Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne have begun a series of developmental hot-fires tests with two launch abort engines similar to the ones that will be part of Boeing’s Starliner service module. The engines, designed to maximize thrust build-up, while minimizing overshoot during start up, will be fired between half a second and 3 seconds each during the test campaign. If the Starliner’s four launch abort engines were used during an abort scenario, they would fire between 3 and 5.5 seconds, with enough thrust to get the spacecraft and its crew away from the rocket, before splashing down in the ocean under parachutes.
Recently, Aerojet Rocketdyne also completed delivery of the first set of hardware for Starliner’s service module propulsion system.
The Starliner is under development in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for crew missions to the International Space Station.
Two years after selecting the next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station, engineers and spaceflight specialists across NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX are putting in place the elements required for successful missions. Here are eight things to know about Commercial Crew:
1. The Goal – The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety requirements. To accomplish this goal, we are taking a unique approach by asking private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, to develop human spaceflight systems to take over the task of flying astronauts to station.
2. Multi-User Spaceport – Boeing and SpaceX, like other commercial aerospace companies, are capitalizing on the unique experience and infrastructure along the Space Coast at our Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Kennedy has transitioned from a government-only launch complex to a premier multi-user spaceport. In the coming years, the number of launch providers along the Space Coast is expected to more than double.
3. Innovation – Our expertise has been joined with industry innovations to produce the most advanced spacecraft to ever carry humans into orbit. Each company is developing its own unique systems to meet our safety requirements, and once certified by us, the providers will begin taking astronauts to the space station.
4. Research – With two new spacecraft that can carry up to four astronauts to the International Space Station with each of our missions, the number of resident crew will increase and will double the amount of time dedicated to research. That means new technologies and advances to improve life here on Earth and a better understanding of what it will take for long duration, deep space missions, including to Mars.
5. Crew Training – Astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams have been selected to train to fly flight tests aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The veteran crew have sent time in both spacecraft evaluating and training on their systems. Both providers are responsible for developing every aspect of the mission, from the spacesuits and training, to the rocket and spacecraft.
6. Launch Abort System – Boeing and SpaceX will equip their spacecraft with launch abort systems to get astronauts out of danger … FAST!
7. Expedited Delivery – Time-sensitive, critical experiments performed in orbit will be returned to Earth aboard commercial crew spacecraft, and returned to the scientists on Earth in hours, instead of days – before vital results are lost. That means better life and physical science research results, like VEGGIE, heart cells, and protein crystals.
The opportunity to help NASA successfully usher in a new age of spaceflight in partnership with private aerospace companies is part of what drives Mike Ravenscroft to excel in his work as a Launch Site Integration lead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Ravenscroft said the unique nature of commercial crew is exciting, because it is being performed in a tight partnership between the agency and aerospace companies Boeing and SpaceX. Both Boeing and SpaceX are building separate spacecraft and launch systems, along with their own unique launch pads at Kennedy and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Instead of NASA dictating designs and owning the spacecraft, NASA is overseeing design and production and then buying the services from the companies to take astronauts to the International Space Station in order to enhance research there and to provide additional human launch capability from American shores.
“My personal opinion is, this is an opportunity to allow private industry to show what they can do,” Ravenscroft said. “We’ve given the companies requirements, but we’ve let them show how they can perform and answer the requirements. We have not forced them into a design we think they should have – we want them to innovate. It also allows them to achieve their own goals, which I believe is going to help sustain the industry.” Read more about what Ravenscroft is doing to help Launch America at http://go.nasa.gov/2bCj2a2
Boeing engineers recently evaluated the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft’s ability to withstand the shocks and other challenges of landing on the ground with a series of drop tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Hoisted using a gantry at Langley that’s tested everything from private planes to the lunar lander of Apollo, a Starliner mockup with a full-size airbag system in place was released from about 30 feet to see how it behaved when contacting the Earth. The airbags have been designed to absorb much of the impact. A nominal Starliner mission, such as those planned to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station during Commercial Crew Program flights, is to end with the spacecraft touching down on land in the American southwest where ground support teams can more easily reach the spacecraft and crew than if they splashed down in water.
The Starliner was already tested in water-landing scenarios in the same gantry. All the results will be used by Boeing to confirm the designs of the landing systems and by NASA to certify the systems for use during upcoming flight tests without and then with a crew aboard. Rad many more details about the Starliner testing at http://go.nasa.gov/2bFMZZk
Brittani Sims doubted at times she would ever get a chance to put her engineering acumen to work at NASA, but an internship stressing science, technology, engineering and math education – STEM – showed her what was possible. She began her NASA career in the Space Shuttle Program and is now working in Commercial Crew as a certification systems engineer for the team working with SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station. Read more about Sims at http://go.nasa.gov/2bf9GFt
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins floated outside the Quest airlock on the International Space Station at 8:04 a.m. EDT to begin a 6 1/2-hour EVA. The spacewalkers will connect the International Docking Adapter to the station so that visiting vehicles including those in development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can connect to the station in the near future. The IDA itself, built by Boeing, has been pulled from the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft and positioned next to the port it will be connected to. The video below shows the IDA’s extraction, and you can watch NASA TV’s spacewalk coverage this morning in the window to the right, on Web streaming or on NASA TV. The coverage will include conversations with spacewalk officers, astronauts and Commercial Crew Program officials.
Also, you can tweet questions to astronaut Doug Wheelock – @Astro_Wheels – throughout the morning. Just use #AskNASA.
Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station looks different today after workers attached the Crew Access Arm and White Room to the Crew Access Tower. The work at the launch pad was done in preparation for missions to the International Space Station by astronauts aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. The addition completes major construction of the tower which was added to the launch pad specifically so astronauts could board the Starliner on launch day. The arm, a 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound structure, will provide a bridge from the tower to the hatch of the spacecraft as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Although the launch pad and Atlas V have launched many missions including some of NASA’s landmark exploration spacecraft, astronauts have never left the planet from that launch pad on an Atlas V. The companies are working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to change that and to restore America’s capability to launch astronauts to the station from Florida’s Space Coast. Read more about today’s progress in our feature at http://go.nasa.gov/2aP3ALQ Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Boeing on Tuesday unveiled its clean-floor facility that serves as the hub for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as they are manufactured and prepared for flight to and from the International Space Station, and where they’ll refurbished between missions. The high bay in the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, formerly known as Orbiter Processing Facility 3, is now modernized and ready to support the Starliner program.
It was once filled with about 1,000 tons of steel work platforms that enshrouded the space shuttle orbiters as they were refurbished and prepared for flight. Today, the facility contains several pieces of hardware and a mock-up that are key to Boeing’s and NASA’s efforts to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast through the Commercial Crew Program.
The small jets designed to steer Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit were fired in a vacuum chamber recently at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Testing continues for elements of the new Starliner spacecraft before components are installed into the first space-bound capsule. Aerojet Rocketyne built the reaction control engines and used a chamber to pulse fire three engines up to 4,000 times for a total of 1,600 seconds each. Both are record times for lightweight thrusters with composite chambers.
Aerojet Rocketdyne is testing and will provide the service module propulsion system production hardware, including launch abort engines, orbital maneuvering and attitude control engines and reaction control system engines. Boeing will assemble hardware kits into the service module section of the Starliner spacecraft at its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. While Boeing develops and manufactures Starliners, SpaceX is doing the same with its own spacecraft, Crew Dragon. Both companies plan to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast on missions to the International Space Station. With up to four astronauts at a time, plus more than 200 pounds of cargo, the new line of spacecraft will allow the station’s crew to grow to seven. That addition gives astronauts In orbit another 35 hours of research time to enhance the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory.
A new era of human spaceflight in America is approaching on the horizon five years after the space shuttle era ended with the touch down of Atlantis on the runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Built from the best of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s expertise plus the innovation of top American aerospace companies, spacecraft and rockets designed and built using a new approach to development are taking shape inside factories across the nation. Intensive test programs are underway on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon transportation systems, both built to take astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States. A lot has happened during the past five years, and the pace is picking up: http://go.nasa.gov/24QDPuA