NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on the Verge of Making History

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are on the verge of making history with the return of human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from United States soil.

The upcoming flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be the first time NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies. By allowing industry to provide transportation services to the space station, the agency can concentrate on developing emerging technologies for exploring distant destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit such as the Moon and Mars.

In September 2014, the agency announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station. This also will mark the return of launching U.S. astronauts on American spacecraft and rockets to low-Earth orbit since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

The inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, known as Demo-1, will be uncrewed and is designed to validate end-to-end systems and capabilities, leading to certification to fly a crew. SpaceX’s first crewed flight, Demo-2, will fully demonstrate the company’s ability to safely fly NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station. Behnken and Hurley have each flown two space shuttle missions.

In the near future, the uncrewed, opening act for Boeing’s Starliner, known as its Orbital Flight Test, will demonstrate the human transportation capabilities in advance of certification to fly astronauts to space. The first flight with crew aboard a Starliner, the Crew Flight Test, will fully demonstrate Boeing’s ability to fly humans safely to and from the International Space Station. Onboard will be NASA astronaut Mike Finke, a veteran of three spaceflights; NASA astronaut Nicole Mann; and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who previously led Starliner’s Crew and Mission Systems and flew three space shuttle missions.

CCP will provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit destinations, and it will end reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. As a result, the station’s current crew of six can grow, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

Launch Teams Simulate Boeing Uncrewed Flight Test Countdown

NASA astronaut Mike Fincke monitors Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) launch simulation. Fincke is assigned to Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, the first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner following OFT.

In preparation for Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Boeing and Department of Defense personnel conducted a successful integrated crew exercise on Feb. 12.

NASA Operations Integration Manager Michael Hess

Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of Starliner will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The joint team executed a mock countdown that practiced fueling the Atlas V and operating the unique launch day timeline that features a four-hour built-in hold to allow launch teams to work any technical issues that arise in the countdown. The hold is lifted four minutes prior to launch.

NASA OFT Mission Manager Eugene “Trip” Healey

The team was presented with simulated issues with hardware and downrange assets to exercise troubleshooting, problem resolution procedures and the coordination that goes into adjusting the countdown as necessary. There were even simulated challenges from the weather, forcing officials to react to changing weather conditions at the pad. The exercise culminated with a successful liftoff and climb into space.

Boeing Spacecraft Launch Conductor Louis Atchison

Formal rehearsals like this one allow launch teams in geographic locations across the country to function as one well-coordinated team.

Steve Payne, Launch Integration Manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

OFT will be the uncrewed test of Starliner as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during which Starliner will fly to the International Space Station for an automated rendezvous and docking, complete a short stay and then return to Earth; the mission is the precursor to Boeing’s flight test with crew.

You can find the latest targeted launch dates for Commercial Crew missions at https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/2019/02/06/nasa-partners-update-commercial-crew-launch-dates/.

NASA Announces Updated Crew Assignment for Boeing Flight Test

Astronaut Edward M. (Mike) Fincke, Expedition 9 NASA ISS science officer and flight engineer, performs one of multiple tests of the Capillary Flow Experiment investigation in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in September 2004.
Astronaut Edward M. (Mike) Fincke, Expedition 9 NASA ISS science officer and flight engineer, performs one of multiple tests of the Capillary Flow Experiment investigation in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in September 2004. Photo credit: NASA

NASA astronaut E. Michael “Mike” Fincke has been added to the crew of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s Crew Flight Test, scheduled to launch later this year.

Fincke takes the place of astronaut Eric Boe, originally assigned to the mission in August 2018. Boe is unable to fly due to medical reasons; he will replace Fincke as the assistant to the chief for commercial crew in the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Fincke will begin training immediately alongside NASA’s Nicole Mann and Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, who were both assigned to the mission in August 2018.

The Starliner’s Crew Flight Test will be the first time that the new spacecraft, which is being developed and built by Boeing as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is launched into space with humans on board.

For more information: https://go.nasa.gov/2UaSBOV.

SpaceX Demo-1 Launch Update

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft rolled out to Launch Complex 39A and went vertical for a dry run to prep for the upcoming Demo-1 flight test.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft rolled out to Launch Complex 39A and went vertical for a dry run to prep for the upcoming Demo-1 flight test. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are continuing to work on the activities leading toward the Demo-1, uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station. NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than February for the launch of Demo-1 to complete hardware testing and joint reviews. NASA and SpaceX will confirm a new target date after coordination with the Eastern Range and the International Space Station Program.

Ready to Rumble: Flight Tests Launching in 2019

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will make history in 2019 with the return of human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. Get ready for the rocket rumble: 2019 Preview

 

SpaceX Demo-1 Spacecraft and Rocket at Launch Pad

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket are positioned at the company’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ahead of the Demo-1 flight test targeted for January 17, 2019.

On Dec. 18, Vice President Mike Pence had the opportunity to tour the hangar and see the launch hardware up close.

The Demo-1 flight test is the precursor to the company’s Demo-2 flight test, which will fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Demo-2 is targeted for June 2019.

Commercial Crew: 2018 Year in Review

NASA and our partners have been busy this year manufacturing flight hardware, testing their systems and preparing for flight tests.  Our nine U.S. crew members have also participated in spacecraft system testing checkouts, spacesuit fit checks and launch simulations.

Here’s a look at some of our many accomplishments in 2018. https://www.nasa.gov/specials/CCP2018/ 

Final Rocket Segment Arrives in Florida

The first stage of the rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test has arrived in Cape Canaveral, Florida, completing delivery of all hardware for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

The Atlas V first stage booster rolled off of the Mariner cargo vessel on Dec. 7 at the Cape Canaveral wharf for the short drive to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center for receiving inspections and checkout.

Mariner is the ship that ULA uses to transport rocket segments, or stages, from the company’s manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama to the launch site in Florida. The Atlas V stage departed the factory Nov. 28 for the journey of nearly 2,000 miles.

Early in 2019, the stage will move further north to the Vertical Integration Facility to be raised on the mobile launch platform. The twin solid rocket boosters will be mounted to the bottom of the first stage. Then, the top of the rocket stack, which consists of the interstage, Centaur upper stage and payload adapter, will be hoisted into position.

This delivery means all of the hardware that ULA needs to launch the first Boeing Starliner has been received at the launch site for final integration.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to return human spaceflight launch capability to the United States. Following Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test in March 2019, the Starliner will launch on the Atlas V rocket with astronauts aboard for a Crew Flight Test to the space station targeting August 2019. Boeing also will fly a pad abort test in between the uncrewed and crew test missions.

 

New Target Date for SpaceX Demo-1

NASA and SpaceX provided an update on Jan. 10, 2019. For the details on the flight tests and the latest schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/2OTaK0J

NASA and SpaceX have agreed to move the target launch date of the uncrewed Demo-1 flight test to the International Space Station. SpaceX coordinated with the Eastern Range for a launch on Thursday, Jan 17. This adjustment allows the return of the Dragon spacecraft from the company’s 16th commercial resupply services mission. SpaceX’s Demo-1 will provide key data associated with the ground, integrated rocket and spacecraft, and autonomous docking systems, and the landing profile ahead of the company’s flight test with astronauts, known as Demo-2.

“We still have more work to do as the certification process, hardware development and readiness reviews continue,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The key readiness reviews along with NASA’s continued analysis of hardware and software testing and certification data must be closed out prior to launch. The upcoming steps before the test missions are critical, and their importance can’t be understated. We are not driven by dates, but by data. Ultimately, we’ll fly SpaceX Demo-1 at the right time, so we get the right data back to support the in-flight abort test and the next test flight when our astronauts are aboard. However, the fact we’re coordinating target dates with the Eastern Range is a great example of the real progress we’re making with commercial crew and how close we are to actually flying American spacecraft and rockets from American soil again.”

For more information on commercial crew flights, visit:

Commercial Crew Program Blogs

Launch Teams Simulate Boeing Uncrewed Flight Test Prelaunch Procedures

Inside the Boeing Mission Control Center at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., launch control teams for the CST-100 Starliner rehearse a fully integrated prelaunch simulation of the spacecraft’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test. Boeing Spacecraft Launch Conductor Louis Atchison speaks on console to the Mission Management Team as the countdown in the launch simulation progresses.

Boeing, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and NASA completed an integrated rehearsal of prelaunch procedures for Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket for commercial crew missions to the International Space Station. The simulation, conducted on Nov. 7, focused on launch procedures beginning at five hours before launch, and continuing through a simulated scrub before liftoff.

Inside the White Flight Control Room in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Boeing’s Flight Control Team rehearses prelaunch procedures for the company’s Orbital Flight Test of Starliner.

The rehearsal consisted of launch teams participating from Boeing and NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston. It incorporated voice communications, pad closeout events, polling for tanking, or fueling, readiness, and discussions about conditions, including flight hardware and weather.

Boeing’s Pad Team Lead, Melanie Weber, performs simulated prelaunch operations inside the Boeing Mockup Trainer for the Starliner located in Houston. As launch control teams from NASA, Boeing and ULA participate in a prelaunch rehearsal for the Starliner’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test, Weber practices her launch day pad operations from inside the trainer.

Prelaunch anomalies were introduced into the rehearsal to provide opportunities for the teams to execute their resolution process. A scrub was called during the countdown rehearsal, allowing participants to test procedures for a delay and a decision to de-tank and prepare for a launch attempt the next day.

Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), is slated for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in March 2019. This will be the first flight of the Starliner, and it is a major step toward demonstrating that the spacecraft is ready to begin carrying astronauts to the space station.

Members of NASA’s launch support team gather in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. to rehearse prelaunch operations for the Orbital Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The EOC is where directors for medical triage and launch rescue will execute real-time responses in the unlikely event of an emergency on launch day.

Boeing is manufacturing three Starliner spacecraft in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Starliner is designed to be reused up to 10 times.