Boeing Completes Starliner Hot Fire Test

Starliner Hot Fire Test
Boeing teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner propulsion system was put to the test on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system, which are key elements on the path to restore America’s capability to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil.

The test used a flight-like Starliner service module with a full propulsion system comprising of fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system and orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics.

During the test:

  • 19 thrusters fired to simulate in-space maneuvers.
  • 12 thrusters fired to simulate a high-altitude abort.
  • 22 propulsion elements, including the launch abort engines, fired to simulate a low-altitude abort.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will complete a Starliner pad abort test and uncrewed flight test, called Orbital Flight Test, to the station ahead of the first flight test with a crew onboard. As commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

The Atlas V to Lift Starliner with Astronauts Departs Factory for Launch Site

From the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, the Atlas V booster stage and Dual Engine Centaur upper stage were rolled into a giant cargo ship for transport to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Emmett Given

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program emerged on Thursday from the production factory in Decatur, Alabama for transport in a giant cargo ship to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Once at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will begin integrated operations and processing for the Crew Flight Test mission. Photo credit: NASA/Emmett Given

The rocket, known as AV-082, will launch Starliner and its crew of NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson to the station following the spacecraft’s maiden voyage, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test targeted for August.

From the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, the Atlas V booster stage and Dual Engine Centaur upper stage were moved down the road for loading into the Mariner vessel docked nearby. The 312-foot-long ship is purpose-built to navigate both shallow waters of rivers and ocean travel to reach ULA’s launch sites. It has been making the trek from Decatur to Cape Canaveral since 2001.

Once at Cape Canaveral, the Atlas V will begin integrated operations and processing for the CFT launch.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to transport crew to the space station from the United States, returning the nation’s human spaceflight launch capability. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions.

Regular commercial transportation using Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to and from the station will enable expanded station use and additional research time aboard the orbiting laboratory. Research on the space station helps address the challenges of moving humanity forward to the Moon and Mars as we learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Benji Reed

Benji Reed (far left), Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX

The following is a transcript of SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

To be honest, I’m shaking, and I’m super excited. It was an incredible journey to get to this moment. The teams have just done an amazing job, both the SpaceX and the NASA teams jointly. Fundamentally this is a great day for the nation, for SpaceX, for NASA, for all of us—really for the world.

I think it was Anne (McClain) who said this is the first time in 40 years that we’ve had a spacecraft designed for humans (test) fly, and not only did she fly and go to the space station and do everything she was supposed to do, but we brought her home safe and sound landing in the Atlantic. It’s amazing.

I can’t believe how well the whole mission has gone. I think on every point, everything’s been nailed, all the way along—particularly this last piece. We were all very excited to see re-entry and parachute and drogue deploy and main deploy, splashdown—everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to. It was beautiful.

As a team, SpaceX, we’re just super honored to have the opportunity to have done this mission, to work with NASA, to work through this. You know, Demo-1 is fundamentally this first major milestone in our process towards certification. I always like to remind everybody that this is a whole system—there’s Crew Dragon, there’s the Falcon that’s going to be certified to fly humans, there’s also the ground systems, the operations, our entire factory and production system—everything that we do is being certified to be able to fly astronauts safely, and this is a huge step towards that.

If you kind of look back over what happened over the last two days, which just seems incredible to me, really it’s the culmination of years of work to get us to this day. We had launch, Crew Dragon deployed, and we saw beautiful free flight. One of the things that’s hard to test when you’re on the ground is how fluids work in microgravity. And what’s amazing is everything worked just like we expected.

We got to station, docked, and, you know, it’s the first time I think in history a commercial vehicle and also an American vehicle has docked autonomously to the International Space Station, so that’s super cool. (Crew Dragon was) loaded with all kinds of sensors, all kinds of tests that we did. We all met Ripley, and she’s loaded with sensors so we can understand exactly all the forces that the crew will feel as they’re launched to station from home. We got to meet the little Earth guy (laughs); I heard he’s going to stay on station. Undocking, of course, some more free flight, and then we came home. We jettisoned the trunk, closed the nose cone, and then again, like I said, just beautiful parachute deployment, everything the way we expected.  All of these tests that we’ve been doing on parachutes, all of the analysis that we’ve done on understanding the aerodynamics of re-entry and coming home.  Everything was just wonderful.

The important thing now is we’re going to take all of this data and we’re going to apply that to the next steps. There’s a lot more to do because our ultimate goal is to be able to continue to staff space station, to provide astronauts rides up to space, give them a safe place to be, a safe place to come home in, and do crew rotations every six months. So how do we get there? So we finished Demo-1, huge milestone, the next step is we take that data, we apply it, we learn from it, and we’re going to go to our in-flight abort test, similar to that pad abort test that we did a few years ago. We actually will put the same Dragon that we flew on Demo-1, we’re going to take that and we’re going to put it on top of Falcon 9, launch it, get it going super fast to test conditions, and then escape it off of the rocket and again do the same thing, bring it home safely under parachutes, land it in the ocean.

From there, after we get that done, we go to Demo-2, and that’s kind of like, wow, that’s the big prize, because that’s going to be sending Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley)—our NASA astronauts, our partners, our friends—sending them up on Dragon and taking them to station safely and bringing them home safely.

When that’s done, we’ll go through final, full certification and start those six-month rotation missions, which we’re all so excited about.

It’s important to take a step back and think about all that it took to get here, all the work of all the joint teams—NASA and SpaceX—all the support that we’ve had from friends and family. Really, I think, the most important thing is that on behalf of all of the 6,000 people here at SpaceX, we really want to thank NASA, we want to thank the space station, the international partners, and thank the American public for their support and partnership as we go through this. We’re really proud to be part of this endeavor.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Steve Stich

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich

The following is a transcript of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

It’s great to be here representing the Commercial Crew Program. What an outstanding day to be part of our program. We started our contracts in 2014 for these first missions, and to sit here today and talk about Demo-1 and how great the flight went and what we’re going to learn from it is just amazing.

I’d like to congratulate the SpaceX team on a phenomenal job getting the vehicles ready and executing the flight, and our whole NASA team that worked the mission. If you just think about the enormity of what happened in this flight and all of the prep that went into it—getting the pad refurbished at (Launch Complex) 39A, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicles built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis, all of the mission support that went into it, the simulations and the practice leading up to this flight over the last year or so—it’s just been a tremendous job.

I would say one of the things that we learned during this flight is the great relationship we have between the program and SpaceX. I would say our teams worked seamlessly back and forth with SpaceX, not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight through the Dragon mission management team, and then also working with Kenny Todd and the International Space Station Program. The space station program did a phenomenal job supporting our program while we were docked to station, on the way to station, and the international partnership as well, so it was a really great opportunity for this mission.

The last 24 hours have been exciting for us. You know we closed the hatch yesterday around noon (Central Time), got into the undock today around 1:31 a.m. (Central Time), did a few small separation burns to get away from station—if you watched that on NASA TV that was flawless—did about three separation burns to get down below station, executed the deorbit burn at about 6:52 a.m. Central Time and then landed just a few minutes ago at 7:45 a.m. (Central Time).

The vehicle is doing well. The recovery crews are out on the scene. They’ve already been around the spacecraft and made sure it was secure for personnel. It was a very calm day with low winds and low sea states, and one of the chutes kind of landed on the Dragon capsule; they’ve already gotten that off, so that’s going really well.  It’ll probably take 30 minutes to maybe an hour to get it back on the ship.

When you look overall at this mission, it was a great dress rehearsal for Demo-2. We learned a phenomenal amount in the prelaunch timeframe about how to load the vehicle, and thinking forward to how we’ll put the crews in the vehicle. The ascent profile for this flight, we practiced the exact profile that Mike Hopkins and others will fly very soon—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (on Demo-2). We had the abort system—the crew escape system on Dragon—actually enabled for this flight, and we were able to see how that worked and we’ll get the data back and look at those triggers and how it performed.

On-orbit we got a lot of great data on the vehicle in terms of the thermal performance and power performance; the vehicle really did better than we expected. Then the rendezvous was phenomenal as we came in and checked out those sensors. During the attached phase of course we had cargo operations, and we’ll do the same thing both on Demo-2 and then Crew Dragon-1 and other missions. Then we did a robotic survey of the vehicle to look at the thermal protection system and other systems, and that went really well.

I will say one thing: this mission, it was only six days long. It was a sprint from start to finish, and thinking about where we’ve been in operations in that sprint, I think Kenny (Todd) would probably tell you the same thing—it was just a phenomenal job by the team. And then of course today, the undocking, watching how those systems performed, that went flawlessly. It’s a very tight sequence between undocking and de-orbit burn, how the nose cone performed, how the de-orbit burn was executed, then the entry was phenomenal.

We did have Ripley on board, an anthropomorphic test device, and that’s going to give us a lot of important data for the accelerations during both the ascent phase and then the entry phase under the parachutes and then landing. So we’ll collect that data, and then look at that.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing post-flight reviews. In fact just next week we’ll have one for the launch vehicle and the ground segment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), we’ll start reviewing that. And then subsequently we’ll do reviews with SpaceX on the orbit phase of the mission.

This flight really sets us up well for the rest of the year. The vehicle that’s hit the water in the Atlantic today will be the in-flight abort vehicle, and so one of the first things that’ll happen is the vehicle will come back to KSC and go over into the processing area and start getting refurbished for the in-flight abort test which should be in the June timeframe. And then the Demo-2 vehicle is in Hawthorne, CA getting ready for the first crewed mission. That’s in progress and going well. That work has continued all through the flight, so it will be a busy year for us with SpaceX with in-flight abort in the June timeframe and then Demo-2 later in the year with the first crewed mission.

I don’t think we saw really anything in the mission so far—and we’ve got to do to the data reviews—that would preclude us from having the crewed mission later this year.

If you look in the April timeframe we’re also getting ready for the Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and that will happen very soon. So our program will transition after this mission and the data reviews into preparing not only for in-flight abort and Demo-2, but also the Orbital Flight Test—the uncrewed flight test—for Boeing, and that’ll be coming up in the April timeframe. Spacecraft 3, which is the Boeing vehicle, is coming together at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility down in Florida. And (Boeing) is in the middle of a bunch of very critical testing right now out at El Segundo (California) to verify that the spacecraft can work successfully in space. And then later on this year we’ll have the Crew Flight Test for Boeing as well.

If you just look at all the activities in commercial crew, it’s a super busy time. In addition to this flight, in the last few weeks we did parachute tests for SpaceX and Boeing and so if you look at all of the activities to get ready for flying our crews, it’s just a very exciting time.

Again, congratulations to our SpaceX team and all of the NASA people across the country that worked so hard for many, many years on this flight. It really sets us up for the rest of the year, and it’s a super exciting time to be in commercial crew.

Demo-1 Launch Ushers in ‘New Era in Spaceflight’

A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Demo-1, the first uncrewed mission of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The on-time liftoff occurred at 2:49 a.m., Saturday, March 2, 2019.
A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Demo-1, the first uncrewed mission of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The on-time liftoff occurred at 2:49 a.m., Saturday, March 2, 2019. Photo credit: NASA

The Demo-1 uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s inaugural flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is underway following the successful launch Saturday morning of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first-of-its-kind mission, planned to be a full demonstration of the spacecraft and its systems, launched on time at 2:49 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Demo-1 is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership. The mission also marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.

“It’s an exciting evening,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said after the launch. “What today really represents is a new era in spaceflight. We’re looking forward to being one of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit.”

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and lead designer, expressed his thanks to the SpaceX team and reported that the Crew Dragon spacecraft performed as expected through launch and ascent.

“We’re only partway through the mission, but the system thus far has passed an exhaustive set of reviews, and the launch itself,” Musk said. “The launch went as expected and so far everything is nominal.”

In addition to 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, Crew Dragon is carrying Ripley, an anthropomorphic test device outfitted with sensors to gather important data about what an astronaut flying aboard the spacecraft would experience throughout the mission.

NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1 to further prepare for Demo-2, the crewed flight test that will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. NASA will validate the performance of SpaceX’s systems before putting crew on board for the Demo-2 flight, currently targeted for July.

Crew Dragon will carry out a series of phasing maneuvers as it pursues the space station during approach. The spacecraft is scheduled to autonomously dock to the station’s Harmony module forward port tomorrow, March 3, at about 6 a.m. EST. It will remain docked until approximately 2:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8. Crew Dragon is expected to return to Earth with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 8:45 a.m. on Friday, March 8, a little more than six hours after departing the space station.

For updates throughout the Demo-1 mission, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

Demo-1 Underway: Crew Dragon Launches on Debut Flight

The Demo-1 uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s inaugural flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is underway following the successful launch Saturday morning of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first-of-its-kind mission, planned to be a full demonstration of the spacecraft and its systems, launched on time at 2:49 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In addition to 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, Crew Dragon is carrying Ripley, an anthropomorphic test device outfitted with sensors to gather important data about what an astronaut flying aboard the spacecraft would experience throughout the mission.

Crew Dragon will carry out a series of phasing maneuvers as it pursues the space station during approach. The spacecraft is scheduled to autonomously dock with the orbiting laboratory tomorrow morning, March 3, at about 6 a.m. EST, and remain docked until approximately 2:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8. Crew Dragon is expected to return to Earth with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 8:45 a.m., a little more than six hours after departing the space station.

Stay tuned for a postlaunch press conference from Kennedy Space Center at about 4 a.m. EST. It will be broadcast live on NASA TV. Participants are:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer, SpaceX
  • NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, SpaceX Demo-2 flight test
  • NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, SpaceX Demo-2 flight test
  • Steve Stich, NASA launch manager, Commercial Crew Program
  • Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program

Crew Dragon Flying Solo After Spacecraft Separation

Spacecraft separation! SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil, is flying on its own in orbit following an on-time launch aboard the company’s Falcon 9 rocket at 2:49 a.m. EST.

Additionally, the Falcon 9 first stage successfully landed on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You.”