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.
One of the former processing bays for the space shuttles at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is getting a facelift this week as Boeing wraps the building that will be the production and processing home of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft. The interior of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, better known as the C3PF, is being outfitted for the precision demanded in assembling human-rated spacecraft and then processing the craft for flight. The wrap, which will cover the front of the processing bay, will showcase the future Boeing intends to pursue with the CST-100 line. It is expected to take more than a week to complete the detailed illustration. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing have been working together to develop the spacecraft that would provide transportation for up to four astronauts at a time to the International Space Station. The company can also use the CST-100 to carry equipment and supplies to the orbiting laboratory. The payoff for NASA is an American-made and operated vehicle that will launch from Florida and allow crew research time on the station to double.
The first two domes that will form the pressure shell of the Structural Test Article, or STA, for Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft have arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The STA Crew Module will be assembled inside the former space shuttle hangar, known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3, so the company can validate the manufacturing and processing methods it plans to use for flight-ready CST-100 vehicles. While the STA will not fly with people aboard, it will be used to determine the effectiveness of the design and prove its escape system during a pad abort test. The ability to abort from an emergency and safely carry crew members out of harm’s way is a critical element for NASA’s next generation of crew spacecraft.
The main structure of the STA was friction-stir welded into a single upper and lower hull in mid-2015 and then machined to its final thickness. Throughout the next few months, it will be outfitted with critical components and systems required for testing. Once completed at Kennedy, the test article will be taken to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California, for evaluations. The “structural test” is one of many that will verify the capabilities and worthiness of the spacecraft, which is being designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in the near future for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing plans to launch its spacecraft on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is only a few miles away from the CST-100 processing facility at Kennedy. A human-rated crew access tower that will give astronauts and ground support crews access to the CST-100 standing at the pad is currently is under construction near the launch site.
NASA has selected four astronauts who will train to fly Commercial Crew flight tests in 2017 aboard the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon. Greg Hurley, Eric Boe, Bob Behnken, and Suni Williams have been selected to be the first astronauts to board those spacecraft.
“What comes with our assignment is a fair amount of responsibility because there will be a legacy of astronauts for years and years to come who will have to live with the decisions that we in the agency are making with Boeing and SpaceX now,” said Bob Behnken of he and his fellow Commercial Crew astronauts.
Follow the Commercial Crew Program progress, at https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew
SpaceX released a new photo showing the progress the company is making on an assembly hangar at Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A. The company says the building will be big enough to house five Falcon rockets at once. The launch pad is being outfitted for missions by the Falcon Heavy and for Commercial Crew flights using the Falcon 9 rocket launching Crew Dragons to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts onboard.
Yesterday, Regan taught 17 elementary school students at Kennedy’s Child Development Center about the Commercial Crew Program and the need to have American-made spacecraft and rocket systems to carry people to and from space. After the lesson, each student built their own spacecraft out of cardboard boxes and art supplies.
Take a look at the designs these budding engineers created.
- Cardboard box
- Disposable plates (for portholes)
- Pictures (to place on the portholes)
- Plastic cups (to make rocket engines)
- Foil (to cover the cups)
- Tissue Paper – red, orange and yellow (to make fire for the engines)
- Construction Paper (for decorating)
- Stencils (for decorating)
- Pencil (for a steering wheel)
- NASA and Commercial Crew Program logos
Three months of seven-day work weeks including a month of 17-hour days punctuated the end of 2014 for Steven Horn. As assistant chief counsel at Kennedy, Horn worked to defend the decisions by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to award contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability phase. The effort was intense and draining, but equal parts rewarding for the lawyer who has since been named the agency’s Attorney of the Year.
“This procurement was very complex, given the parallel space act agreements and phased acquisition and all,” Horn said. “We have to bring the level of expertise that the engineers have down to a more readable level when making findings when they are going to be reviewed by someone who doesn’t necessarily have that technical background. That can be difficult at times.”
Horn’s legal career began following his graduation from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. After a couple years in private practice, Horn joined the Air Force where he worked in the Judge Advocate General department before going to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where contracts and labor-related issues became his specialty. Having traveled the world in the Air Force, Horn opted to settle down in Florida, and came to work for NASA at Kennedy Space Center in 1998.
“Every day here is a challenge, whether it’s contracts, space act agreements or how we’re commercializing property that NASA has no present use for,” Horn said. “The most rewarding thing for me, bar none, is the people I get to work with. There are some amazing engineers out here, I’m not just saying that. They blow me away every day. I like working with people smarter than me and there are a heck of a lot of people out here smarter than me and it motivates me to bring my game up. That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s that interaction with people and helping create solutions.”
Horn is now the primary legal voice for Commercial Crew, beginning that role two years ago when he became a part of the source board to acquire services for the first American-made, human-rated spacecraft since the space shuttle. Then he helped judge how proposals by aerospace companies stacked up against NASA’s requirements for Commercial Crew. Ultimately, the source board made the evaluations before NASA’s hierarchy made the final selection of Boeing and SpaceX.
“The Source Evaluation Board chairwoman, Maria Collura, in my almost 30 years of work, is easily the best that I’ve ever come across,” Horn said. “She was the glue that held the entire team together.”
A couple weeks later, a protest lodged against the decision sent the board and Horn into justification mode. By the time it was complete, more than 160,000 pages had been gathered and reviewed. Ultimately, the Government Accountability Office agreed with NASA’s rationale and approved the contract awards.
“I think the day the announcement was made to select two companies, it showed that all the work we had done for the past year and half as a team was correct,” Horn said. “The day that we got the successful decision was a good day — a very good day for myself and for NASA.”
Although getting to this point with the contracts awarded and decision upheld has been a lot of work, Horn said it will be the next three years of development progress, test flights and certification that tells the team whether they got it right.
“The work’s not done,” Horn said. “Selecting the contractor is important, but administering the contract correctly matters just as much. We have a goal of 2017 for these flights, but it’s just a goal. We need to make sure they meet NASA’s requirements and are safe and cost-effective.”
NASA took another step toward returning America’s ability to launch crew missions to the International Space Station from the United States in 2017. Commercial Crew ordered its first crew rotation mission from The Boeing Company. SpaceX is expected to receive its first order later this year. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.
“Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the Commercial Crew and station programs,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of Commercial Crew. “Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions.”
Missions flown to the station on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of scientific research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory. A standard mission to the station will carry four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.
“Commercial Crew launches are critical to the International Space Station Program because it ensures multiple ways of getting crews to orbit,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “It also will give us crew return capability so we can increase the crew to seven, letting us complete a backlog of hands-on critical research that has been building up due to heavy demand for the National Laboratory.”