NASA’s Continued Focus on Returning U.S. Human Spaceflight Launches

International Space StationNASA’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.

Mixed Reality Technology Helps NASA Astronauts Prepare for Starliner Returns from the Space Station

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts, wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, rehearse returning to Earth from the International Space Station during recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. The astronauts wearing the mixed reality gear see a digital version of the interior of the Starliner as it would look in the real-life scenario while interacting with the environment around them. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts training to fly test missions to and from the International Space Station are practicing returning to Earth from the microgravity laboratory. Recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia combines mixed reality simulations with astronauts wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, and secured in mock-up Starliner seats – the spacecraft being developed by Boeing. The testing allows astronauts to perform an exit from their seats in uncommon landing conditions. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. The astronauts wearing the mixed reality gear see a digital version of the interior of the Starliner as it would look in the real-life scenario while interacting with the environment around them.

In total, 30 practice runs were completed, some to familiarize the crew with the exit procedures and some additional timed runs. The Starliner is designed to land in the Western United States under parachutes and touch down on airbags located on the bottom of the spacecraft.  In the event that the capsule does not land upright, testing in extreme conditions helps prepare astronauts for any situation, including an inverted position.

Boeing already has completed a series of parachute drop tests and full-scale landing qualification tests to understand a wide range of spacecraft conditions when returning to earth. The company also has used test dummies in stand-alone seat tests and incorporated the dummies into landing drop tests to understand impacts to crew members.

Both Boeing and SpaceX have been working with the astronauts training to fly the test missions to the International Space Station. The two commercial providers have been developing unique systems to meet the goal of returning crew launches to the United States. Boeing’s Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A. Both companies will begin their journeys from Florida’s Space Coast. Boeing plans to return on land, while SpaceX will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Recent SpaceX testing for return to Earth has included rescue and recovery training in the Atlantic with spacesuit-clad astronauts and personnel who will assist upon return to Earth.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers.

Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Commercial Crew 2018 Preview

Combined image with Boeing Starliner in production on the left, and SpaceX Falcon 9 build on the rightNASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

Since NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, the companies have matured space system designs and now have substantial spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware in development and testing in preparation for the test flights. The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a public-private approach. NASA, Boeing and SpaceX have significant testing underway, which will ultimately lead to test missions when the systems are ready and meet safety requirements.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.

After completion of each company’s uncrewed and crewed flight tests, NASA will review the flight data to verify the systems meet the requirements for certification. Upon NASA certification, the companies are each slated to fly six crew missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2024.

Here’s a look at (some of) what’s ahead in 2018:

Boeing

Spacecraft: In 2018, Boeing will continue with the production and outfitting of three crew modules and multiple service modules inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has a structural version of its spacecraft going through loads, shock and separation test events in Huntington Beach, California. It will conduct a series of service module hot-fire tests in White Sands, New Mexico, as well as environmental testing to include thermal, vacuum and electromagnetic frequency in El Segundo, California.

Spacesuit: Boeing’s spacesuit will continue to undergo integrated system verification tests. These include environmental control and life support system testing, immersing the suit in water, egress demos with the aid of virtual reality, suited launch and landing cabin operations, prelaunch emergency exit with ground crews, ascent simulations with mission operations teams and post-landing egress.

SpaceX

Spacecraft: SpaceX is making significant progress on the six Crew Dragon spacecraft that the company currently has in various stages of production and testing. SpaceX’s structural qualification module has undergone extensive testing, which is scheduled to be complete in the first half of 2018. The company will continue ongoing hardware and software testing on its Environment Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS, module, through early 2018. The crew module that will be used to support SpaceX’s upcoming Demonstration Mission 1 has had its critical onboard avionics powered up and has completed integration of the module’s pressure section and service section’s structural components with preparations ongoing for its flight in 2018. Progress continues on SpaceX’s spacecraft for Demonstration Mission 2 and both of the company’s initial crew rotation missions.

Spacesuit: SpaceX will continue ongoing qualification and validation testing on its advanced spacesuits next year, including NASA’s four CCP flight test astronauts for a variety of the assessments, including suit-fit, reach and visibility assessments, and pressure tests. The company is in the process of manufacturing custom suits for each of the four astronauts, which will ensure a proper fit and comfortable ride to and from the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Read the full feature here:
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-commercial-crew-program-mission-in-sight-for-2018

Commercial Crew Program 2017 Year in Review

In this composite image, at left, an astronaut wears the SpaceX spacesuit design. At right, an astronaut wears the Boeing spacesuit design.
Left: SpaceX unveiled the first look at its new spacesuit design that astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station will wear inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Right: Boeing unveiled the company’s new, blue spacesuit astronauts will wear while aboard the Starliner spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, made significant strides in 2017 to return human spaceflight to the United States. Each company continued to develop and test unique space systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the International Space Station. Both companies are targeting flight tests in 2018.

Here’s the 2017 year in review:

Crew Rotation Missions Secured
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program started the year by securing an additional four crew rotation missions from Boeing and SpaceX. The missions will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station through 2024. The four additional missions fall under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts and bring the total number of crew rotation missions awarded to each provider to six. The missions will fly following NASA certification.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, each company will carry out a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The Crew
NASA’s four astronauts training to fly the test flights on Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spent time evaluating both providers’ progress during 2017. The astronauts are learning about the systems, being fitted for spacesuits and readying for flight tests to and from the International Space Station.

The International Space Station
The International Space Station continued to prepare for the new commercial spacecraft to arrive. During Orbital ATK’s resupply mission to the space station in November, the cargo spacecraft maneuvered above the Harmony module prior to its release. There, it gathered data relevant to future rendezvous and docking operations for U.S. commercial crew vehicles that will be arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters. Other work included the space station crew installing and performing check-outs of a control panel on Harmony for the docking adapter.

Check out more progress – the full feature here:
https://www.nasa.gov/specials/CCP2017/

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers.

Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): April 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): August 2018

Drop Tests at NASA Langley Help Boeing’s Starliner Prepare to Land Astronauts

NASA Langley/David C. Bowman
At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, a mock-up of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft goes through a series of land landing qualification tests to simulate what the actual spacecraft and crew members may experience while returning to Earth from space. The Starliner is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Along with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the spacecraft is part of the agency’s effort to return America’s capability to launch astronauts from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, a mock-up of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft has endured a series of land landing qualification tests to simulate what the actual spacecraft and crew members may experience while returning to Earth from space.

The Starliner is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Along with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the spacecraft is part of the agency’s effort to return America’s capability to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast to the International Space Station, or ISS.

The team recently kicked off a new series of land landing tests, which is designed to measure the vehicle’s airbag systems and how the crew responds to land landing scenarios.

“The accommodations inside the test article have become incrementally more flight-like throughout our test campaign,” said Boeing test engineer Preston Ferguson. “And the test dummies simulating crew members are very sophisticated, allowing us to identify responses through instrumentation on the head, neck and lumbar areas.”

The capsule – designed for landing on land, making it reusable up to ten times with a six-month turnaround time between launches – can accommodate up to five passengers to and from the space station. For NASA missions to station, the Starliner will carry up to four astronauts and about 220 pounds of cargo.”

“The first test series verified that the vehicle would be stable in all landing conditions,” said Richard Boitnott, Langley project test engineer. “We are constantly reaching higher levels of fidelity with our testing, and have flight-representative parts in critical locations.”

Read the full story here.

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Commercial Crew Missions Offer Research Bonanza for Space Station

Commercial Crew Program logo, International Space Station silhouette, microscope graphic
Credit: NASA

The addition of Boeing Starliners and SpaceX Crew Dragons to the manifest of spacecraft heading to the International Space Station in the near future raises more than the opportunities for astronauts to fly to and from space aboard American spacecraft. It also increases the amount of science and broadens the research that can be performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.

That’s because the new generation of human-rated spacecraft are being designed to carry time-critical science to and from the space station along with astronauts. Researchers will be able to work with astronauts aboard the station to undertake a wide array of different science investigations and will benefit from the increased opportunity to see their research returned back to Earth for continued examination.

The spacecraft also will aid in the goal of establishing and maintaining a crew of seven astronauts, which could increase the research time in microgravity. Mission planners anticipate that increasing the crew size on the U.S. segment by just one crew member could effectively double the amount of time dedicated each week to research.

Read the full feature here: https://go.nasa.gov/2vqmjo4

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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation mission. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly-releasable dates for both providers.

Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: February 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): June 2018

Test Dummies Provide Valuable Data for Starliner’s Seat Design

Above and below right: Engineers working with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner test the spacecraft’s seat design in Mesa, Arizona, focusing on how the spacecraft seats would protect an astronaut’s head, neck and spine during the 240-mile descent from the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

Every aspect of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program spacecraft are being tested for the journey to and from the International Space Station to meet the agency’s mission and safety requirements. Testing from Boeing and SpaceX demonstrates how the systems perform in flight-like scenarios. Engineers working with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft recently lab tested their seat design focusing on how the spacecraft seats protect the head, neck and spine of the astronauts for the 240-mile descent from space.

Engineers working with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner test the spacecraft's seat design in Mesa, Arizona, focusing on how the spacecraft seats would protect an astronaut's head, neck and spine during the 240-mile descent from the International Space Station. The company incorporated test dummies for a detailed analysis of impacts on a crew returning to earth. The human-sized dummies were equipped with sensitive instrumentation and secured in the seats for 30 drop tests at varying heights, angles, velocities and seat orientations in order to mimic actual landing conditions. High-speed cameras captured the footage for further analysis. The Starliner spacecraft is being developed in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program.The company incorporated test dummies for a detailed analysis of impacts on a crew returning to Earth. The human-sized dummies were secured in their crew module seats for 30 drop tests at varying heights, angles, velocities and seat orientations, all in an effort to mimic actual landing conditions. To simulate the return, the seats were suspended inside a metal frame and dropped to land on honeycomb-like panels at the base of the test stand meant to function similarly to the Starliner’s landing airbags. The dummies were equipped with sensitive instrumentation to measure the impacts and high-speed cameras were used to capture the footage for further analysis. When the Starliner returns to Earth from the International Space Station, the spacecraft will be slowed by using a choreographed parachute system and will then land on large airbags to further soften the landing in the western region of the United States. The company also will test a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft using male and female test dummies at NASA’s Langley Research Facility.

The Starliner spacecraft is being developed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is investing in private industry with a goal of resuming human spaceflight to and from low-Earth orbit from the United States. Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 to fly up to four astronauts to the space station for NASA missions. NASA also has partnered with SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The SpaceX design calls for the Crew Dragon to return with a splashdown in the ocean. Both companies will launch from Florida’s Space Coast. Together, the private companies will provide regular and reliable crew transportation to and from the microgravity outpost for NASA.

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