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.
American-built rockets will soon once again launch astronauts from American soil, and Dayna Ise, an engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is excited to be part of the program making this possible.
“Of all the projects I have been part of with NASA in my 15 years, this is easily the work I am most proud of,” said Ise, who started her career working on space shuttle main engines. “I joined the team early on, almost five years ago, and it’s been fun to see it grow. It’s exciting to be part of program that will launch astronauts to the space station from American soil and allow NASA more resources for exploration deeper into our solar system.”
NASA’s ultimate goal with the Commercial Crew Program is to establish reliable and cost-effective human access to space. In the Launch Vehicle Office, Ise works with industry partners to ensure all launch vehicle requirements and standards are met before launching astronauts for NASA.
As a 7-year-old boy growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1969, Dorney watched the Apollo 11 moon landing from his living room and decided he needed to build his own rocket. He sent a letter to NASA asking how to do that. Much to his parents’ surprise, he got a response – NASA sent him plans to build a simple model rocket. Which he immediately rejected.
“I wanted the real wiring schematics and engine plans,” Dorney says. “I wanted to build my own life-size rocket to go to the moon. I was ready to be an aerospace engineer.”
Learn more about Dan and the work he is doing to return human spaceflight launches to the U.S. http://go.nasa.gov/1RYx5aj
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner airbag system, which will provide a safe landing for the spacecraft during any phase of flight, was put to the test over the 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, on Feb. 9. The Starliner is one of two commercial spacecraft in development to launch astronauts from the U.S. to the International Space Station via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Six landing airbags, designed and manufactured by ILC Dover in Frederica, Delaware, were inflated before the full-size Starliner test article was hoisted up by a crane and then dropped from a height and angle that mimicked what the spacecraft might encounter as it pushes off an Atlas V rocket during a launch or ascent emergency. The goal for Boeing’s landing and recovery team is to achieve flight qualification status of the Starliner’s airbag and up-righting systems through a series of tests at Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin.
While the Starliner is designed for land-based returns, it is important for engineers to understand how the spacecraft and its systems would perform in all landing scenarios.
Astronaut Anne McClain takes part in egress training for the Crew Dragon at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters recently as part of a larger team of astronauts and engineers evaluating processes for the new generation of American spacecraft in development to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. Working inside a mock-up built by SpaceX to simulate the actual spacecraft, the team practices leaving the spacecraft through the top hatch of the Crew Dragon as well as using the side hatch. The work is common in assessing spacecraft design. For astronauts, such rehearsals are regular exercise in mission preparations even in spacecraft that have been flying regularly.