NASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.
Since NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, the companies have matured space system designs and now have substantial spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware in development and testing in preparation for the test flights. The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a public-private approach. NASA, Boeing and SpaceX have significant testing underway, which will ultimately lead to test missions when the systems are ready and meet safety requirements.
Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.
After completion of each company’s uncrewed and crewed flight tests, NASA will review the flight data to verify the systems meet the requirements for certification. Upon NASA certification, the companies are each slated to fly six crew missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2024.
Here’s a look at (some of) what’s ahead in 2018:
Spacecraft: In 2018, Boeing will continue with the production and outfitting of three crew modules and multiple service modules inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has a structural version of its spacecraft going through loads, shock and separation test events in Huntington Beach, California. It will conduct a series of service module hot-fire tests in White Sands, New Mexico, as well as environmental testing to include thermal, vacuum and electromagnetic frequency in El Segundo, California.
Spacesuit: Boeing’s spacesuit will continue to undergo integrated system verification tests. These include environmental control and life support system testing, immersing the suit in water, egress demos with the aid of virtual reality, suited launch and landing cabin operations, prelaunch emergency exit with ground crews, ascent simulations with mission operations teams and post-landing egress.
Spacecraft: SpaceX is making significant progress on the six Crew Dragon spacecraft that the company currently has in various stages of production and testing. SpaceX’s structural qualification module has undergone extensive testing, which is scheduled to be complete in the first half of 2018. The company will continue ongoing hardware and software testing on its Environment Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS, module, through early 2018. The crew module that will be used to support SpaceX’s upcoming Demonstration Mission 1 has had its critical onboard avionics powered up and has completed integration of the module’s pressure section and service section’s structural components with preparations ongoing for its flight in 2018. Progress continues on SpaceX’s spacecraft for Demonstration Mission 2 and both of the company’s initial crew rotation missions.
Spacesuit: SpaceX will continue ongoing qualification and validation testing on its advanced spacesuits next year, including NASA’s four CCP flight test astronauts for a variety of the assessments, including suit-fit, reach and visibility assessments, and pressure tests. The company is in the process of manufacturing custom suits for each of the four astronauts, which will ensure a proper fit and comfortable ride to and from the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
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