I Will Launch America: Jon Cowart

Photo of Jon Cowart, CCP mission managerJon Cowart is part of a team helping to lead the nation’s effort to facilitate the development and certification of commercial spacecraft to enable the safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation of humans to and from the International Space Station.

In his key role as a mission manager in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, he will guide the agency’s mission-related activities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida when astronauts are ready to fly to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Learn more about how Cowart will help Launch America’s new generation of human-rated spacecraft at http://go.nasa.gov/2amjD2V.

I Will Launch America: Steve Payne

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When he’s not building model rockets, Payne is hard at work performing launch integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Both Boeing and SpaceX are developing spacecraft and launch systems to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Read what Payne is doing to help Launch America’s new generation of human-rated spacecraft at http://go.nasa.gov/29W32UN

Crew Dragon Pressure Vessel Put to the Test


SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure

Pressure vessels built by SpaceX to test its Crew Dragon designs are going through structural testing so engineers can analyze the spacecraft’s ability to withstand the harsh conditions of launch and spaceflight. A pressure vessel is the area of the spacecraft where astronauts will sit during their ride into orbit. It makes up the majority of the Crew Dragon’s structure but does not include the outer shell, heat shield, thrusters or other systems.

Even without those systems in place, however, the company and NASA can learn enormous amounts about the design’s strength by placing the pressure vessel in special fixtures that stress the structure. SpaceX completed two pressure vessels that will be used for ground tests and two more are in manufacturing right now to fly in space during demonstration missions for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

After the ground testing, the pressure vessels will be outfitted with all the systems they would need to be fully functional spacecraft. Photo credit: SpaceX

Companies Advance in 2016 on Path to Flight


The companies building the next generation of human-rated spacecraft with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program made their biggest advances so far as they finalized designs and began building prototype spacecraft. The careful, meticulous efforts by Boeing and SpaceX, along with NASA astronauts, engineers and spaceflight specialists, are vital markers in the path to flight as the team work to restore America’s ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States.

“We knew 2016 would be a critical year as Boeing and SpaceX build qualification and flight hardware, and test the integrated systems to ensure the rockets and spacecraft function as designed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Their careful design, analysis and early prototype testing during the last several years has put us on the right course, and now we are excited to see flight hardware coming together. The companies are excited, too, but we know there are many steps ahead to successfully and safely complete these flight tests and begin operational missions to the International Space Station.”

Learn more about the spacecraft and subsystem qualification testing, at http://go.nasa.gov/1YeXox2



I Will Launch America: Derek Otermat

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The communications systems on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft have to be able to relay a significant amount of information to the crew inside the spacecraft, controllers at several locations on the ground and to other spacecraft. Even missing a small piece of information can cause alarm. That’s why the communications engineers spend years coming up with a system, working with individual components and then pairing them together to make an effective network.

That’s where Derek Otermat comes in. One of Boeing’s Engineer of the Year awardees, Otermat began his spaceflight career testing radio frequency elements of the communications network for the space station. The station can talk to Earth through ground stations in the United States, Europe and Russia but mostly relays telemetry, video and voice messages using NASA’s constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites known as TDRS.

He is applying that expertise to the Starliner now. Although Starliners won’t have as much data to route to the crew and send back to Earth, in many phases of flight it will have to be sent quickly. For example, during launch when the Starliner is flying into orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the spacecraft and booster have to talk to each other many times a second to gauge the health of the booster and make sure everything is working properly.

“It’s really about criticality – health criticality and safety criticality,” Otermat said. “If our system isn’t working when the Starliner approaches the station, it’s actually a ‘no-go’ for docking.” Read more about Otermat and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at http://go.nasa.gov/1Uf7UhQ

Starliner Test Article Joined to Complete First Hull

STAJoin-4STAjoin-3The first CST-100 Starliner hull stands in one piece inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after engineers bolted together the upper and lower domes May 2 as completion nears of the Structural Test Article. It is the first spacecraft to come together inside the former shuttle hangar since shuttle Discovery was moved out of the facility following its retirement and move to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C., in 2012. You can watch Boeing’s video about the spacecraft’s manufacturing here.

Identical to the operational Starliners Boeing plans to build and fly in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the Structural Test Article is not meant to ever fly in space but rather to prove the manufacturing methods and overall ability of the spacecraft to handle the demands of spaceflight carrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

STAJoin2Boeing is one of two contractors chosen by NASA to take astronauts to the station using American vehicles launching from U.S. soil. Tests with and without crew members will take flight before operational missions begin. The end result for NASA will be a larger space station resident crew and a doubling of scientific research time aboard the orbiting laboratory as scientists try to decipher the challenges of deep space exploration and provide enhancements for everyone on Earth.

The Starliner structural test article will go through final outfitting before it is moved to Huntington Beach, California, where it will be subjected to loads and separation testing. From there, the company expects to apply those lessons to the first flight test models of the Starliner, parts of which are already in the manufacturing flow in Florida.

“Our team is initiating qualification testing on dozens of components and preparing to assemble flight hardware,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Programs. “These are the first steps in an incredibly exciting, important and challenging year.”

The building techniques used for Starliners are significantly different from those of past programs, Boeing said, and reflect a desire to ease manufacturing wherever possible. For instance, rather than build the pressure vessel and then outfit it with electrical and data cables, plumbing and other fittings, those elements are built into the top and bottom halves of the spacecraft. When the domes are joined, the cables and lines and pipes are already in place, saving engineers the time and frustration of having to move everything in through the small hatch and assemble parts together inside the closed hull.

It is just that kind of manufacturing innovation, along with scores of other examples, that NASA was pursuing in taking on the Commercial Crew Program approach to spacecraft development for the next generation of human-rated vehicles. Photo credits: BoeingSTAjoin-5

May 5, 1961: Al Shepard and Freedom 7

Astronaut Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom wishes Alan B. Shepard a safe flight just before insertion into the Freedom 7 spacecraft mated on the Redstone rocket.

Launch of Freedom 7, the first American manned suborbital space flight. Astronaut Alan Shepard aboard, the Mercury-Redstone (MR-3) rocket is launched from Pad 5.Astronaut Al Shepard, above with Gus Grissom, made history 55 years ago today as he launched in Freedom 7 atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket to become the first American in space. The rocket lofted Shepard using a 78,000-pound thrust engine, less powerful than the abort engine clusters in development by Boeing and SpaceX for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program spacecraft.


I Will Launch America: Steve Gauvain

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Tablets, a few physical buttons and a pair of joysticks will be the control tools for the next generation of NASA astronauts onboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Making those systems work – for both automated and manual use – is the domain of a team of engineers lead by Steve Gauvain, an amateur pilot who worked for years training astronauts to fly the space shuttle. Find out about Gauvain’s work and what it means to the future of human spaceflight in the latest edition of “I Will Launch America” at http://go.nasa.gov/1WIOSFh


CCP at 5: The Verge of New Era


Five years in, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is at the doorstep of launch for a new generation of spacecraft and launch vehicles that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, enhance microgravity research and open the windows to the dawn of a new era in human space transportation.

The agency asked industry to take the lead in designing, building and operating a space system that would carry astronauts. NASA offered its expertise in human spaceflight and wrote out the top-level requirements for safety and other considerations to prepare for flight tests. NASA will certify the vehicles for flight tests and finally operational missions. The companies apply their own knowledge and skills in designing, manufacturing and running the systems. Ultimately, NASA will buy the flights as a service from the companies.

“It’s what we hoped the program to be and honestly a lot more,” said Wayne Ordway, who began as the manager of the Commercial Crew Program’s Spacecraft Office and rose to the position associate program manager.

This progress was hoped for, but took tremendous work and flexibility, according to members of the early efforts to transform the fledgling vision of a close partnership between NASA and private industry into a functioning organization capable of establishing requirements for a new generation of human-rated spacecraft and then seeing to it that those requirements were met.

“This is a new way of doing business, a new era in spaceflight, and when it’s all said and done, the Commercial Crew Program’s legacy will be bringing human spaceflight launches back to the U.S.,” said Kelvin Manning, who was involved in the early planning days of the commercial crew effort, and is now associate director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “That’s a big deal and our teams are making it happen.” Read the whole story at http://go.nasa.gov/1VVLruA

I Will Launch America: Ian Kappes

I_Will_Launch_Ian_final-lrgBefore anything is visible to even the most discerning eye surveying the launch vehicle, computers and multitudes of sensors on the rocket can pick up minuscule problems and correct for them. Making sure they do so correctly is part of the work of Ian Kappes, lead of the launch vehicle avionics systems team for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“The avionics systems and its software are the brain and central nervous system of the entire launch vehicle,” Kappes said. “It is really just like our body’s nervous system – avionics tells you all sorts of information about the vehicle. It’s making the decisions necessary to fly. The avionics is telling you when equipment is within its parameters or when something will fail. It is also cross-communicating between the booster stages and the spacecraft, because the spacecraft and its crew need to know what’s going on with the vehicle.”

Kappes’ team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida works in tandem with engineers at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Armstrong Flight Research Center in Mojave, California, to certify the systems Boeing and SpaceX plan to use for commercial crew flights to the station. That means many hours poring over avionics architecture designs, working directly with both partners to identify and control hazards, followed by avionics component and software integrated testing. Read the full story at http://go.nasa.gov/1pyBsQ2