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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will experience a variety of tremendous internal and external forces during missions to and from the International Space Station. When the Starliner launches in 2018, it won’t be the first time the spacecraft has encountered these forces. That is because Boeing built a Structural Test Article that will experience the rigors of spaceflight in a test facility in an effort to prove the design of the spacecraft. The module was built inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (top) before it was shipped it across the country to Huntington Beach, California, for testing (right).
It joined test versions of the service module, the launch vehicle adapter truss structure and other hardware that make up the upper stage of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Testing of the article began shortly after it arrived to Boeing’s Test and Evaluation facility. The first test involved pressurizing the interior of the crew module to 1.5 times the maximum pressure a Starliner spacecraft would face during ascent, orbit, re-entry and landing for missions to and from the International Space Station.
Boeing’s facilities in southern California are outfitted with numerous test chambers that routinely evaluate spacecraft and other vehicles in a variety of environments to make sure they can handle the demands of flight.
Boeing is building the next generation of human space systems in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Starliner will launch atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Commercial Crew Program also is partnering with SpaceX to develop its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for transporting astronauts to and from the orbiting microgravity laboratory. Photos by Boeing.
The spacecraft and rocket systems that Boeing and SpaceX are creating in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program may not land on the surface of Mars. However, they are critical to the agency’s plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet. The systems will provide reliable access to the International Space Station, our test bed. Learn more: http://go.nasa.gov/2iIY0en
The past year marked a substantial transition for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its partners as they moved from design of critical elements and systems in previous years to the manufacturing of the spacecraft and launch vehicles. Working on independent spacecraft and launch systems, Boeing and SpaceX made substantial modifications to launch complexes in Florida and performed the first integrated simulations of the teams that will oversee the flights. Along the way, advances were overseen by NASA engineers and the astronauts who will fly the spacecraft into orbit for the flight tests. Read about the dynamic 2016 achievements here.
Boeing will use solar energy to power the company’s CST-100 Starliner for crew missions to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The sun’s energy offers a reliable and efficient power source for the Starliner just as it does for the space station and satellites.
The Starliner will use solar cells made of three distinct cell layers to capture different portions of the energy spectrum to convert solar energy into more than 2,900 watts of usable electricity and allow astronauts to complete their journey to the orbiting laboratory. The system also will create enough power to run the Starliner’s systems while it is docked to the station for roughly six months at a time. The solar cells will be incorporated into the micro-meteoroid debris shield located at the bottom of the spacecraft’s service module. Spectrolab in Sylmar, California, is supplying the more than 3,500 solar cells for each spacecraft.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has partnered with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, to take astronauts to and from the space station. Each company is building their own unique systems to meet NASA mission and safety requirements, and will return human launch capabilities to American soil. Photos credit: Boeing
NASA’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: http://go.nasa.gov/2fsl2IE
In 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