Engineers recently timed an MRAP armored vehicle for potential launch pad evacuation routes as preparations for Commercial Crew flights move ahead. The 45,000-pound MRAP is a great improvement over the M113 used during the space shuttle era in many regards. Larger and more powerful, the MRAP offers a mobile bunker to astronauts and ground crews in the unlikely event they have to get away from the launch pad quickly in an emergency. Read more of the details about the testing and what it means for the next generation of human-rated spacecraft launching astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station: http://go.nasa.gov/1fkcCOw
Different destinations call for different vehicles and approaches on Earth – just ask anyone who has taken an RV on a family vacation! NASA is applying that philosophy to space exploration with Commercial Crew and the Orion/Space Launch System.
The two spacecraft under development by Commercial Crew providers Boeing and SpaceX are destined for the International Space Station, orbiting more than 250 miles above Earth. Astronauts will fly inside the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to reach the station where they will conduct research off the Earth, for the Earth. Both the CST-100 and Crew Dragon will fly into space aboard rockets certified to safely carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to be launched aboard the massive Space Launch System, the first rocket since the Saturn V designed to send astronauts beyond the bounds of Earth orbit and into deep space. Astronauts inside Orion will conduct exploration missions to near-Earth asteroids and in the proving ground around the moon before making the journey to Mars in the 2030s. It’s a strategy involving all of the space agency’s human spaceflight knowledge and hard-won experience.
NASA’s approach for returning human spaceflight capabilities to the International Space Station frees up low-Earth orbit for entrepreneurial opportunities and enables the agency to meet the challenges of deep space exploration. The two systems under final development and certification by our Commercial Crew partners in the American aerospace industry will ensure safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station. Learn how the pieces fit together for America’s future with this fact sheet.
Moving the Permanent Multipurpose Module from the Unity node on the International Space Station to a connection on the Tranquility module took hours to complete, but in this 4k-resolution video it only takes a minute. Flight controllers in Houston remotely commanded the station’s robotic arm to remove the PMM, which is used as a storage area for the orbiting laboratory, and swing it into place on Tranquility. The relocation was made to free the Earth-facing port on Unity for use as a backup docking location for Commercial Crew spacecraft due to start bringing astronauts to the station in the near future.
Other changes will be made to the station during the next several months to completely outfit the unique spacecraft for spaceships under development by Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA took another step toward returning America’s ability to launch crew missions to the International Space Station from the United States in 2017. Commercial Crew ordered its first crew rotation mission from The Boeing Company. SpaceX is expected to receive its first order later this year. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.
“Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the Commercial Crew and station programs,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of Commercial Crew. “Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions.”
Missions flown to the station on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of scientific research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory. A standard mission to the station will carry four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.
“Commercial Crew launches are critical to the International Space Station Program because it ensures multiple ways of getting crews to orbit,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “It also will give us crew return capability so we can increase the crew to seven, letting us complete a backlog of hands-on critical research that has been building up due to heavy demand for the National Laboratory.”
The relocation of the Permanent Multipurpose Module is complete. The PMM was robotically relocated from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module on the International Space Station to the forward port of the Tranquility module in the next step to reconfigure the complex for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew vehicles. Robotic flight controllers at Mission Control, Houston, working in tandem with the Mobile Servicing System Operations Center at the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in St. Hubert, Quebec, Canada, used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to maneuver the 11-ton module a short distance to its new location. Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineer Scott Kelly of NASA supervised the commanding of the bolting of the PMM to Tranquility. The PMM’s hatch will be reopened tomorrow.
The operation opened the Earth-facing port of Unity as another berthing location for U.S. commercial cargo vehicles. Future U.S. commercial crew vehicles will arrive at the space-facing and forward ports of the Harmony module, which will continue its transformation later this year when a pair of International Docking Adapters will be delivered on the seventh and ninth NASA-contracted SpaceX cargo resupply missions. The IDAs will be attached to Pressurized Mating Adapters 2 and 3, enabling the station to host up to two U.S. commercial cargo and two U.S. commercial crew vehicles at any given time.
NASA is committed to returning American space launches to U.S. soil, and an important step toward achieving that goal took place today as our commercial partner, SpaceX, undertook a flight test to see how its Crew Dragon capsule performed on a simulated escape from an emergency at launch.
SpaceX and The Boeing Company both are working on commercial space transportation systems to launch American astronauts from the United States by 2017 and end our sole reliance on the Russians to reach space. As we move toward certification of these systems, safety remains our number one priority. The pad abort test today gives us crucial insight into how SpaceX’s system would perform if a booster failed at liftoff or in any other scenario that would threaten astronauts inside the spacecraft.
The test was one of the milestones NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX agreed to as part of the developmental effort for a privately owned and operated crew transportation system that can safely and economically carry crews to and from low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft was equipped to gather lots of information about the test and the engines, with 270 sensors and a life-sized dummy as part of the cargo.
Commercial crew is a critical component of our journey to Mars. It will enable regular service to low-Earth orbit with astronauts by 2017 while NASA develops technologies like solar electric propulsion and radiation shielding that will take us farther into the solar system. The innovation of our partners has opened a whole new segment of the economy, created good jobs, and yielded new technologies for traveling to orbit. Our investment in commercial space is paying off with achievements like this pad abort test, as well as regular cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. We must continue those investments if we are to meet our goal of launching from America again in 2017.
We’re proud of the continued progress our commercial partners are making and look forward to a robust commercial crew program as part of an integrated strategy for fully utilizing the International Space Station as a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. Today’s test gets us closer to this challenging but achievable goal.
The Commercial Crew Program is four years old this week, and what a four years it has been — every year seems to bring accomplishments that outpace those of the year before! The program was formed to facilitate the development of U.S. commercial crew space transportation systems with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.
In the past year, we’ve expanded our focus beyond the development stages of spacecraft and launch vehicle systems to complete crew transportation systems. We are working closely with four industry partners — Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX — with our sights firmly set on the horizon of a new dawn of spaceflight in the very near future. We’re moving into the flight testing and certification phase with Boeing and SpaceX, the two companies chosen to take astronauts from American launch sites to the International Space Station.
We have a lot of work to do, but the goal is within reach! So let’s light these candles — one for each partner — and get on with our innovations! (By the way, we light our candles on the bottom for liftoff!)
We always get asked what our Commercial Crew logo means, so here’s a little bit of detail about the stylized swoosh and star that means so much to us here. The central design was inspired by the astronaut symbol of three lines converging at a point topped by a star and unified by a circle representing the goal of putting an astronaut into orbit, shown on the right.
For Commercial Crew, we brought the three lines together but gave them different colors – red, white and blue for America – and leaned the whole arrangement to the right to represent moving into the bright future of a stylized spacecraft represented by the star. The three lines also represent NASA working together with the American aerospace industry to accomplish the common goal of safely and cost-effectively launching astronauts into Earth orbit. We also retained a semi-circle representing orbital spaceflights, but we made it into two concentric partial circles that produce a pair of C’s for Commercial Crew.
It takes teamwork on a lot of levels to meet substantial goals and the logo was the result of a lot of hard work by Commercial Crew engineer Jon Cowart along with Carol Scott and Mike Sterling who took the time to get the feel just right. They created imagery we could all take pride in and something that would reflect America’s space-faring accomplishments and ambitions.
Former International Space Station commander and space shuttle astronaut Mike Fincke is part of the team working toward launching people again from American launch pads along Florida’s Space Coast on research missions to the station. The orbiting laboratory is a one-of-a-kind scientific platform built for microgravity research relating to fields of biology, technology and materials science. One more person on the station will allow the orbiting team to double the amount of crew time dedicated to research there to 80 hours a week. By carrying a fourth astronaut, for a total of seven crew members, NASA will be able to utilize the station to its fullest potential.
By working with the commercial aerospace industry, NASA is able to focus on sending astronauts deeper into space than ever before with the Orion Spacecraft and Space Launch System. How cool is that?