Flight Tests to Prove Commercial Systems Fit for Human Spaceflight

Crew Dragon and Starliner at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The first test flights for new spacecraft designed by commercial companies in collaboration with NASA to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station from the United States are known as Demo-1 for SpaceX and Orbital Flight Test for Boeing.

NASA’s goal in collaborating with Boeing and SpaceX is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from station on the companies’ spacecraft. Both companies have matured their designs, are making significant progress through their extensive testing campaigns, and are headed toward flight tests to validate their systems.

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Boeing Expects Automated Starliner Flight Test in 5 or 6 Months

Editor’s Note: Apparently Boeing had a teleconference with a select group of media today to announce the delay.

NASA, Commercial Partners Progress to Human Spaceflight Home Stretch

The upper and lower domes of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft 2 Crew Flight Test Vehicle were mated June 19, 2018, inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. On the right, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used for the company’s uncrewed flight test, known as Demonstration Mission 1, arrived to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 10, 2018. (Credits: Photo on the left, Boeing, on the right: NASA/SpaceX)

By Madison Tuttle
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA and commercial industry partners Boeing and SpaceX are making significant advances in preparing to launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. As part of the Commercial Crew Program’s public-private partnership, both companies are fine-tuning their designs, integrating hardware, and testing their crew spacecraft and rockets to prepare for test flights

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NASA to Announce Commercial Crew Assignments on Aug. 3

Crew Dragon and Starliner at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will announce on Friday, Aug. 3, the astronauts assigned to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, and begin a new era in American spaceflight. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will preside over the event, which will begin at 11 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

NASA will announce the crew assignments for the crew flight tests and the first post-certification mission for both Boeing and SpaceX. NASA partnered with Boeing and SpaceX to develop the Starliner spacecraft to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and the Crew Dragon launching atop the Falcon 9 rocket, respectively.

U.S. media are invited to attend the event at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and, afterward, speak with the astronauts about their assignments.

Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana will join Bridenstine and representatives from Boeing and SpaceX to introduce the crews.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems designed to carry crews safely to and from low-Earth orbit. The Starliner and Crew Dragon will launch American astronauts on American-made spacecraft from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since NASA retired its Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

Commercial transportation to and from the space station will enable expanded station use, additional research time and broader opportunities of discovery aboard the orbiting laboratory. The station is critical for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight, and necessary for a sustainable presence on the Moon and missions deeper into the solar system, including Mars.

Following the announcement, the astronauts will participate in a Reddit Ask Me Anything at 12:30 p.m. at:

https://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/

Images and video highlights from the announcement will be available at:

https://images.nasa.gov

Boeing Suffers Setback During CST-100 Starliner Abort Test

CST-100 Starliner with Atlas V booster. (Credit: Boeing)

Media are reporting that Boeing suffered a setback recently when testing CST-100 Starliner’s emergency abort system at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here’s an account from The Washington Post:

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said it has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”

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Trump Nominates Senate Staffer for NASA Deputy Administrator

President Donald J. Trump today nominated a long-time Senate staffer who has neither a technical nor scientific background to be the space agency’s deputy administrator.

James Morhard, who is currently the U.S. Senate’s Deputy Sergeant at Arms, was nominated for the position. The decision represents a defeat for NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who had publicly advocated on behalf of Dr. Janet Kavandi, a former astronaut, engineer and analytical chemist who is director of the NASA Glenn Research Center.

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NASA Names Six New Flight Directors to Lead Mission Control

The 2018 Class of NASA Flight Directors for the Mission Control Center (L-R): Marcos Flores, Allison Bolinger, Adi Boulos, Rebecca Wingfield, Pooja Jesrani, and Paul Konyha. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected six women and men to join the elite corps of flight directors who will lead mission control for a variety of new operations at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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Kathy Lueders Talks Commercial Crew, Tech Transfer on Steroids

Kathryn Lueders

Commercial Crew Manager Kathy Lueders recently appeared on “Houston We Have a Podcast”, which is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. The program was published on the space agency’s on June 15.

You can listen to the full podcast and read a transcript of the interview here. Below are key excepts from the conversation.

Progress on Commercial Crew

Kathy Lueders: They have their — spacecraft is really, really cool right now. I can’t tell you– go out to SpaceX, you see spacecraft in the building, one– our DM1 vehicle’s getting ready to roll out to go to Plum Brook in a week and a half. [Editor’s note: DM-1 is now undergoing tests at Plum Brook.]

You go over into the C3PF down in Florida and the Boeing spacecraft, you get C3 spacecraft, the Spacecraft 1’s getting ready to get shipped out to go support pad abort test. Spacecraft 2’s getting ready to get shipped to California to go through environmental testing and that will eventually come back and become our first crewed flight test vehicle. And Spacecraft 3 is getting assembled and will be getting ready to fly later this year.

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Boeing Starliner Flight Test Slips

Bruno is talking about the U.S. military’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite, which is set for launch on Oct. 5. That would mean that Atlas V launch carrying an uncrewed Boeing CST-100 Starliner would be postponed from its current late August date until sometime after the AEHF mission.

The Starliner mission is one of two flight tests needed to qualify the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station under the agency’s commercial crew program. The second mission will carry a crew.

ISS Astronauts Install HD Cameras for Commercial Crew Flights

 
NASA Correction, June 14, 2018
:  This post has been updated to clarify the timing of the first uncrewed test missions, which are planned for later this year.

Editor’s Note: The original post indicated that Boeing and SpaceX would conduct automated flight tests of Starliner and Dragon 2 to the space station at the end of the year. They’re both officially scheduled for August, although the schedule is likely to slip.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are set to go on their third spacewalk together this year on Thursday at the International Space Station. Their new Expedition 56 crewmates Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst are training today to support the two spacewalkers.

Arnold and Feustel will begin Thursday’s spacewalk at 8:10 a.m. to install new high definition cameras to support upcoming commercial crew missions from SpaceX and Boeing to the orbital laboratory. The first uncrewed test missions are planned to begin later this year. The cameras will provide improved views of the commercial crew vehicles as they approach and dock to the station. NASA TV will provide complete live coverage of the 211th space station spacewalk starting at 6:30 a.m.

Auñón-Chancellor and Gerst, who just arrived at the station on Friday, will assist the spacewalkers on Thursday. Gerst will help the spacewalkers in and out of their spacesuits. Auñón-Chancellor will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The duo practiced today on a computer the robotics procedures necessary to maneuver a spacewalker to and from the worksite on the starboard side of the station’s truss structure.

Arnold and Feustel had some extra time today to work on science and maintenance activities. Arnold worked with the Microgravity Science Glovebox to troubleshoot a semiconductor crystal growth experiment. Feustel performed some plumbing work in the Tranquility module before relocating a pair of incubator units to support new experiments being delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. Finally, the duo readied the Quest airlock and their spacesuits for Thursday morning’s spacewalk.

Team Simulates Commercial Crew Flights to Space Station

On the left, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, fully suited in SpaceX’s spacesuit, interfaces with the display inside a mock-up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in Hawthorne, California, during a testing exercise on April 3, 2018. On the right, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe and Doug Hurley conduct a fully-suited exercise in Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner mockup trainer during early May at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Credit: SpaceX — left photo, Boeing — right photo)
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A joint commercial provider and NASA team will help ensure astronauts will be able to safely travel to and from the International Space Station aboard Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft.

The Joint Test Team for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program pulls expertise from across the key human spaceflight areas to design, test, assess, and plan missions aboard the Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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Video: Take a 360 Tour inside Boeing’s Starliner Factory

Video Caption: One, two, three Boeing CST-100 Starliners are coming together inside this historic spacecraft factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of the commercially developed and operating spacecraft is to return crew launch capabilities to NASA and the United States.

SpaceX Dragon 2 Making Progress

Elon Musk has taken a break from digging holes in the ground to tweet a bit on SpaceX and the Dragon 2 crew vehicle the company is building for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Earlier this month, Musk tweeted that the first Dragon 2 would be shipped to Cape Canaveral in about three months. If the prediction is accurate, that would be mean sometime in August. If his previous schedule predictions are anything to go by, delivery will occur later than that. Unless, of course, SpaceX ships the spacecraft earlier than Musk is predicting.

In any event, the spacecraft will likely require a lot of prep work at the Cape before it makes an automated flight test to the International Space Station. A second flight to ISS with a crew would follow before Dragon 2 would be certified to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis.

With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.