceX's two recovery ships is pictured in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast while awaiting the splashdown of the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft.
One of SpaceX’s two recovery ships is pictured in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast while awaiting the splashdown of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Image credit: NASA TV

The deorbit burn is underway. The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon’s Draco thrusters will fire for more than 15 minutes to place the spacecraft on its final re-entry path into Earth’s atmosphere. Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean is expected at about 8:45 a.m. EST.

SpaceX’s two recovery ships are positioned nearby to recover Crew Dragon and return it to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, to conclude its mission.

Coming Up: Crew Dragon Deorbit Burn

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, its nose cone still open, is pictured during its departure from the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is pictured during its departure from the International Space Station shortly after undocking. Image credit: NASA TV

The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon soon will start its return to Earth. Deorbit burn—a 15-minute, 25-second firing of the spacecraft’s thrusters that will slow the vehicle and begin its descent—is planned to begin at approximately 7:52 a.m. EST. Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean is expected at about 8:45 a.m. EST.

Earlier this morning, the Crew Dragon departed from the International Space Station, undocking at 2:32 a.m. EST and performing a series of departure burns to move away from the orbiting laboratory, where it spent the past five days. At about 7:48 a.m., Crew Dragon will separate from its trunk containing its solar array and radiator. Its nosecone will close after the deorbit burn prior to atmospheric entry.

The Expedition 58 crew aboard the station, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 58 commander Oleg Kononenko, loaded about 300 pounds of hardware and science aboard Crew Dragon before closing the hatch Thursday. The spacecraft also is carrying a lifelike test device, Ripley, which is gathering data about what astronauts flying aboard Crew Dragon will experience.

Known as Demo-1, SpaceX’s inaugural mission with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is an important end-to-end flight test of the new system’s capabilities.