NASA, SpaceX Test Pad Emergency Egress System

NASA and SpaceX conduct a formal verification of the company's emergency escape system on Sept. 18, 2019 at Launch Complex 39A.
NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, in front, and Bob Behnken participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2. During the escape verification, Walker and Behnken pass through the water deluge system on the 265-foot level of the crew access tower. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX conducted a formal verification of the company’s emergency escape, or egress, system at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Sept. 18, 2019. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Shannon Walker participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and swiftly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2.

At tower level on the pad, Walker and Behnken practiced loading into a slidewire basket and simulating an emergency escape to ground level.
At tower level on the pad, Walker and Behnken practiced loading into a slidewire basket and simulating an emergency escape to ground level. Photo credit: SpaceX

“This demonstration allowed all the various teams responsible for ground operations, system design, ground safety and emergency management to observe and verify the system is ready for operational use,” said Steve Payne, launch operations integrator for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s a system we hope we never have to use, but we have to be prepared for every scenario.”

During the exercise, Behnken and Walker demonstrated two escape methods to show the crew could leave the 265-foot-level of the launch tower quickly. One method was an expedited non-emergency egress, where the crew started at the end of the crew access arm, called the white room, as if they just exited the capsule, and descended the crew access tower by taking the elevator to the base of the launch pad. Then, they were picked up by the pad team to be returned to crew quarters.

The other method involved an emergency egress, where the crew and pad team started at the crew access arm and escape to the ground using the slidewire baskets, with all alarms and fire suppression systems activated. From there, they boarded an armored vehicle that took them to safety.

“Safety of crew members is the top priority,” Walker said. “This was a great opportunity to test the emergency egress system and procedures on the pad.”

SpaceX provided a demonstration of activating alarms and beacons, putting on emergency breathing air bottles and activating the water deluge system on the crew access level, followed by egress from the white room. The astronauts also practiced loading into the baskets. The release mechanisms were also tested, and a weighted empty basket was sent down the length of the slidewire cable to the landing area.

The slidewire baskets have had a number of design improvements since they were used during the shuttle era. A new braking system was added that regulates the speed as astronauts descend the slidewire, which makes for a smoother ride for the crew.  Adjustments to the system have also made dismounting the slidewire baskets much easier than with the previous design.

Also, the platform used for emergency escape on the tower was relocated and reinstalled to the 265-foot-level, up 70 feet from its original shuttle-era location, in order to accommodate a taller launch vehicle.

“If the emergency egress system were ever to be needed to escape from a hazardous event, we want to have complete confidence that it will operate as designed and get our flight crew and pad personnel off the tower quickly and safely,” Payne said.

The verification team also included personnel from the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA Flight Surgeons, SpaceX systems engineers, Kennedy Aero Medical, Commercial Crew Program Safety, and other observers.

“Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn’t help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day,” Behnken said. “It’s exciting to have this verification test behind us on our way to the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.”

As commercial crew providers SpaceX and Boeing 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.

NASA, SpaceX Coordinate Crucial Astronaut Recovery Exercise

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction in Port Canaveral
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, along with teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station, on Aug. 13, 2019 at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Teams from NASA and SpaceX practiced removing astronauts from a Crew Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at Port Canaveral in Florida, preparing for when humans return to Earth from a mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The joint simulation involved a mock-up of the spacecraft and Go Searcher, one of the SpaceX ships that will recover the spacecraft and astronauts after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who will fly to and from the space station aboard Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, participated in the exercise.

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in Port Canaveral
Using SpaceX’s Go Searcher ship and a mock-up of the Crew Dragon, NASA and SpaceX teams worked through the steps necessary to get NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken out of the Dragon and back to dry land. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“Integrated tests like today’s are a crucial element in preparing for human spaceflight missions,” Hurley said. “This opportunity allowed us to work with the recovery team and ensure the plans are solid for the Demo-2 mission.”

The event marked the first time a fully integrated NASA and SpaceX team worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon. Hurley and Behnken were taken out of the spacecraft, given a mock medical evaluation and then transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip, or airport.

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in Port Canaveral
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken work with NASA and SpaceX teams during an astronaut recovery exercise in Port Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The purpose of the exercise, Mosteller pointed out, was to ensure participants knew their roles and responsibilities — and where they were supposed to be staged on the 150-foot vessel. He was extremely pleased with the results.

“It feels really good; it has been a lot of hard work to get us to this point,” Mosteller said. “There was a lot of collaboration, and it was a very positive experience for the integrated team.”

For Hurley and Behnken, it’s another milestone on the path to their historic flight.

“We are both looking forward to the Demo-2 flight and having the opportunity to return to the International Space Station,” Behnken said. “Each of these exercises puts us one step closer to fulfilling NASA’s mission of returning astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.”

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.

NASA, SpaceX Simulate Astronauts Docking to Station on Crew Dragon Spacecraft

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station. Here it is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station’s Harmony module. Photo credit: NASA

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.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
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. Photo credit: NASA

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.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. Photo credit: NASA

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 Completes Starliner Hot Fire Test

Starliner Hot Fire Test
Boeing teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

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.

Crew Safety A Top Priority

NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division conducted a crew rescue training event April 25 and 27, 2019, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

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’s Commercial Crew, DoD Teams Conduct Crew Rescue Exercise

Rescue team members stand on the stabilization collar attached to the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, during a search and rescue training exercise April 16, 2019.
Rescue team members stand on the stabilization collar attached to the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, during a search and rescue training exercise April 16, 2019. The exercise will be conducted over the next several days at the Army Wharf at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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.

Recovery and Rescue Teams Practice with Full-Size Crew Dragon Trainer

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.

SpaceX's 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.
Photo Credit: SpaceX

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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C3PF Makeover

Boeing C3PFYou 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?