Upgrades Establish Kennedy’s Future

IMG_3914

More than five years of careful thought, in-depth planning and detailed refurbishments have set up Kennedy Space Center for diverse exploration missions that will push astronauts and robotic spacecraft into new areas of accomplishment, said, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center director, Bob Cabana at the National Space Club Florida Committee meeting today in Cape Canaveral.

“We’re not just making a difference for Kennedy or even the nation, we’ve got a meaningful mission and we are making a difference for all of humankind,” Cabana, a former astronaut, told the group of about 375 in attendance.

By focusing on piloted missions to the International Space Station using Commercial Crew Program spacecraft, followed by Space Launch System and Orion flight tests, Kennedy has established a ground support network of launch pads and associated infrastructure needed to support missions to Mars by astronauts in the future. All of this while maintaining the center’s unique ability to launch historic robotic exploration missions such as Osiris-Rex that will bring back a sample from an asteroid. Other flights in the future will continue to decipher the mysteries of Mars as well as taking close looks at other planetary networks in the solar system.

The center has seen complete upgrades in many areas including the Launch Control Center, Launch Complex 39B and modifications to the Mobile Launcher tailored to the needs of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. Other facilities have been upgraded for commercial partners. The center’s new headquarters campus is under construction to deliver an environmentally friendly, energy efficient structure.

“Our future is absolutely outstanding,” Cabana said. “I believe the years we have ahead of us will be our best ever.”

View Mr. Cabana’s complete presentation here.

SpaceX Tests Transporter Erector

SpaceX-transerectorA critical piece of large equipment is being tested at Launch Complex 39A this week as SpaceX raises and lowers the transporter erector that will be used to move the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket to the launch pad for missions. Standing 212 feet high – more than 20 stories – the TE, as SpaceX calls the machine, will move launch-ready rockets and spacecraft from the processing hangar at the base of the pad up to the pad surface and into a vertical position over the flame trench.

The lift and lowering of the transporter erector are part of routine tests conducted on the pad to ensure all ground systems are prepared to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. The TE is a much larger and stronger version of the erector the company uses at Space Launch Complex 40, as it will also be used for processing and launching future Falcon Heavy rockets. Photo credit: SpaceX

Eve of Launch: 2016 Goals Vital to Commercial Crew Success

Commercial Crew AstronautsNASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners Boeing and SpaceX are on the eve of America’s return to human spaceflight launches. By the time the year closes, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will be poised for the flight tests that allow our astronauts to travel to the International Space Station lifting off from Florida’s Space Coast.

It won’t be easy. Successful missions will require a comprehensive testing regimen of numerous systems on the ground and in space. That is why the outline of tasks for 2016 is so important. The result of each evaluation will be vital in the design of the systems. From parachute tests, to launch pad certifications, to the completion of spacecraft that will fly into orbit, this year offers both companies opportunities to build on the momentum of 2015 and carry it through to landmark space achievements in 2017. Read the details of what NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its partners will be working on in 2016 to set us up for 2017 at http://go.nasa.gov/1UbVMjk

Bolden: Commercial Market in Low-Earth Orbit Serves Nation’s Journey to Mars

NASA Administrator Charles BoldenToday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden blogged about the agency’s plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. By building a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit, the agency is able to focus on simultaneously getting our astronauts to deep space. Kennedy, the agency’s premier multi-user spaceport, is home to two programs that are vital to this plan. The Commercial Crew Program will return our astronauts to the International Space Station on American systems launching from the United States. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is upgrading our facilities to support the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for our Journey to Mars.

Competition, innovation and technology – it’s the American way,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “It’s helping us to Launch America.”

Read more of Bolden’s blog at http://go.nasa.gov/1Q8VLNX

Astronauts Celebrate With Builders Topping of Crew Access Tower

Four astronauts training for test flights with NASA’s Commercial Crew program joined the festivities at Space Launch Complex 41 Thursday morning as one of the highest steel beams was placed on the Crew Access Tower during a “topping off” ceremony with United Launch Alliance, Boeing and Hensel Phelps at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site in Florida.

“It’s really an honor to get down here. We’re humbled to be a part of launching rockets for the United States again,” said Doug Hurley, a veteran of space shuttle missions and one of the four chosen to work closely with partners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during development, testing and training. Bob Behnken, Eric Boe and Suni Williams were also selected and took part in the employee-focused event.

“It’s amazing how many people it takes to get us into space,” Boe said.

A large crowd of employees from numerous companies gathered mid-morning to sign the 650-pound beam and watch a crane lift it into place atop the 200-foot-tall Crew Access Tower constructed over the past year. It was built in segments complete with stairs, cable trays and other fittings a few miles from the launch pad, then those segments were stacked on top of each other to form the tower. The Crew Access Arm and White Room the astronauts looked over today will be attached to the tower after several months’ of testing and fit checks.

“We’ve poured 1,000 cubic yards of concrete and mounted nearly 1 million pounds of steel, and we’ve done it in spectacular fashion,” said Howard Biegler, launch operations lead for ULA’s Human Launch Services.

Employees were asked to sign the beam before it was lifted into place and welded to the top of the tower.

“Today you are part of history,” said Kathy Lueders, program manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Stop and enjoy this moment. I hope everyone has been able to write their name on the beam because you are part of the critical safety network that is making this all possible.”

Prior to the ceremony at SLC-41, the astronauts toured the White Room and Crew Access Arm undergoing testing at a construction yard near Kennedy Space Center. The White Room will be the stepping off point to space for astronauts as they board a Boeing CST-100 Starliner for liftoff on a ULA Atlas V rocket. Designed as a clean area to keep contaminants out of the spacecraft and off the astronauts’ suits, white rooms are the place where technicians make last-minute additions to the spacesuit and make sure everything is ready to flight as the flight crew climbs inside for launch. White rooms have always been a part of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, from Mercury to Gemini and Apollo to the space shuttle.

“This is the last thing that whoever flies the Starliner is going to see before they go into space,” Hurley told the workers who built the structures.

Boeing and SpaceX are developing a new generation of spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station beginning in 2017. Both companies are also deep into construction and modification of launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to safely host astronaut crews as they launch from American soil for the first time since 2011. Designs for launch facilities have been confirmed through NASA panels and in-depth examinations.

For Boeing, launching from SLC-41 meant building the Crew Access Tower, the first crew-focused structure at Cape Canaveral since Apollo 7. SpaceX is modifying historic Launch Pad 39A for its commercial crew missions on the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching on its Falcon 9 rockets. It also will have a White Room tailored to its designs that will offer astronauts and ground crew safety as they board and a way to leave the spacecraft in a hurry before launch in the unlikely event of an emergency. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Astronauts to Mark Station’s 15-Year Anniversary

22588197126_8b6731d892_oHumans have lived aboard the International Space Station continuously for 15 years, a record accomplishment that astronauts and cosmonauts will discuss from orbit this morning at 10:05 eastern on NASA TV. Although placed in orbit in 1998, the station did not welcome its first three residents until Nov. 2, 2000. That was the day NASA astronaut Bill Shepard and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev docked with the fledgling orbital outpost.

It would take dozens more astronauts and cosmonauts along with space shuttle missions and more than 180 spacewalks to turn the station into the functioning, cutting-edge laboratory it is today. Expedition 45 crew members will talk to the world’s news media about the space exploration milestone and what it means for research for those on the Earth and how it will help our goals for deep-space exploration in the future. The anniversary also comes as NASA stands at the cusp of launching a new generation of human-rated spacecraft to the station with partners Boeing and SpaceX.

Well-suited for years more research from its unique place in space, the International Space Station will host twice as much research time when the new spacecraft – called the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon – begin making operational flights to orbit carrying four station crew members at a time.

Crew Access Tower Stacking Passes Midway Point

KSC-315D-0384_0037KSC-315D-0384_0025

The steel lattice column that will become the Crew Access Tower for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft continues its methodical rise at Space Launch Complex-41 where four of seven sections of the tower have been stacked.

Built four miles south, each section or tier, is being trucked to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch pad where a crane lifts it into position. The tower will reach about 200 feet high when it’s finished.

Even after stacking is complete, the team will have plenty to do to outfit it for launch, including installing the elevator, white room, crew access arm and infrastructure lines. Since SLC-41 remains an operational facility while the tower is built, work on the tower is taking place between Atlas V launch operations.

KSC-315D-0384_0041

Boeing Wraps Up C3PF Mural Work

C3PF_partial_wrapThe new face of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) is complete. Workers placed the finishing touches of the building-sized mural on the rounded edges of the former Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this week.

The image of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner orbiting above Florida highlights the C3PF’s role as the assembly and processing home for the company’s next-generation human-rated spacecraft. The Starliner is being built in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to re-establish America’s ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.

Spacecraft built in the C3PF will be launched into space from nearby Space Launch Complex-41 aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. NASA also is working with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon to take astronauts to the station.

Crew Access Tower Stacking Begins

2015-2795The first new Crew Access Tower at Cape2015-27922015-2793Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida since the Apollo 2015-2799era will take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 in the coming days as workers moved the first two tiers from a nearby construction yard to the pad surface. The tiers will be lifted into place atop each other at the foot of the launch pad starting next week.

Boeing and United Launch Alliance are building the tower which is a critical element for the launch pad as it is converted from a pad that serves only uncrewed missions to a complex that can safely accommodate the needs of flight crews along with their ground support teams for CST-100 Starliner missions. The Starliner is under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, along with the SpaceX Crew Dragon, to take astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.

Designed with modern data systems, communications and power networks integrated and protected from blast and vibration, plus an elevator, the Crew Access Tower has been built with several features only a fully suited astronaut could appreciate, such as wider walkways, snag-free railings and corners that are easy to navigate without running into someone. The tower will also be equipped with slide wire baskets for emergency evacuation to a staged blast-resistant vehicle.

The segments were assembled about four miles away from the launch pad so workers wouldn’t be idled by launch preps for United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. The tower will be stacked just to the side of the hard stand at SLC-41 where the boosters lift off. It will take seven tiers to complete the more than 200-foot-tall tower. A swing-out walkway bridge will be added later to connect the tower to the hatch of the Starliner so astronauts can climb aboard the ship as it stands at the pad before launch.

The tower construction marks the latest in a quick succession of events for Boeing’s Starliner program. The company opened the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility last week for use as the Starliner production and processing base and just completed the mural on the front of the building showing the spacecraft orbiting above Florida. The upper and lower dome assemblies arrived earlier this year for the Starliner’s Structural Test Article which is being built and processed as a pathfinder for the program and will be put together just as an operational spacecraft would before it goes into exhaustive testing to the prove the design.

 

Meet the Starliner!

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.

Artist concept of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft