Astronauts slated to fly on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner for its upcoming Crew Flight Test recently toured two spacecraft testing facilities in southern California. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, met with employees who conduct the structural and environmental testing on the spacecraft built to ferry them to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.
Upcoming environmental qualification testing is a major milestone on the road to launch. Performed at the El Segundo, Calif. test facility, it ensures that the CST-100 Starliner, designed and built in Florida, can withstand the extreme environments of space. Likewise, structural testing conducted in Huntington Beach verifies that the vehicle hardware is adequately built to withstand the pressures and load dynamics during flight.
Boeing test teams will put the spacecraft through several assessments including thermal vacuum testing which simulates hot and cold temperature swings the vehicle experiences on orbit. They’ll also perform acoustic testing, meant to safely shake the capsule to ensure it’s been properly built, and electromagnetic testing to see whether the frequencies expected in space would cause any dangerous interference.
Commercial crew astronauts are rehearsing their movements in space for when they launch on Boeing and SpaceX missions to the International Space Station. Astronauts Suni Williams (above) and Mike Hopkins (below left) recently practiced spacewalking in the Virtual Reality Lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The training is designed to be as realistic as possible, with real time graphics and motion simulators to replicate the space environment.
NASA uses virtual reality for spacewalk training. The astronauts see a virtual representation of the space station through their goggles and are able to practice moving around on its exterior, without the drag that they would experience from the water in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, NASA’s enormous swimming pool where astronauts practice spacewalking underwater. They can practice maneuvering safely back to the space station as well as plotting paths from worksite to worksite.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to return human spaceflight launches to the United States in 2019. Williams is assigned to Boeing’s first operational mission after the company’s test flight with crew. Hopkins is assigned to SpaceX’s first operational mission after the company’s test flight with crew.
*NASA, Boeing and SpaceX provided an update on April 3, 2019. For the details on the flight tests and the latest schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/2FN9wRY.
The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. 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 Demo-1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following target dates reflect the current schedule as of Friday, Nov. 9, following a joint commercial crew and International Space Station program review.
Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): March 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Between OFT and CFT
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): August 2019
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): January 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: Between Demo-1 and Demo-2
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): June 2019
Following the test flights, NASA will review the performance data and resolve issues as necessary to certify the systems for operational missions. Boeing, SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program are actively working to be ready for the operational missions; however, as with all human spaceflight development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.
Anticipated Readiness Dates for Operational Missions: First operational mission: August 2019
Second operational mission: December 2019
Boeing and SpaceX are getting ready to launch astronauts from U.S. soil, but getting off the ground is just the beginning. Once they arrive at the International Space Station, astronauts will be working on research to improve life on Earth, and help us send humans into deep space—farther than ever before.
Today, NASA announced the astronauts who will launch aboard new American-made spacecraft and rocket systems, the first human launches from the United States since 2011. Nine U.S. astronauts, eight NASA and one from Boeing, were assigned to the first test flights and operational missions for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
This public-private partnership marks the beginning of a new era of human spaceflight. NASA has worked closely with Boeing and SpaceX as the companies design, develop, and test their systems to ensure safe, reliable and cost-effective commercial transportation for astronauts to low-Earth orbit. This will be an unprecedented achievement for the commercial space industry, and will allow NASA to focus on deep space exploration with NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System, as we return humans to the Moon and on to Mars.