After completion of uncrewed and crew test flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, NASA will review the data to ensure the vehicles meet the agency safety and performance requirements, as part of final certification efforts.
With test flights scheduled later this year, Boeing and SpaceX are working closely with the astronaut team to ensure crew safety and serviceability in their respective capsules.
Here’s more about what the commercial crew astronaut test pilots are looking forward to in the upcoming year:
Hurley, a NASA astronaut since 2000, flew on STS-127 and the final Shuttle flight, STS-135, totaling more than 28 days in space. Hurley is most excited about seeing all the spacecraft hardware coming together.
Williams, a NASA astronaut since 1998, flew to the space station on STS-116 as a member of Expeditions 14-15, returning on STS-117. Her second long-duration mission began aboard a Russian Soyuz for Expeditions 32-33. Cumulatively, she is approaching a year in space with more than 322 days in space.
Beyond the flight tests and launches, Williams is excited about the manufacturing underway.
“One of the coolest things is there’s hardware undergoing testing. This is a pretty exciting time. It’s like all the pieces and parts of the puzzle are coming together.”
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts training to fly test missions to and from the International Space Station are practicing returning to Earth from the microgravity laboratory. Recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia combines mixed reality simulations with astronauts wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, and secured in mock-up Starliner seats – the spacecraft being developed by Boeing. The testing allows astronauts to perform an exit from their seats in uncommon landing conditions. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. The astronauts wearing the mixed reality gear see a digital version of the interior of the Starliner as it would look in the real-life scenario while interacting with the environment around them.
In total, 30 practice runs were completed, some to familiarize the crew with the exit procedures and some additional timed runs. The Starliner is designed to land in the Western United States under parachutes and touch down on airbags located on the bottom of the spacecraft. In the event that the capsule does not land upright, testing in extreme conditions helps prepare astronauts for any situation, including an inverted position.
Boeing already has completed a series of parachute drop tests and full-scale landing qualification tests to understand a wide range of spacecraft conditions when returning to earth. The company also has used test dummies in stand-alone seat tests and incorporated the dummies into landing drop tests to understand impacts to crew members.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have been working with the astronauts training to fly the test missions to the International Space Station. The two commercial providers have been developing unique systems to meet the goal of returning crew launches to the United States. Boeing’s Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A. Both companies will begin their journeys from Florida’s Space Coast. Boeing plans to return on land, while SpaceX will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Recent SpaceX testing for return to Earth has included rescue and recovery training in the Atlantic with spacesuit-clad astronauts and personnel who will assist upon return to Earth.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, made significant strides in 2017 to return human spaceflight to the United States. Each company continued to develop and test unique space systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the International Space Station. Both companies are targeting flight tests in 2018.
Here’s the 2017 year in review:
Crew Rotation Missions Secured NASA’s Commercial Crew Program started the year by securing an additional four crew rotation missions from Boeing and SpaceX. The missions will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station through 2024. The four additional missions fall under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts and bring the total number of crew rotation missions awarded to each provider to six. The missions will fly following NASA certification.
To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, each company will carry out a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.
The Crew NASA’s four astronauts training to fly the test flights on Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spent time evaluating both providers’ progress during 2017. The astronauts are learning about the systems, being fitted for spacesuits and readying for flight tests to and from the International Space Station.
The International Space Station The International Space Station continued to prepare for the new commercial spacecraft to arrive. During Orbital ATK’s resupply mission to the space station in November, the cargo spacecraft maneuvered above the Harmony module prior to its release. There, it gathered data relevant to future rendezvous and docking operations for U.S. commercial crew vehicles that will be arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters. Other work included the space station crew installing and performing check-outs of a control panel on Harmony for the docking adapter.
The past year marked a substantial transition for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its partners as they moved from design of critical elements and systems in previous years to the manufacturing of the spacecraft and launch vehicles. Working on independent spacecraft and launch systems, Boeing and SpaceX made substantial modifications to launch complexes in Florida and performed the first integrated simulations of the teams that will oversee the flights. Along the way, advances were overseen by NASA engineers and the astronauts who will fly the spacecraft into orbit for the flight tests. Read about the dynamic 2016 achievements here.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program set out from its beginning to provide a setting that would combine the expertise of NASA’s 50 years of human spaceflight experience with the aerospace industry’s know-how in manufacturing to produce cutting-edge spacecraft to take astronauts into low-Earth orbit. The payoff has been a level of innovation in numerous areas of spacecraft development and operation.
“From the outset we received very creative ideas and original approaches to development of individual systems along with new processes used to build several spacecraft in rapid succession,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The companies painted for us an exciting picture of innovation and we’ve worked together to first refine our requirements and now to ensure that they are met as the crewed vehicles are taking shape.” Read more: http://go.nasa.gov/2fsl2IE
In case you missed it, President Barack Obama talked Thursday, Oct. 13, with the two companies developing the next generation of American spacecraft designed to take NASA astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station.
Touring exhibits by Boeing and SpaceX during the Frontiers Conference at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Obama discussed the immediate future of space exploration and touted the advances made in the public-private partnerships between the companies and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Because the new spacecraft will enable a larger space station crew and more research time in space, they are seen as critical avenues to help scientists and astronauts explore the best methods to send crews into deep space and eventually to Mars.
The goal is “to lead humanity farther out into the final frontier of space,” the president said. “Not just to visit, but to stay.”
Obama even took the controls of a simulator designed to mimic the flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. He conducted a Starliner docking maneuver similar to the one astronauts will actually fly in the future during crew rotation missions to the orbiting laboratory.
“Your ride is here,” Obama said after completing the exercise.
“I’m not sure who had more fun today – the president or me,” said NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor, who helped demonstrate how the simulator worked. “He was a natural docking the Starliner to the space station!”
The president also inspected SpaceX’s Crew Dragon design up-close and talked at length with Aunon-Chancellor and a company official.
“You almost want to get in and take off, don’t you?” the president said.
“While visiting Dragon, we discussed the future of human spaceflight and how important it is to safely and reliably get our crew to the station in low-Earth orbit so NASA can focus on human exploration in deep space,” Aunon-Chancellor said. “We’re excited about the progress our partners are making and look forward to flying with them soon.” Photo credit: Michael Henninger/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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.
Astronauts have new training equipment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston after Boeing installed its Crew Part-Task Trainers that simulate aspects of missions aboard the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The spacecraft and training systems are in development and manufacturing in partnership between the company and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in order to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station from launch sites in Florida.
Boeing officials, including former space shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, offered news media and others a tour of the facility in Houston where astronauts will rehearse for Starliner missions. Astronauts Suni Williams and Bob Behnken, two of four selected to train to fly Commercial Crew Program flight tests with Boeing and SpaceX, took the controls of the simulator to demonstrate the trainers as engineers looked on from separate workstations. During normal training operations, the engineers will oversee the situations as astronauts perform simulated missions.
NASA’s astronauts have relied on simulators from the beginning of human spaceflight to practice the critical steps of a mission before they have to perform the real thing. As simulators increased in capability, the training became so life-like that astronauts routinely reported simulator flights being more stressful than actual missions. For more: http://go.nasa.gov/2d7dmv0
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.
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.