NASA to Purchase Additional Commercial Crew Missions

NASA insignia.

NASA intends to issue a sole source modification to SpaceX to acquire five additional crewed flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract. The additional crew flights will allow NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station with two unique commercial crew industry partners.

In December 2021, NASA announced the extension of the International Space Station to 2030. With this extension, there is a need for additional crew rotation missions to sustain a safe and sustainable flight cadence throughout the remainder of the space station’s planned operations.

“Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 went very well and we hope to be able to certify the Starliner system in the near future. However, we will need additional missions from SpaceX to implement our strategy of having each commercial provider flying alternating missions once per year,” said Phil McAllister, director, commercial space at NASA. “Our goal has always been to have multiple providers for crewed transportation to the space station. SpaceX has been reliably flying two NASA crewed missions per year, and now we must backfill those flights to help safely meet the agency’s long-term needs.”

NASA anticipates a potential need to use any additional SpaceX flights as early as 2026 to ensure dissimilar redundancy, maintain safe space station operations, and allow each company to work through any unforeseen issues that could arise as private industry builds operational experience with these new systems.

“The recent success of Boeing’s uncrewed flight test is helping to solidify NASA’s long-term goals,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s critical we complete Starliner’s development without undue schedule pressure while working to position both Boeing and SpaceX for sustainable operations in the years ahead.”

SpaceX is currently NASA’s only certified commercial crew transportation provider. The company will fly its sixth rotational mission for NASA in the spring of 2023.

In October 2021, NASA issued a request for information from American industry capable of providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective human space transportation services to and from the International Space Station to ensure a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory. In February 2022, NASA awarded a firm fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract modification for the Crew-7, Crew-8, and Crew-9 missions to SpaceX.

After a thorough review of the long-term capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one currently certified to maintain crewed flight to the space station while helping to ensure redundant and backup capabilities through 2030.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

In 2014, NASA awarded the CCtCap contracts to Boeing and SpaceX through a public-private partnership as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Under CCtCap, NASA certifies that a provider’s space transportation system meets the agency’s requirements prior to flying missions with astronauts. After years of development, commercial crew systems have achieved or are nearing operational readiness for regular crewed missions, including providing a lifeboat capability, to the space station.

 

NASA, SpaceX Provide Update on Crewed Space Station Mission

Crew-3 Launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer onboard, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission is the third crew rotation mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Chari, Marshburn, Barron, Maurer launched at 9:03 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center to begin a six month mission onboard the orbital outpost. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

NASA and SpaceX provided an update Feb. 4 on the status of preparations on the agency’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station. As part of the news conference, NASA and SpaceX answered media questions on Crew Dragon’s parachutes and work ahead of its next crew launch with NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, as well as with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Listen to a full replay of the news conference, and read the agency’s statement below:

Crew safety remains a top priority for NASA. The agency and SpaceX carefully and methodically monitor the operational parachute performance on all crew and cargo flights to increase safety and reliability.

During the return of the SpaceX CRS-24 mission, teams observed a single main parachute that lagged during inflation like the return of the Crew-2 mission. The vertical descent rate of both flights was within the system design margins at splashdown, and all four main parachutes fully opened prior to splashdown on both missions.

With the commonality between Dragon spacecraft, the mission teams prioritize parachute imagery during return and recovery of the parachutes following splashdown. As partners, NASA and SpaceX jointly review the imagery data and perform physical inspection of the drogue and main parachutes after flight. The inflation model also continues to be updated to better characterize and understand margins and splashdown conditions. This review of flight data and parachute performance models will be completed prior to the launch of the Crew-4 mission and the return of Crew-3 astronauts from the International Space Station.

NASA and SpaceX are completing the parachute analysis as part of the standard postflight reviews conducted at the end of each mission. The results of the data reviews are discussed as part of joint engineering and program control boards and findings presented at the agency’s flight readiness review in advance of the next crew mission. NASA and SpaceX still are targeting launch of the Crew-4 mission Friday, April 15, to the International Space Station.

NASA, Boeing Prepare to Replace Starliner Service Modules Ahead of Upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2

Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.
Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.

NASA and Boeing continue making progress toward the agency’s upcoming Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams recently completed offloading fuel from the OFT-2 spacecraft inside Starliner’s production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for separating and replacing the current service module (SM2) from the crew module.

“The Starliner team and successful completion of the spacecraft’s development phase are critical to sustaining International Space Station operations through 2030,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The team’s dedication to developing effective remedies and corrective action after our first OFT-2 launch attempt demonstrates their continued commitment to safely flying NASA crews for years to come.”

In December, Boeing decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests. The service module originally planned for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) is now being used for OFT-2, and the service module originally planned for Starliner’s first post-certification mission, Starliner-1, now will  be used for CFT.

With fuel offload complete, the spacecraft was moved out of the hazardous processing area and into the production factory high bay.

“Because this is not an operation that we normally perform, our team took the time to fully coordinate and assess the proper spacecraft and ground support equipment configurations, and then execute to plan to ensure the safety of our team,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once separated in the coming weeks from the OFT-2 crew module, SM2 will be sent to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico for additional testing related to the issue affecting the spacecraft’s oxidizer isolation valves.

The investigation into the valve issue continues to substantiate that the most probable cause is interaction of moisture with nitrogen tetroxide that permeates through the Teflon seal in the valve, leading to corrosion. Testing continues to fully understand how this occurrence affects the valves in various environments.

Tests include environmental seal evaluation and exposing valves, in a controlled setting, to temperatures and conditions similar to those the spacecraft experienced prior to the planned launch of OFT-2. The results of these tests will help in the ongoing development of remediation efforts to prevent similar issues on future service modules.

For example, the team designed a purging system that will be integrated into the spacecraft to protect the valves from potential exposure to moisture at the factory, launch complex, and launch pad.

Progress also continues with production of the new service module (SM4) that will go onto the OFT-2 crew module. That service module was recently moved from the low bay production area to the factory’s hazardous processing area for high pressure leak testing. Remaining tasks before mating this service module with the OFT-2 crew module include acceptance testing, final wire harness mating, installation of solar array panels, and final closeouts.

NASA and Boeing continue to work toward an opening in United Launch Alliance’s launch window availability in May for OFT-2. An actual launch date will be determined closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of Eastern Range and International Space Station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review and will be determined after a safe and successful OFT-2.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

NASA, Boeing to Move Starliner to Production Facility for Propulsion System Evaluation

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 9, 2021.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 9, 2021. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have decided to postpone the launch of Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station as teams continue work on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

Engineering teams have been working to restore functionality to several valves in the Starliner propulsion system from inside United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility that did not open as designed during the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 launch attempt. The valves connect to thrusters that enable abort and in-orbit maneuvering.

“We made a lot of progress to open the valves from inside the Vertical Integration Facility, and the NASA-Boeing teams did a great job doing everything we could to get ready for this launch opportunity,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Although we wanted to see Starliner fly in this window, it’s critical that our primary focus is the safety of the crew transportation system – for the safety of the space station and the crew members that will be flying on these vehicles. We’ll only fly this test when we think we are ready, and can complete the mission objectives.”

Inside the VIF, Boeing was able to prompt nine of 13 valves open that previously were in the closed position using commanding, mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques. Teams will now begin the process to move Starliner back to Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida for deeper-level troubleshooting of four propulsion system valves that remain closed and more detailed analysis on the spacecraft.

“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”

NASA, Boeing and ULA will establish a new launch date once the issue is resolved.

What You Need to Know about NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day. Photo credit: Boeing/John Grant

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NASA and Boeing are taking another major step on the path to regular human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil with the second uncrewed flight test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is targeting launch of the Starliner spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 2:53 p.m. EDT Friday, July 30, from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Starliner is expected to arrive at the space station for docking about 24 hours later with more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies.

The mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States. OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

Read the full feature here.

SpaceX Crew-2 on Track for Launch April 23, NASA Celebrates Earth Day in Space Today

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is in view on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, as preparations continue for the Crew-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is in view on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, as preparations continue for the Crew-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is the second crew rotation mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are scheduled to launch at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23, 2021. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission with astronauts to the International Space Station is on track for Friday, April 23, at 5:49 a.m. EDT. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet will fly to the International Space Station for a six-month science mission. NASA TV coverage of Crew-2 launch preparations and liftoff will begin at 1:30 a.m. Friday, April 23. The Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock to the space station Saturday, April 24, at approximately 5:10 a.m. EDT.

For an April 23 launch, the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron continues to predict a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions at the launch pad for liftoff based on Falcon 9 Crew Dragon launch weather criteria. The primary weather concerns for the launch area will be flight through precipitation from isolated, low-topped coastal showers and onshore flow. Conditions continue to improve along the flight path and recovery area for the mission.

Today, Thursday, April 22, is Earth Day. To commemorate this day, NASA is hosting Earth Day in Space. Singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes will join five astronauts living and working aboard the International Space to discuss how we’re all #ConnectedByEarth, asking questions from young people around the world about Earth Day, climate change and how the astronauts study Earth from space.

The event will feature NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who recently arrived to the space station aboard a Soyuz, joining NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, the Crew-1 team who arrived last November. It will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s YouTube channel and website at 11 a.m. EDT April 22.

The Crew-1 astronauts are scheduled to depart the space station at 7:05 a.m. Wednesday, April 28. They will participate in their final news conference aboard the microgravity laboratory at 12:30 p.m. EDT Monday, April 26, about their upcoming return to Earth. Media wishing to participate by telephone must call NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s newsroom at 281-483-5111 to RSVP no later than 5 p.m. Friday, April 23. The news conference will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. Those following the briefing on social media may ask questions using #AskNASA.

Crew-1 worked on a number of experiments as part of Expedition 64 to the International Space Station, including tissue chips that mimic the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases, and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth. Astronauts also grew radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space and tested a new system to remove heat from spacesuits.

Follow along with launch activities and get more information about the mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/crew-2. Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following: @Commercial_Crew@space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the Commercial Crew FacebookISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Acting NASA Administrator, Partners Discuss Crew-2 Mission, Now Set for April 23

Frank De Winne, manager, International Space Station Program, ESA (European Space Agency) speaks to members of the media during a press conference with, from left, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, Hiroshi Sasaki, vice president and director general of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate, NASA astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and Jasmin Moghbeli, and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, ahead of the Crew-2 launch, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are scheduled to launch at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Frank De Winne, manager, International Space Station Program, ESA (European Space Agency) speaks to members of the media during a press conference with, from left, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, Hiroshi Sasaki, vice president and director general of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate, NASA astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and Jasmin Moghbeli, and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, ahead of the Crew-2 launch. at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are scheduled to launch at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

With the countdown clock and Launch Pad 39A serving as a backdrop, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk participated in a briefing for the Crew-2 mission at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, April 21, at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

The briefing came after Crew-2’s launch was rescheduled to Friday, April 23, at 5:49 a.m. EDT, because of unfavorable weather conditions along the flight path. Although conditions around the launch site were expected to be favorable for a Thursday, April 22, liftoff, mission teams also must consider conditions along the flight path and recovery area in the unlikely event of a launch escape.

“We’re now scheduled for ‘go’ on Friday and the crew is ready,” said Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “I could not be more proud of the Commercial Crew Program, the SpaceX and NASA teams, and what they’ve been able to do to enable reliable, safe, effective transportation to and from space. We are looking forward to a great launch.”

Crew-2 is the second crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft with astronauts to the space station and the first carrying two international crew members. Mission astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, will head to the International Space Station for a six-month science mission in the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.

“On behalf of JAXA, I’d like to express my gratitude to the launch team,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, vice president and director general, JAXA’s Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate. “Last night, I spoke with Akihiko Hoshide, and he is ready for launch. I am excited that two Japanese astronauts – Akihiko Hoshide and Soichi Noguchi – will meet together at the International Space Station. I’m looking forward to the Crew-2 launch and wishing them great success.”

The crew will conduct science and maintenance during their six-month stay aboard the space station and will return no earlier than Oct. 31. Adding more crew members aboard the microgravity laboratory increases the time available for scientific activities. The November 2020 addition of the Crew-1 astronauts more than doubled crew hours spent on science research and support activities, and Crew-2 will continue the important investigations and technology demonstrations that are preparing for future Artemis missions to the Moon, helping us improve our understanding of Earth’s climate, and improving life on our home planet.

An important scientific focus on this expedition is continuing a series of Tissue Chips in Space studies. Tissue chips are small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body. Another important element of Crew-2’s mission is augmenting the station’s solar power system by installing the first pair of six new ISS Roll-out Solar Arrays (iROSA).

“It’s an exciting time for us,” said Frank de Winne, manager, International Space Station Program. “We will have much more time to do research, science, but also technology development that we will need for the future of the Artemis program and for the future exploration of our solar system.”

Crew Dragon will deliver more than 500 pounds of cargo, as well as new science hardware and experiments, including CHIME, a university student-led investigation to study possible causes for suppressed immune response in microgravity.

For an April 23 launch, the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions at the launch pad for liftoff based on Falcon 9 Crew Dragon launch weather criteria. The primary weather concerns for the launch area will be liftoff winds. Conditions also are expected to improve along the flight path and recovery area for the mission.

NASA TV coverage of Crew-2 launch preparations and liftoff will begin at 1:30 a.m. Friday, April 23. The Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock to the space station Saturday, April 24, at approximately 5:10 a.m. EDT.

Follow along with launch activities and get more information about the mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/crew-2. Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following: @Commercial_Crew@space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the Commercial Crew FacebookISS Facebook, and ISS Instagram accounts.