Light the candles because NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is three years old! The past three years have seen CCP and its industry partners make huge strides toward crewed spaceflight. The by-no-means-complete highlights include, from left, Blue Origin’s testing of its BE-3 engine, Boeing’s software evaluations using its new CST-100 simulator, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s glide tests of the Dream Chaser and parachute drop tests conducted by SpaceX. There is plenty of work to be done before any of them make their first flights with people on board, but the time to that milestone gets shorter every day.
Ever see the International Space Station in flight? It’s not that hard, you just have to time it right and know where to look. Depending on where your city lies as Earth rotates under the ISS orbit, there can be several chances to watch it soar over you. It will appear as a close, bright star and can take as long as six minutes to traverse the sky as it moves at 17,500 mph.
This weekend, folks in Central Florida around Orlando can see it tonight at 8:40 p.m. EDT for 2 minutes according to calculations by the station’s flight control team in Houston. It will appear 11 degrees above the south and disappear at 23 degrees. Friday morning at 6:27 offers a 5-minute pass that will see the station move from 11 degrees west-northwest moving to the south. There are more chances Saturday, the best being a 6-minute pass at 8:38 p.m. from 11 degrees southwest to 10 degrees northeast.
Of course, the station’s orbits around the world, so anyone can see the station from anywhere. To find out the best times in your area or get alerts when the station will be passing over your head, go to NASA’s Spot the Station website. It will give you a chart that looks like the one at the top and you will know exactly when to go outside and look for the Commercial Crew Program’s destination.
NASA’s own Maria Collura sat down for an interview with Kennedy Space Center’s new Spaceport Magazine. Collurra, who is certification manager for the Commercial Crew Program, details her career and inspirations for engineering in the story by Rebecca Regan. You can read the magazine in the digital newstand here or in a traditional pdf format here.
The flight deck is where the magic happens for a crew of space explorers. It’s the command center, the cockpit and the living area for astronauts during their missions. A great deal of research went into creating the flight deck for every spacecraft, from days when switches would only turn on an indicator light to the modern age of touchscreens. The Commercial Crew Program’s partners are designing their spacecraft to maximize the room the crew has in space and to optimize the information and actions they need to take during a flight. See if you can pick out which of these flight decks belong to which spacecraft. Your choices are: Apollo command module, Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, SpaceX’s Dragon and the space shuttle. Good luck!
Images are courtesy of their respective companies except the space shuttle, which is a NASA photo, and the Apollo cockpit which is courtesy of the National Air & Space Museum.
This afternoon, NASA announced a new commercial space initiative that could mirror the successes demonstrated by partnerships fostered through the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Commercial Crew Program agreements. Called the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC), the new initiative is meant to expand human presence into the solar system and surface of Mars to advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity and international collaboration. Read more about CCSC here.
Not only have public-private partnerships secured a cargo supply line to our greatest asset in low-Earth orbit, the International Space Station, the agency also intends to certify and use commercial systems to fly astronauts from U.S. soil to the station and back.
Astronauts take personal mementos with them into space to help mark the occasion. The tradition started in 1961 when Gus Grissom stashed a roll of dimes in his Mercury flight suit. Since then, personal and historic items – all very small and lightweight – have made trips into space, some going as far as landing on the moon with the Apollo astronauts. What would you take with you into space? What would you take for a friend?
The Apollo spacecraft and space shuttle (pictured) epitomized the space travel technology of their day. The next generation of American spacecraft to carry people into orbit will include numerous features and functions built with the most advanced techniques the aerospace industry has devised. If you were building your own spacecraft, what modern-day technologies would you incorporate?
The goal of CCP is to aid in the development and then use of privately operated space transportation systems that can safely, reliably and cost-effectively carry NASA astronauts and others to low-Earth orbit.
The Commercial Crew Program closely follows the model of NASA’s successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS, which oversaw development and operations of two privately operated, American-owned spacecraft and launcher systems to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon and Falcon 9 combination, and Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus and Antares system were developed under the COTS effort and both are now operational.
NASA engineers are closely working with aerospace industry engineers to identify potential design problems early and fix them.
Private companies are allowed more latitude than ever before to come up with innovations in design and manufacturing that ultimately will make space travel less expensive and more accessible for everyone.
The development of one or more new spacecraft could generate a new industry for aerospace companies as the final frontier is opened up to the general public through increasingly lower prices to fly into space.
NASA funded part of the development of this new generation of spacecraft, but the companies themselves are required to offer their own significant financial investment.
The Commercial Crew Program pays companies only when they meet specific benchmarks in design, testing and development.
Three companies are working with NASA through funded agreements to advance designs of their spacecraft to a point where they could be manufactured and operated: Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX. A fourth company, Blue Origin, is partnered with NASA under an unfunded agreement, which means NASA offers its expert oversight, but is not paying the company directly for milestones.
Companies were not told what kind of spacecraft to build nor what rocket to launch it on. NASA only set out the goals for transportation systems, giving established aerospace companies and start-ups an equal chance to develop their own unique ideas.
The next generation of spacecraft is required to have a launch abort system that can lift the spacecraft and its human crew out of harm’s way during launch and ascent into orbit. The companies are free to design the system they think will best execute that goal, which has led to innovations in engine type, thruster placement and computer guidance and control.