A year after awarding landmark contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to build a new generation of human-rated space systems, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has made great strides to re-establish America’s capability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
Both companies are constructing the infrastructure needed to safely launch and operate crew space transportation systems. They also have offered detailed refinements to their designs and begun building the test vehicles that will be put through extreme analysis before their flight test regimens begin.
These accomplishments set the tone for the next two critical years that will culminate with operational missions to the International Space Station carrying up to four astronauts. They will increase the amount of time dedicated to research on the orbiting laboratory, solving the problems of long duration spaceflight so astronauts can make a successful journey to Mars in the future.
Blue Origin set the stage today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for assembling and flying its rockets and spacecraft from Florida’s Space Coast and we could not be more thrilled to have them as neighbors!
Blue Origin and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program began working together on the company’s booster and spacecraft systems in 2010 when NASA selected Blue Origin as one of five companies funded for early developmental work on their own projects under Space Act Agreements.
That first partnership with Blue Origin covered design work on a pusher-style launch abort system and composite pressure vessel for the company’s spacecraft. A second round of agreements continued development of both the launch abort system and spacecraft, along with developing a propellant tank and the hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled BE-3 engine. Blue Origin’s newest engine, known as the BE-4, will power the company’s reusable boosters as they loft spacecraft on orbital flights on a variety of missions.
Taken together with continuing advances by NASA’s other commercial crew partners including Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation, a new generation of American-made systems is on the verge of opening space travel to more people than ever before!
The new face of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) is complete. Workers placed the finishing touches of the building-sized mural on the rounded edges of the former Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this week.
The image of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner orbiting above Florida highlights the C3PF’s role as the assembly and processing home for the company’s next-generation human-rated spacecraft. The Starliner is being built in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to re-establish America’s ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.
Spacecraft built in the C3PF will be launched into space from nearby Space Launch Complex-41 aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. NASA also is working with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon to take astronauts to the station.
The first new Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida since the Apollo era will take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 in the coming days as workers moved the first two tiers from a nearby construction yard to the pad surface. The tiers will be lifted into place atop each other at the foot of the launch pad starting next week.
Boeing and United Launch Alliance are building the tower which is a critical element for the launch pad as it is converted from a pad that serves only uncrewed missions to a complex that can safely accommodate the needs of flight crews along with their ground support teams for CST-100 Starliner missions. The Starliner is under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, along with the SpaceX Crew Dragon, to take astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.
Designed with modern data systems, communications and power networks integrated and protected from blast and vibration, plus an elevator, the Crew Access Tower has been built with several features only a fully suited astronaut could appreciate, such as wider walkways, snag-free railings and corners that are easy to navigate without running into someone. The tower will also be equipped with slide wire baskets for emergency evacuation to a staged blast-resistant vehicle.
The segments were assembled about four miles away from the launch pad so workers wouldn’t be idled by launch preps for United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. The tower will be stacked just to the side of the hard stand at SLC-41 where the boosters lift off. It will take seven tiers to complete the more than 200-foot-tall tower. A swing-out walkway bridge will be added later to connect the tower to the hatch of the Starliner so astronauts can climb aboard the ship as it stands at the pad before launch.
The tower construction marks the latest in a quick succession of events for Boeing’s Starliner program. The company opened the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility last week for use as the Starliner production and processing base and just completed the mural on the front of the building showing the spacecraft orbiting above Florida. The upper and lower dome assemblies arrived earlier this year for the Starliner’s Structural Test Article which is being built and processed as a pathfinder for the program and will be put together just as an operational spacecraft would before it goes into exhaustive testing to the prove the design.
Boeing is unveiling a new name for its CST-100 spacecraft along with the factory floor space where the structural test article is already coming together during a ceremony at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The event begins at 10 a.m. ET and will air on NASA TV, which you can watch here on the blog or in a separate window. The high bay of the C3PF, which used to be called Orbiter Processing Facility-3, is still under construction but a new mural over the front of the building showcases the facility’s role in building and processing a new spacecraft for the next generation of human-rated spaceflight.
Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has a new spacecraft to assemble and prep for orbit: Boeing’s CST-100, which the company is developing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The needs of the CST-100, short for Commercial Space Transportation-100, are quite different from those of the space shuttle fleet. The modern spacecraft calls for a modern facility, so about 78,000 square feet of processing areas inside the former OPF has been revamped.
More than 1,040 tons of steel and aluminum platforms, work stands and other hardware were removed from the building’s high bay to make room for the specialized equipment to allow an assembly line for CST-100 crew and service modules. Massive overhead cranes in the building capable of lifting up to 30 tons remain in place and are critical in moving spacecraft and heavy equipment into different areas as the CST-100 is built up from pressure vessel to operational spacecraft.
Look for more details tomorrow about the transformation of the OPF, now called the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or simply the C3PF. Boeing is holding its grand opening for the C3PF during a ceremony at Kennedy starting at 10 a.m. EDT. Watch it live on NASA TV. In the meantime, check out these small but important details about the new facility and what it means for helping NASA re-establish its ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida!
SpaceX released this artist concept of Launch Pad 39A as it would look for the launch of its Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. The trunk of the Crew Dragon shimmers in the Florida sunshine in the depiction. Note the modifications to the service structure and surroundings of the pad area, along with the processing hangar at the base of the 40-foot-high pyramid.