The addition of Boeing Starliners and SpaceX Crew Dragons to the manifest of spacecraft heading to the International Space Station in the near future raises more than the opportunities for astronauts to fly to and from space aboard American spacecraft. It also increases the amount of science and broadens the research that can be performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.
That’s because the new generation of human-rated spacecraft are being designed to carry time-critical science to and from the space station along with astronauts. Researchers will be able to work with astronauts aboard the station to undertake a wide array of different science investigations and will benefit from the increased opportunity to see their research returned back to Earth for continued examination.
The spacecraft also will aid in the goal of establishing and maintaining a crew of seven astronauts, which could increase the research time in microgravity. Mission planners anticipate that increasing the crew size on the U.S. segment by just one crew member could effectively double the amount of time dedicated each week to research.
Every aspect of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program spacecraft are being tested for the journey to and from the International Space Station to meet the agency’s mission and safety requirements. Testing from Boeing and SpaceX demonstrates how the systems perform in flight-like scenarios. Engineers working with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft recently lab tested their seat design focusing on how the spacecraft seats protect the head, neck and spine of the astronauts for the 240-mile descent from space.
The company incorporated test dummies for a detailed analysis of impacts on a crew returning to Earth. The human-sized dummies were secured in their crew module seats for 30 drop tests at varying heights, angles, velocities and seat orientations, all in an effort to mimic actual landing conditions. To simulate the return, the seats were suspended inside a metal frame and dropped to land on honeycomb-like panels at the base of the test stand meant to function similarly to the Starliner’s landing airbags. The dummies were equipped with sensitive instrumentation to measure the impacts and high-speed cameras were used to capture the footage for further analysis. When the Starliner returns to Earth from the International Space Station, the spacecraft will be slowed by using a choreographed parachute system and will then land on large airbags to further soften the landing in the western region of the United States. The company also will test a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft using male and female test dummies at NASA’s Langley Research Facility.
The Starliner spacecraft is being developed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is investing in private industry with a goal of resuming human spaceflight to and from low-Earth orbit from the United States. Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 to fly up to four astronauts to the space station for NASA missions. NASA also has partnered with SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The SpaceX design calls for the Crew Dragon to return with a splashdown in the ocean. Both companies will launch from Florida’s Space Coast. Together, the private companies will provide regular and reliable crew transportation to and from the microgravity outpost for NASA.
Dana Hutcherson is part of NASA’s team of engineers working with private industry to bring a new class of spacecraft into operation. A veteran of space shuttle processing, Hutcherson is the deputy manager of Systems Engineering and Integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Her work is vital to the program’s goal of returning human spaceflight to U.S. soil using a model that calls for closer cooperation among the agency and the private sector. Read more about Hutcherson at https://go.nasa.gov/2nc3WyO.
Jon 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.
Boeing 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.
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.
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.