NASA’s Commercial Crew Program took vital steps in 2015 to move America closer to flying astronauts from its own soil aboard American spacecraft in 2017. Boeing and SpaceX, each a partner with NASA on separate crew transportation systems, performed systems tests, built up assembly areas and modified the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to safely launch crew members from the storied shores of Florida’s Space Coast.
We chose the top 15 accomplishments, including:
– NASA Named First Four Astronauts to Train with Boeing and SpaceX – United Launch Alliance Completed Crew Access Tower Column at SLC-41 – Crew Dragon Completed Pad Abort Test
SpaceX accomplished a major feat Monday night when a Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned from space and landed safely on a concrete pad six miles away from where it lifted off minutes before. While the first stage returned to Earth, the second stage of the upgraded Falcon 9 executed the main mission of the flight by delivering 11 ORBCOMM satellites to orbit.
Lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 p.m. EST, the Falcon 9 sped toward space on the power of its nine Merlin 1D engines. Four minutes into the flight, the first stage separated as planned and the second stage took over, lighting a single Merlin engine and pushing the stack of ORBCOMM satellites faster and higher. Meanwhile, the first stage ignited several of its engines again to head back to Earth. Moving back at supersonic speeds that sent a sonic boom across Florida’s Space Coast, the first stage engines ignited to slow the booster down as it neared Landing Complex-1. A bright orange trail marked the boosters descent before its four landing legs unfolded and the booster set itself down.
The achievement may mark a turning point in reusability for launch vehicles, which are traditionally not recovered following the delivery of a payload to orbit. NASA’s space shuttle fleet was an exception to that — the orbiters flew multiple times on the same engines and using solid rocket boosters that were recovered and reflown.
SpaceX is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program as it develops the Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch on a Falcon 9 to carry astronauts to the International Space Station starting in 2017. Photo and video by SpaceX.
Astronauts spent part of their spacewalk Monday morning routing power and data system cables on the International Space Station to ports where spacecraft being developed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will dock to the orbiting laboratory in the near future. The cables will be connected to a pair of International Docking Adapters once they are delivered during upcoming, uncrewed commercial resupply missions. The adapters contain several sensor systems that will allow spacecraft to autonomously dock with the station. NASA astronauts Scott Kelly, who is nine months into a yearlong mission and Tim Kopra, who arrived to the station Dec. 15, made the spacewalk.
Some 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.
Commercial Crew team members with NASA and our aerospace industry partners showed what a season of advances has meant for the launch sites where NASA astronauts will lift off on missions to the International Space Station in the near future.
At Launch Pad 39A, Carol Scott, who works technical integration for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, showed news media and NASA Social participants the new look SpaceX is applying to the launch complex to make it suit the company’s needs for Crew Dragon missions.
Boeing and United Launch Alliance spent the last couple months building a new Crew Access Tower at Space Launch Complex 41, the place where Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will fly from on missions with astronauts. NASA’s Steve Payne, who works in Launch Integration, and ULA’s Howard Biegler, Launch Operations lead of Human Launch Service, detailed the work that went into constructing the tower that will contain all the systems needed to safely support human crews and ground support staff for a Starliner launch.
The progress is important for NASA because it will restore American capabilities to launch astronauts to low-Earth orbit. For the orbiting laboratory of the space station, the flights will increase the crew by one and double the amount of time astronauts can devote to cutting-edge research to answer the vexing issues of a journey to Mars and to conduct science off the Earth for all those on the Earth.
Commercial crew astronauts Doug Hurley, Sunita “Suni” Williams and Bob Behnken had the opportunity to evaluate the displays in the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters.
Hurley, Williams and Behnken are three of four astronauts who were selected to be the first to train to fly to space aboard commercial spacecraft as part of the NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA will decide at a later date which astronauts will fly aboard which spacecraft – SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. See more photos in Commercial Crew’s Flickr album here.
NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.
This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.
“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.” Read details at http://go.nasa.gov/1N0L2TX
The next class of astronauts NASA hires may fly on any of four different U.S. vessels during their careers: the International Space Station, two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development – the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon — and NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will launch aboard the Space Launch System with astronauts to conduct missions in deep space.
SpaceX designed its Crew Dragon to accommodate technological advances in numerous ways to perform the mission of taking astronauts safely to the International Space Station. The launch abort system is integrated into the sidewall of the Crew Dragon. It boasts eight hypergolic-powered engines designed to lift the spacecraft and astronauts inside to safety at any point during launch and ascent. Inside the Crew Dragon, touchscreens replace the myriad of dials and barber poles that defined earlier spacecraft instrument panels. The company developed its cargo-transport version of the Dragon with an eye on carrying crews into space. SpaceX has used its experiences to refine the crew version and provide essential opportunities to automatically perform critical functions, such as rendezvous with the space station and flying through the atmosphere safely to come back home.
If you think you have what it takes to fly this new generation of spacecraft, NASA will start taking applications Dec. 14 for its next astronaut class.
The propulsion system SpaceX would use to power its Crew Dragon out of danger has been test-fired 27 times as the company refines the design for the demands of operational missions carrying astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX evaluated the system utilizing various thrust cycles on a test stand at its McGregor, Texas, rocket development facility.
Named SuperDracos, the engines are arranged in four pairs – SpaceX calls them ‘jetpacks’ – integrated around the outside of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Firing all at once, the eight engines produce 120,000 pounds of thrust – enough power to accelerate a Crew Dragon from zero to 100 mph in 1.2 seconds. In the unlikely event of an emergency, that power means the ability to lift the crew a safe distance off the launch pad or far away from a booster failing on the way to orbit. That capability was demonstrated earlier this year in a pad abort test that confirmed the SuperDraco design in a flight-like condition.
A normal launch of the Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket would not offer the SuperDracos anything to do during the mission since their only responsibility is to fire in an emergency to rescue the crew onboard. Eventually, SpaceX plans to use the SuperDracos in the place of a parachute during landing.
They use hypergolic propellants common in spacecraft thruster systems because the propellants ignite as soon as they contact each other. The engines are noteworthy for a number of reasons, including that they are built using 3-D printing methods instead of machining them from larger pieces.
After the development cycle, the propulsion system and SuperDracos will continue evaluations at the company’s test stand to qualify them for use on operational missions.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing a new generation of American-made, human-rated transportation systems capable of taking astronauts to the space station in partnership with NASA. The Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will carry up to four NASA astronauts at a time, which ultimately adds another crew member to the space station and will allow twice as much time for astronauts to conduct research aboard the one-of-a-kind laboratory.