NASA’s Launch Services Program is looking for a couple of launch vehicles suited to the needs of CubeSats, small spacecraft that fit inside a 4-inch cube. After five years of launching cubes as secondary payloads on larger missions, the industry has matured to the point that designers and scientists are able to perform significant science in Earth and space studies. Along the way, a backlog of about 50 CubeSat missions has built up, so the agency wants to put a new small rocket to use that is capable of sending an assortment of the small satellites into orbit at one time. Read more about the draft proposal at http://go.nasa.gov/1JTwRPz
Legendary former launch director Bob Sieck has seen countless launches of all sorts from Florida’s Space Coast during a distinguished career that began during Gemini and lasted through most of the space shuttle era. But watching today’s test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon from Kennedy Space Center was substantially different, he said.
“First time I watched the launch of a spacecraft – without the benefit of a rocket!”
In case you are wondering where prior crew escape systems were tested, the launch escape systems for Mercury capsules were tested at Wallops Island, Virginia, and the Apollo escape tower was tested at White Sands, New Mexico. Gemini used ejection seats for its astronauts. None have been tested at Cape Canaveral until today.
A loud whoosh, faint smoke trail and billowing parachutes marked a successful demonstration Wednesday by SpaceX of its Crew Dragon spacecraft abort system – an important step in NASA’s endeavor to launch crews to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. The successful test of the spacecraft’s launch escape capabilities proved the spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.
The Crew Dragon simultaneously fired its eight SuperDraco engines at 9 a.m. EDT and leapt off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The engines fired for about six seconds, instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust each and lifting the spacecraft out over the Atlantic Ocean before jettisoning its trunk, as planned, and parachuting safely into the ocean. The test lasted about two minutes from engine ignition to splashdown.
“This is a critical step toward ensuring crew safety for government and commercial endeavors in low-Earth orbit,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Congratulations to SpaceX on what appears to have been a successful test on the company’s road toward achieving NASA certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to and from the International Space Station.”
The flight test is a vital milestone in the company’s development effort and furthers its plan to meet a major requirement for the next generation of piloted spacecraft — an escape system that can quickly and safely take crew members away from their rocket while on the pad and through their ascent to orbit. SpaceX can use the test data to help refine its aerodynamic and performance models, and its design, to help ensure crew safety throughout all phases of flight.
“SpaceX was founded with the goal of carrying people to space, and today’s pad abort test represented an important milestone in that effort,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Our partnership with NASA has been essential for developing Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that we believe will be the safest ever flown. Today’s successful test will provide critical data as we continue toward crewed flights in 2017.”
The test was the first with a full-size developmental spacecraft using a complete set of eight SuperDraco engines in the demanding real-world conditions of a pad abort situation. SpaceX built the SuperDracos for pad and launch abort use. Each engine, the chambers of which are 3-D printed, burns hypergolic propellants monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.
More than 270 special instruments, including temperature sensors and accelerometers, which are instruments that measure acceleration, were strategically placed in and around the vehicle to measure a variety of stresses and acceleration effects. A test dummy, equipped with sensors, went along for the ride to measure the effects on the human body. To further maximize the value of the test, weights were placed inside the capsule at crew seat locations to replicate the mass of a crewed launch.
The trunk, an unpowered cylinder with stabilizing fins, detached from the spacecraft when it reached maximum altitude and fell back to Earth, while the capsule rotated on as planned for a couple seconds before unfurling its drogue parachutes, which then deployed the main parachutes. Boat crews have begun the process of retrieving the Crew Dragon from the ocean and returning it to land for further analysis.
Spacecraft development and certification through the Commercial Crew Program is performed through a new arrangement that encourages innovation and efficiency in the aerospace industry, bringing to the process the space agency’s expertise in the form of safety and performance requirements for the spacecraft, boosters and related systems.
The pad abort test is a payment milestone funded by the Commercial Crew Program under a partnership agreement established with the company in 2012. The agency awarded contracts last year to Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective systems for flight tests and operational missions to the space station. Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, the awards allow continued work on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at a pace that is determined by their respective builders, but that also meets NASA’s requirements and its goal of flying crews in 2017.
“Our partners have met many significant milestones and key development activities so far, and this pad abort test provides visual proof of one of the most critical safety requirements — protecting a crew in the event of a major system failure,” Lueders said.
NASA already is preparing the space station for commercial crew spacecraft and the larger station crews that will be enabled by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100. NASA plans to use the new generation of privately developed and operated spacecraft to carry as many as four astronauts each mission, increasing the station crew to seven and doubling the amount of science that can be performed off the Earth, for the Earth.
The test window will open at 7 a.m. and extend until 2:30 p.m. EDT. NASA will provide updates about the test on the Commercial Crew Blog and air the test live on NASA Television. The flight test is to see a Crew Dragon and trunk – together about 20 feet tall – fly on the power of eight SuperDraco engines.
Learn more at http://go.nasa.gov/1bmETRS.
SpaceX now is targeting Wednesday, May 6, for a pad abort test of its Crew Dragon, a spacecraft under final development and certification through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The test window will open at 7 a.m. EDT.
NASA Television will provide live coverage of the test, which will simulate an emergency abort from a test stand on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.
In the coming days, we will be sharing NASA’s views of Earth – from our satellites, from our research aircraft, and even from our scientists themselves at work in the field. Look for NASA’s posts on Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Facebook and elsewhere. But while the view from space can be awe-inspiring, our satellites do not see the world the way you do.
We want you to share with NASA and the world views of your corner of Earth – your favorite place, whether it’s a local park, your vacation spot or Mt. Everest. Our question to you is a simple one: What is your favorite place on Earth?
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the sixth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. At the time of launch, the orbiting laboratory was traveling at an altitude of 257 miles over the Great Australian Bight, south of Western Australia.
The spacecraft’s two tons of supplies, science experiments, and technology demonstrations include critical materials to support about 40 of more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 43 and 44.
The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron forecast for the launch of the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station is 60 percent “go.” There is a 40 percent chance of violating the Anvil Cloud Rule and Cumulus Cloud Rule at the scheduled launch time of 4:10:41 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.
The spacecraft is loaded with more than 4,300 pounds of supplies, science experiments, and technology demonstrations, including critical materials to support about 40 of more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 43 and 44.
U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron forecasters continue to predict a 60 percent of favorable conditions for the launch of SpaceX CRS-6 on Monday, April 13. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft is targeted for exactly 4:33:15 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch coverage on NASA television will begin Monday at 3:30 p.m.
Today NASA will host a prelaunch briefing and two panel discussions to preview some of the 40 science and research investigations that will be directly supported by the critical cargo the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission will deliver to the International Space Station. NASA Television will provide live coverage and streaming Internet coverage at https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv.
1:30-2:30 p.m. – ISS Research and Technology Panel
3:30-4:30 p.m. – ISS National Lab Panel
5-6 p.m. – Prelaunch News Conference
Weather forecasters from the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a 60 percent chance of favorable weather at the scheduled time for launch of SpaceX CRS-6. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft is targeted for 4:33 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 13, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Launch coverage on NASA Television will begin at 3:30 p.m. A Monday launch will result in the Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station Wednesday, April 15. Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency will use the station’s 57.7-foot robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at approximately 7 a.m. Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA will support Cristoforetti as they operate from the station’s cupola. NASA TV coverage of grapple will begin at 5 a.m. Coverage of Dragon’s installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 9:15 a.m.
If launch does not occur on Monday, the next launch opportunity would be at 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14.