NASA’s Commercial Crew Program took vital steps in 2015 to move America closer to flying astronauts from its own soil aboard American spacecraft in 2017. Boeing and SpaceX, each a partner with NASA on separate crew transportation systems, performed systems tests, built up assembly areas and modified the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to safely launch crew members from the storied shores of Florida’s Space Coast.
We chose the top 15 accomplishments, including:
– NASA Named First Four Astronauts to Train with Boeing and SpaceX – United Launch Alliance Completed Crew Access Tower Column at SLC-41 – Crew Dragon Completed Pad Abort Test
SpaceX accomplished a major feat Monday night when a Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned from space and landed safely on a concrete pad six miles away from where it lifted off minutes before. While the first stage returned to Earth, the second stage of the upgraded Falcon 9 executed the main mission of the flight by delivering 11 ORBCOMM satellites to orbit.
Lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 p.m. EST, the Falcon 9 sped toward space on the power of its nine Merlin 1D engines. Four minutes into the flight, the first stage separated as planned and the second stage took over, lighting a single Merlin engine and pushing the stack of ORBCOMM satellites faster and higher. Meanwhile, the first stage ignited several of its engines again to head back to Earth. Moving back at supersonic speeds that sent a sonic boom across Florida’s Space Coast, the first stage engines ignited to slow the booster down as it neared Landing Complex-1. A bright orange trail marked the boosters descent before its four landing legs unfolded and the booster set itself down.
The achievement may mark a turning point in reusability for launch vehicles, which are traditionally not recovered following the delivery of a payload to orbit. NASA’s space shuttle fleet was an exception to that — the orbiters flew multiple times on the same engines and using solid rocket boosters that were recovered and reflown.
SpaceX is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program as it develops the Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch on a Falcon 9 to carry astronauts to the International Space Station starting in 2017. Photo and video by SpaceX.
Astronauts spent part of their spacewalk Monday morning routing power and data system cables on the International Space Station to ports where spacecraft being developed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will dock to the orbiting laboratory in the near future. The cables will be connected to a pair of International Docking Adapters once they are delivered during upcoming, uncrewed commercial resupply missions. The adapters contain several sensor systems that will allow spacecraft to autonomously dock with the station. NASA astronauts Scott Kelly, who is nine months into a yearlong mission and Tim Kopra, who arrived to the station Dec. 15, made the spacewalk.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program placed an order for the second operational mission to carry astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The order means that seven vehicles are now in different levels of planning for Commercial Crew flight tests and operational missions by Boeing and by SpaceX, which also is developing the Crew Dragon spacecraft for human-rated missions to the space station. The seven missions in process are:
2 uncrewed flight tests, one for each company, 2 crewed flight tests, one each, 3 operational missions ordered to date.
The order was placed now because of the long lead time to build a spacecraft, test it and process it for launch.
“Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of at least two crew launches to the station per year,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for a sustainable future aboard the International Space Station.”
This is the third in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts known as CCtCap. Boeing and SpaceX received their first orders in May and November, respectively, and have started planning for, building and procuring the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first missions for the agency. NASA will identify at a later time which company will fly a mission to the station first. There are many more details to this story and you can read them at http://go.nasa.gov/1IZhxSH
Four astronauts training for test flights with NASA’s Commercial Crew program joined the festivities at Space Launch Complex 41 Thursday morning as one of the highest steel beams was placed on the Crew Access Tower during a “topping off” ceremony with United Launch Alliance, Boeing and Hensel Phelps at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site in Florida.
“It’s really an honor to get down here. We’re humbled to be a part of launching rockets for the United States again,” said Doug Hurley, a veteran of space shuttle missions and one of the four chosen to work closely with partners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during development, testing and training. Bob Behnken, Eric Boe and Suni Williams were also selected and took part in the employee-focused event.
“It’s amazing how many people it takes to get us into space,” Boe said.
A large crowd of employees from numerous companies gathered mid-morning to sign the 650-pound beam and watch a crane lift it into place atop the 200-foot-tall Crew Access Tower constructed over the past year. It was built in segments complete with stairs, cable trays and other fittings a few miles from the launch pad, then those segments were stacked on top of each other to form the tower. The Crew Access Arm and White Room the astronauts looked over today will be attached to the tower after several months’ of testing and fit checks.
“We’ve poured 1,000 cubic yards of concrete and mounted nearly 1 million pounds of steel, and we’ve done it in spectacular fashion,” said Howard Biegler, launch operations lead for ULA’s Human Launch Services.
Employees were asked to sign the beam before it was lifted into place and welded to the top of the tower.
“Today you are part of history,” said Kathy Lueders, program manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Stop and enjoy this moment. I hope everyone has been able to write their name on the beam because you are part of the critical safety network that is making this all possible.”
Prior to the ceremony at SLC-41, the astronauts toured the White Room and Crew Access Arm undergoing testing at a construction yard near Kennedy Space Center. The White Room will be the stepping off point to space for astronauts as they board a Boeing CST-100 Starliner for liftoff on a ULA Atlas V rocket. Designed as a clean area to keep contaminants out of the spacecraft and off the astronauts’ suits, white rooms are the place where technicians make last-minute additions to the spacesuit and make sure everything is ready to flight as the flight crew climbs inside for launch. White rooms have always been a part of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, from Mercury to Gemini and Apollo to the space shuttle.
“This is the last thing that whoever flies the Starliner is going to see before they go into space,” Hurley told the workers who built the structures.
Boeing and SpaceX are developing a new generation of spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station beginning in 2017. Both companies are also deep into construction and modification of launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to safely host astronaut crews as they launch from American soil for the first time since 2011. Designs for launch facilities have been confirmed through NASA panels and in-depth examinations.
For Boeing, launching from SLC-41 meant building the Crew Access Tower, the first crew-focused structure at Cape Canaveral since Apollo 7. SpaceX is modifying historic Launch Pad 39A for its commercial crew missions on the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching on its Falcon 9 rockets. It also will have a White Room tailored to its designs that will offer astronauts and ground crew safety as they board and a way to leave the spacecraft in a hurry before launch in the unlikely event of an emergency. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett
News media and NASA Social participants were treated to a close-up look at the structural test article for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as they toured the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Tuesday afternoon.
Danom Buck, manager of the Manufacturing and Engineering team, said the test version will be built using the same techniques and processes planned for the operational spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Two flight tests, one without a crew and the second with a crew aboard, will be performed before the company begins operational flights to the station that will allow for an extra resident there and double the amount of astronaut time devoted to science.
Commercial Crew team members with NASA and our aerospace industry partners showed what a season of advances has meant for the launch sites where NASA astronauts will lift off on missions to the International Space Station in the near future.
At Launch Pad 39A, Carol Scott, who works technical integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, showed news media and NASA Social participants the new look SpaceX is applying to the launch complex to make it suit the company’s needs for Crew Dragon missions.
Boeing and United Launch Alliance spent the last couple months building a new Crew Access Tower at Space Launch Complex 41, the place where Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will fly from on missions with astronauts. NASA’s Steve Payne, who works in Launch Integration, and ULA’s Howard Biegler, Launch Operations lead of Human Launch Service, detailed the work that went into constructing the tower that will contain all the systems needed to safely support human crews and ground support staff for a Starliner launch.
The progress is important for NASA because it will restore American capabilities to launch astronauts to low-Earth orbit. For the orbiting laboratory of the space station, the flights will increase the crew by one and double the amount of time astronauts can devote to cutting-edge research to answer the vexing issues of a journey to Mars and to conduct science off the Earth for all those on the Earth.
Work taking place in Sacramento, California, and Redmond, Washington, will offer a critical boost to Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as it heads to the International Space Station thanks to Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is producing the propulsion system for the Starliner’s service module and maneuvering jets. The main thrusters and system assembly originate in Sacramento, while the steering thrusters on the capsule are manufactured in Redmond.
In the words of Aerojet Rocketdyne, “The Starliner service module propulsion system provides integrated launch abort capability on the pad and during ascent along with all propulsion needs during a nominal flight—from launch vehicle separation, docking and undocking from the ISS, and through separation of the crew and service modules when the spacecraft begins to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The thrusters also are crucial to the Starliner’s abort system that would ignite in the unlikely event of a launch pad emergency or during the climb into orbit. Each service module will include four 40,000-pound thrusters designed to push the spacecraft and its crew out of harm’s way. They’ll be integrated into the Starliner’s service module inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida prior to an uncrewed and then crew flight test to the space station. Read more here.
Commercial crew astronauts Doug Hurley, Sunita “Suni” Williams and Bob Behnken had the opportunity to evaluate the displays in the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters.
Hurley, Williams and Behnken are three of four astronauts who were selected to be the first to train to fly to space aboard commercial spacecraft as part of the NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA will decide at a later date which astronauts will fly aboard which spacecraft – SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. See more photos in Commercial Crew’s Flickr album here.