NASA and Boeing Complete Orbital Flight Test Reviews

An artist's illustration of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit.
An artist’s illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have completed reviews of the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that flew in December 2019 and are working toward a plan to refly the mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review team completed their final assessments of issues that were detected during the first test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Following this conclusion, the team identified a total of 80 recommendations that Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, is addressing. A launch date has not been set yet for the second flight test, dubbed OFT-2.

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Cassidy and Behnken Wrap up Battery Spacewalk

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken is pictured tethered to the space station during a spacewalk to swap batteries on the orbiting lab's truss structure.
NASA astronaut Bob Behnken is pictured tethered to the space station’s truss structure during a spacewalk to swap batteries and route cables.

NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken concluded their spacewalk at 12:14 p.m. EDT. During the six hour and one-minute spacewalk, the two NASA astronauts completed half the work to upgrade the batteries that provide power for one channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays. The new batteries provide an improved and more efficient power capacity for operations.

They successfully moved and connected one new, powerful lithium-ion battery and its adapter place to complete the circuit to the new battery and relocated one aging nickel-hydrogen battery to an external platform for future disposal.

They also loosened the bolts on nickel-hydrogen batteries that will be replaced to complete the power capability upgrade on the far starboard truss and complete the station’s battery replacement work that began in January 2017 with the first series of power upgrade spacewalks. Behnken and Cassidy will complete the work during the final two spacewalks later this month.

Cassidy and Behnken also will route power and ethernet cables in preparation for the installation of a new external wireless communications system with an enhanced HD camera and to increase helmet camera coverage for future spacewalks. To support future power system upgrades, they also will remove a device called an “H-Fixture” that was installed before the solar arrays were launched to the space station.

This was the eighth spacewalk for both each astronaut. Cassidy now has spent a total of 43 hours and 22 minutes spacewalking. Behnken has now spent a total of 49 hours and 41 minutes spacewalking.

Behnken and NASA astronaut Doug Hurley arrived at the space station in May aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s Demo-2 mission. The end-to-end test flight is designed to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations, paving the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station.

Space station crew members have conducted 229 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 60 days and 34 minutes working outside the station.

At 4 p.m. today, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will discuss her upcoming second mission to the International Space Station, along with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, during a news conference from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston that will be broadcast live on NASA Television and on the agency’s website.

Learn more about station activities by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Starliner Parachutes Perform Under Pressure

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
Two drogue parachutes successfully deploy from a Boeing Starliner test article during a landing system reliability test conducted on June 21 above White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing put Starliner’s parachutes to the test again on June 21 as part of a supplemental reliability campaign designed to further validate the system’s capabilities under an adverse set of environmental factors.

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
An inflated high altitude balloon hovers over the desert at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on June 21 ahead of Boeing Starliner’s recent parachute reliability drop test.
Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing is developing the Starliner spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

This latest balloon drop, conducted high above White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, demonstrates Starliner’s parachutes continue to perform well even under dynamic abort conditions and a simulated failure. Boeing and NASA jointly developed the conditions for this test as part of a comprehensive test campaign to demonstrate Starliner parachute performance across the range of deployment conditions.

Teams wanted to be sure that if an abort were to occur early into launch, certain parachutes in Starliner’s landing sequence would inflate correctly despite needing to deploy in significantly different flight conditions than those seen with normal landings.

“Parachutes like clean air flow,” said Jim Harder, Boeing’s flight conductor. “They inflate predictably under a wide range of conditions, but in certain ascent aborts, you are deploying these parachutes into more unsteady air where proper inflation becomes less predictable. We wanted to test the inflation characteristics at low dynamic pressure so we can be completely confident in the system we developed.”

This critical test phase began six seconds into the drop when small parachutes designed to lift away Starliner’s Forward Heat Shield deployed successfully. Ten seconds later, the vehicle’s two drogue parachutes followed suit, inflating perfectly despite the low dynamic pressure. But the Starliner boilerplate wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Test teams added a fault scenario to the test objectives by preventing one of Starliner’s three main parachutes from deploying altogether. At 98 seconds into flight, just two pilot chutes were fired resulting in only two of the three main parachutes deploying. Despite the higher loading, Starliner’s parachutes performed effectively, bringing the test article down to Earth safely and slowly about two-and-a-half minutes later.

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
A Boeing Starliner test article descends over White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on June 21 during a landing system reliability test designed to simulate dynamic abort conditions and a main parachute failure.
Photo credit: Boeing

The data extracted from this test will be utilized to improve the reliability of the Starliner parachute system ahead of crewed flights and be shared with NASA for their own vehicle use.

“Our parachute system is very similar to the design NASA uses to bring humans safely back from the Moon. Turns out, we can use some of their test data to model our mission scenarios, and they can use a lot of our data to model theirs,” said Starliner test manager Dan Niedermaier. “It really is all about the data. The more you have, the more accurate your models will be. This shared approach helps to keep both systems incredibly safe.”

During the summer, Boeing and NASA will continue to test Starliner’s parachute strength, building out even more reliability on a system that’s already shown to be consistently robust.

“Our parachutes have passed every test.” Niedermaier said. “We continue to push our system because we know what’s at stake. This demanding test program ensures Starliner can bring our astronauts home safe.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a public-private partnership combining NASA’s experience with new technology and designs pioneered by private industry to make space travel safer and available for all. This test is one of many steps that advances NASA’s goals of returning human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil on commercially-built and operated American rockets and spacecraft, preparing for a human presence on the Moon, and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars.

Kathy Lueders to Helm NASA’s Human Spaceflight Office

Kathy Lueders, participates in a postlaunch news conference inside the Press Site auditorium at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, following the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.
NASA’s Kathy Lueders participates in a post-launch news conference inside the Press Site auditorium at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, following the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday selected Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders to be the agency’s next associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. Since 2014, Lueders has directed NASA’s efforts to send astronauts to space on private spacecraft, which culminated in the successful launch of Demo-2 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30.

Lueders began her NASA career in 1992 at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico where she was the Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System and Reaction Control Systems Depot manager. She later moved to the International Space Station Program and served as transportation integration manager, where she led commercial cargo resupply services to the space station.

She also was responsible for NASA oversight of international partner spacecraft visiting the space station, including the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, and the Russian space agency Roscosmos’ Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. She went to Kennedy as acting Commercial Crew Program Manager in 2013 and was selected as the head of the office in 2014.

The appointment takes effect immediately. Steve Stich is named Commercial Crew Program Manager, and Ken Bowersox returns to his role as HEO deputy associate administrator.

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International Space Station welcomes first SpaceX Crew Dragon with NASA Astronauts

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley will launch to the International Space Station on the Demo-2 mission – the crew flight test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley arrived safely at the International Space Station on Sunday, May 31. Image credit: SpaceX/Ashish Sharma

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday aboard the first commercially built and operated American spacecraft to carry humans to orbit, opening a new era in human spaceflight.

The pair of astronauts docked to the space station’s Harmony module at 10:16 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Behnken and Hurley, the first astronauts to fly to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the station, were welcomed as crew members of Expedition 63 by fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

The docking followed the first successful launch of Crew Dragon with astronauts on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space in Florida, the same launch pad used for the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission.

After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour” as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard. Endeavour also flew the penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle Program, launching in May 2011 from the same pad.

This flight, known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, is an end-to-end test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, and will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Launch: ‘A Great Day for America’

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Pad 39A at 3:22 p.m. EDT. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station is a critical final flight test of the SpaceX crew transportation system.

Today’s launch also marks the start of the commercial crew era of U.S. human spaceflight.

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken wave as they exit the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, in preparation for transport to Launch Complex 39A ahead of embarking on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“What a great day for NASA, what a great day for SpaceX, and what a great day for the United States of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “It’s been nine years since we’ve launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and now we have done it again.”

“I’d like to just acknowledge the incredible work of the people at SpaceX and NASA and everyone who created this technology – what has culminated in this incredible launch today, getting astronauts back to orbit after almost a decade,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX chief engineer. “We need to bring them back safely, and we need to repeat these missions and have this be a regular occurrence. There’s a lot of work to do.”

The countdown proceeded smoothly throughout the day, with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft in good health and the astronauts ready to fly. The wild card – weather — was out of the teams’ control. Today’s liftoff was the mission’s second launch attempt; the first try, on Wednesday, May 27, ended up rescheduled due to unfavorable weather conditions.

At first, today appeared to be setting up with the same issues: rain, electricity in the atmosphere, cumulus clouds.

“We looked at the weather. It didn’t look great, but we looked at the different options that were out there, and we realized how important it was to step through this carefully, weigh the readiness of the hardware and very carefully assess the situation, and be able to clear the gates and milestones along the way,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Late in the countdown, Launch Weather Officer Mike McAleenan with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron reported conditions were “go.” The remaining countdown milestones ticked by quickly, and at 3:22 p.m. EDT, the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines ignited. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission was underway.

The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon performed well on the climb to orbit, and the spacecraft separated from the rocket on time, about 12 minutes into the flight.

“Dragon, chief engineer on Dragon-to-Ground,” SpaceX Chief Engineer Bala Ramamurthy called up to the crew following Crew Dragon spacecraft separation. “Bob, Doug, on behalf of the entire launch team, thanks for flying with Falcon 9 today. We hope you enjoyed the ride and wish you a great mission.”

Behnken replied, “Thanks, Bala. Congratulations to you and the entire team on the first human ride for Falcon 9. And it was incredible. Appreciate all the hard work and thanks for the great ride to space.”

“Proud of you guys and the rest of the team,” Hurley added. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done for us today, putting America back into low-Earth orbit from the Florida coast.”

Having arrived in orbit, Crew Dragon began a 19-hour pursuit of the station, beginning with a phase burn and the mission’s first manual flight test.

“Bob and Doug are already up there accomplishing a lot of the goals of our test mission,” Lueders said. “They got to do their far-field [manual flight] demonstrations. They got to feel what it’s like to use the touchscreens in zero-G. They got to check out all the different parts of the system and liberate their zero-G indicator.”

Crew Dragon will perform a series of phasing maneuvers to gradually approach and autonomously dock with the International Space Station on Sunday, May 31, at approximately 10:29 a.m. EDT.

After a successful docking, hatches between the two spacecraft will be opened at about 12:45 p.m. Crew members Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station and become members of the Expedition 63 crew. Behnken and Hurley will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

“Today onboard the [station], the three crew members, Chris Cassidy, Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, are getting ready to have their additional crewmates onboard,” said Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program. “I know they’re very, very excited. There’s lots of work to be done on ISS and I know Bob and Doug, together with the folks on orbit, are really ready to get busy.”

Behnken and Hurley spent years training and taking part in the development of the SpaceX crew transportation system prior to today’s launch.

“I have never seen a crew so calm and focused leading up to a launch as these two were,” said NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester, who has lived with the Demo-2 crew in quarantine inside Kennedy Astronaut Crew Quarters for the past several days. Forrester acknowledged their training and experience certainly played a role in their demeanor, but he believes their calmness also derived from confidence in the teams.

“I really think it’s a demonstration of the trust they had both in the NASA team and the SpaceX team to get them safely to orbit,” he said.

Demo-2 is SpaceX’s final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities. During the mission, the crew and SpaceX mission controllers will verify the performance of the spacecraft’s environmental control system, displays and control system, maneuvering thrusters, autonomous docking capability, and more.

The Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, and the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

At the conclusion of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the crew will be picked up by the SpaceX recovery ship and returned to the dock at Cape Canaveral.

“I am so grateful and proud of our NASA and SpaceX team,” Lueders said. “We’re going to stay vigilant until we bring them safely home.”

Keep up with mission milestones as they unfold on NASA’s International Space Station Blog at https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and Boeing to design, build, test and operate safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation systems to low-Earth orbit. Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station. Both companies’ crewed flights will be the first times in history NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at https://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.

SpaceX Demo-2: Crew Dragon Reaches Orbit, News Conference at 6:30 p.m. EDT

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station for the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Image credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on their way to the International Space Station has safely reached orbit, and the nosecone has been opened.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft separates from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. The Falcon 9 lifted off from NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 3:22 p.m. EDT on May 30, 2020. Image credit: NASA TV

At 4:09 p.m. EDT, the Crew Dragon will conduct a phase burn to put it on its trajectory to meet up with the space station tomorrow for docking at 10:29 a.m.

At 4:55 p.m., Behnken and Hurley will take control of Crew Dragon for the first of two manual flight tests, demonstrating their ability to control the spacecraft should an issue with the spacecraft’s automated flight ever arise.

At 5:55 p.m., the crew members may broadcast an update from the Crew Dragon.

At 6:30 p.m., the NASA Administrator will host a postlaunch news conference from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Participants in the briefing will be:

  • Administrator Bridenstine
  • Kathy Lueders
  • SpaceX representative
  • Kirk Shireman
  • NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester

NASA Television and the agency’s website will air the news conference.

Crew Dragon will perform a series of phasing maneuvers to gradually approach and autonomously dock with the International Space Station on Sunday, May 31, at approximately 10:29 a.m. EDT. Click here to see a high-resolution version of the graphic at right, explaining the Crew Dragon’s approach to the station.

After a successful docking, hatches between the two spacecraft will be opened at 12:45 p.m. Crew members Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station and become members of the Expedition 63 crew, joining astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin. Behnken and Hurley will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Keep up with mission milestones as they unfold on NASA’s International Space Station Blog at https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/.

Separation! Crew Dragon, SpaceX Demo-2 Crew Arrive in Orbit

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft separates from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. The Falcon 9 lifted off from NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 3:22 p.m. EDT on May 30, 2020. Image credit: NASA TV

Twelve minutes into the flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, signaling the end of the climb to space. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission, a final end-to-end flight test of the company’s crew transportation system, is underway with the return of human spaceflight capability to U.S. soil.

The Crew Dragon, Behnken and Hurley are embarking on a 19-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.

“Thanks for flying on Falcon 9 today – we hope you enjoy the mission,” said SpaceX Chief Engineer Bala Ramamurthy.

“It was incredible. Appreciate all the hard work. Thanks for the great ride to space,” the crew responded.

The Crew Dragon’s nosecone is opening. This rounded cover at the top of the spacecraft protects the docking system and the guidance, navigation and control system. The spacecraft’s environmental control and life support system is running as well.

Stage 1 Successfully Lands on Drone Ship

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has landed successfully on the company’s drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You.”

The Falcon 9 second stage and Crew Dragon are right on track for spacecraft separation coming up shortly.

Second-Stage Engine Cutoff, First Stage Begins Descent Toward Drone Ship

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station for the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Image credit: NASA TV

SECO! The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s second-stage Merlin engine shut down as planned. Separation of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the second stage is coming up just over three minutes from now.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage is descending toward SpaceX’s drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You,” waiting in the Atlantic Ocean.