SpaceX Completes Parachute System Test

SpaceX Parachute TestIn case you missed it, SpaceX recently completed its 16th parachute system test for the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceX conducted the test at Naval Air Facility El Centro in Southern California, deploying parachutes to slow the spacecraft for a safe landing in the desert. Crew Dragon is designed for water landings in a nominal scenario, but the test demonstrated the system’s ability to land the spacecraft safely in the unlikely event of a low altitude abort.

Atlas V Prepped for Flight Tests

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V dual engine Centaur (ULA) Crew Flight Test dual engine, at left, and the Orbital Flight test dual engine, at right, for the Centaur stage of the Atlas V rocket are in production on June 11, 2018, at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will launch on its first uncrewed flight test on the ULA Atlas V rocket. The Starliner is being developed and manufactured in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight capabilities to the U.S.

 

Spacewalkers Complete HD Camera Installation

Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA completed the sixth spacewalk at the International Space Station this year at 2:55 p.m. EDT, lasting 6 hours, 49 minutes. The two astronauts installed new high-definition cameras that will provide enhanced views during the final phase of approach and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft that will soon begin launching from American soil.

They also swapped a camera assembly on the starboard truss of the station, closed an aperture door on an external environmental imaging experiment outside the Japanese Kibo module, and completed two additional tasks to relocate a grapple bar to aid future spacewalkers and secured some gear associated with a spare cooling unit housed on the station’s truss.

Commercial Crew Astronauts Survey Launch Pad Progress

Commercial Crew Program astronauts visit Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Commercial Crew Program astronauts (left to right) Suni Williams, Eric Boe, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley visited Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) March 27. The astronauts toured the pad for an up-close look at preparations in work for the SpaceX Crew Dragon flight tests. The tower modifications, including the recent removal of the rotating service structure, are proof of progress in outfitting the pad for crew once again. Future integration of the crew access arm will allow for safe crew entry and exit from the spacecraft for launch and in the unlikely event of a pad abort scenario.

Commercial Crew Program astronauts outside SpaceX’s processing hangar.

During their visit to KSC, the astronauts also stopped outside SpaceX’s processing hangar, adjacent to the launch pad and talked directly with SpaceX employees about their excitement as the program builds momentum. SpaceX and Boeing are working toward returning human space flight launches to the U.S. with flight tests targeted later this year.

Commercial Crew Program Simulates Astronaut Rescue Missions

A C-17 Globemaster aircraft from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 249th Airlift Squadron flies overhead as pararescue specialists from the 304th Rescue Squadron, located in Portland, Oregon complete an astronaut rescue training exercise inside a covered life raft on the Atlantic Ocean. The pararescue specialists, supporting the 45th Operations Group’s Detachment 3, based out of Patrick Air Force Base, conducted the exercise in April with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX off of Florida’s eastern coast. The specially designed 20-person life raft is equipped with enough food, water and medical supplies to sustain both rescuers and crew for up to three days, if necessary.

As NASA, Boeing and SpaceX prepare for commercial human spaceflight launches, they are training for a variety of contingencies, including emergency water landings. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Landing and Recovery Team is leading a multi-agency operation to practice astronaut rescue missions.

Rescue and recovery involves meticulous planning and close coordination between NASA, the Department of Defense (DOD), and company recovery teams for Starliner and Crew Dragon. These are the spacecraft of Boeing and SpaceX that will fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station from U.S. soil. In the event of a variety of contingency landings, an elite team of pararescue specialists is prepared to rescue the crew anywhere in the world.

For more details, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/rescue-operations-take-shape-for-commercial-crew-program-astronauts

Young Engineer Shapes Commercial Human Spaceflight Policy

Kathleen O’Brady is a certification systems engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Kathleen O’Brady’s five-year-old son can name all of the planets in our solar system and even some nearby stars. Perhaps the brightest star he knows though is his mom. She is helping shape policy in the new era of commercial human spaceflight.

O’Brady plays a key role in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which has partnered with Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, and return them safely home. NASA is in the process of certifying two new crew transportation systems—Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon—at the same time. As a certification systems engineer in the program’s Systems Engineering and Integration Office at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, O’Brady was responsible for defining an integrated plan for certification which is being executed by both providers.

“I honestly loved it,” O’Brady said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. Half the problem is trying to make sure you understand what all the pieces are, and then you start slowly integrating those pieces.”

Boeing and SpaceX are targeting test flights with crew on board for late this year. “We all have to do the job right,” O’Brady said. “We have a duty to return our astronauts to flight. We’re going to use these private companies and they’re going to do a fantastic job.”

Parachute Testing Lands Partners Closer to Crewed Flight Tests

At left, Boeing conducted the first in a series of parachute reliability tests its Starliner flight drogue and main parachute system Feb. 22, 2018, over Yuma Arizona. Photo Credit: NASA. At right, SpaceX performed its fourteenth overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development March 4, 2018, over the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The test demonstrated an off-nominal, or abnormal, situation, deploying only one of the two drogue chutes and three of the four main parachutes. Photo credit: SpaceX
At left, Boeing conducted the first in a series of parachute reliability tests its Starliner flight drogue and main parachute system Feb. 22, 2018, over Yuma Arizona. Photo Credit: NASA. At right, SpaceX performed its fourteenth overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development March 4, 2018, over the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The test demonstrated an off-nominal, or abnormal, situation, deploying only one of the two drogue chutes and three of the four main parachutes. Photo credit: SpaceX

Crew safety is paramount in the return of human spaceflight launches from Florida’s Space Coast, and the latest round of parachute testing is providing valuable data to help industry partners Boeing and SpaceX meet NASA’s requirements for certification.

On March 4, SpaceX performed its 14th overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development. During this test, a C-130 aircraft transported the parachute test vehicle, designed to achieve the maximum speeds that Crew Dragon could experience on reentry, over the Mojave Desert in Southern California and dropped the spacecraft from an altitude of 25,000 feet. In February, the first in a series of reliability tests of the Boeing flight drogue and main parachute system was conducted by releasing a long, dart-shaped test vehicle from a C-17 aircraft over Yuma, Arizona. Both tests resulted in successful touchdowns of the parachute systems.

SpaceX will conduct its next parachute system test in the coming weeks in the California desert, and Boeing is scheduled for its third of five planned qualification tests of its parachute system in May. Both providers’ parachute system qualification testing is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. The partners are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast this year, and are currently scheduled to begin flight tests late this summer.

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.

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

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