Vice President Mike Pence and members of the National Space Council toured Boeing and SpaceX facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The tour was part of the second meeting of the National Space Council held at the agency’s multi-user spaceport in Florida.
Following the council’s meeting inside Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility, the vice president, including NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Suni Williams, took a ride across the center first arriving to Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Procession Facility, or C3PF, where Boeing is manufacturing the Starliner spacecraft for missions to and from the International Space Station. The Vice President saw various Starliners being built for the company’s Pad Abort Test and Crew Flight Test. The Pad Abort Test Starliner will demonstrate the spacecraft’s abort and landing system performance, and the crew test Starliner will fly astronauts to the space station. Both flight tests are scheduled later this year.
The next stop was the SpaceX hangar at Launch Complex 39A where the company horizontally integrates the Falcon 9 rocket for launch. SpaceX currently launches government and commercial missions from 39A. It also will be the launch site for commercial crew missions to the station. Inside of the hangar, the Vice President saw flight hardware from recent missions, including the company’s thirteenth cargo resupply mission to the space station, which occurred in December. The company also showcased the helmet astronauts will wear for missions to the station. SpaceX is slated to begin flight tests this year starting with an uncrewed flight test and then a crew test flight to the station, known as Demonstration Mission 1 and 2 respectively. SpaceX also will fly an in-flight abort test from the pad.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, continue to develop the systems that will return human spaceflight to the United States. Both commercial partners are undertaking considerable amounts of testing in 2018 to prove space system designs and the ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirement for regular crew flights to the International Space Station.
“The work Boeing and SpaceX are doing is incredible. They are manufacturing spaceflight hardware, performing really complicated testing and proving their systems to make sure we get it right.” said Kathy Lueders, program manager NASA Commercial Crew Program. “Getting it right is the most important thing.”
Both Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station prior to test flights with a crew onboard this year. After each company’s test flights, NASA will work to certify the systems and begin post-certification crew rotation missions. The current flight schedules for commercial crew systems provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.
As part of the agency’s normal contingency planning, NASA is exploring multiple scenarios as the agency protects for potential schedule adjustments to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. One option under consideration would extend the duration of upcoming flight tests with crew targeted for the end of 2018 on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The flights could be extended longer than the current two weeks planned for test flights, and likely less than a six-month full-duration mission. The agency also is assessing whether there is a need to add another NASA crew member on the flight tests.
This would not the first time NASA has expanded the scope of test flights. NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial demonstration flight to the International Space Station in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. This decision allowed NASA to ensure the crew aboard the space station had the equipment, food and other supplies needed on the station after the end of the agency’s Space Shuttle Program.
As with all contingency plans, the options will receive a thorough review by the agency, including safety and engineering reviews. NASA will make a decision on these options within the next few months to begin training crews.
Sierra Nevada Corporation delivered its Dream Chaser spacecraft Wednesday to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, located on Edwards Air Force Base. The spacecraft will undergo several months of testing at the center in preparation for its approach and landing flight on the base’s 22L runway.
The test series is part of a developmental space act agreement SNC has with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The upcoming test campaign will help SNC validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.
The Dream Chaser is also being prepared to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract beginning in 2019. The data that SNC gathers from this test campaign will help influence and inform the final design of the cargo Dream Chaser, which will fly at least six cargo delivery missions to and from the space station by 2024.
Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne have begun a series of developmental hot-fires tests with two launch abort engines similar to the ones that will be part of Boeing’s Starliner service module. The engines, designed to maximize thrust build-up, while minimizing overshoot during start up, will be fired between half a second and 3 seconds each during the test campaign. If the Starliner’s four launch abort engines were used during an abort scenario, they would fire between 3 and 5.5 seconds, with enough thrust to get the spacecraft and its crew away from the rocket, before splashing down in the ocean under parachutes.
Recently, Aerojet Rocketdyne also completed delivery of the first set of hardware for Starliner’s service module propulsion system.
The Starliner is under development in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for crew missions to the International Space Station.
NASA’s Jon Cowart, a veteran space engineer going back to the space shuttle and other systems, offered a rundown of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program during Thursday’s launch broadcast ahead of the start of the OSIRIS-REx mission. In addition to a status update on the work under way by Boeing and SpaceX to build spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station, Cowart offered the role Commercial Crew plays in NASA’s overall goals of exploration.
“The benefits (of Commercial Crew) are fantastic,” Cowart explained. “The Journey to Mars is going to take a dedicated team and that dedicated team can now focus on that task. They don’t have to worry about getting stuff to low-Earth orbit, which is where Commercial Crew comes in. We are going to enable that capability and free those folks up to worry about deep space and we are going to worry about getting things to low-Earth orbit using SpaceX and Boeing. This allows the money to be spent more on the deep space stuff, which we care deeply about. We all want to get to Mars at some point! So, that is the real thing, it frees up some money and also allows a dedicated team to go do that very important work.”
Can’t get enough of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s hot-fire test of one of the RL10 engines that will power the Centaur upper stage, the Starliner and its crew to the International Space Station for the Crew Flight Test? Watch the engine roar to life and read more about the test, at http://go.nasa.gov/2aZ2XPN.
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft will soon be shipped to California to begin its second phase of free-flight testing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Dream Chaser is a lifting body design that utilizes short winglets to fly back to Earth in a manner akin to NASA’s space shuttles. The same full-scale Dream Chaser engineering test article that performed the first free-flight at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California in October 2013 has been rebuilt and upgraded to perform the second set of tests. The evaluation will culminate with the test article carried high above the runways at Edwards Air Force Base, adjacent to Armstrong.
Without anyone aboard, the Dream Chaser will be released to glide on its own and land. The test, expected at the end of 2016, will evaluate the Dream Chaser’s systems as outlined in the companies’ Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The information gathered during the test will be used to advance the Dream Chaser cargo vehicle tailored to carry equipment, experiments and supplies to the International Space Station, under the agency’s second cargo resupply services contract.
“These tests are significant for us in multiple ways: building on our previous flight test, completing a significant milestone under our CCP agreement, as well as gathering crucial data that will help complete the design of the vehicle being built for our CRS-2 contract,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area.
Inside of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility is a full-size mock-up of the company’s CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft under development in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mock-up is more than just for looks as it makes the CAD drawing, or computer-aided design, of the vehicle a tangible reality. It also allows engineers, like Boeing’s Melanie Weber, to have a physical model to test and validate the design of the spacecraft for astronauts and cargo.
Weber has worked on the Starliner for 5 years and supports many elements of the interior design of the spacecraft including crew safety and protection. When the Starliner spacecraft launches on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 with astronauts headed for the International Space Station, Weber knows where her thoughts will be.
“The whole time I’ll be thinking about the crew,” said Weber. “Our team will have done everything we can to make sure that they arrive safely, and that they have a nice ride too.”
Astronauts, engineers and trainers are expected to learn how to fly and operate Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft prior to launch inside a new training facility dedicated to the spacecraft now in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Called the Space Training, Analysis and Review facility, or STAR, the building opened June 21 a few miles from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, training home of NASA’s astronaut corps as well as mission control.
The STAR facility will be used in concert with other simulators that Boeing will base at Johnson. The simulators built to incorporate various aspects of launch, mission and landing will be used to train teams of astronauts and spaceflight specialists for flight tests and eventually operational missions to the International Space Station. The simulators also will be connected to training consoles at Mission Control to allow fully integrated simulations for the crew and flight controllers. Such simulations are valuable because expose crews and designers to a wide variety of experiences.
“As a pilot, nothing beats being in a simulator and getting hands-on training to fly a vehicle,” said former space shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, now deputy program manager and director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.
If you have not already, be sure to check out the May edition of Kennedy Space Center’s Spaceport Magazine. It features several Commercial Crew Program stories and numerous awe-inspiring NASA programs and projects.