NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26 for the company’s first crew flight test, known as Demo-2, to the microgravity laboratory.
The activity is part of a series of integrated simulations bringing together NASA and SpaceX flight control teams to complete multiple practice runs for each dynamic phase of a mission from launch to splashdown. These simulations provide the teams plenty of practice to ensure they safely and successfully perform the planned operations of the actual spaceflight, with opportunities to fine-tune their procedures and gain experience on how to solve problems should they arise.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, and the two have been working closely with SpaceX throughout the design and construction of the spacecraft, offering up the experience they gained on previous spaceflights. Joint simulations bring them together with the teams that will support them from the ground to practice for the mission — including handling any challenges that might arise during flight.
The Demo-2 flight test will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Once the spacecraft is certified, SpaceX can begin regular flights to the space station with long-duration crews aboard.
In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. The mission tested a new launch configuration, checked maneuverability demonstrations in free flight and ensured the crew’s ability to transfer power and data between the spacecraft and the space station. With those boxes all successfully checked, the Crew Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft built to carry humans to dock with the space station. Its subsequent safe reentry and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean was an important step toward proving the spacecraft is ready to carry humans onboard.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner propulsion system was put to the test on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system, which are key elements on the path to restore America’s capability to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil.
The test used a flight-like Starliner service module with a full propulsion system comprising of fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system and orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics.
During the test:
19 thrusters fired to simulate in-space maneuvers.
12 thrusters fired to simulate a high-altitude abort.
22 propulsion elements, including the launch abort engines, fired to simulate a low-altitude abort.
Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will complete a Starliner pad abort test and uncrewed flight test, called Orbital Flight Test, to the station ahead of the first flight test with a crew onboard. As commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.
For our commercial crew flights, we plan for any scenario that may arise, including unlikely emergencies, such as a spacecraft abort and subsequent splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, two NASA astronauts as well as a team from the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support Office Rescue Division practiced what they will do in that very scenario. The DoD team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. To learn more about both team’s practices, check out our crew rescue feature.
NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division are conducting a search and rescue training exercise over the next several days at the Army Warf on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first at-sea exercise with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, ahead of the commercial crew flight test with astronauts targeted for later this year.
The HSFS teams have supported all NASA human spaceflight programs and will be on standby for both NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Orion launches and landings. The team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. This multi-day exercise consists of ground- and water- based training to prepare the DoD pararescue team for an emergency situation on ascent. The HSFS teams will rehearse locating the Starliner spacecraft, sending out rescue teams to extract DoD team members, acting as astronauts, from the capsule and providing immediate medical treatment. The HSFS team will arrange for pickup, transport and follow-on medical care.
At the conclusion of this exercise, HSFS will complete a full mission profile to validate best practices for configuring and air-dropping U.S. Air Force Pararescue team members from a C-17 aircraft with their associated watercraft, specialized rescue equipment and advanced medical capabilities. HSFS conducted a similar exercise with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in early December 2018.
This simulation is another example of how safety is being built into systems, processes and procedures for commercial crew missions. It is standard practice to conduct these exercises, and was regularly done during the Space Shuttle Program.
During normal return scenarios, Boeing’s Starliner will land on land in a safe zone of about 15 square miles in the Western United States. Throughout the commercial crew development phases with NASA, Boeing has performed dozens of qualification tests on its parachute and airbag systems simulating conditions on land and in the water.
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.
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.
You can see Florida taking shape on the front of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, better known as C3PF, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The 78,000 foot facility will be the production and processing home of Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft.
What do you expect Boeing will add to the wrap next?
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners are featured in the new edition of Kennedy Space Center’s Spaceport Magazine posted July 1. You can read the online magazine at the ISSUU digital newsstand or download the pdf.