Blue Origin Gives a Boost to Reusable Rocket Tech in Landmark Launch

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Congratulations from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program are again in order for Blue Origin following the launch Friday of its New Shepard sub-orbital rocket and spacecraft. The launch at the company’s West Texas test site set a new mark because it was performed with the same booster that flew a similar mission profile three months ago. The test is significant because rocket reusability could drive down spaceflight hardware costs.

In both flights, the New Shepard booster flew high into the sky before separating from the uncrewed capsule. The flight reached above the 100 kilometer Karman line, which is considered to mark the beginning of space. In both missions, the booster returned to Earth and landed on its four legs. The spacecraft, designed for humans but not carrying people yet, parachuted back to the ground. Blue Origin has worked with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on the development of the vehicle and rocket engine since 2010. NASA did not have a hand in this flight test, but the space agency will support two milestones this year.

 

SpaceX Tests SuperDraco Descent Landing Capability

SpaceX_Prop_Descent_2SpaceX recently tested its ability to fire engines that will be used to land a human-rated spacecraft safely on the ground with the accuracy of a helicopter at the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX envisions returning people to Earth from space on the power of thrust instead of beneath parachutes. Working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is in the early phases of analysis. In November, the company conducted two tethered tests of a full-size Crew Dragon mock-up attached to a crane so engineers could refine the landing software and systems on the spacecraft. The Crew Dragon spacecraft will be equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters that would be used to slow the vehicle’s return to Earth through the atmosphere and ultimately set the spacecraft and its crew down gently.

Propulsive landing will not be used initially for missions with NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.The Crew Dragon will splash down safely in the ocean under parachutes as its passengers return from the space station.

Eve of Launch: 2016 Goals Vital to Commercial Crew Success

jsc2015e071478NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners Boeing and SpaceX are on the eve of America’s return to human spaceflight launches. By the time the year closes, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will be poised for the flight tests that allow our astronauts to travel to the International Space Station lifting off from Florida’s Space Coast.

It won’t be easy. Successful missions will require a comprehensive testing regimen of numerous systems on the ground and in space. That is why the outline of tasks for 2016 is so important. The result of each evaluation will be vital in the design of the systems. From parachute tests, to launch pad certifications, to the completion of spacecraft that will fly into orbit, this year offers both companies opportunities to build on the momentum of 2015 and carry it through to landmark space achievements in 2017. Read the details of what NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its partners will be working on in 2016 to set us up for 2017 at http://go.nasa.gov/1UbVMjk

From Voyager to Voyagers

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30 years ago, after launching from SLC-41, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft captured images of Uranus during an historic flyby of the gas giant. Today, the same launch pad is getting ready to launch human Voyagers – NASA’s Commercial Crew astronauts – on a new generation of spacecraft.

Bolden: Commercial Space Sets a Strong Course

Charles F. Bolden Official PortraitToday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden blogged about the agency’s plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. By building a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit, the agency is able to focus on simultaneously getting our astronauts to deep space.

“Competition, innovation and technology – it’s the American way,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “It’s helping us to Launch America.” Read more of Bolden’s blog at http://go.nasa.gov/1Q8VLNX

 

Astronauts Take First Look at Starliner Trainers

Trainer1Trainer4Commercial Crew astronauts Bob Behken and Eric Boe sat at the simulated controls of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently as they evaluated sophisticated systems designed to train astronauts and mission controllers prior missions to the International Space Station. Behknen and Boe are two of four NASA astronauts, including Doug Hurley and Suni Williams selected to work closely with Boeing and SpaceX as the companies finalize their systems. Crews have not been assigned to specific missions or spacecraft, so the team is cross-training and aiding in development of both.

The simulators were built at Boeing’s St. Louis facility and will be installed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for training by astronauts and mission controllers. The simulators are extremely advanced and able to replicate numerous mission phases and flight conditions in order to prep crews how to handle the circumstances correctly. Traditionally, astronauts rely heavily on simulator training.

“We have been learning about the spacecraft displays through slideshows,” Boe said. “It’s great to finally see what we are actually going to train on. The trainers look great, and this visit gives us an opportunity to meet with the Boeing engineers. We appreciate them allowing us to give input on these trainers so the devices are ready when they arrive at Johnson Space Center.”

Behnken added that the training equipment is comprehensive.

“Historically, some trainers were just a simple component that might have a very specific task,” he said. “This one has a lot of capability with multiple tasks coming together so it can execute more complicated training scenarios.”

You can read more details about the trainers from Boeing at http://go.nasa.gov/1JwRthW

Commercial Crew Across America: Windsor Locks, Connecticut

JIM_4420NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold recently got an up-close look at the environmental control and life support system, known as the ECLSS, that Boeing will integrate into its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for crew flights to the International Space Station. The visit with UTC Aerospace Systems in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, on Dec. 9 allowed the team to show off the critical components of the system designed to keep astronauts and the Starliner’s electrical systems safe in space, including cool, breathable air. The team recently passed a critical design review of the system, which will be fully integrated next year.

“There is a firm belief that private industry is capable of doing great things and bringing us safely into low-Earth orbit,” Arnold said.  “We want our long-term partners like you to share in the excitement we are feeling at NASA. We are looking forward to returning launch capability to U.S. soil with a vehicle that has the American flag on the side of it. I can tell you that the astronauts are getting excited and jockeying for position on a commercial crew vehicle, realizing that may be their ticket to space.”

15 in ’15: How Commercial Crew Advanced Toward Flight

Commcrewastros-sauerTrainer1NASA’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 

Take a look at the full list at http://go.nasa.gov/1InI6kr

Congratulations to SpaceX on Historic Booster Landing!

A005_C008_1221PLSpaceX 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.

Spacewalkers Route Cables for Commercial Crew Docking Adapters

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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.