Four red-and-white parachutes unfurled high above the desert near Coolidge, Arizona, recently during a test of the system that initially will be used to safely land SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying astronauts back from the International Space Station. The test used a mass simulator as the weight of the spacecraft connected to the parachute system. The mass simulator and parachutes were released thousands of feet above the ground from a C-130 cargo aircraft. This test evaluated the four main parachutes, but did not include the drogue chutes that a full landing system would utilize.
As part of its final development and certification work with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX continues to perform tests of flight-like hardware that allows engineers to assess the reliability. Later tests will grow progressively more realistic to simulate as much of the actual conditions and processes the system will see during an operational mission.
Exploration begins with imagination, so as NASA embarks on a new generation of research and exploration we want you to imagine some of the ways space explorers will work in space and what a journey to Mars will mean for people all over the world. Here in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, we are working with the American aerospace industry to launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station, the cornerstone of current human space exploration.
We want to get the most we can out of that unique orbiting laboratory, therefore commercial crew spacecraft are geared toward allowing an additional resident on the station, raising the standard station crew to seven. That will double the amount of time astronauts can devote to science in space and increase the work done there to answer some of the mysteries of sending astronauts to deep space and to Mars in the future.
What do you think that research will look like in orbit? What kind of laboratory in space do think of? The artwork above shows what Georgia, 10, of Merritt Island, Florida, envisions. Show us what you see when you think of the many aspects of space exploration, including the work that goes into making it safe, and we might put your vision in our Children’s Artwork Calendar for 2016. We have several topics to inspire you, along with the rules of the competition, at this website. And we’ve extended the deadline to midnight Eastern on Tuesday, Dec. 8. We look forward to seeing your vision of spaceflight!
The first two domes that will form the pressure shell of the Structural Test Article, or STA, for Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft have arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The STA Crew Module will be assembled inside the former space shuttle hangar, known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3, so the company can validate the manufacturing and processing methods it plans to use for flight-ready CST-100 vehicles. While the STA will not fly with people aboard, it will be used to determine the effectiveness of the design and prove its escape system during a pad abort test. The ability to abort from an emergency and safely carry crew members out of harm’s way is a critical element for NASA’s next generation of crew spacecraft.
The main structure of the STA was friction-stir welded into a single upper and lower hull in mid-2015 and then machined to its final thickness. Throughout the next few months, it will be outfitted with critical components and systems required for testing. Once completed at Kennedy, the test article will be taken to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California, for evaluations. The “structural test” is one of many that will verify the capabilities and worthiness of the spacecraft, which is being designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in the near future for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing plans to launch its spacecraft on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is only a few miles away from the CST-100 processing facility at Kennedy. A human-rated crew access tower that will give astronauts and ground support crews access to the CST-100 standing at the pad is currently is under construction near the launch site.
“What comes with our assignment is a fair amount of responsibility because there will be a legacy of astronauts for years and years to come who will have to live with the decisions that we in the agency are making with Boeing and SpaceX now,” said NASA astronaut Bob Behnken. “So we want to make sure we are making the right decisions.”
Doug Hurley, left, Eric Boe, Behken and Sunita Williams take one of their first photos together at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston as the astronauts selected to train for Commercial Crew Program flight tests. Credit: NASA/James Blair
SpaceX reported this evening that it has moved the start of its Pad Abort Test window two hours to 9 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 6, from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The test will see a Crew Dragon and trunk – together about 20 feet tall – fly on the power of eight SuperDraco engines. There will be no crew members aboard the spacecraft during the test, which will simulate an emergency escape from the launch pad in the unlikely case of booster failing at liftoff or other scenario that would threaten astronauts inside the spacecraft.
NASA will provide updates about the test right here on the Commercial Crew Blog and air the test live on NASA Television. To join the online conversation about the SpaceX Pad Abort Test, follow the hashtag #LaunchAmerica.
During a pad abort test preview last week, engineers with NASA and SpaceX told us what they hope to learn from the demonstration of the company’s escape system. Below are a few more details about the sequence of events and what the test will look like if you’re watching here along Florida’s Space Coast or live on NASA TV on Wednesday, May 6.
The biggest takeaway is that this test will be quick! And that’s the point – SpaceX wants to demonstrate its ability to carry crew members away from a dangerous situation on the launch pad in a hurry. For context, Crew Dragon will accelerate from 0 to nearly 100 mph in one second. The entire test is less than two minutes long, with Dragon traveling over one mile in the first 20 seconds alone.
T-0: The eight SuperDracos ignite simultaneously and reach maximum thrust, propelling the spacecraft off the pad.
T+0.5s: After half a second of vertical flight, Crew Dragon pitches toward the ocean and continues its controlled burn. The SuperDraco engines throttle to control the trajectory based on real-time measurements from the vehicle’s sensors.
T+5s: The abort burn is terminated once all propellant is consumed and Dragon coasts for just over 15 seconds to its highest point about 1500 meters (.93 mi) above the launch pad.
T+21s: The trunk is jettisoned and the spacecraft begins a slow rotation with its heat shield pointed toward the ground again.
T+25s: Small parachutes, called drogues, are deployed first during a 4-6 second window following trunk separation.
T+35s: Once the drogue parachutes stabilize the vehicle, three main parachutes deploy and further slow the spacecraft before splashdown.
T+107s: Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean about 2,200 meters (1.4 miles) downrange of the launch pad.
SpaceX released images of the spacecraft and a “5 Things to Know” about the pad abort test on its website, which you can read here.
SpaceX currently is targeting no earlier than Tuesday, May 5, for a pad abort test of its Crew Dragon development spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The ability to abort from a launch or pad emergency and safely carry crew members out of harm’s way is a critical element for NASA’s next generation of crew spacecraft.
The company will have a four-hour window to conduct the test, beginning at about 9:30 a.m. EDT. SpaceX has an additional test opportunity on Wednesday, May 6. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the test. NASA TV also will air a media briefing previewing the test with SpaceX and NASA representatives at 10 a.m. Friday, May 1.
SpaceX will perform the test under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA, but can use the data gathered during the development flight as it continues on the path to certification. Under a separate Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will certify SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 rocket, ground and mission operations systems to fly crews to and from the International Space Station.
More about media credentialing and coverage details available here.
SpaceX ignited two of its SuperDraco engines together at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, during a recent test of the reusable system. This specific test was a demonstration of a pad abort test profile, with two SuperDraco engines igniting simultaneously and throttling as they will during an upcoming flight test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The SuperDraco engine is vital to the safety of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft under development to carry crew to the International Space Station. Four SuperDraco pods, with two engines in each for a total of eight engines, are to be arranged on the sides of a Crew Dragon capsule. During launch and ascent into space, the eight rocket engines would be called on to push the spacecraft and crew out of danger in case of an abort.
The pad abort test will be performed under the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA. SpaceX can use the data gathered during the development flight as it continues on the path to certification. Under a separate Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, SpaceX is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 rocket, ground and mission operations systems to fly crews to and from the space station.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to work closely with American aerospace companies as they develop new human transportation systems for low-Earth orbit. Recently, the program added another milestone to its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). The company’s Design Analysis Cycle-6 Closeout Review will demonstrate the advancement of the Dream Chaser Space System from a Preliminary Design Review level of maturity toward a Critical Design Review level. While the new milestone is unfunded, NASA and SNC continue to benefit from each other’s technical expertise. The amendment also extends the partnership through March 2016.
SNC is continuing to develop its Dream Chaser spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and associated ground and mission support systems. The company also is preparing for another CCiCap milestone – the second free-flight test of the Dream Chaser at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, targeted for later this year.
SpaceX is deep into construction of a new horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A. The 300-foot-long structure is being built at the base of the pad on Kennedy Space Center’s historic crawlerway to process the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for Commercial Crew flights. The pad facilities also will be used for launches using the Falcon Heavy rocket.