SpaceX ignited two of its SuperDraco engines together at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, during a recent test of the reusable system. This specific test was a demonstration of a pad abort test profile, with two SuperDraco engines igniting simultaneously and throttling as they will during an upcoming flight test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The SuperDraco engine is vital to the safety of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft under development to carry crew to the International Space Station. Four SuperDraco pods, with two engines in each for a total of eight engines, are to be arranged on the sides of a Crew Dragon capsule. During launch and ascent into space, the eight rocket engines would be called on to push the spacecraft and crew out of danger in case of an abort.
The pad abort test will be performed under the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA. SpaceX can use the data gathered during the development flight as it continues on the path to certification. Under a separate Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, SpaceX is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 rocket, ground and mission operations systems to fly crews to and from the space station.
The International Space Station passes around the world once about every 90 minutes giving astronauts and cosmonauts spectacular views like this one that shows a pass over America with the familiar Florida peninsula in the frame. Florida will be the launch site for the next generation of American-built spacecraft carrying astronauts to the station. They won’t be going just for the chance to look on the world below, though. Like the current crew, station residents spend their day on station work and research. The new spacecraft from Boeing and SpaceX will increase the research performed on the station by adding a seventh crewmember. With seven people aboard, the research work will double from the current 40 hours a week to 80.
NASA released redacted versions of the contracts the agency signed with Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to begin the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability phase of final development and certification work. The contracts outline goals and obligations that both NASA and the providers agreed to, however, the focus of the agency’s involvement is not just in milestones but in the day-to-day work the NASA team is performing. The agency’s efforts revolve around understanding the providers’ designs and ensuring progress is being made toward meeting safety and performance requirements before crew flight tests and missions to the International Space Station.
Astronauts Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore will make the third spacewalk Sunday to complete the first in a series of work to outfit the International Space Station with the mechanisms needed for Commercial Crew spacecraft to dock to the orbiting laboratory. The two adapters were built by Boeing and will be carried to the station on upcoming SpaceX cargo missions. The adapters will serve the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft when they fly astronauts to the station.
During Sunday’s spacewalk, Virts and Wilmore will deploy 400 feet of cable along the truss of the station and install antennas as part of the new Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles system that will provide rendezvous and navigational data to visiting vehicles approaching the station, including the new U.S. commercial crew vehicles.
NASA TV coverage Sunday will begin at 6 a.m. EST. The spacewalk will begin around 7:10 a.m. and is expected to last about 6 hours, 45 minutes. NASA TV is available online at https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv.
Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivered his annual State of NASA address from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to audiences at centers across the agency. The speech was even broadcast to a control room at Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kennedy and Johnson will work closely in developing and flying the next generation of human spacecraft for the Commercial Crew Program.
The Atlas V that will launch the first CST-100 flight test – uncrewed – will be the 76th mission for the Altas V family. The first flight test with a test pilot and astronaut aboard will fly on the 80th Atlas V mission. Both missions have been placed on the United Launch Alliance manifest.
Boeing plans these two flight tests for its CST-100 vehicle in addition to extensive component and systems testing already completed in the development program.
Work to build the Crew Access Tower at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is already underway. The tower is needed to meet the requirements of a human-rated launch pad.
The CST-100 will conduct a pad abort test in early 2017 to show the effectiveness of the spacecraft’s launch abort system or LAS.
A flight test completing a full orbital mission profile will be flown in mid-2017, with the CST-100 flying on an Atlas V into space.
Mid 2017 is also the timeframe for the flight test that will include a Boeing test pilot and an astronaut. The spacecraft will visit the station in a demonstration of the complete crew transportation system.
Watch a short recap of this week’s Commercial Crew Program news in this week’s episode of Inside KSC! Kennedy is the home of the Commercial Crew Program and the launch site of the systems now in development by Boeing and SpaceX that will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners laid out their plans Monday for flights tests leading up to operational missions taking astronauts to the International Space Station. Both Boeing and SpaceX anticipate uncrewed flight tests followed by crewed flight tests with at least one NASA astronaut aboard the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. After their systems are certified by NASA, they will begin transporting crews to the station. Because of lead time requirements established by the companies in their proposals, they will receive what is known as Authority to Proceed (ATP) when they have met established development-related criteria, and NASA has determined the need for a mission. The Authority to Proceed marks the start of lead time needed to purchase hardware and process their systems for those missions. Boeing may receive the Authority to Proceed before SpaceX, though that does not necessarily mean that Boeing’s CST-100 will fly before the SpaceX Crew Dragon.