Companies Advance in 2016 on Path to Flight

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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

 

 

Spacecraft 1 Major Components Arrive for Assembly

Boeing CST-100 Starliner

The last major element of a test version of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner arrived at the company’s spacecraft factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin assembly. The upper dome of the craft the company is calling Spacecraft 1 rolled through the doors of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy on May 20 so engineers and technicians could begin outfitting it with systems before joining the upper dome to the docking hatch and lower dome elements that arrived earlier in May. The spacecraft’s arrival points toward a time when the company routinely produces and launches Starliners on operational missions taking astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Machined into a honeycomb pattern to reduce weight while maintaining strength, the upper and lower domes will form the crew compartment of the Starliner once assembled together. Thermal shielding will encase the domes on the outside and a base heat shield will be connected to the bottom to complete the spacecraft ahead of its pad abort flight test. That flight test will not carry people, but will include an attached service module holding propellant and supply tanks along with four powerful launch abort engines. The test will be an automated demonstration of the launch escape system’s ability of to lift the Starliner out of danger in the unlikely event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb into orbit.

The work is taking place as the Starliner’s structural test article – a complete Starliner spacecraft designed only for tests on Earth – finishes its assembly and is readied for shipping to California for analysis in conditions similar to those found in space. Read much more about the spacecraft’s arrival and its importance to NASA’s goals for the Commercial Crew Program and enhanced research on the space station: http://go.nasa.gov/1UtFLU4. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

 

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

Watch Commercial Crew Progress

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Spacecraft are under construction, launch infrastructure is being modified and systems testing of all sorts is underway as NASA’s Commercial Crew Program works closely with Boeing and SpaceX to advance the new generation of American spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States. Boeing and SpaceX are building flight-like CST-100 Starliners and Crew Dragons, respectively, for evaluations prior to their flight test campaigns. Watch the testing, qualification and hardware buildup completed so far in 2016 in the video below toward the program’s goal of developing safe, reliable, cost-effective crew transportation systems.

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

Spaceport Magazine Features Commercial Crew

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If you have not already, be sure to check out the May edition of Kennedy Space Center’s Spaceport Magazine. It features several Commercial Crew Program stories and numerous awe-inspiring NASA programs and projects.

Read it now, at http://go.nasa.gov/1NPNcs6.

I Will Launch America: Dayna Ise

I will Launch_Dayna_FB_finalAmerican-built rockets will soon once again launch astronauts from American soil, and Dayna Ise, an engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is excited to be part of the program making this possible.

“Of all the projects I have been part of with NASA in my 15 years, this is easily the work I am most proud of,” said Ise, who started her career working on space shuttle main engines. “I joined the team early on, almost five years ago, and it’s been fun to see it grow. It’s exciting to be part of program that will launch astronauts to the space station from American soil and allow NASA more resources for exploration deeper into our solar system.”

NASA’s ultimate goal with the Commercial Crew Program is to establish reliable and cost-effective human access to space. In the Launch Vehicle Office, Ise works with industry partners to ensure all launch vehicle requirements and standards are met before launching astronauts for NASA.

Learn more about Dayna and the work she is doing to return human spaceflight launches to the U.S. http://go.nasa.gov/1VrYllI

CCP at 5: The Verge of New Era

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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

Water System Tested on Crew Access Arm

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Photos of the Emergency Evacuation Water Test at the CCP Crew Access Arm in Oak Hill, for Boeing/ULA.

Engineers and technicians gathered at dusk recently at a construction site near Kennedy Space Center in Florida to test systems that will support Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The Crew Access Arm and White Room saw some of the most dynamic testing thus far, when hundreds of gallons of water were sprayed along the arm and beneath it for an evaluation of its water deluge system. The system is a key safety feature for future launches on the Starliner, one of two commercial spacecraft in development to carry astronauts to the station.

In the unlikely event of an emergency, astronauts ready to launch on future missions aboard the Starliner would need a clear, safe path to exit. The arm and attached white room will provide a bridge between the Crew Access Tower and the spacecraft, as it prepares to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Two rounds of testing in different lighting conditions checked whether the water system could cover the arm adequately and the LED lights were up to the task of helping guide astronauts to safety.

The test mimicked what the system would need to do at the launch pad in case of an emergency. The tower’s main structure is already standing at Space Launch Complex 41, the launch site for the Starliner. After more testing on other systems, the arm will be moved to the launch pad later this summer before being lifted into place on the tower.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight capabilities to the U.S. on commercial spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX are developing separate spacecraft and launch systems along with a network of mission and ground support capabilities. Commercial crew flights will add an additional crew member to the station, effectively doubling the amount of time dedicated to research aboard the orbiting laboratory. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky For more images, go to NASA Kennedy’s Flickr page.

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