Free Flight Completes Crucial Milestone for Dream Chaser

Having been dropped from an altitude of 12,400 feet, Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, as part of a successful free flight on Nov. 11, 2017. It was a crucial milestone to help finalize the design for the cargo version of the spacecraft for future resupply missions to the International Space Staton. Photo credit: NASA/Carla Thomas
Having been dropped from an altitude of 12,400 feet, Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, as part of a successful free flight on Nov. 11, 2017. It was a crucial milestone to help finalize the design for the cargo version of the spacecraft for future resupply missions to the International Space Station.
Photo credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft recently glided to a successful landing at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Completion of Dream Chaser’s free flight test on Nov. 11, 2017, was a major milestone under a space act agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA selected Sierra Nevada Corporation, along with Orbital ATK and SpaceX, for the agency’s second commercial resupply contracts to deliver critical science, research and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station from 2019 to 2024.

For the free flight test, a Columbia Helicopters model 234-UT heavy-lift helicopter carried aloft an uncrewed Dream Chaser test article, suspended at the end of a cable. The lifting-body, winged spacecraft had all the same outer mold line specifications as a flight-ready vehicle. A lifting body is a fixed-wing aircraft or spacecraft shaped so that the vehicle body itself produces lift.

After release, Dream Chaser glided on its own and landed in a manner similar to NASA’s space shuttles.

“It is very exciting that Sierra Nevada Corporation successfully completed this important free-flight test,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The Dream Chaser team has done an amazing job preparing for and executing this test and the Commercial Crew Program has been with them along the way. The Flight computers and avionics systems are the same as the orbital vehicle so this test will pave the way for future landings for the International Space Station missions.”

For the complete story on Dream Chaser’s first free flight, read the full article at: https://go.nasa.gov/2huQdVo .

Rocket Coming Together for Boeing’s First Commercial Crew Flight Test

The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama. The flight test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing's Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance
The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama. The flight test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing’s Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama.

The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing and United Launch Alliance have begun conducting integrated reviews of components, software and systems along with decades of Atlas data to ensure integrated vehicle test simulations are similar to real-life conditions during missions. Starliners for the uncrewed and crew test flights, including for the pad abort test, are in various stages of production and testing.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, as they each develop unique systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the space station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing’s Starliner will liftoff on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

First Look at the Crew Access Arm For Launch Complex 39A

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The access arm will be installed on the launch pad, providing a bridge between the crew access tower and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – or Dragon 2 – spacecraft for astronauts flying to the International Space Station on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The access arm is being readied for installation in early 2018. It will be installed 70 feet higher than the former space shuttle access arm on the launch pad’s Fixed Service Structure. SpaceX continues to modify the historic launch site from its former space shuttle days, removing more than 500,000 pounds of steel from the pad structure, including the Rotating Service Structure that was once used for accessing the payload bay of the shuttle. SpaceX also is using the modernized site to launch commercial payloads, as well as cargo resupply missions to and from the International Space Station for NASA. The first SpaceX launch from the historic Apollo and space shuttle site was this past February.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, with a goal of once again flying people to and from the International Space Station, launching from the United States. Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to launch on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41. For information on Boeing and ULA’s work on Space Launch Complex 41, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/crew-access-arm-installed-for-starliner-missions.

Dream Chaser Spacecraft Marks Critical Step Ahead of Free Flight Test

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Captive Carry Test on 8/30/17.Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser completed an important step toward orbital flight on Wednesday, with a successful captive carry test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, located on Edwards Air Force Base. A helicopter successfully carried a Dream Chaser test article, which has the same specifications as a flight-ready spacecraft, to the same altitude and flight conditions of an upcoming free flight test.

The captive carry is part of a series of tests for a developmental space act agreement SNC has with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The data from the tests help SNC validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.

The Dream Chaser is a lifting-body, winged spacecraft that will fly back to Earth in a manner similar to NASA’s space shuttles. The successful captive carry test clears the way for a free flight test of the spacecraft later this year in which the uncrewed Dream Chaser will be released to glide on its own and land.

The test campaign will also help finalize the design for cargo version of the Dream Chaser in preparation for the spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract beginning in 2019. The cargo Dream Chaser will fly at least six resupply missions to and from the space station by 2024.

Commercial Crew Missions Offer Research Bonanza for Space Station

Commercial Crew Program logo, International Space Station silhouette, microscope graphic
Credit: NASA

The addition of Boeing Starliners and SpaceX Crew Dragons to the manifest of spacecraft heading to the International Space Station in the near future raises more than the opportunities for astronauts to fly to and from space aboard American spacecraft. It also increases the amount of science and broadens the research that can be performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.

That’s because the new generation of human-rated spacecraft are being designed to carry time-critical science to and from the space station along with astronauts. Researchers will be able to work with astronauts aboard the station to undertake a wide array of different science investigations and will benefit from the increased opportunity to see their research returned back to Earth for continued examination.

The spacecraft also will aid in the goal of establishing and maintaining a crew of seven astronauts, which could increase the research time in microgravity. Mission planners anticipate that increasing the crew size on the U.S. segment by just one crew member could effectively double the amount of time dedicated each week to research.

Read the full feature here: https://go.nasa.gov/2vqmjo4

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Recovery and Rescue Teams Practice with Full-Size Crew Dragon Trainer

SpaceX, NASA and Air Force personnel who will help astronauts out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft returning from a mission to the International Space Station have begun practicing for that using a full-size model of the spacecraft. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule in the water. Recently, the Recovery Trainer was lowered into the Indian River Lagoon near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center so Air Force pararescue and others could learn techniques for getting aboard the spacecraft and rescuing the astronauts.

Such rescue practice is typical of all human missions because it gives astronauts and support teams many opportunities to practice and refine the critical steps in safely rescuing the crew in a contingency situation. A number of procedures will be developed and then practiced over time to deal with recoveries in many different conditions.

SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. The Recovery Trainer was built by SpaceX and subsequently modified by  Kennedy’s Prototype Lab to SpaceX specifications. The same dimensions as the outside mold line of a Crew Dragon, it has indicators where thrusters will be and other markings on the exterior. Inside, the crew area matches that of the operational spacecraft and includes an instrument panel.

SpaceX's Recovery Trainer was lowered into the Indian River Lagoon near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center so Air Force pararescue and others could learn techniques for getting aboard the spacecraft and rescuing the astronauts.
Photo Credit: SpaceX

Visit by Vice President Showcases Partnership Advances

Vice President Mike Pence saw a Florida spaceport Thursday poised in the starting blocks to return America’s human launch capability, begin a new era in deep-space exploration and capitalize on emerging partnerships with private industry.

Working in close partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a process new to human spacecraft development, Boeing and SpaceX are making independent spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station from America. Boeing is building a line of Starliner spacecraft and SpaceX is making a crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft. Both spacecraft, along with their launch vehicles, mission and launch control systems, are being certified by NASA for safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness.

Seen together, the transformation of the center shows the form of a spaceport that has embraced the potential of new partnership approaches while holding onto its heritage of success and broaden the range of exploration for the nation.

Driving through much of the launch and processing facilities spread throughout the 144,000 acres of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Pence saw launch pads rebuilt for the needs of privately operated rockets, former space shuttle hangars refit to serve as spacecraft factories and the assembly hall for NASA’s own deep-space exploration spacecraft, Orion.

Former astronaut Bob Cabana, Kennedy’s center director, guided the tour for Pence who was making his first stop at the center since becoming vice president. As vice president, Pence will serve as chairman of the newly reformed National Space Council that will set goals and establish policies for the United States’ space efforts.

“We are in a great position here at Kennedy, we made our vision a reality; it couldn’t have been done without the passion and energy of our workforce,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Cabana. “Kennedy is fully established as a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial partners in the space industry. As America’s premier multi-user spaceport, Kennedy continues to make history as it evolves, launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond.”

Read complete coverage of Pence’s visit to the Florida spaceport at www.nasa.gov.

Launch America: Louis Nguyen

As a NASA engineer in guidance, navigation and control, Nguyen evaluates the companies’ systems that steer and tell a spacecraft where it is and where it’s going. He works closely with both Boeing and SpaceX as the two companies build separate launch systems that NASA will certify for use.

“Each partner is different and offers different challenges,” Nguyen said. “We’ve developed a rapport with the engineers so they understand we’re here to share ideas and our assessments of the design. We’re really here to support them and their goals because they are our goals too.”

Read Nguyen’s full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2tY9gJn

Crew Dragon Trainer Takes Shape at Kennedy

NASA and SpaceX engineers are working together at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to build a full-scale Crew Dragon model, or Recovery Trainer, that will be used by the U.S. Air Force to perform flight-like rescue and recovery training exercises in the open ocean later this year.

The model, shown above with astronauts Dan Burbank and Victor Glover inside, is built to mimic the Crew Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX is developing with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule. The Recovery Trainer will be used by the Air Force to prepare procedures and train for this contingency scenario. The trainer also has two working hatches and other simulated components similar to the ones astronauts and support teams will encounter in real missions.

Scott Colloredo, deputy director of Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate, said the engineers adapted SpaceX designs of internal elements to be compatible with the trainer and worked with Kennedy’s Prototype Development Lab to produce the parts quickly and install them inside the trainer. The Prototype Development Lab designs, fabricates and tests prototypes, test articles and test support equipment. The lab has a long history of providing fast solutions to complex operations problems. The lab’s teams of engineers use specialized equipment to produce exacting, one-of-a-kind items made from a range of materials depending on the design.

“We perform things that complement what the partners and programs provide,” Colloredo said. “The team delivered right to the minute.”

SpaceX is now finalizing modifications to the trainer to ensure it floats in water in the same way as the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Following those modifications, the trainer will enter service as the primary training vehicle for Crew Dragon astronaut recovery operations.

Commercial Crew Spacecraft Will Offer a Quick Escape from Station

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The crew of the International Space Station will be able to count on Commercial Crew Program spacecraft in case of an emergency in orbit. As with all the needs for the new spacecraft, NASA outlined a list of requirements for designers to meet. For the most part, it means the spacecraft can be powered on quickly while docked to the station, even if it has been dormant for weeks or a couple of months. From air circulation fans to life support systems to thrusters, the spacecraft’s systems will be designed to engage in minutes.

“Some systems will take longer to bring online, but the idea is to have spacecraft that astronauts can get into quickly for survival and then use to pull away from the station and come home if that is needed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Read the full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2ordbuQ