Crew-2 Astronauts Conduct First “Fly Around” from Inside Crew Dragon

Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Pilot Megan McArthur monitor data inside Crew Dragon during their return to Earth on Nov. 8, 2021.
Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Pilot Megan McArthur monitor data inside Crew Dragon during their return to Earth on Nov. 8, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Pilot Megan McArthur monitor data as Mission Specialist Thomas Pesquet captures photos of the International Space Station during the first ever “fly around” of the complex from inside a commercial Crew Dragon. Joined by Mission Specialist Aki Hoshide aboard spacecraft Endeavour after its undocking Monday afternoon, the four crew members departed the station after 197 days there and are in their final hours in space. They are scheduled to splashdown at 10:33 p.m. EST off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Live coverage continues on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Below is a look at the International Space Station as seen from inside Crew Dragon Endeavor.

A view of the International Space Station from inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Deorbit Burn Complete; NASA Astronauts Behknen and Hurley are Heading Home

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavor” spacecraft during the deorbit burn.
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavor” spacecraft during the deorbit burn. Image credit: NASA TV

The deorbit burn is complete, and the SpaceX Crew Dragon is on its way back to Earth with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, is expected at approximately 2:48 p.m. EDT. The spacecraft’s nosecone will be closed in the next few minutes.

The Crew Dragon undocked from the International Space Station yesterday at 7:35 p.m. EDT, ending more than two months of docked operations at the orbiting laboratory during NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Hurley and Behnken arrived at the orbiting laboratory in the Crew Dragon May 31 following a launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30.

This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.

Partnerships Spur Industry for Flourishing Space Commerce

Throughout NASA’s history, the agency has worked with industry and academia to explore and utilize the space frontier. Contractors built rockets, satellites and spacecraft. Colleges and universities have worked with NASA scientists and engineers to develop technology to support investigations leading to discoveries.

As the 30-year Space Shuttle Program was drawing to a close, NASA again began plans to reach beyond low-Earth orbit. To allow a focus on exploration to the Moon and Mars, NASA has entered into partnerships with industry opening a variety of new opportunities.

A little more than two years after the final shuttle flight, SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft began successfully launching atop their company’s Falcon 9 and Antares rockets to resupply the International Space Station. The companies developed the rockets and spacecraft through public-private partnerships under the agency’s commercial resupply services contracts.

Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser

More recently, NASA selected Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft to join with Northrop Grumman and SpaceX, in delivering critical science, research and technology experiments to the space station for the agency’s second commercial resupply contracts from 2019 to 2024.

Additionally, NASA formed the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner

In September 2014, NASA announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station aboard their CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. This will end the nation’s reliance on Russia to transport crews to the orbiting laboratory. Boeing’s Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and SpaceX Falcon 9 will power the company’s Crew Dragon to orbit.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at Launch Complex 39A

The first uncrewed Demo-1 test flight of the Crew Dragon is slated for March 2, 2019 and the Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is planned for no earlier than April 2019. The inaugural crewed missions of the Crew Dragon and Starliner are set to take place later this year.

The flourishing U.S. space industry continues its growth with Blue Origin building a facility to manufacture and launch reusable rockets from just outside the gates of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. For launch operations, Blue Origin plans to refurbish Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a no-longer-needed Atlas II launch pad. This is the first time an entire rocket system will be built and processed on Florida’s Space Coast.

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.

NASA, Industry Team Up to Innovate Human Spaceflight

CCP-1275x1650NASA’s Commercial Crew Program set out from its beginning to provide a setting that would combine the expertise of NASA’s 50 years of human spaceflight experience with the aerospace industry’s know-how in manufacturing to produce cutting-edge spacecraft to take astronauts into low-Earth orbit. The payoff has been a level of innovation in numerous areas of spacecraft development and operation.

“From the outset we received very creative ideas and original approaches to development of individual systems along with new processes used to build several spacecraft in rapid succession,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The companies painted for us an exciting picture of innovation and we’ve worked together to first refine our requirements and now to ensure that they are met as the crewed vehicles are taking shape.” Read more:


CCP at 5: The Verge of New Era


Five years in, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is at the doorstep of launch for a new generation of spacecraft and launch vehicles that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, enhance microgravity research and open the windows to the dawn of a new era in human space transportation.

The agency asked industry to take the lead in designing, building and operating a space system that would carry astronauts. NASA offered its expertise in human spaceflight and wrote out the top-level requirements for safety and other considerations to prepare for flight tests. NASA will certify the vehicles for flight tests and finally operational missions. The companies apply their own knowledge and skills in designing, manufacturing and running the systems. Ultimately, NASA will buy the flights as a service from the companies.

“It’s what we hoped the program to be and honestly a lot more,” said Wayne Ordway, who began as the manager of the Commercial Crew Program’s Spacecraft Office and rose to the position associate program manager.

This progress was hoped for, but took tremendous work and flexibility, according to members of the early efforts to transform the fledgling vision of a close partnership between NASA and private industry into a functioning organization capable of establishing requirements for a new generation of human-rated spacecraft and then seeing to it that those requirements were met.

“This is a new way of doing business, a new era in spaceflight, and when it’s all said and done, the Commercial Crew Program’s legacy will be bringing human spaceflight launches back to the U.S.,” said Kelvin Manning, who was involved in the early planning days of the commercial crew effort, and is now associate director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “That’s a big deal and our teams are making it happen.” Read the whole story at

Young Explorers’ Artwork Featured in 2016 Calendar

2016 Commercial Crew Children's Artwork CalendarSome of the best works of art come from children who are only limited by their imaginations, like the more than 150 young explorers from across the country who submitted artwork depicting human spaceflight as they see it. Sixteen masterpieces were chosen to be included in the Commercial Crew Program’s 2016 Children’s Artwork Calendar, which is now available for download here. We offer a huge “thank you!” to all the explorers, ranging in age from four to 12, who submitted their work and hope that everyone will enjoy and use this calendar next year.

Dream Chaser Nears Second Free-Flight Test


DreamChaser-InsideTechA full-scale engineering test article of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is nearing completion leading to a second round of atmospheric evaluations at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The flight testing, which calls for the Dream Chaser to be released high over California’s Rogers Dry Lakebed and glide to a safe landing, will build upon an earlier free-flight test milestone that returned valuable data for the design team.Dream Chaser composite unit images

In a presentation at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, the company said it has included numerous modifications to the latest version of the Dream Chaser, including structural and systems improvements to its composite wings and aeroshells. The company also maturated its avionics and software, as well as guidance and navigation and control systems. Completing a second free-flight test is part of the Space Act Agreement between Sierra Nevada Corporation and NASA under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) development phase of the Commercial Crew Program. In addition to the engineering test article upgrades, the company has made significant progress on the build of the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle, the design for which will be reviewed during a future CCiCap milestone.

Dream Chaser is designed to carry humans safely into low-Earth orbit inside the winged spacecraft flying a mission profile similar to that of a space shuttle. Like the shuttle, Dream Chaser will be capable of gliding back to a runway landing at the end of the mission.


Tile Shop Prepping Heat Shields for Future Flights

19151122956_59118c0bd7_oBy Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Heat shield tiles are getting stronger to make the next generation of American spacecraft safer as they experience searing heat and plasma on their way back into Earth’s atmosphere for landing.

The Thermal Protection System Facility is equipped with a variety of specialized tools to produce the precise tile shapes unique to each spacecraft’s design. For the first time since 2011, about 75 media and social media representatives toured the workshop and got a glimpse into how tiles are developed. Demonstrations also were performed, such as how waterproofing tiles protects spacecraft from rain, sleet and snow.

18556657483_5bc83e726d_oTiles developed in the facility were used on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which performed its first flight test in December 2014. Data obtained about the thermal protection system during the flight test will help engineers refine the spacecraft’s system ahead of its first uncrewed flight, Exploration Mission-1, and first crewed mission to orbit around the moon in the 2020s, preparing NASA for longer journeys to Mars.

Jacobs Technology engineers are producing test samples that will be used to protect the Dream Chaser spacecraft under development by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in partnership with the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The facility is the same workshop that produced space shuttle heat shield tiles at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more than 30 years.

SNC continues to advance its development of the reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft that launches vertically atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and returns to Earth for a runway landing. Like the shuttle, the Dream Chaser will use several kinds of protective materials on the outside of the spacecraft to form a protective barrier. Tiles made from improved silica-based blocks will make up most of the belly and upper portion of the heat shield, while a new material developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center called “TUFROC” will cover the nose and leading edges. Those are the surfaces that must resist and mitigate the highest temperatures the spacecraft experiences from the friction of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Another factor that makes the tiles desirable for a heat shield: they are mostly air. As a result, the tiles are extremely lightweight, a vital factor for spacecraft design in which weight is the primary driver of launch costs.

At first glance, the white blocks with a Styrofoam texture look no different than the thousands of blocks made for the space shuttle heat shields before being coated with a black ceramic material. But these new blocks incorporate advanced materials, making them stronger while maintaining the capability to prevent searing plasma from jeopardizing a spacecraft or its crew during the hazardous phase of a mission as the crew returns from orbit through Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a landing.

The nose skid of the Dream Chaser currently is outfitted with thermal protection system tiles to assess performance in preparation for a free-flight test of the spacecraft at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center targeted for later this year.


Dream Chaser Prepares for Flight

Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser June 2015-blog

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser engineering test article is being prepped for its second free-flight test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California later this year. The flight test is a milestone under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with SNC.  The wings, windows and landing gear are installed. The Dream Chaser’s the nose skid will have thermal protection system tiles on the vehicle, manufactured at Kennedy Space Center’s Thermal Protection System Facility, for the flight test. The performance of the tiles will be assessed following the touch down on the runway.

SNC will share their thermal protection system work and a status of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to media and social media attending CRS-7 activities at Kennedy Space Center next week.