NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Jan. 4, 2020, for a critical In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval.
As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.
The In-Flight Abort Test follows a series of static fire engine tests of the spacecraft conducted Nov. 13 near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Today, SpaceX completed a series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in advance of an in-flight launch escape demonstration, known as the In-Flight Abort Test.
The engine tests, conducted near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, began with two burns for a duration of one-second each for two of Crew Dragon’s 16 Draco thrusters. The Draco thrusters are used for on-orbit maneuvering and attitude control, and would also be used for re-orientation during certain in-flight launch escapes. Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff.
In quick succession, immediately after the SuperDracos shut down, two Dracos thrusters fired and all eight SuperDraco flaps closed, mimicking the sequence required to reorient the spacecraft in-flight to a parachute deploy attitude and close the flaps prior to reentry. The full sequence, from SuperDraco startup to flap closure, spanned approximately 70 seconds.
In April, during a similar set of engine tests, the spacecraft experienced an anomaly which led to an explosion and loss of the vehicle. In the following months, an Anomaly Investigation Team made up of SpaceX and NASA personnel determined that a slug of liquid propellant in the high-flow helium pressurization system unexpectedly caused a titanium ignition event resulting in an explosion. Based on that investigation’s findings and months of testing, SpaceX redesigned components of the system to eliminate the possibility of slugs entering the high-flow pressurization system.
Today’s tests will help validate the launch escape system ahead of Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from today’s test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test.
NASA and SpaceX conducted a formal verification of the company’s emergency escape, or egress, system at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Sept. 18, 2019. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Shannon Walker participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and swiftly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2.
“This demonstration allowed all the various teams responsible for ground operations, system design, ground safety and emergency management to observe and verify the system is ready for operational use,” said Steve Payne, launch operations integrator for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s a system we hope we never have to use, but we have to be prepared for every scenario.”
During the exercise, Behnken and Walker demonstrated two escape methods to show the crew could leave the 265-foot-level of the launch tower quickly. One method was an expedited non-emergency egress, where the crew started at the end of the crew access arm, called the white room, as if they just exited the capsule, and descended the crew access tower by taking the elevator to the base of the launch pad. Then, they were picked up by the pad team to be returned to crew quarters.
The other method involved an emergency egress, where the crew and pad team started at the crew access arm and escape to the ground using the slidewire baskets, with all alarms and fire suppression systems activated. From there, they boarded an armored vehicle that took them to safety.
“Safety of crew members is the top priority,” Walker said. “This was a great opportunity to test the emergency egress system and procedures on the pad.”
SpaceX provided a demonstration of activating alarms and beacons, putting on emergency breathing air bottles and activating the water deluge system on the crew access level, followed by egress from the white room. The astronauts also practiced loading into the baskets. The release mechanisms were also tested, and a weighted empty basket was sent down the length of the slidewire cable to the landing area.
The slidewire baskets have had a number of design improvements since they were used during the shuttle era. A new braking system was added that regulates the speed as astronauts descend the slidewire, which makes for a smoother ride for the crew. Adjustments to the system have also made dismounting the slidewire baskets much easier than with the previous design.
Also, the platform used for emergency escape on the tower was relocated and reinstalled to the 265-foot-level, up 70 feet from its original shuttle-era location, in order to accommodate a taller launch vehicle.
“If the emergency egress system were ever to be needed to escape from a hazardous event, we want to have complete confidence that it will operate as designed and get our flight crew and pad personnel off the tower quickly and safely,” Payne said.
The verification team also included personnel from the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA Flight Surgeons, SpaceX systems engineers, Kennedy Aero Medical, Commercial Crew Program Safety, and other observers.
“Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn’t help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day,” Behnken said. “It’s exciting to have this verification test behind us on our way to the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.”
As commercial crew providers SpaceX and Boeing begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.
As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has been developing and testing the Crew Dragon parachute system, which is comprised of two drogue parachutes and four main ring-sail parachutes—the same type of parachutes that have been commonly and successfully used for human spaceflight in the past.
In the last four years, SpaceX has completed 30 drop tests and 18 system-level tests of their parachute system, including the successful Demo-1 mission flight test. Through this test campaign, the SpaceX team, in partnership with NASA, has gained insight that could change the way parachutes are developed, tested and integrated into spacecraft design. Throughout this process, NASA has shared lessons learned from its own human spaceflight heritage to assist in parachute development.
One of the most relevant benefits originating from the rigorous, multi-year parachute testing campaign is a better understanding of how to safely design and operate parachute clusters. Specifically, NASA and SpaceX now have greater insight into what is termed “Asymmetry Factor,” an integral part of how safety in design is measured and weighed. This asymmetry factor is an indicator of uneven load distribution between individual suspension lines attached to the parachute canopy. As a cluster of parachutes is deployed, the first parachute to open may crowd or bump others as they open up, causing an uneven load distribution on the main parachutes. If the lines or the joints are not designed to account for the unevenness or asymmetry, they might get damaged or even fail.
In April 2019, SpaceX performed a developmental test designed to simulate the loss of one of its four main parachutes. During the test, there was an unexpected failure which has offered a unique insight into parachute loading and behavior. The test results have ultimately provided a better understanding of parachute reliability and caused a closer examination of the current industry standard used to calculate the asymmetry factor.
SpaceX is using this new data to calculate structural margins and influence parachute design. The unique results allow more accurate prediction of reliability in the flight parachute configuration. In fact, this new data further verified SpaceX’s most recent successful developmental test, which simulated a pad abort, where the vehicle is tumbling at low altitude before parachute deploy.
Through testing, SpaceX has sought to better characterize margins on their current and future parachute designs, using more robust materials, operational mitigations, and continuation of model refinement based on data from almost 50 recent tests and counting, 19 Cargo Dragon parachute landings, and the successful Demo-1 mission, to ensure that Crew Dragon has the safest parachute design possible. Additionally, these new findings are being shared within NASA to ensure that all human spaceflight applications are assessed for adequate margin and reliability.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a public-private partnership with Boeing and SpaceX to take the experience of NASA and couple it with new technology and designs being pioneered by private industry. Together, we are making space travel safer and available for all. This is one of many steps that advances NASA’s goal to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil on commercially-built and operated American rockets and spacecraft and prepare for a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.
The joint simulation involved a mock-up of the spacecraft and Go Searcher, one of the SpaceX ships that will recover the spacecraft and astronauts after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who will fly to and from the space station aboard Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, participated in the exercise.
“Integrated tests like today’s are a crucial element in preparing for human spaceflight missions,” Hurley said. “This opportunity allowed us to work with the recovery team and ensure the plans are solid for the Demo-2 mission.”
The event marked the first time a fully integrated NASA and SpaceX team worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon. Hurley and Behnken were taken out of the spacecraft, given a mock medical evaluation and then transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip, or airport.
“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”
The purpose of the exercise, Mosteller pointed out, was to ensure participants knew their roles and responsibilities — and where they were supposed to be staged on the 150-foot vessel. He was extremely pleased with the results.
“It feels really good; it has been a lot of hard work to get us to this point,” Mosteller said. “There was a lot of collaboration, and it was a very positive experience for the integrated team.”
For Hurley and Behnken, it’s another milestone on the path to their historic flight.
“We are both looking forward to the Demo-2 flight and having the opportunity to return to the International Space Station,” Behnken said. “Each of these exercises puts us one step closer to fulfilling NASA’s mission of returning astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.”
As commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.
SpaceX recently held a training event at its facility in Hawthorne, California for prelaunch operations with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley and ground operators for the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The training provided an opportunity for the integrated team to dry run all of the activities, procedures and communication that will be exercised on launch day when a Crew Dragon spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
The astronauts performed suit-up procedures alongside the SpaceX ground closeout team and suit engineers using the same ground support equipment, such as the seats and suit leak check boxes, that will be used on launch day. Following crew suit-up, the teams performed a simulated launch countdown with the astronauts inside a Crew Dragon simulator and performed several emergency egress, or exit, scenarios.
The training exercise is one of several that NASA astronauts have participated in with our commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, in preparation for crew flight tests. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to place astronaut safety at the forefront of preparations for human spaceflight.
*NASA and Boeing provided updates on Oct. 11, 2019. For the details on Boeing flight tests and the schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/328xeSL.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are working to return human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on American rockets and spacecraft.
NASA and our partners want to fly astronauts as quickly as we can without compromising the safety of our astronauts and always will give safety precedence over schedule. However, our schedules matter. The NASA Administrator has directed all programs in the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate to reexamine flight dates once new leadership is in place to deliver realistic schedule plans.
This is a pivotal time for NASA and our partners. The final phase of our development and testing is critical to the safety of our astronauts and the success of our mission – regular, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the International Space Station on commercially-owned and operated American space systems.
We are testing, learning and incorporating changes to improve the design and operation of these next-generation human space transportation systems. As a result, our providers have improved the safety of these systems, and the effect of these changes have impacted schedules.
NASA and SpaceX were nominated for an Emmy! Teams from the agency’s Commercial Crew Program are among six finalists in the Outstanding Interactive Program category for their coverage of SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission in March 2019.
The nomination recognizes the teams’ tremendous efforts in sharing with the world Crew Dragon’s historic journey to the International Space Station. The mission marked the first time a commercially operated spacecraft docked with the space station, and brought the United States a critical step closer to launching astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil.
NASA and SpaceX spent years preparing a collaborative approach to mission coverage, which featured multiple live broadcasts from agency and company facilities across the country during each phase of the mission, continuing through Crew Dragon’s stunning return to Earth. Throughout NASA’s coverage, the agency engaged social media users around the world and at local social media influencer gatherings at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony will be held Sept. 14-15, 2019.
SpaceX held a joint teleconference with NASA on Monday, July 15, to update media on the company’s investigation into its Crew Dragon static fire mishap on Saturday, April 20. SpaceX’s full statement on the investigation and the current findings can be found at: https://go.nasa.gov/2GeGLyH
A new International Docking Adapter, called IDA-3, is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station this July aboard SpaceX’s 18th cargo resupply mission to the microgravity laboratory. When installed on the space station, the one-of-a-kind outpost will have two common ports enabling expanded opportunities for visiting vehicles, including new spacecraft designed to carry humans for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The docking adapters are the physical connections spacecraft like Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and future, yet-to-be designed international spacecraft will use to autonomously attach to station. The adapters are important because the plans are readily available for spacecraft builders and standardize a host of docking requirements.
Currently stowed in the trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft, the IDA-3 was assembled at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and comprises of a number of sensors that spacecraft will communicate with and connect to through use of onboard computers and navigation systems. Docking requires no crew assistance and can be completed much more quickly than the berthing process often used for cargo spacecraft today, which may involve astronauts aboard the station manually capturing spacecraft using a robotic arm then maneuvering the craft to attach to a common hatch mechanism.
IDA-3 is one of the primary payloads on the SpaceX resupply mission and is identical to the International Docking Adapter-2, IDA-2, installed in the summer of 2016. IDA-2 was used by SpaceX during the company’s first uncrewed flight test, called Demo-1, for commercial crew. Both docking adapters were built by Boeing.
Once at the space station, flight controllers will use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to remove the IDA-3 from Dragon’s trunk and place it over a Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-3) on the station’s Harmony module, or Node 2. Later this summer, two Expedition 60 crew members will perform a spacewalk to permanently install the IDA-3 to PMA-3.
The SpaceX CRS-18 mission is scheduled to launch at 7:35 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 21, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After its arrival, the Dragon cargo spacecraft will remain at the space station for about a month.