Veteran NASA astronaut Suni Williams is one of the few who have launched on missions to the International Space Station aboard both American and Russian spacecraft. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, with its aim to certify and launch astronauts aboard a new generation of American spacecraft, offers new opportunities for the nation to learn more about the work station crews already are performing on the orbiting laboratory. The new spacecraft also will present NASA with the chance to double the amount of scientific research time performed by astronauts on the station, with the crew going from 40 hours a week to 80 after another crew member is added to the current roster of six station residents. Watch Williams discuss Commercial Crew’s potential here.
Read our recap of today’s news media briefing with NASA’s administrator, Commercial Crew Program manager and astronaut along with Boeing and SpaceX officials. Not to spoil it, but exciting times are near as everyone works toward launches with crews in 2017.
By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Spacecraft systems testing followed by increasingly complex flight tests and ultimately astronauts flying orbital flights will pave the way during the next few years to operational missions to the International Space Station that will deliver crews on American vehicles launching from American soil for the first time since 2011.
That is the path forward laid out Monday as two companies and teams of engineers work toward building safe, reliable and cost-effective spacecraft and systems that will take astronauts to the station from American launch complexes.
Boeing’s schedule calls for a pad abort test in February 2017, followed by an uncrewed flight test in April 2017, then a flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017.
SpaceX anticipates a pad abort test later this spring as part of the previous development phase, then an uncrewed flight test in late 2016 and a flight test with crew in early 2017.
Speaking for the first time since the awarding of the final development and certification contracts, officials from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX revealed some of the details of their plans to cross the chasm from spacecraft and launch system design to flight tests, certification and operational missions to the station.
“It’s an incredible testament to American ingenuity and know-how, and an extraordinary validation of the vision we laid out just a few years ago as we prepared for the long-planned retirement of the space shuttle,” said Charlie Bolden, NASA administrator. “This work is part of a vital strategy to equip our nation with the technologies for the future and inspire a new generation of explorers to take the next giant leap for America.”
Boeing and SpaceX were selected in September 2014 to finalize their respective CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft along with the rockets that will lift them into orbit and all of the ground and mission operations networks essential for safe flights. Both companies have worked with the Commercial Crew Program throughout multiple development phases, continuing to advance their designs before being chosen to complete their systems, reach certification and then fly astronauts to the station.
The goal of NASA’s effort is to provide an American launch vehicle and spacecraft capable of safely carrying astronauts to the station. Unlike other NASA spacecraft, though, this new generation of human-rated vehicles will be designed, built, operated and owned by the companies themselves, not NASA. NASA will buy space transportation services from the companies for astronauts and powered cargo just as the agency does already with the Commercial Resupply Services initiative that uses privately developed and operated rockets and spacecraft to deliver critical cargo to the station.
- More Than One Provider: American industrialization has long shown the benefits to customers of competitive markets, and NASA is capitalizing on that approach through the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The agency selected two independent systems designed by Boeing and SpaceX that, once certified, will add to the fleet of ships serving the International Space Station. Multiple awards maximizes meeting the program objectives, provides more options and flexibility for the agency throughout contract performance, reduces overall risk to the program, and best ensures successfully accomplishing safe, reliable missions to the station. Boeing and SpaceX are moving forward on their respective plans, providing NASA options for its transportation service needs while meeting the agency’s rigorous demands for safety.
- American Launches: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is restoring the nation’s capability to launch astronauts once again from Florida’s iconic spaceport. Boeing and SpaceX plan to use hangars and launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to ready their spacecraft, rockets and crews for flight.
- More Research In Space: The Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon will carry four crew members each mission, which will enable the crew complement on the International Space Station to increase from six to seven crew members. As a result, the total crew research time on the orbiting laboratory can expand from 40 hours each week to 80, enabling critical science investigations that increase our understanding of what it takes to live and work in space while also benefiting life on Earth.
- Methodical Approach To Safety: NASA’s extensive experience and expertise in human spaceflight has produced a robust encyclopedia that will be put to use in certifying new designs for use by America’s astronauts. The agency’s spaceflight experts have worked closely with industry partners as they detailed their designs and tested components and will remain in close contact with them through increasingly complex testing and flight milestones. The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, also is a partner in ensuring the launches meet public safety requirements.
- Joint Test Team: Astronauts who will fly Commercial Crew missions to the station will work closely with contractor-led test teams throughout the final phases of development and certification of the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon. This Joint Test Team approach will include a NASA astronaut on board the flight test to the International Space Station. This approach follows NASA’s historical approach of having crew members intimately involved in the development of their spacecraft.
- Making Progress: NASA and its industry partners know that going from design to construction and operations is a complex process that requires extra attention to detail. Boeing and SpaceX will build myriad ground systems, adapt facilities to use as processing hangars and upgrade control centers that are needed to safely and successfully fly humans to and from the International Space Station.
- Ease Of Operation: The new generation of American crewed spacecraft will use computer and avionics technology that will make the spacecraft far less strenuous for crews to operate. Many tasks will be automated, but astronauts will be able to assume manual control if necessary. Getting to space is never easy, but it will be more automated.
- American Ingenuity: While NASA defined requirements for the space systems that will carry the nation’s astronauts to the station, it left the design details and development approach to the companies. This approach allowed companies to incorporate their own innovations to make a cost-effective space system that can be suited to other customer needs as well as NASA’s.
- Certification, Then Operation: Before either spacecraft flies with astronauts aboard, NASA will certify that they meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements. The interim development milestones outlined by Boeing and SpaceX will provide incremental progress along the way to show each is safe to fly. Once certified, NASA will use the systems to fly U.S. and U.S.-sponsored astronauts to the International Space Station. The crew systems also will serve as a lifeboat for the station in case of an emergency.
- Parallel Path For Human Space Exploration: NASA’s work to turn over low-Earth orbit astronaut transportation to commercial companies allows the agency to use other resources to develop the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket for missions into deep space and for eventual journeys to Mars. Both destinations – the International Space Station and deep space – are vital in the nation’s space exploration efforts, and one cannot be successful without the other.
Want to learn more about NASA’s Launch America initiative and the exciting work Boeing and SpaceX will do to prepare to fly astronauts? Tune into the Commercial Crew Path Forward briefing on NASA TV at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at noon EST (11 a.m. CST) Monday, Jan. 26. http://go.nasa.gov/1CCx9TU
NASA today released its rationale behind the decision to award Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. The CCtCap Source Selection Statement is the formal explanation for the contract choice and was not previously released because it was under a protective order and blackout while the Government Accountability Office reviewed a protest Sierra Nevada Corporation filed.
We’re almost two weeks into 2015, so if you don’t have some new digits dangling from your door or wall by now it’s time to catch up. The good news is we can help. Download our 2015 edition of the Commercial Crew Program’s children’s artwork calendar today and you won’t have to keep looking back at yesteryear!
NASA issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision to deny a protest Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, filed Sept. 26, 2014, challenging the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) Contract awards made Sept. 16, 2014, to The Boeing Company, of Houston and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California.
“The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation’s protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO’s decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision.”
Read the GAO’s full statement on its ruling at:
We’re looking forward to an exciting 2015 here at Commercial Crew. A sampling of our calendar: two abort tests, a free-flight test, and component evaluations. All of these are important steps as NASA and our partners progress toward launching space station crews again from American soil!
Are you looking for something fun for the kids to do today while they wait for Santa? Encourage them to color his Commercial Crew sleigh past the International Space Station. As always, you can learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.