NASA, Industry Team Up to Innovate Human Spaceflight

CCP-1275x1650NASA’s Commercial Crew Program set out from its beginning to provide a setting that would combine the expertise of NASA’s 50 years of human spaceflight experience with the aerospace industry’s know-how in manufacturing to produce cutting-edge spacecraft to take astronauts into low-Earth orbit. The payoff has been a level of innovation in numerous areas of spacecraft development and operation.

“From the outset we received very creative ideas and original approaches to development of individual systems along with new processes used to build several spacecraft in rapid succession,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The companies painted for us an exciting picture of innovation and we’ve worked together to first refine our requirements and now to ensure that they are met as the crewed vehicles are taking shape.” Read more:


Launch Abort Engines Tested in California

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Recently, Aerojet Rocketdyne conducted a series of hot-fire tests with two launch abort engines in the Mojave Desert in California. The launch abort engines will be part of Boeing’s Starliner service module propulsion system, which provides launch abort capability on the pad and during ascent. Starliner’s four 40,000-pound thrust launch abort engines will only be used in abort. Watch video from the tests here.

Color Your Place in Commercial Crew


Halloween brings out plenty of vampires, mummies and monsters, but there is also room for engineers, astronauts and rocket scientists. Color in the Commercial Crew Kids who are dressed up as a launch controller, scientist, doctor and engineer for Halloween. When you finish your drawing, take a pic of it and share it with us on Twitter using @Commercial_Crew or on Facebook using @NASACommercialCrewProgram. Happy Halloween!

ICYMI: President Touts Advances in Commercial Crew Spacecraft

Obama-SerenaCCP-stitchIn case you missed it, President Barack Obama talked Thursday, Oct. 13, with the two companies developing the next generation of American spacecraft designed to take NASA astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station.

Touring exhibits by Boeing and SpaceX during the Frontiers Conference at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Obama discussed the immediate future of space exploration and touted the advances made in the public-private partnerships between the companies and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Because the new spacecraft will enable a larger space station crew and more research time in space, they are seen as critical avenues to help scientists and astronauts explore the best methods to send crews into deep space and eventually to Mars.

The goal is “to lead humanity farther out into the final frontier of space,” the president said. “Not just to visit, but to stay.”

Obama even took the controls of a simulator designed to mimic the flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. He conducted a Starliner docking maneuver similar to the one astronauts will actually fly in the future during crew rotation missions to the orbiting laboratory.

“Your ride is here,” Obama said after completing the exercise.

“I’m not sure who had more fun today – the president or me,” said NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor, who helped demonstrate how the simulator worked. “He was a natural docking the Starliner to the space station!”

The president also inspected SpaceX’s Crew Dragon design up-close and talked at length with Aunon-Chancellor and a company official.

“You almost want to get in and take off, don’t you?” the president said.

“While visiting Dragon, we discussed the future of human spaceflight and how important it is to safely and reliably get our crew to the station in low-Earth orbit so NASA can focus on human exploration in deep space,” Aunon-Chancellor said. “We’re excited about the progress our partners are making and look forward to flying with them soon.” Photo credit: Michael Henninger/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

New Configuration for Atlas V/Starliner


Atlas5starlinernewaftskirt2United Launch Alliance and Boeing unveiled an updated configuration for the Atlas V rockets that will launch the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft into orbit. The new design adds an aeroskirt to the rocket to enhance the aerodynamic stability of the stack as it climbs through Earth’s atmosphere on the way to space.

Teams equipped a 12-foot long, 600-pound Atlas V/Starliner scale model with more than 570 sensors and tested the aeroskirt design three times in wind tunnels at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has partnered with Boeing to build and operate the Starliner system, including ULA’s Atlas V rocket, for missions taking astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA, Boeing and ULA have worked together closely throughout the development of the Starliner system. Boeing is working toward an uncrewed flight test and then a flight test carrying a crew. After that, operational missions rotating space station crew members can begin. For more details on the design modifications, see ULA’s news release posted this morning at Artist concept and photos by United Launch Alliance

NASA also partnered with SpaceX on a separate spacecraft launch system capable of flying astronauts to  and from the space station.


Boeing Unveils New Home for Starliner Trainers


ControlBridgeAstronauts have new training equipment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston after Boeing installed its Crew Part-Task Trainers that simulate aspects of missions aboard the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The spacecraft and training systems are in development and manufacturing in partnership between the company and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in order to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station from launch sites in Florida. 

Boeing officials, including former space shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, offered news media and others a tour of the facility in Houston where astronauts will rehearse for Starliner missions. Astronauts Suni Williams and Bob Behnken, two of four selected to train to fly Commercial Crew Program flight tests with Boeing and SpaceX, took the controls of the simulator to demonstrate the trainers as engineers looked on from separate workstations. During normal training operations, the engineers will oversee the situations as astronauts perform simulated missions. 

NASA’s astronauts have relied on simulators from the beginning of human spaceflight to practice the critical steps of a mission before they have to perform the real thing. As simulators increased in capability, the training became so life-like that astronauts routinely reported simulator flights being more stressful than actual missions. For more:


Every Day Closer to a New Way to Orbit

A Delta II rocket launches with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. NPP is the first NASA satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)


Wide Angle Photos of SLC-41 from VIF

Two years after selecting the next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station, engineers and spaceflight specialists across NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX are putting in place the elements required for successful missions. Here are eight things to know about Commercial Crew:

1. The Goal – The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety requirements. To accomplish this goal, we are taking a unique approach by asking private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, to develop human spaceflight systems to take over the task of flying astronauts to station.

Shots of Pad 39A for Commerical Crew Program (CCP).

2. Multi-User Spaceport – Boeing and SpaceX, like other commercial aerospace companies, are capitalizing on the unique experience and infrastructure along the Space Coast at our Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Kennedy has transitioned from a government-only launch complex to a premier multi-user spaceport. In the coming years, the number of launch providers along the Space Coast is expected to more than double.

3. Innovation – Our expertise has been joined with industry innovations to produce the most advanced spacecraft to ever carry humans into orbit. Each company is developing its own unique systems to meet our safety requirements, and once certified by us, the providers will begin taking astronauts to the space station.

tumblr_inline_odkp54dghC1tzhl5u_5004. Research – With two new spacecraft that can carry up to four astronauts to the International Space Station with each of our missions, the number of resident crew will increase and will double the amount of time dedicated to research. That means new technologies and advances to improve life here on Earth and a better understanding of what it will take for long duration, deep space missions, including to Mars.

5. Crew Training – Astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams have been selected to train to fly flight tests aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The veteran crew have sent time in both spacecraft evaluating and training on their systems. Both providers are responsible for developing every aspect of the mission, from the spacesuits and training, to the rocket and spacecraft.

6. Launch Abort System – Boeing and SpaceX will equip their spacecraft with launch abort systems to get astronauts out of danger … FAST!

7. Expedited Delivery – Time-sensitive, critical experiments performed in orbit will be returned to Earth aboard commercial crew spacecraft, and returned to the scientists on Earth in hours, instead of days – before vital results are lost. That means better life and physical science research results, like VEGGIE, heart cells, and protein crystals.

8. Lifeboat – The spacecraft will offer safe and versatile lifeboats for the crew of the space station, whether an emergency on-orbit causes the crew to shelter for a brief time in safety, or leave the orbiting laboratory altogether. Learn more:

I Will Launch America: Mike Ravenscroft

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The opportunity to help NASA successfully usher in a new age of spaceflight in partnership with private aerospace companies is part of what drives Mike Ravenscroft to excel in his work as a Launch Site Integration lead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Ravenscroft said the unique nature of commercial crew is exciting, because it is being performed in a tight partnership between the agency and aerospace companies Boeing and SpaceX. Both Boeing and SpaceX are building separate spacecraft and launch systems, along with their own unique launch pads at Kennedy and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Instead of NASA dictating designs and owning the spacecraft, NASA is overseeing design and production and then buying the services from the companies to take astronauts to the International Space Station in order to enhance research there and to provide additional human launch capability from American shores.

“My personal opinion is, this is an opportunity to allow private industry to show what they can do,” Ravenscroft said. “We’ve given the companies requirements, but we’ve let them show how they can perform and answer the requirements. We have not forced them into a design we think they should have – we want them to innovate. It also allows them to achieve their own goals, which I believe is going to help sustain the industry.” Read more about what Ravenscroft is doing to help Launch America at


New Views of CST-100 Starliner Landing Tests

Check out these two additional views of the drop tests campaign for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner design at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. The Starliner mock-up was dropped several times from about 30 feet and released on angles and at speeds to evaluate realistic conditions the spacecraft could encounter during the end phase of an actual mission when astronauts are aboard and the spacecraft is touching down in the American Southwest.

Starliner is equipped with airbags to help cushion the impact for the crew inside. Whether it lands on solid ground as planned, or has to splash down into water for an abort, the airbags are to inflate to provide a buffer for the spacecraft. The tests at Langley are being performed inside a landmark red and white gantry at the center that has been used throughout NASA’s history to evaluate many designs ranging from airplanes to the lunar lander for Apollo. The Starliner completed water landing qualification testing earlier this year in Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin. The results are used to confirm the design and NASA Commercial Crew Program engineers will also make their own evaluations from test results.

Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with Commercial Crew to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Tasked with carrying up to four people at a time, both the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon are big enough to allow an expansion of the resident crew on the orbiting laboratory which means research time on the station will double.CTPD Drop Test

Starliner Tested for Ground-Landing Conditions

Boeing Starliner Drop Test Campaign

Boeing Starliner Drop Test CampaignBoeing Starliner Drop Test CampaignBoeing engineers recently evaluated the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft’s ability to withstand the shocks and other challenges of landing on the ground with a series of drop tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Hoisted using a gantry at Langley that’s tested everything from private planes to the lunar lander of Apollo, a Starliner mockup with a full-size airbag system in place was released from about 30 feet to see how it behaved when contacting the Earth. The airbags have been designed to absorb much of the impact. A nominal Starliner mission, such as those planned to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station during Commercial Crew Program flights, is to end with the spacecraft touching down on land in the American southwest where ground support teams can more easily reach the spacecraft and crew than if they splashed down in water.

The Starliner was already tested in water-landing scenarios in the same gantry. All the results will be used by Boeing to confirm the designs of the landing systems and by NASA to certify the systems for use during upcoming flight tests without and then with a crew aboard. Rad many more details about the Starliner testing at