SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Jan. 4, 2020, for a critical In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval.

As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

The In-Flight Abort Test follows a series of static fire engine tests of the spacecraft conducted Nov. 13 near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX Completes Crew Dragon Static Fire Tests

Today, SpaceX completed a series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in advance of an in-flight launch escape demonstration, known as the In-Flight Abort Test.

The engine tests, conducted near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, began with two burns for a duration of one-second each for two of Crew Dragon’s 16 Draco thrusters. The Draco thrusters are used for on-orbit maneuvering and attitude control, and would also be used for re-orientation during certain in-flight launch escapes. Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff.

In quick succession, immediately after the SuperDracos shut down, two Dracos thrusters fired and all eight SuperDraco flaps closed, mimicking the sequence required to reorient the spacecraft in-flight to a parachute deploy attitude and close the flaps prior to reentry. The full sequence, from SuperDraco startup to flap closure, spanned approximately 70 seconds.

In April, during a similar set of engine tests, the spacecraft experienced an anomaly which led to an explosion and loss of the vehicle. In the following months, an Anomaly Investigation Team made up of SpaceX and NASA personnel determined that a slug of liquid propellant in the high-flow helium pressurization system unexpectedly caused a titanium ignition event resulting in an explosion. Based on that investigation’s findings and months of testing, SpaceX redesigned components of the system to eliminate the possibility of slugs entering the high-flow pressurization system.

Today’s tests will help validate the launch escape system ahead of Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from today’s test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test.

NASA and Boeing Discuss Preliminary Pad Abort Test Results

On Thursday, Nov. 7, Boeing Commercial Crew Vice President and Program Manager John Mulholland and NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders addressed preliminary results of the Nov. 4 CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test during a media teleconference.

Preliminary results indicate that the test, conducted from Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, met NASA’s primary test objectives:

  • Validated the launch abort system’s capability to perform a safe abort
  • Safely separated CST-100 from a static launch vehicle adapter on the launch pad
  • Validated the launch abort system’s capability to propel Starliner safely to a target point to avoid re-contact with any potential debris or other pieces of hardware
  • Demonstrated stability and control characteristics of the launch abort system
  • Safely separated the crew module from the service module during the abort sequence
  • Deployed landing and recovery system to execute a controlled land landing
  • Validated functionality of guidance, navigation & control and command & data handling system for appropriate sequencing of commands to the propulsion controllers

During the test, two of three of Starliner’s main parachutes deployed and eased Starliner to the ground. Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety. Boeing has determined that the parachute anomaly occurred because the rigging between one of the three pilot and main parachutes was improperly connected. Boeing has verified this through closeout photos, and understands how this happened on a test vehicle. The company is validating that its processes were followed correctly on its Orbital Flight Test vehicle, which is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 17.

NASA is encouraged by the preliminary results of the Pad Abort Test and remains committed to working in concert with Boeing to ensure crew safety as we move to return astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

Boeing Pad Abort Test to air live on NASA TV

Tune in to NASA TV and the agency’s website at 8:50 a.m. EST today to follow live coverage of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test from Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test is scheduled for 9 a.m. EST with a three-hour test window. Coverage will be adjusted as necessary within the window.

The Pad Abort Test is Boeing’s first test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership with the American aerospace industry to launch astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011.

The test is designed to verify that each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff.

Flight Test Dates Under Review

SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner will transport astronauts to the International Space Station.*NASA and Boeing provided updates on Oct. 11, 2019. For the details on Boeing flight tests and the schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/328xeSL.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are working to return human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on American rockets and spacecraft.

NASA and our partners want to fly astronauts as quickly as we can without compromising the safety of our astronauts and always will give safety precedence over schedule. However, our schedules matter. The NASA Administrator has directed all programs in the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate to reexamine flight dates once new leadership is in place to deliver realistic schedule plans.

This is a pivotal time for NASA and our partners. The final phase of our development and testing is critical to the safety of our astronauts and the success of our mission – regular, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the International Space Station on commercially-owned and operated American space systems.

We are testing, learning and incorporating changes to improve the design and operation of these next-generation human space transportation systems. As a result, our providers have improved the safety of these systems, and the effect of these changes have impacted schedules.

NASA, SpaceX Earn Emmy Nomination for Demo-1 Mission Coverage

NASA and SpaceX were nominated for an Emmy! Teams from the agency’s Commercial Crew Program are among six finalists in the Outstanding Interactive Program category for their coverage of SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission in March 2019.

The nomination recognizes the teams’ tremendous efforts in sharing with the world Crew Dragon’s historic journey to the International Space Station. The mission marked the first time a commercially operated spacecraft docked with the space station, and brought the United States a critical step closer to launching astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil.

The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft s pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the International Space Station's Harmony module on March 3, 2019.
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the International Space Station’s Harmony module on March 3, 2019. Image credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX spent years preparing a collaborative approach to mission coverage, which featured multiple live broadcasts from agency and company facilities across the country during each phase of the mission, continuing through Crew Dragon’s stunning return to Earth. Throughout NASA’s coverage, the agency engaged social media users around the world and at local social media influencer gatherings at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony will be held Sept. 14-15, 2019.

SpaceX Provides Update on Crew Dragon Static Fire Investigation

SpaceX held a joint teleconference with NASA on Monday, July 15, to update media on the company’s investigation into its Crew Dragon static fire mishap on Saturday, April 20. SpaceX’s full statement on the investigation and the current findings can be found at: https://go.nasa.gov/2GeGLyH

 

Starliner Parachute System Finishes Two Tests in One Week

NASA and Boeing completed two different tests of the CST-100 Starliner parachute system this week at two different locations in the desert of the western United States. The tests were part of a series of parachute tests providing valuable data needed to prove the system is safe to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

A full-scale CST-100 Starliner test article, known as a boiler plate, lands safely June 24 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

The first test, conducted June 24 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, used a full-scale Starliner test article, known as a boiler plate, designed to simulate the actual spacecraft. This test featured a double failure scenario meaning one of the parachute system’s two drogue parachutes and one of the three main parachutes were both intentionally disabled to test how the remaining parachutes handled the additional loads during deployment and descent.

The next test occurred June 26 using a dart-shaped test device meant to function as a Starliner weight simulant. The device was released from a C-17 aircraft above the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.  This was a “high Q” test, meaning the parachutes were intentionally inflated at higher pressures than they are expected to see during missions.

Parachutes deploy over the U.S Army’s Proving Ground on June 26 in a Boeing CST-100 Starliner parachute system test. Photo credit: U.S. Army

In both instances, the Starliner test articles landed safely, and the joint NASA and Boeing teams currently are reviewing the new data.

Boeing is targeting an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the space station this summer, which will test the full end-to-end capabilities of the system from launch to landing. The uncrewed test will be follow by its Crew Flight Test to the space station. Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Benji Reed

Benji Reed (far left), Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX

The following is a transcript of SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

To be honest, I’m shaking, and I’m super excited. It was an incredible journey to get to this moment. The teams have just done an amazing job, both the SpaceX and the NASA teams jointly. Fundamentally this is a great day for the nation, for SpaceX, for NASA, for all of us—really for the world.

I think it was Anne (McClain) who said this is the first time in 40 years that we’ve had a spacecraft designed for humans (test) fly, and not only did she fly and go to the space station and do everything she was supposed to do, but we brought her home safe and sound landing in the Atlantic. It’s amazing.

I can’t believe how well the whole mission has gone. I think on every point, everything’s been nailed, all the way along—particularly this last piece. We were all very excited to see re-entry and parachute and drogue deploy and main deploy, splashdown—everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to. It was beautiful.

As a team, SpaceX, we’re just super honored to have the opportunity to have done this mission, to work with NASA, to work through this. You know, Demo-1 is fundamentally this first major milestone in our process towards certification. I always like to remind everybody that this is a whole system—there’s Crew Dragon, there’s the Falcon that’s going to be certified to fly humans, there’s also the ground systems, the operations, our entire factory and production system—everything that we do is being certified to be able to fly astronauts safely, and this is a huge step towards that.

If you kind of look back over what happened over the last two days, which just seems incredible to me, really it’s the culmination of years of work to get us to this day. We had launch, Crew Dragon deployed, and we saw beautiful free flight. One of the things that’s hard to test when you’re on the ground is how fluids work in microgravity. And what’s amazing is everything worked just like we expected.

We got to station, docked, and, you know, it’s the first time I think in history a commercial vehicle and also an American vehicle has docked autonomously to the International Space Station, so that’s super cool. (Crew Dragon was) loaded with all kinds of sensors, all kinds of tests that we did. We all met Ripley, and she’s loaded with sensors so we can understand exactly all the forces that the crew will feel as they’re launched to station from home. We got to meet the little Earth guy (laughs); I heard he’s going to stay on station. Undocking, of course, some more free flight, and then we came home. We jettisoned the trunk, closed the nose cone, and then again, like I said, just beautiful parachute deployment, everything the way we expected.  All of these tests that we’ve been doing on parachutes, all of the analysis that we’ve done on understanding the aerodynamics of re-entry and coming home.  Everything was just wonderful.

The important thing now is we’re going to take all of this data and we’re going to apply that to the next steps. There’s a lot more to do because our ultimate goal is to be able to continue to staff space station, to provide astronauts rides up to space, give them a safe place to be, a safe place to come home in, and do crew rotations every six months. So how do we get there? So we finished Demo-1, huge milestone, the next step is we take that data, we apply it, we learn from it, and we’re going to go to our in-flight abort test, similar to that pad abort test that we did a few years ago. We actually will put the same Dragon that we flew on Demo-1, we’re going to take that and we’re going to put it on top of Falcon 9, launch it, get it going super fast to test conditions, and then escape it off of the rocket and again do the same thing, bring it home safely under parachutes, land it in the ocean.

From there, after we get that done, we go to Demo-2, and that’s kind of like, wow, that’s the big prize, because that’s going to be sending Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley)—our NASA astronauts, our partners, our friends—sending them up on Dragon and taking them to station safely and bringing them home safely.

When that’s done, we’ll go through final, full certification and start those six-month rotation missions, which we’re all so excited about.

It’s important to take a step back and think about all that it took to get here, all the work of all the joint teams—NASA and SpaceX—all the support that we’ve had from friends and family. Really, I think, the most important thing is that on behalf of all of the 6,000 people here at SpaceX, we really want to thank NASA, we want to thank the space station, the international partners, and thank the American public for their support and partnership as we go through this. We’re really proud to be part of this endeavor.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Steve Stich

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich

The following is a transcript of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

It’s great to be here representing the Commercial Crew Program. What an outstanding day to be part of our program. We started our contracts in 2014 for these first missions, and to sit here today and talk about Demo-1 and how great the flight went and what we’re going to learn from it is just amazing.

I’d like to congratulate the SpaceX team on a phenomenal job getting the vehicles ready and executing the flight, and our whole NASA team that worked the mission. If you just think about the enormity of what happened in this flight and all of the prep that went into it—getting the pad refurbished at (Launch Complex) 39A, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicles built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis, all of the mission support that went into it, the simulations and the practice leading up to this flight over the last year or so—it’s just been a tremendous job.

I would say one of the things that we learned during this flight is the great relationship we have between the program and SpaceX. I would say our teams worked seamlessly back and forth with SpaceX, not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight through the Dragon mission management team, and then also working with Kenny Todd and the International Space Station Program. The space station program did a phenomenal job supporting our program while we were docked to station, on the way to station, and the international partnership as well, so it was a really great opportunity for this mission.

The last 24 hours have been exciting for us. You know we closed the hatch yesterday around noon (Central Time), got into the undock today around 1:31 a.m. (Central Time), did a few small separation burns to get away from station—if you watched that on NASA TV that was flawless—did about three separation burns to get down below station, executed the deorbit burn at about 6:52 a.m. Central Time and then landed just a few minutes ago at 7:45 a.m. (Central Time).

The vehicle is doing well. The recovery crews are out on the scene. They’ve already been around the spacecraft and made sure it was secure for personnel. It was a very calm day with low winds and low sea states, and one of the chutes kind of landed on the Dragon capsule; they’ve already gotten that off, so that’s going really well.  It’ll probably take 30 minutes to maybe an hour to get it back on the ship.

When you look overall at this mission, it was a great dress rehearsal for Demo-2. We learned a phenomenal amount in the prelaunch timeframe about how to load the vehicle, and thinking forward to how we’ll put the crews in the vehicle. The ascent profile for this flight, we practiced the exact profile that Mike Hopkins and others will fly very soon—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (on Demo-2). We had the abort system—the crew escape system on Dragon—actually enabled for this flight, and we were able to see how that worked and we’ll get the data back and look at those triggers and how it performed.

On-orbit we got a lot of great data on the vehicle in terms of the thermal performance and power performance; the vehicle really did better than we expected. Then the rendezvous was phenomenal as we came in and checked out those sensors. During the attached phase of course we had cargo operations, and we’ll do the same thing both on Demo-2 and then Crew Dragon-1 and other missions. Then we did a robotic survey of the vehicle to look at the thermal protection system and other systems, and that went really well.

I will say one thing: this mission, it was only six days long. It was a sprint from start to finish, and thinking about where we’ve been in operations in that sprint, I think Kenny (Todd) would probably tell you the same thing—it was just a phenomenal job by the team. And then of course today, the undocking, watching how those systems performed, that went flawlessly. It’s a very tight sequence between undocking and de-orbit burn, how the nose cone performed, how the de-orbit burn was executed, then the entry was phenomenal.

We did have Ripley on board, an anthropomorphic test device, and that’s going to give us a lot of important data for the accelerations during both the ascent phase and then the entry phase under the parachutes and then landing. So we’ll collect that data, and then look at that.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing post-flight reviews. In fact just next week we’ll have one for the launch vehicle and the ground segment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), we’ll start reviewing that. And then subsequently we’ll do reviews with SpaceX on the orbit phase of the mission.

This flight really sets us up well for the rest of the year. The vehicle that’s hit the water in the Atlantic today will be the in-flight abort vehicle, and so one of the first things that’ll happen is the vehicle will come back to KSC and go over into the processing area and start getting refurbished for the in-flight abort test which should be in the June timeframe. And then the Demo-2 vehicle is in Hawthorne, CA getting ready for the first crewed mission. That’s in progress and going well. That work has continued all through the flight, so it will be a busy year for us with SpaceX with in-flight abort in the June timeframe and then Demo-2 later in the year with the first crewed mission.

I don’t think we saw really anything in the mission so far—and we’ve got to do to the data reviews—that would preclude us from having the crewed mission later this year.

If you look in the April timeframe we’re also getting ready for the Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and that will happen very soon. So our program will transition after this mission and the data reviews into preparing not only for in-flight abort and Demo-2, but also the Orbital Flight Test—the uncrewed flight test—for Boeing, and that’ll be coming up in the April timeframe. Spacecraft 3, which is the Boeing vehicle, is coming together at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility down in Florida. And (Boeing) is in the middle of a bunch of very critical testing right now out at El Segundo (California) to verify that the spacecraft can work successfully in space. And then later on this year we’ll have the Crew Flight Test for Boeing as well.

If you just look at all the activities in commercial crew, it’s a super busy time. In addition to this flight, in the last few weeks we did parachute tests for SpaceX and Boeing and so if you look at all of the activities to get ready for flying our crews, it’s just a very exciting time.

Again, congratulations to our SpaceX team and all of the NASA people across the country that worked so hard for many, many years on this flight. It really sets us up for the rest of the year, and it’s a super exciting time to be in commercial crew.