Astronaut Perspective

After completion of uncrewed and crew test flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, NASA will review the data to ensure the vehicles meet the agency safety and performance requirements, as part of final certification efforts.

With test flights scheduled later this year, Boeing and SpaceX are working closely with the astronaut team to ensure crew safety and serviceability in their respective capsules.

Here’s more about what the commercial crew astronaut test pilots are looking forward to in the upcoming year:

 

Bob Behnken

Behnken, a NASA astronaut since 2000, flew on space shuttle missions STS-123 and STS-130 accumulating more than 29 days in space.

Eric Boe

Boe, a NASA astronaut since 2000, flew on STS-126 and STS-133 and has logged more than 6,000 hours of flight training and 28 days in space. He is most excited about seeing the hardware.

Doug Hurley

Hurley, a NASA astronaut since 2000, flew on STS-127 and the final Shuttle flight, STS-135, totaling more than 28 days in space. Hurley is most excited about seeing all the spacecraft hardware coming together.

Suni Williams

Williams, a NASA astronaut since 1998, flew to the space station on STS-116 as a member of Expeditions 14-15, returning on STS-117. Her second long-duration mission began aboard a Russian Soyuz for Expeditions 32-33. Cumulatively, she is approaching a year in space with more than 322 days in space.

Beyond the flight tests and launches, Williams is excited about the manufacturing underway.

“One of the coolest things is there’s hardware undergoing testing. This is a pretty exciting time. It’s like all the pieces and parts of the puzzle are coming together.”

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.

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

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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Dream Chaser Spacecraft Marks Critical Step Ahead of Free Flight Test

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Captive Carry Test on 8/30/17.Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser completed an important step toward orbital flight on Wednesday, with a successful captive carry test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, located on Edwards Air Force Base. A helicopter successfully carried a Dream Chaser test article, which has the same specifications as a flight-ready spacecraft, to the same altitude and flight conditions of an upcoming free flight test.

The captive carry is part of a series of tests for a developmental space act agreement SNC has with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The data from the tests help SNC validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.

The Dream Chaser is a lifting-body, winged spacecraft that will fly back to Earth in a manner similar to NASA’s space shuttles. The successful captive carry test clears the way for a free flight test of the spacecraft later this year in which the uncrewed Dream Chaser will be released to glide on its own and land.

The test campaign will also help finalize the design for cargo version of the Dream Chaser in preparation for the spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract beginning in 2019. The cargo Dream Chaser will fly at least six resupply missions to and from the space station by 2024.

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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Recovery and Rescue Teams Practice with Full-Size Crew Dragon Trainer

SpaceX, NASA and Air Force personnel who will help astronauts out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft returning from a mission to the International Space Station have begun practicing for that using a full-size model of the spacecraft. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule in the water. Recently, the Recovery Trainer was lowered into the Indian River Lagoon near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center so Air Force pararescue and others could learn techniques for getting aboard the spacecraft and rescuing the astronauts.

Such rescue practice is typical of all human missions because it gives astronauts and support teams many opportunities to practice and refine the critical steps in safely rescuing the crew in a contingency situation. A number of procedures will be developed and then practiced over time to deal with recoveries in many different conditions.

SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. The Recovery Trainer was built by SpaceX and subsequently modified by  Kennedy’s Prototype Lab to SpaceX specifications. The same dimensions as the outside mold line of a Crew Dragon, it has indicators where thrusters will be and other markings on the exterior. Inside, the crew area matches that of the operational spacecraft and includes an instrument panel.

SpaceX's Recovery Trainer was lowered into the Indian River Lagoon near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center so Air Force pararescue and others could learn techniques for getting aboard the spacecraft and rescuing the astronauts.
Photo Credit: SpaceX

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