Orion Recovery Training Offers Insight for Commercial Crew Providers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAstronauts and ground support teams are bobbing in a unique pool in Houston to find out the best way to exit a spacecraft after coming back to Earth and landing in the water. The rehearsals involve a test version of the Orion spacecraft, which NASA will use for deep space missions to an asteroid and Mars, but the evaluations also apply well to recovery planning for companies developing spacecraft for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The program will return crew launch capabilities from the U.S. for missions to the International Space Station.

“We want to enable our partners to capitalize in any way they can on NASA’s work,” said Tim O’Brien, who is a member of the Ground and Mission Operations Office for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “By applying what we learned here from Orion, Boeing and SpaceX could possibly refine their own procedures for the safe and efficient recovery of our astronauts.”

One of the astronauts training for Commercial Crew flight tests, Sunita “Suni” Williams, took part in the testing at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab where spacewalkers train underwater for their demanding work in space.

Dream Chaser Nears Second Free-Flight Test

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DreamChaser-InsideTechA full-scale engineering test article of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is nearing completion leading to a second round of atmospheric evaluations at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The flight testing, which calls for the Dream Chaser to be released high over California’s Rogers Dry Lakebed and glide to a safe landing, will build upon an earlier free-flight test milestone that returned valuable data for the design team.Dream Chaser composite unit images

In a presentation at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, the company said it has included numerous modifications to the latest version of the Dream Chaser, including structural and systems improvements to its composite wings and aeroshells. The company also maturated its avionics and software, as well as guidance and navigation and control systems. Completing a second free-flight test is part of the Space Act Agreement between Sierra Nevada Corporation and NASA under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) development phase of the Commercial Crew Program. In addition to the engineering test article upgrades, the company has made significant progress on the build of the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle, the design for which will be reviewed during a future CCiCap milestone.

Dream Chaser is designed to carry humans safely into low-Earth orbit inside the winged spacecraft flying a mission profile similar to that of a space shuttle. Like the shuttle, Dream Chaser will be capable of gliding back to a runway landing at the end of the mission.

 

Crew Access Tower Stacking Passes Midway Point

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The steel lattice column that will become the Crew Access Tower for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft continues its methodical rise at Space Launch Complex-41 where four of seven sections of the tower have been stacked.

Built four miles south, each section or tier, is being trucked to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch pad where a crane lifts it into position. The tower will reach about 200 feet high when it’s finished.

Even after stacking is complete, the team will have plenty to do to outfit it for launch, including installing the elevator, white room, crew access arm and infrastructure lines. Since SLC-41 remains an operational facility while the tower is built, work on the tower is taking place between Atlas V launch operations.

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Commercial Crew Work Earns Award for NASA Attorney

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NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Launch day is a finish line of sorts for Karen Reilley, a NASA attorney based at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., who was recently recognized with a Silver Achievement Medal for her work with the Commercial Crew Program.

Working for months on contracts and then sometimes years through design and processing details, Reilley enjoys the captivating nature of a liftoff as much as anyone, but gets the added flavor of having played a role in helping the rocket leave the ground.

“Standing there for EFT-1, seeing it launch like that was really a great feeling,” she said, noting her work with Orion’s first flight test in December 2014. “It gives you such good perspective of how everything works and fits together to get to that point when the launch happens.”

After working with the complexities of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, or CCtCap, contracts awarded last year to Boeing and SpaceX, Reilley gets closer every day to seeing the first Commercial Crew flight tests launch. Those will lead to operational missions taking astronauts to the International Space Station where they can enhance the research performed above Earth every day with an eye on making NASA’s journey to Mars a success.

Those first flights will be significant milestones for NASA because the development roadmap for commercial crew has been significantly different than previous human-rated spacecraft development.

“NASA has done commercial activities for quite a while and this really takes it to another level,” Reilley said. “It’s very complex and it requires a lot of problem-solving.”

Because the approach was new, with NASA seeking industry partnerships from component design to complete space systems, the agency tried to build on the previous successful contract architectures from commercial cargo transportation arrangements. The agreements used by NASA’s Launch Services Program were also consulted.

“Each time NASA does one of these contracts, it really builds on each other,” Reilley said.

Another complicating element is the involvement of other agencies to a greater degree than before, especially the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

“We really have to work together,” Reilley said. “It’s not about who’s in charge, but it’s about who needs to do what to have a successful program. Sometimes that includes a cultural challenge, not just a legal or technical challenge. So being flexible is really important.”

Reilley came to NASA in 1995, when she accepted a position in the legal office at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Close to her law school alma mater at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Langley would offer Reilley a chance to work closely with aerodynamic research agreements. Later she worked at Johnson Space Center in Houston where she garnered spaceflight expertise before moving to Washington, D.C.

“I’ve seen the space exploration side, the aero side and the science, which has been a fabulous experience,” Reilly said.

Commercial Crew Program Marks a Year of Progress

CCPPartnerCCtCap_11x174SpaceX_508_3CCP-Partner-CCtCap_11x17_Boeing_508A year after awarding landmark contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to build a new generation of human-rated space systems, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has made great strides to re-establish America’s capability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

Both companies are constructing the infrastructure needed to safely launch and operate crew space transportation systems. They also have offered detailed refinements to their designs and begun building the test vehicles that will be put through extreme analysis before their flight test regimens begin.

These accomplishments set the tone for the next two critical years that will culminate with operational missions to the International Space Station carrying up to four astronauts. They will increase the amount of time dedicated to research on the orbiting laboratory, solving the problems of long duration spaceflight so astronauts can make a successful journey to Mars in the future.

Read the details here.

 

Welcome to Florida, Blue Origin!

2015-2152Blue Origin set the stage today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for assembling and flying its rockets and spacecraft from Florida’s Space Coast and we could not be more thrilled to have them as neighbors!

Blue Origin and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program began working together on the company’s booster and spacecraft systems in 2010 when NASA selected Blue Origin as one of five companies funded for early developmental work on their own projects under Space Act Agreements.

That first partnership with Blue Origin covered design work on a pusher-style launch abort system and composite pressure vessel for the company’s spacecraft. A second round of agreements continued development of both the launch abort system and spacecraft, along with developing a propellant tank and the hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled BE-3 engine. Blue Origin’s newest engine, known as the BE-4, will power the company’s reusable boosters as they loft spacecraft on orbital flights on a variety of missions.

Taken together with continuing advances by NASA’s other commercial crew partners including Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation, a new generation of American-made systems is on the verge of opening space travel to more people than ever before!

Boeing Wraps Up C3PF Mural Work

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The new face of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) is complete. Workers placed the finishing touches of the building-sized mural on the rounded edges of the former Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this week.

The image of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner orbiting above Florida highlights the C3PF’s role as the assembly and processing home for the company’s next-generation human-rated spacecraft. The Starliner is being built in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to re-establish America’s ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.

Spacecraft built in the C3PF will be launched into space from nearby Space Launch Complex-41 aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. NASA also is working with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon to take astronauts to the station.

SpaceX Unveils Crew Dragon Interior

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Have you ever wondered what it will be like to be an astronaut flying aboard the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station? Check out these interior photos and videos from SpaceX that give us a glimpse of the astronauts’ inside view.

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Crew Access Tower Stacking Begins

2015-2795The first new Crew Access Tower at Cape 2015-27922015-2793Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida since the Apollo 2015-2799era will take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 in the coming days as workers moved the first two tiers from a nearby construction yard to the pad surface. The tiers will be lifted into place atop each other at the foot of the launch pad starting next week.

Boeing and United Launch Alliance are building the tower which is a critical element for the launch pad as it is converted from a pad that serves only uncrewed missions to a complex that can safely accommodate the needs of flight crews along with their ground support teams for CST-100 Starliner missions. The Starliner is under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, along with the SpaceX Crew Dragon, to take astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.

Designed with modern data systems, communications and power networks integrated and protected from blast and vibration, plus an elevator, the Crew Access Tower has been built with several features only a fully suited astronaut could appreciate, such as wider walkways, snag-free railings and corners that are easy to navigate without running into someone. The tower will also be equipped with slide wire baskets for emergency evacuation to a staged blast-resistant vehicle.

The segments were assembled about four miles away from the launch pad so workers wouldn’t be idled by launch preps for United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. The tower will be stacked just to the side of the hard stand at SLC-41 where the boosters lift off. It will take seven tiers to complete the more than 200-foot-tall tower. A swing-out walkway bridge will be added later to connect the tower to the hatch of the Starliner so astronauts can climb aboard the ship as it stands at the pad before launch.

The tower construction marks the latest in a quick succession of events for Boeing’s Starliner program. The company opened the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility last week for use as the Starliner production and processing base and just completed the mural on the front of the building showing the spacecraft orbiting above Florida. The upper and lower dome assemblies arrived earlier this year for the Starliner’s Structural Test Article which is being built and processed as a pathfinder for the program and will be put together just as an operational spacecraft would before it goes into exhaustive testing to the prove the design.

Meet the Starliner!

The wait is over! Boeing’s next-generation spacecraft has a new name! A fleet of CST-100 Starliners will give the United States crew access to the International Space Station, launching from Florida’s Space Coast atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets on NASA Commercial Crew Program flights. Read details about the spacecraft and today’s grand opening of the C3PF, where the Starliners will be assembled and processed for flight.

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