Vice President Mike Pence saw a Florida spaceport Thursday poised in the starting blocks to return America’s human launch capability, begin a new era in deep-space exploration and capitalize on emerging partnerships with private industry.
Working in close partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a process new to human spacecraft development, Boeing and SpaceX are making independent spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station from America. Boeing is building a line of Starliner spacecraft and SpaceX is making a crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft. Both spacecraft, along with their launch vehicles, mission and launch control systems, are being certified by NASA for safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness.
Seen together, the transformation of the center shows the form of a spaceport that has embraced the potential of new partnership approaches while holding onto its heritage of success and broaden the range of exploration for the nation.
Driving through much of the launch and processing facilities spread throughout the 144,000 acres of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Pence saw launch pads rebuilt for the needs of privately operated rockets, former space shuttle hangars refit to serve as spacecraft factories and the assembly hall for NASA’s own deep-space exploration spacecraft, Orion.
Former astronaut Bob Cabana, Kennedy’s center director, guided the tour for Pence who was making his first stop at the center since becoming vice president. As vice president, Pence will serve as chairman of the newly reformed National Space Council that will set goals and establish policies for the United States’ space efforts.
“We are in a great position here at Kennedy, we made our vision a reality; it couldn’t have been done without the passion and energy of our workforce,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Cabana. “Kennedy is fully established as a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial partners in the space industry. As America’s premier multi-user spaceport, Kennedy continues to make history as it evolves, launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond.”
Read complete coverage of Pence’s visit to the Florida spaceport at www.nasa.gov.
As a NASA engineer in guidance, navigation and control, Nguyen evaluates the companies’ systems that steer and tell a spacecraft where it is and where it’s going. He works closely with both Boeing and SpaceX as the two companies build separate launch systems that NASA will certify for use.
“Each partner is different and offers different challenges,” Nguyen said. “We’ve developed a rapport with the engineers so they understand we’re here to share ideas and our assessments of the design. We’re really here to support them and their goals because they are our goals too.”
Read Nguyen’s full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2tY9gJn
NASA and SpaceX engineers are working together at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to build a full-scale Crew Dragon model, or Recovery Trainer, that will be used by the U.S. Air Force to perform flight-like rescue and recovery training exercises in the open ocean later this year.
The model, shown above with astronauts Dan Burbank and Victor Glover inside, is built to mimic the Crew Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX is developing with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule. The Recovery Trainer will be used by the Air Force to prepare procedures and train for this contingency scenario. The trainer also has two working hatches and other simulated components similar to the ones astronauts and support teams will encounter in real missions.
Scott Colloredo, deputy director of Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate, said the engineers adapted SpaceX designs of internal elements to be compatible with the trainer and worked with Kennedy’s Prototype Development Lab to produce the parts quickly and install them inside the trainer. The Prototype Development Lab designs, fabricates and tests prototypes, test articles and test support equipment. The lab has a long history of providing fast solutions to complex operations problems. The lab’s teams of engineers use specialized equipment to produce exacting, one-of-a-kind items made from a range of materials depending on the design.
“We perform things that complement what the partners and programs provide,” Colloredo said. “The team delivered right to the minute.”
SpaceX is now finalizing modifications to the trainer to ensure it floats in water in the same way as the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Following those modifications, the trainer will enter service as the primary training vehicle for Crew Dragon astronaut recovery operations.
Amin Rezapour is part of NASA’s team of spaceflight specialists who are working closely with the aerospace industry to develop and operate vehicles that can safely fly astronauts to the International Space Station. As the spacecraft technical integration manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Rezapour works closely with SpaceX as the company builds its Crew Dragon spacecraft.
For a spacecraft to be certified, the design has to meet stringent NASA standards. For Rezapour, this is a good fit as he is an electrical engineer with majors in computer science as well as robotic and control systems. After years of experience in communication and tracking systems on commercial vehicles, first with Boeing and then with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and working many years with NASA partners on cargo vehicles from requirement developments, design, test and operation, Rezapour knows what it takes to design, verify and operate successful spacecraft vehicles. Read more: https://go.nasa.gov/2qJTzHi
The crew of the International Space Station will be able to count on Commercial Crew Program spacecraft in case of an emergency in orbit. As with all the needs for the new spacecraft, NASA outlined a list of requirements for designers to meet. For the most part, it means the spacecraft can be powered on quickly while docked to the station, even if it has been dormant for weeks or a couple of months. From air circulation fans to life support systems to thrusters, the spacecraft’s systems will be designed to engage in minutes.
“Some systems will take longer to bring online, but the idea is to have spacecraft that astronauts can get into quickly for survival and then use to pull away from the station and come home if that is needed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Read the full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2ordbuQ
Bob Behnken and Eric Boe, two of NASA’s four veteran astronauts who supported SpaceX as it refines its crew transportation system designs, checked out the Crew Dragon being used for qualification testing. NASA astronauts routinely travel to industry facilities during spacecraft and mission development to train and offer insights to engineers.
As seen here, Behken is evaluating the Crew Dragon’s hatches. The top hatch, at the nose of the spacecraft, will be the connecting port at the International Space Station. The side hatch will be the entryway for crews getting into the spacecraft when on Earth.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft and related test vehicles are being manufactured at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California. The Crew Dragon is being built to routinely fly four astronauts to the International Space Station although it can carry up to seven people. Flight tests, first without a crew then with astronauts aboard, will take place before operational crew rotation missions.
NASA also partnered with Boeing to build and operate a separate, independent space system called the CST-100 Starliner to carry astronauts to the station. Both vehicles are being developed in close coordination with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photos by SpaceX.
Engineers for the first time powered up the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will fly Boeing’s inaugural flight test of the next-generation spacecraft. Working inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the test team activated the flight avionics system for the Starliner known as Spacecraft 1. The system is the same astronauts will use for all Starliner missions.
The avionics is the complex suite of equipment and software that work together to maneuver the spacecraft in orbit, conduct the rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station and communicating with Mission Control on the ground. Whether under manual control by the crew or in automatic mode, the flight computers have to work seamlessly with the thrusters, guidance and navigation system and other subsystems to perform the mission and then return back to Earth safely.
The Starliner is being built as an upper half and lower half that will be bolted together following successful systems testing. Once completed, Spacecraft 1 will be launched without a crew on a flight test to demonstrate its capability to abort a mission from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency. Later flight tests will demonstrate Starliners in orbital missions to the station without a crew, and then with astronauts aboard. The flight tests will preview the crew rotation missions future Starliners will perform as they take up to four astronauts at a time to the orbiting laboratory in order to enhance the research taking place there. Photo credits: Boeing
Engineers tested a new slide wire emergency escape system at Space Launch Complex 41 as United Launch Alliance continues to modify the pad for upcoming launches of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard ULA’s Atlas V rockets on missions to and from the International Space Station.
There are seats in place on four wires so up to 20 astronauts and ground support personnel can quickly get down from the tower in case a dangerous situation develops during the countdown. The system has been designed with the astronauts’ suit in mind, including making the seats easier to get into and the handles that control speed on the way down easy to operate.
The crew access tower is new to the launch complex, which has hosted uncrewed spacecraft and rockets for years. The egress system is located on the same level as the crew access arm, which provides the connection for astronauts to enter the Starliner spacecraft on top of the Atlas V rocket. It is the first new emergency evacuation system that has been installed at the Florida spaceport since the slide wire baskets used during the Space Shuttle Program.
Apollo missions had similar escape systems in place on its launch towers. The systems have never been needed in an emergency, but are required in case a condition develops before launch that prohibits those on the tower from taking the elevator down to safety. See our photos of the new system on Commercial Crew Program’s Flickr album at https://go.nasa.gov/1EVPaCG Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold
Astronaut Michael Good, a veteran spacewalker who is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, will discuss the advances in development of NASA’s next generation of human-rated spacecraft. The discussion will come as astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough conduct the next spacewalk to outfit the orbiting laboratory to host new spacecraft in the near future including Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Both companies are working closely with NASA to build and certify the spacecraft to fly up to four astronauts at a time to the station. Watch Good’s interview below on the NASA TV feed, watch it on TV or go to www.nasa.gov/ntv
We’ve updated our collector cards and bookmarks for our aerospace industry partners in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to once again launch astronauts from the U.S. You can download and print out your own copies today! Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin feature in these items that show each company’s role. You can read more about the low-Earth orbit marketplace emerging for commercial space companies in our feature, “A New Market Emerges: NASA Partnerships Open the Path from Ground to Space.”