NASA, SpaceX Simulate Astronauts Docking to Station on Crew Dragon Spacecraft

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station. Here it is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station’s Harmony module. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26 for the company’s first crew flight test, known as Demo-2, to the microgravity laboratory.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
The Demo-2 flight test will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA

The activity is part of a series of integrated simulations bringing together NASA and SpaceX flight control teams to complete multiple practice runs for each dynamic phase of a mission from launch to splashdown. These simulations provide the teams plenty of practice to ensure they safely and successfully perform the planned operations of the actual spaceflight, with opportunities to fine-tune their procedures and gain experience on how to solve problems should they arise.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, and the two have been working closely with SpaceX throughout the design and construction of the spacecraft, offering up the experience they gained on previous spaceflights. Joint simulations bring them together with the teams that will support them from the ground to practice for the mission — including handling any challenges that might arise during flight.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. Photo credit: NASA

The Demo-2 flight test will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Once the spacecraft is certified, SpaceX can begin regular flights to the space station with long-duration crews aboard.

In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. The mission tested a new launch configuration, checked maneuverability demonstrations in free flight and ensured the crew’s ability to transfer power and data between the spacecraft and the space station. With those boxes all successfully checked, the Crew Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft built to carry humans to dock with the space station. Its subsequent safe reentry and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean was an important step toward proving the spacecraft is ready to carry humans onboard.

Boeing Completes Starliner Hot Fire Test

Starliner Hot Fire Test
Boeing teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner propulsion system was put to the test on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system, which are key elements on the path to restore America’s capability to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil.

The test used a flight-like Starliner service module with a full propulsion system comprising of fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system and orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics.

During the test:

  • 19 thrusters fired to simulate in-space maneuvers.
  • 12 thrusters fired to simulate a high-altitude abort.
  • 22 propulsion elements, including the launch abort engines, fired to simulate a low-altitude abort.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will complete a Starliner pad abort test and uncrewed flight test, called Orbital Flight Test, to the station ahead of the first flight test with a crew onboard. As commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

The Atlas V to Lift Starliner with Astronauts Departs Factory for Launch Site

From the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, the Atlas V booster stage and Dual Engine Centaur upper stage were rolled into a giant cargo ship for transport to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Emmett Given

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program emerged on Thursday from the production factory in Decatur, Alabama for transport in a giant cargo ship to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Once at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will begin integrated operations and processing for the Crew Flight Test mission. Photo credit: NASA/Emmett Given

The rocket, known as AV-082, will launch Starliner and its crew of NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson to the  station following the spacecraft’s maiden voyage, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test targeted for August.

From the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, the Atlas V booster stage and Dual Engine Centaur upper stage were moved down the road for loading into the Mariner vessel docked nearby. The 312-foot-long ship is purpose-built to navigate both shallow waters of rivers and ocean travel to reach ULA’s launch sites. It has been making the trek from Decatur to Cape Canaveral since 2001.

Once at Cape Canaveral, the Atlas V will begin integrated operations and processing for the CFT launch.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to transport crew to the space station from the United States, returning the nation’s human spaceflight launch capability. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions.

Regular commercial transportation using Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to and from the station will enable expanded station use and additional research time aboard the orbiting laboratory. Research on the space station helps address the challenges of moving humanity forward to the Moon and Mars as we learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Lueders Featured in NASA Podcast

Kathy Lueders Manager of the Commercial Crew Program, Kathy Lueders, is featured on Episode 49 of “Houston We Have a Podcast.” The episode discusses a brief history of the space program, how it started, and where it is now. Lueders talks about two commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, and the work they are doing to design, build and launch new spacecraft that will carry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. You can listen here: https://go.nasa.gov/2JOqEHU