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.
The addition of Boeing Starliners and SpaceX Crew Dragons to the manifest of spacecraft heading to the International Space Station in the near future raises more than the opportunities for astronauts to fly to and from space aboard American spacecraft. It also increases the amount of science and broadens the research that can be performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.
That’s because the new generation of human-rated spacecraft are being designed to carry time-critical science to and from the space station along with astronauts. Researchers will be able to work with astronauts aboard the station to undertake a wide array of different science investigations and will benefit from the increased opportunity to see their research returned back to Earth for continued examination.
The spacecraft also will aid in the goal of establishing and maintaining a crew of seven astronauts, which could increase the research time in microgravity. Mission planners anticipate that increasing the crew size on the U.S. segment by just one crew member could effectively double the amount of time dedicated each week to research.
SpaceX, NASA and Air Force personnel who will help astronauts out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft returning from a mission to the International Space Station have begun practicing for that using a full-size model of the spacecraft. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule in the water. Recently, the Recovery Trainer was lowered into the Indian River Lagoon near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center so Air Force pararescue and others could learn techniques for getting aboard the spacecraft and rescuing the astronauts.
Such rescue practice is typical of all human missions because it gives astronauts and support teams many opportunities to practice and refine the critical steps in safely rescuing the crew in a contingency situation. A number of procedures will be developed and then practiced over time to deal with recoveries in many different conditions.
SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. The Recovery Trainer was built by SpaceX and subsequently modified by Kennedy’s Prototype Lab to SpaceX specifications. The same dimensions as the outside mold line of a Crew Dragon, it has indicators where thrusters will be and other markings on the exterior. Inside, the crew area matches that of the operational spacecraft and includes an instrument panel.
The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation mission. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly-releasable dates for both providers.
Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: February 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): June 2018
Vice President Mike Pence saw a Florida spaceport Thursday poised in the starting blocks to return America’s human launch capability, begin a new era in deep-space exploration and capitalize on emerging partnerships with private industry.
Working in close partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a process new to human spacecraft development, Boeing and SpaceX are making independent spacecraft and launch systems to take astronauts to the International Space Station from America. Boeing is building a line of Starliner spacecraft and SpaceX is making a crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft. Both spacecraft, along with their launch vehicles, mission and launch control systems, are being certified by NASA for safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness.
Seen together, the transformation of the center shows the form of a spaceport that has embraced the potential of new partnership approaches while holding onto its heritage of success and broaden the range of exploration for the nation.
Driving through much of the launch and processing facilities spread throughout the 144,000 acres of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Pence saw launch pads rebuilt for the needs of privately operated rockets, former space shuttle hangars refit to serve as spacecraft factories and the assembly hall for NASA’s own deep-space exploration spacecraft, Orion.
Former astronaut Bob Cabana, Kennedy’s center director, guided the tour for Pence who was making his first stop at the center since becoming vice president. As vice president, Pence will serve as chairman of the newly reformed National Space Council that will set goals and establish policies for the United States’ space efforts.
“We are in a great position here at Kennedy, we made our vision a reality; it couldn’t have been done without the passion and energy of our workforce,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Cabana. “Kennedy is fully established as a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial partners in the space industry. As America’s premier multi-user spaceport, Kennedy continues to make history as it evolves, launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond.”
Read complete coverage of Pence’s visit to the Florida spaceport at www.nasa.gov.
As a NASA engineer in guidance, navigation and control, Nguyen evaluates the companies’ systems that steer and tell a spacecraft where it is and where it’s going. He works closely with both Boeing and SpaceX as the two companies build separate launch systems that NASA will certify for use.
“Each partner is different and offers different challenges,” Nguyen said. “We’ve developed a rapport with the engineers so they understand we’re here to share ideas and our assessments of the design. We’re really here to support them and their goals because they are our goals too.”
Read Nguyen’s full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2tY9gJn
NASA and SpaceX engineers are working together at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to build a full-scale Crew Dragon model, or Recovery Trainer, that will be used by the U.S. Air Force to perform flight-like rescue and recovery training exercises in the open ocean later this year.
The model, shown above with astronauts Dan Burbank and Victor Glover inside, is built to mimic the Crew Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX is developing with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In certain unusual recovery situations, SpaceX may need to work with the U.S. Air Force to send parajumpers to recover astronauts from the capsule. The Recovery Trainer will be used by the Air Force to prepare procedures and train for this contingency scenario. The trainer also has two working hatches and other simulated components similar to the ones astronauts and support teams will encounter in real missions.
Scott Colloredo, deputy director of Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate, said the engineers adapted SpaceX designs of internal elements to be compatible with the trainer and worked with Kennedy’s Prototype Development Lab to produce the parts quickly and install them inside the trainer. The Prototype Development Lab designs, fabricates and tests prototypes, test articles and test support equipment. The lab has a long history of providing fast solutions to complex operations problems. The lab’s teams of engineers use specialized equipment to produce exacting, one-of-a-kind items made from a range of materials depending on the design.
“We perform things that complement what the partners and programs provide,” Colloredo said. “The team delivered right to the minute.”
SpaceX is now finalizing modifications to the trainer to ensure it floats in water in the same way as the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Following those modifications, the trainer will enter service as the primary training vehicle for Crew Dragon astronaut recovery operations.
Every aspect of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program spacecraft are being tested for the journey to and from the International Space Station to meet the agency’s mission and safety requirements. Testing from Boeing and SpaceX demonstrates how the systems perform in flight-like scenarios. Engineers working with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft recently lab tested their seat design focusing on how the spacecraft seats protect the head, neck and spine of the astronauts for the 240-mile descent from space.
The company incorporated test dummies for a detailed analysis of impacts on a crew returning to Earth. The human-sized dummies were secured in their crew module seats for 30 drop tests at varying heights, angles, velocities and seat orientations, all in an effort to mimic actual landing conditions. To simulate the return, the seats were suspended inside a metal frame and dropped to land on honeycomb-like panels at the base of the test stand meant to function similarly to the Starliner’s landing airbags. The dummies were equipped with sensitive instrumentation to measure the impacts and high-speed cameras were used to capture the footage for further analysis. When the Starliner returns to Earth from the International Space Station, the spacecraft will be slowed by using a choreographed parachute system and will then land on large airbags to further soften the landing in the western region of the United States. The company also will test a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft using male and female test dummies at NASA’s Langley Research Facility.
The Starliner spacecraft is being developed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is investing in private industry with a goal of resuming human spaceflight to and from low-Earth orbit from the United States. Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 to fly up to four astronauts to the space station for NASA missions. NASA also has partnered with SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The SpaceX design calls for the Crew Dragon to return with a splashdown in the ocean. Both companies will launch from Florida’s Space Coast. Together, the private companies will provide regular and reliable crew transportation to and from the microgravity outpost for NASA.
Amin Rezapour is part of NASA’s team of spaceflight specialists who are working closely with the aerospace industry to develop and operate vehicles that can safely fly astronauts to the International Space Station. As the spacecraft technical integration manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Rezapour works closely with SpaceX as the company builds its Crew Dragon spacecraft.
For a spacecraft to be certified, the design has to meet stringent NASA standards. For Rezapour, this is a good fit as he is an electrical engineer with majors in computer science as well as robotic and control systems. After years of experience in communication and tracking systems on commercial vehicles, first with Boeing and then with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and working many years with NASA partners on cargo vehicles from requirement developments, design, test and operation, Rezapour knows what it takes to design, verify and operate successful spacecraft vehicles. Read more: https://go.nasa.gov/2qJTzHi
The crew of the International Space Station will be able to count on Commercial Crew Program spacecraft in case of an emergency in orbit. As with all the needs for the new spacecraft, NASA outlined a list of requirements for designers to meet. For the most part, it means the spacecraft can be powered on quickly while docked to the station, even if it has been dormant for weeks or a couple of months. From air circulation fans to life support systems to thrusters, the spacecraft’s systems will be designed to engage in minutes.
“Some systems will take longer to bring online, but the idea is to have spacecraft that astronauts can get into quickly for survival and then use to pull away from the station and come home if that is needed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Read the full story at https://go.nasa.gov/2ordbuQ