Boeing Delays Starliner Flight Tests

Boeing technicians meticulously lower the Starliner upper dome to the lower dome before bolting and sealing the pressure vessel. (Credits: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and Boeing have agreed to extend the duration of the company’s first crewed flight test to the International Space Station after completing an in-depth technical assessment of the CST-100 Starliner systems. NASA found the long-duration flight to be technically feasible and in the best interest of the agency’s needs to ensure continued access and better utilization of the orbiting laboratory.

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What Lies Ahead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

Completing an end-to-end uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST Friday, March 8, 2019, and splashed down at 8:45 a.m. in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the Florida coast. (Credits: NASA Television)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The splashdown of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft this morning after a successful automated flight to the International Space Station (ISS) kicks off a busy period for NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

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SpaceX Launches Crew Dragon to the International Space Station

Falcon 9 first stage makes its entry burn as the second stage Merlin 1D engine carries Crew Dragon to orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX successfully launched an automated Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. It was the first flight test under NASA’s Commercial Crew program to return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 2:49 am EST from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft, which is carrying an instrument mannequin named Ripley, safely separated from the second stage and began a 27-hour voyage to the space station.

The Falcon 9 first stage successfully touched down on an off-shore drone ship.

After docking on Sunday morning, the Crew Dragon will remain at the station for five days. It is scheduled to return to Earth on Friday, March 8. SpaceX plans to reuse the capsule for an in-flight abort test scheduled for June.

This is the first of two flight tests for the Crew Dragon variant. A second flight with two NASA astronauts is scheduled for July. Crew Dragons will be certified to carry astronauts on a commercial basis.

Boeing is also planning to conduct flight tests of its Starliner crew vehicle later this year. The current planning dates for Commercial Crew flight tests are:

  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
  • Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
  • SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
  • SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

The schedule for the Crew Dragon mission is below. NASA TV will be providing live coverage of all events. SpaceX also plans to cover the docking on its website.

Saturday, March 2, 4 a.m.SpaceX Demo-1 post-launch news conference from Kennedy Space Center, with representatives from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, International Space Station Program and Astronaut Office, and from SpaceX.

Sunday, March 3, 3:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

Sunday, March 3, 8:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon hatch opening at the International Space Station. Hatch opening is scheduled at 8:45 a.m.

Sunday, March 3, 10:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon welcoming ceremony at the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 12:15 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon hatch closing in preparation for departure from the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 2 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon undocking from the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 7:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon deorbit and landing.

NASA Looks to Procure More Soyuz Seats Amid Commercial Crew Uncertainty

Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft docking at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Amid uncertainty about the Commercial Crew schedule, NASA has issued a pre-solitication procurement notice to secure additional rides with the Russians for its astronauts.

“NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation ‘Roscosmos’ for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crew member in the Spring of 2020,” the agency said in the Feb. 13 notice.

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NASA Safety Panel: Commercial Crew Program Making Progress But Challenges Remain

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Even as SpaceX prepares to make its first Crew Dragon flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, challenges remain for certifying the vehicle to carry NASA astronauts, according to a new safety report.

In its annual report released last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) identified two inter-related safety concerns with SpaceX’s system: the redesign of helium composite overwrap pressure vessels (COPVs) used in the Falcon 9 rocket, and the company’s desire to load astronauts aboard Crew Dragon before fueling the booster.

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NASA Safety Panel Pushes Back Against Commercial Crew “Paperwork” Complaints

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In its annual report issued last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) pushed back against complaints that the space agency has bogged down the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork.

“It should be recognized by all parties, both internal and external to NASA, that the certification process is not merely a ‘paperwork’ process; it involves considerable detailed technical activity by both NASA and the partners,” ASAP said.

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NASA, Buzz Aldrin Get Shout Out During State of the Union Speech

Buzz Aldrin salutes during the 2019 State of the Union address. (Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio/John Shinkle)

With Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in attendance, President Donald Trump gave a shout out to NASA during the annual State of the Union address.

“In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon. Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag: Buzz Aldrin. This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets,” he said.

NASA’s commercial crew program is set to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station later this year. Today, NASA released the following schedule for flight tests of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Flight Set for March 2

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and its Commercial Crew Program providers Boeing and SpaceX have agreed to move the target launch dates for the upcoming inaugural test flights of their next generation American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

The agency now is targeting March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

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NASA Makes Change in Boeing Starliner Test Flight Crew

Astronaut Eric Boe examines hardware during a tour of the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut E. Michael “Mike” Fincke has been added to the crew of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s Crew Flight Test, scheduled to launch later this year.

Fincke takes the place of astronaut Eric Boe, originally assigned to the mission in August 2018. Boe is unable to fly due to medical reasons; he will replace Fincke as the assistant to the chief for commercial crew in the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

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Bridenstine Sees First Crew Dragon Flight Slipping into Spring

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

USA Today reports that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes the SpaceX Crew Dragon flight test scheduled for Jan. 7 will likely slip into spring.

That would mean the mission, which will not have a crew aboard for its flight to the International Space Station, would launch no sooner  than the first day of spring on March 20.

Bridenstine’s acknowledgment that January is a “very low probability” window is the first time the agency has publicly cast doubt on the timing of the scheduled launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test flight of the SpaceX rocket and capsule is a key step in NASA’s efforts to resume U.S. transport to Earth’s orbit nearly a decade after the space shuttle was mothballed.

The administrator attributed the delay to challenges with several components, including landing parachutes. Some of those systems could be tested without flying them on the initial flight.

It’s a matter of determining “what configuration are we willing to accept as an agency and are we willing to waive certain items (and) how do we test those items,” Bridenstine told reporters at NASA headquarters.

But he said the test flight “will certainly be in the first half of 2019,” a schedule that still would accommodate a crewed flight by the end of the year.

Parabolic Arc earlier reported that not all of Dragon’s systems would be ready in time for the first flight.

A flight test of Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard is currently scheduled for June 2019. NASA would then certify the vehicle to carry astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

Boeing is scheduled to test its Starliner spacecraft with an automated test in March and a flight with crew in August. NASA could extend the crewed flight from a brief stay at the space station to a long-duration mission.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are scheduled to conduct abort tests in between their automated and crewed flight tests. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test; Boeing’s abort test will be conducted from a launch pad.

NASA needs to have at least one of the crew systems functional by January 2020. That is when the last agency astronaut to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle on a paid basis is set to return.

First Starliner to Launch Crew Ready for Environmental Testing

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip. (Credit: Boeing)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (NASA PR) — The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft destined to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready to undergo a series of flight-like simulations similar to the actual environments the spacecraft will experience during different stages of flight.

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Centaur Upper Stage for First Starliner Flight Arrives at Cape

The Centaur heads for ULA’s Cape Canaveral facilities. (Credit: NASA)

The Centaur heads for ULA’s Cape Canaveral facilities. (Credit: NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (ULA PR) — The dual-engine Centaur upper stage that will launch Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft on its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station has arrived at Cape Canaveral for final processing by United Launch Alliance technicians.

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