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 safe, 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 Demo-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 missions. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers.
Targeted Test Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): late 2018 / early 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): mid-2019
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): April 2019
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is actively preparing for a return to human spaceflight, with Boeing and SpaceX uncrewed flight tests, followed by crew flight tests and missions.
When our astronauts arrive before their missions, they will spend eight to nine days quarantined in astronaut crew quarters. The crew quarters occupies about 26,000 square feet of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy. Access is restricted to this area, which features 23 bedrooms — each with a bathroom — and the iconic suit room, where astronauts are helped into their pressure suits moments before boarding a vehicle to take them to the pad for launch.
A significant, recently completed upgrade will await the commercial crew astronauts when they arrive at Kennedy. There are new carpets and ceiling tiles, and fresh paint on the walls. Appliances all have been replaced, as has the audio/visual teleconference system in both conference rooms. The suit room, last used in an official capacity in July 2011 for STS-135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, has been reactivated and remodeled. The area is furnished with new recliners and tables, and there are now three suit containment rooms — one each for Orion, Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA and commercial industry partners Boeing and SpaceX are making significant advances in preparing to launch our astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from 2018 to this point.
On the International Space Station, the crew aboard continues preparations for new visiting spacecraft. In June, astronauts installed a high-definition camera to assist with the docking of Boeing and SpaceX’s capsules as they approach for docking.
Meanwhile, on the ground, significant progress continues to take place for Boeing and SpaceX in final preparations for flight testing. Both companies have several spacecraft and rockets in various stages of production. Teams have practiced interfacing with the spacecraft, and rehearsed launch countdown and landing procedures, as well as emergency scenarios both at the launch pad and in flight.
With the upcoming flights to begin from Boeing and SpaceX, final rounds of crew and mission support practice, qualification tests, and simulations of multiple mission scenarios, serve to bring us on the doorstep of America’s next great chapter in space flight.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will participate in the announcement of the astronauts assigned to the first crews aboard the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The event will begin at 10 a.m. CDT Friday, Aug. 3 at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana will join Bridenstine to introduce the crews of the first two flights for each spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX representatives will also participate in the event. The crew assignment event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used for the company’s uncrewed flight test, known as Demonstration Mission 1, arrived to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this week. The spacecraft recently underwent thermal vacuum and acoustic testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio.
In case you missed it, SpaceX recently completed its 16th parachute system test for the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
SpaceX conducted the test at Naval Air Facility El Centro in Southern California, deploying parachutes to slow the spacecraft for a safe landing in the desert. Crew Dragon is designed for water landings in a nominal scenario, but the test demonstrated the system’s ability to land the spacecraft safely in the unlikely event of a low altitude abort.
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V dual engine Centaur (ULA) Crew Flight Test dual engine, at left, and the Orbital Flight test dual engine, at right, for the Centaur stage of the Atlas V rocket are in production on June 11, 2018, at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will launch on its first uncrewed flight test on the ULA Atlas V rocket. The Starliner is being developed and manufactured in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight capabilities to the U.S.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, ready to undergo testing in the In-Space Propulsion Facility—the world’s only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions. The chamber will allow SpaceX and NASA to verify Crew Dragon’s ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space. This is the spacecraft that SpaceX will fly during its Demonstration Mission 1 flight test under NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with the goal of returning human spaceflight launch capabilities to the U.S.
Manager of the Commercial Crew Program, Kathy Lueders, is featured on Episode 49 of “Houston We Have a Podcast.” The episode discusses a brief history of the space program, how it started, and where it is now. Lueders talks about two commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, and the work they are doing to design, build and launch new spacecraft that will carry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. You can listen here: https://go.nasa.gov/2JOqEHU
Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA completed the sixth spacewalk at the International Space Station this year at 2:55 p.m. EDT, lasting 6 hours, 49 minutes. The two astronauts installed new high-definition cameras that will provide enhanced views during the final phase of approach and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft that will soon begin launching from American soil.
They also swapped a camera assembly on the starboard truss of the station, closed an aperture door on an external environmental imaging experiment outside the Japanese Kibo module, and completed two additional tasks to relocate a grapple bar to aid future spacewalkers and secured some gear associated with a spare cooling unit housed on the station’s truss.