Spectacular Nighttime Blastoff Sends Critical NASA TDRS Communications Relay Skyward from Cape – Photo Gallery

The dual Atlas V rocket engines roar to life on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. The launch vehicle will boost NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-L, spacecraft to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 9:33 p.m. EST on Jan. 23, 2014.
Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

A spectacular nighttime blastoff lit up the evening skies for hundreds of miles around the Florida Space coast on a mission that sent a critical NASA communications relay satellite to orbit this evening, Jan. 23.

NASA’s huge Tracking and Data Relay Satellite L (TDRS-L) is now safely in orbit following tonight’s successful launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Atlas V rocket was launched at 9:33 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 into crystal clear skies that gave excited spectators an uncommonly long and stunning launch spectacle that was well worth the wait.

The 3.8 ton TDRS-L satellite will become part of a network providing high-data-rate communications to the International Space Station (ISS), Hubble Space Telescope, launch vehicles and a host of other research spacecraft that relay absolutely critical flight, telemetry and science data.

Water reflection shot of NASA TDRS-L satellite launch aboard Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II - www.scriptunasimages.com
Water reflection shot of NASA TDRS-L satellite launch aboard Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II – www.scriptunasimages.com

The recently launched Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo carrier also relays data via the TDRS system.

The ISS, Hubble and all these other spacecraft could not function without the TDRS network of relay satellites.

Liftoff of NASA”s TDRS-L atop Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014 from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Credit: NASA
Liftoff of NASA”s TDRS-L atop Atlas V rocket on Jan. 23, 2014 from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Credit: NASA

The TDRS-L satellite will also be used to track and relay vital information for the maiden launch of NASA’s next generation Orion human spaceflight capsule slated for Fall 2014.

Read my latest Orion update – here.

“TDRS-L and the entire TDRS fleet provide a vital service to America’s space program by supporting missions that range from Earth-observation to deep space discoveries,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“TDRS also will support the first test of NASA’s new deep space spacecraft, the Orion crew module, in September. This test will see Orion travel farther into space than any human spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years.”

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) payload at 9:33 p.m. EST today from Space Launch Complex-41. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launch photography
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) payload at 9:33 p.m. EST today from Space Launch Complex-41. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launch photography

TDRS-L arrived in geosynchronous transfer orbit about two hours after liftoff. It will orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles.

The venerable Atlas V rocket is one of the most reliable and well built rockets in the world.

Indeed the Atlas V has been entrusted to launch many high value missions for NASA and the Defense Department- such as Curiosity, JUNO and the X-37 B.

Clear of the lightning wires, the Atlas 5-401 accelerates to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net
Clear of the lightning wires, the Atlas 5-401 accelerates to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net

The last Atlas V launch from the Cape occurred in November 2013 and sent NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter on a voyage to the Red Planet.

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And the two stage rocket is being man-rated right now to launch humans to low Earth orbit in the near future.

The Atlas V has been chosen to launch two of the upcoming astronaut ‘space taxis’ as part of NASA’s commercial crew initiative to launch human crews to the International Space Station.

Just today, Sierra Nevada Corp announced that their Dream Chaser mini shuttle will launch to orbit on its first flight on Nov. 1, 2016.

TDRS-L is the 12th in this series of communications satellites.

It is identical to the TDRS-K spacecraft launched in 2013, which was the first of the third generation of TDRS satellites.

They were built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., and have a 15 year design lifetime.

NASA will now conduct a three month in orbit checkout.

TDRS-M, the next spacecraft in this series, is on track to be ready for launch in late 2015.

TDRS-L awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
TDRS-L awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

This is the third generation of TDRS satellites.

“The TDRS fleet began operating during the space shuttle era with the launch of TDRS-1 in 1983. Of the 11 TDRS spacecraft placed in service to date, eight still are operational. Four of the eight have exceeded their design life,” said NASA.

The Atlas V launched in the 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and no solid rocket motors. The first stage was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. The Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Pictured in Astrotech’s payload processing facility on 3 January 2014, TDRS-L resembles an enormous insect and will form the 12th member of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite family. Photo Credit: Mike Killian Photography/AmericaSpace
Pictured in Astrotech’s payload processing facility on 3 January 2014, TDRS-L resembles an enormous insect and will form the 12th member of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite family. Photo Credit: Mike Killian Photography/AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

What’s Ahead for Human Rated SpaceX Dragon in 2014 – Musk tells Universe Today

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. During 2014, SpaceX plans two flight tests simulating human crewed Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from right here at pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A trio of American companies – SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada – are working diligently to restore America’s capability to launch humans into low Earth orbit from US soil, aided by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public-private partnership.

We’ve been following the solid progress made by all three companies. Here we’ll focus on two crucial test flights planned by SpaceX in 2014 to human rate and launch the crewed version of their entry into the commercial crew ‘space taxi’ sweepstakes, namely the Dragon spacecraft.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about the upcoming test flights with the head of SpaceX, Elon Musk.

So I asked Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, about “what’s ahead in 2014”; specifically related to a pair of critical “abort tests” that he hopes to conduct with the human rated “version of our Dragon spacecraft.”

“Assuming all goes well, we expect to conduct [up to] two Dragon abort tests next year in 2014,” Musk told me.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two abort flight tests in 2014 involve demonstrating the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated launch emergency.

The crewed Dragon – also known as DragonRider – will be capable of lofting up to seven astronauts to the ISS and remaining docked for at least 180 days.

First a brief overview of the goals of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. It was started in the wake of the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program which flew its final human crews to the International Space Station (ISS) in mid-2011.

“NASA has tasked SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs,’ says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Since 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their Soyuz capsules to hitch a ride to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

The abort tests are essential for demonstrating that the Dragon vehicle will activate thrusters and separate in a split second from a potentially deadly exploding rocket fireball to save astronauts lives in the event of a real life emergency – either directly on the launch pad or in flight.

“We are aiming to do at least the pad abort test next year [in 2014] with version 2 of our Dragon spacecraft that would carry astronauts,” Musk told me.

This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40.  Credit: SpaceX
This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to launch the crewed Dragon atop the human rated version of their own developed Falcon 9 next generation rocket, which is also being simultaneously developed to achieve all of NASA’s human rating requirements.

The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.

“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.

For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket. The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups.

This test will be conducted on SpaceX’s launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.

The second Dragon flight test involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives. The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Assuming all goes well we expect to launch the high altitude abort test towards the end of next year,” Musk explained.

The second test will use the upgraded next generation version of the Falcon 9 that was successfully launched just weeks ago on its maiden mission from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 3. Read my earlier reports – starting here.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. The upgraded Falcon 9 will be used to launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date, SpaceX has already successfully launched the original cargo version of the Dragon a total of three times. And each one docked as planned at the ISS.

The last cargo Dragon blasted off on March 1, 2013. Read my prior articles starting – here.

The next cargo Dragon bound for the ISS is due to lift off on Feb. 22, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL.

SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Orbital Sciences – the commercial ISS cargo competitor to SpaceX – plans to launch its Cygnus cargo vehicle on the Orb-1 mission bound for the ISS on Jan. 7 atop the firms Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Watch for my on site reports from NASA Wallops.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s goal is launching American astronauts from U.S. soil within the next four years – by 2017 to the ISS.

The 2017 launch date is dependent on funding from the US federal government that will enable each of the firms to accomplish a specified series of milestones. NASA payments are only made after each companies milestones are successfully achieved.

SpaceX was awarded $440 million in the third round of funding in the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCAP) initiative which runs through the third quarter of 2014. As of November 2013, NASA said SpaceX had accomplished 9 of 15 milestones and was on track to complete all on time.

Musk hopes to launch an initial Dragon orbital test flight with a human crew of SpaceX test pilots perhaps as early as sometime in 2015 – if funding and all else goes well.

Either a US commercial ‘space taxi’ or the Orion exploration capsule could have blasted off with American astronauts much sooner – if not for the continuing year-by-year slashes to NASA’s overall budget forced by the so called ‘political leaders’ of all parties in Washington, DC.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss SpaceX upcoming flight plans by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward with Flight Tests – Video

Left landing gear tire visibly failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Watch approach and landing test video below[/caption]

The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC).

The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference.

The primary goal of the Oct. 26 drop test was to see whether the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle would successfully fly free after being released by an Erickson Air-Crane from an altitude of over 12,000 feet and glide autonomously for about a minute to a touchdown on the Mojave desert landing strip.

“We had a very successful day with an unfortunate anomaly at the end of the day on one of the landing gears,” said Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser is one of three private sector manned spaceships being developed with funding from NASA’s commercial crew program known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station – totally lost following the space shuttle retirement.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The unmanned approach and landing test (ALT) accomplished 99% of its objectives and was only marred by the mechanical failure of the left tire to drop down and deploy for a safe and smooth rollout.

SNC released a short 1 minute video of the test flight – see below – showing the helicopter drop, dive, glide and flare to touchdown. The failure of the landing gear to drop is clearly seen. But the video cuts away just prior to touchdown and does not show the aftermath of the skid or damage to the vehicle.

“The Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile. Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L right on centerline,” said SNC in a statement with the video.

The vehicle is “repairable and flyable again,” Sirangelo noted.

More good news is that the ships interior was not damaged and the exterior can be fixed.

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Since there was no pilot in the cockpit no one was injured. That also meant that no evasive action could be taken to drop the gear.

“We don’t think it’s actually going to set us back,” Sirangelo noted. “In some interesting way, it might actually accelerate it.

NASA’s commercial crew initiative aims at restoring America’s manned spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) – perhaps by 2017 – following the forced shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Until an American commercial space taxi is ready for liftoff, NASA is completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronaut rides to the ISS at a cost of roughly $70 million per seat.

Because Congress continues to significantly cut NASA’s budget further delays can be expected – inevitably meaning more payments to Russia and no savings for the American tax payer.

SNC was awarded $227.5 million in the current round of NASA funding and must successfully complete specified milestones, including up to five ALT drop tests to check the aerodynamic handling in order to receive payment.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

This particular vehicle had been intended to fly two test flights. Further drop tests were planned with a new test vehicle to be constructed.

The way forward is being evaluated.

“We don’t think there is going to be any significant delay to the program as a result of this. This was meant to be a test vehicle with a limited number of flights,” Sirangelo said.

SNC and NASA have assembled a team to investigate the cause of the anomaly.

“SNC cannot release any further video at this time,” said SNC.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the space shuttle.

Ken Kremer

Spacesuited Astronauts Climb Aboard Boeing CST-100 Commercial Crew Capsule for Key Tests

A pair of NASA astronauts donned their spacesuits for key fit check evaluations inside a test version of the Boeing Company’s CST-100 commercial ‘space taxi’ which was unveiled this week for the world’s first glimpse of the cabin’s interior.

Boeing is among a trio of American aerospace firms, including SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp, seeking to restore America’s capability to fly humans to Earth orbit and the space station using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik conducted a day long series of technical evaluations inside a fully outfitted, full scale mock up of the CST-100, while wearing NASA’s iconic orange launch-and-entry flight suits from the space shuttle era.

During the tests, Boeing technicians monitored the astronauts ergonomic ability to work in the seats and move around during hands on use of the capsules equipment, display consoles and storage compartments.

The purpose of the testing at Boeing’s Houston Product Support Center is to see what works well and what needs modifications before fixing the final capsule design for construction.

“It’s an upgrade,” said astronaut Serena Aunon at the evaluation. “It is an American vehicle, of course it is an upgrade.”

This is an interior view of The Boeing Company's CST-100 spacecraft, which features LED lighting and tablet technology.  Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
This is an interior view of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft, which features LED lighting and tablet technology.
Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Former NASA Astronaut Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final shuttle flight (STS-135) by Atlantis, is leading Boeing’s test effort as the director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations.

“These are our customers. They’re the ones who will take our spacecraft into flight, and if we’re not building it the way they want it we’re doing something wrong,” said Ferguson.

“We’ll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it.”

The CST-100 is designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts, or a mix of cargo and crew, on missions to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) around the middle of this decade.

Although it resembles Boeing’s Apollo-era capsules from the outside, the interior employs state of the art modern technology including sky blue LED lighting and tablet technology.

Check out this video showing the astronauts and engineers during the CST-100 testing

Nevertheless Boeing’s design goal is to keep the flight technology as simple as possible.

“What you’re not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches,” said Ferguson. “When these guys go up in this, they’re primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, they’re primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don’t want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive.”

The CST-100 crew transporter will fly to orbit atop the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The CST-100 crew capsule awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing
The CST-100 crew capsule awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

Boeing is aiming for an initial three day manned orbital test flight of the CST-100 during 2016, says John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manger for Commercial Programs.

The 1st docking mission to the ISS would follow in 2017 – depending on the very uncertain funding that Congress approves for NASA.

The Atlas V was also chosen to launch one of Boeing’s commercial crew competitors, namely the Dream Chaser mini shuttle built by Sierra Nevada Corp.

Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 capsule early mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s CCP program is fostering the development of the CST-100 as well as the SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser to replace America’s capability to launch humans to space that was lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters two years ago in July 2011.

Since 2011, every American astronaut has been 100% dependent on the Russians and their Soyuz capsule to hitch a ride to the ISS.

“We pay one of our [ISS] partners, the Russians, $71 million a seat to fly,” says Ed Mango, CCP’s program manager. “What we want to do is give that to an American company to fly our crews into space.”

Simultaneously NASA and its industry partners are designing and building the Orion crew capsule and SLS heavy lift booster to send humans to the Moon and deep space destinations including Near Earth Asteroids and Mars.

Ken Kremer

Interior view of Boeing CST-100 commercial crew capsule. Credit: NASA
Interior view of Boeing CST-100 commercial crew capsule. Credit: NASA

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Gets Wings and Tail, Starts Ground Testing

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully rolls through two tow tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California in preparation for future flight testing later this year.
Watch way cool Dream Chaser assembly video below![/caption]

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s winged Dream Chaser engineering test article is moving forward with a series of ground tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California that will soon lead to dramatic aerial flight tests throughout 2013.

Pathfinding tow tests on Dryden’s concrete runway aim to validate the performance of the vehicles’ nose skid, brakes, tires and other systems to prove that it can safely land an astronaut crew after surviving the searing re-entry from Earth orbit.

The Dream Chaser is one of the three types of private sector ‘space taxis’ being developed with NASA seed money to restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – a capability which was totally lost following the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

For the initial ground tests, the engineering test article was pulled by a tow truck at 10 and 20 MPH. Later this month tow speeds will be ramped up to 40 to 60 MPH.

Final assembly of the Dream Chaser test vehicle was completed at Dryden with installation of the wings and tail, following shipment from SNC’s Space Systems headquarters in Louisville, Colo.

Watch this exciting minute-long, time-lapse video showing attachment of the wings and tail:

In the next phase later this year, Sierra Nevada will conduct airborne captive carry tests using an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

Atmospheric drop tests of the engineering test article in an autonomous free flight mode for Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) will follow to check the aerodynamic handling.

The engineering test article is a full sized vehicle.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the Space Shuttle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight. It is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” said Marc Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman, to Universe Today.

“The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight,” Sirangelo told me.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/102020/sierra-nevada-dream-chaser-gets-wings-and-tail-starts-ground-testing/#ixzz2Yw1peNRJ
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

Sierra Nevada Corp, along with Boeing and SpaceX are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds.

Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly US and partner astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” says Sirangelo. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014.

Phase 2 contract awards will eventually lead to actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies.

Everything depends on NASA’s approved budget, which seems headed for steep cuts in excess of a billion dollars if the Republican dominated US House has its way.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

The Commercial Crew program’s goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems to space.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington, in a statement.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

The first orbital flight test of the Dream Chaser is not expected before 2016 and could be further delayed if NASA’s commercial crew budget is again slashed by the Congress – as was done the past few years.

In the meantime, US astronauts are totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS. NASA must pay Russia upwards of $70 million per seat until the space taxis are ready for liftoff – perhaps in 2017.

“We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we’re going to be paying the Russians forever,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Dryden. “Without Commercial Crew, we probably won’t have exploration.”

Concurrently, NASA is developing the Orion Crew capsule for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and beyond to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System -details here.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP).  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP). Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Boeing Commercial Space Taxi and Atlas V Launcher Move Closer to Blastoff

The next time that American astronauts launch to space from American soil it will surely be aboard one of the new commercially built “space taxis” currently under development by a trio of American aerospace firms – Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp – enabled by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing has moved considerably closer towards regaining America’s lost capability to launch humans to space when the firm’s privately built CST-100 crew capsule achieved two key new milestones on the path to blastoff from Florida’s Space Coast.

The CST-100 capsule is designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts on missions to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) around the middle of this decade.

Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing

Boeing’s crew transporter will fly to space atop the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Boeing and ULA teams recently completed the first wind tunnel tests of a 7 percent scale model of the integrated capsule and Atlas V rocket (photo above) as well as thrust tests of the modified Centaur upper stage.

The work is being done under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for both US government and commercial customers, such as the proposed Bigelow Aerospace mini space station.

Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Since its maiden liftoff in 2002, the ULA Atlas V rocket has flawlessly launched numerous multi-billion dollar NASA planetary science missions like the Curiosity Mars rover, Juno Jupiter orbiter and New Horizons mission to Pluto as well as a plethora of top secret Air Force spy satellites.

But the two stage Atlas V has never before been used to launch humans to space – therefore necessitating rigorous testing and upgrades to qualify the entire vehicle and both stages to meet stringent human rating requirements.

“The Centaur has a long and storied past of launching the agency’s most successful spacecraft to other worlds,” said Ed Mango, NASA’s CCP manager at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Because it has never been used for human spaceflight before, these tests are critical to ensuring a smooth and safe performance for the crew members who will be riding atop the human-rated Atlas V.”

The combined scale model CST-100 capsule and complete Atlas V rocket were evaluated for two months of testing this spring inside an 11- foot diameter transonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

“The CST-100 and Atlas V, connected with the launch vehicle adaptor, performed exactly as expected and confirmed our expectations of how they will perform together in flight,” said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manager for Commercial Programs.

Testing of the Centaur stage centered on characterizing the flow of liquid oxygen from the oxygen tank through the liquid oxygen-feed duct line into the pair of RL-10 engines where the propellant is mixed with liquid hydrogen and burned to create thrust to propel the CST-100 into orbit.

Boeing is aiming for an initial three day manned orbital test flight of the CST-100 during 2016, says Mulholland.

Artist's concept shows Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft separating from the first stage of its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, following liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Boeing
Artist’s concept shows Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft separating from the first stage of its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, following liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Boeing

But that date is dependent on funding from NASA and could easily be delayed by the ongoing sequester which has slashed NASA’s and all Federal budgets.

Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final shuttle flight (STS-135) by Atlantis, is leading Boeing’s flight test effort.

Boeing has leased one of NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility hangers (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the manufacturing and assembly of its CST-100 spacecraft.

Mulholland told me previously that Boeing will ‘cut metal’ soon. “Our first piece of flight design hardware will be delivered to KSC and OPF-3 around mid 2013.”

NASA’s CCP program is fostering the development of the CST-100 as well as the SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser to replace the crew capability of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

The Atlas V will also serve as the launcher for the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxi.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011, US and partner astronauts have been 100% reliant on the Russians to hitch a ride to the ISS aboard the Soyuz capsules – at a price tag exceeding $60 Million per seat.

Simultaneously on a parallel track NASA is developing the Orion crew capsule and SLS heavy lift booster to send humans to the Moon and deep space destinations including Asteroids and Mars.

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

June 4: “Send your Name to Mars” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8:30 PM

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory  (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop a stunningly beautiful Atlas V  rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida.   United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now upgrading the Atlas V to launch humans aboard the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxis. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop a stunningly beautiful Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now upgrading the Atlas V to launch humans aboard the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxis. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The CST-100 spacecraft awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle in this artist's concept. Credit: Boeing
The CST-100 spacecraft awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

NASA: Reaches for New Heights – Greatest Hits Video

Video Caption: At NASA, we’ve been a little busy: landing on Mars, developing new human spacecraft, going to the space station, working with commercial partners, observing the Earth and the Sun, exploring our solar system and understanding our universe. And that’s not even everything.Credit: NASA

Check out this cool action packed video titled “NASA: Reaching for New Heights” – to see NASA’s ‘Greatest Hits’ from the past year

The 4 minute film is a compilation of NASA’s gamut of Robotic Science and Human Spaceflight achievements to explore and understand Planet Earth here at home and the heavens above- ranging from our Solar System and beyond to the Galaxy and the vast expanse of the Universe.

Image caption: Planets and Moons in perspective. Credit: NASA

The missions and programs featured include inspiringly beautiful imagery from : Curiosity, Landsat, Aquarius, GRACE, NuSTAR, GRAIL, Dawn at Asteroid Vesta, SDO, X-48C Amelia, Orion, SLS, Apollo, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, Boeing CST-100, Commercial Crew, Hurricane Sandy from the ISS, Robonaut and more !

And even more space exploration thrills are coming in 2013 !

Ken Kremer

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Image caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off on May 22, 2012 with Dragon cargo capsule from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. The next launch is set for March 1, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer

Private Test Pilots to Fly 1st Commercial Crewed Space Flights for NASA

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Image Caption: Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

Commercial test pilots, not NASA astronauts, will fly the first crewed missions that NASA hopes will at last restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – perhaps as early as 2015 – which was totally lost following the forced shuttle shutdown.

At a news briefing this week, NASA managers at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) said the agency is implementing a new way of doing business in human spaceflight and purposely wants private companies to assume the flight risk first with their crews before exposing NASA crews as a revolutionary new flight requirement. Both NASA and the companies strongly emphasized that there will be no shortcuts to flying safe.

A trio of American aerospace firms – Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp – are leading the charge to develop and launch the new commercially built human-rated spacecraft that will launch Americans to LEO atop American rockets from American bases.

The goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems for low-Earth orbit (LEO) and International Space Station (ISS) missions around the middle of this decade.

The test launch schedule hinges completely on scarce Federal dollars from NASA for which there is no guarantee in the current tough fiscal environment.

The three companies are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds. Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the so-called private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly astronauts to and from the ISS.

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Caption: Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014 said Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. Phase 2 contract awards will follow and eventually lead to the actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies, depending on NASA’s approved budget.

Since the premature retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% reliant on the Russians to hitch a ride to the ISS – at a price tag of over $60 Million per seat. This is taking place while American aerospace workers sit on the unemployment line and American expertise and billions of dollars of hi-tech space hardware rots away or sits idly by with each passing day.

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp seek to go where no private company has gone before – to low Earth orbit with their private sector manned spacecraft. And representatives from all three told reporters they are all eager to move forward.

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

“For well over a year now, since Atlantis [flew the last space shuttle mission], the United States of America no longer has the capability to launch people into space. And that’s something that we are not happy about,” said Garrett Reisman, a former space shuttle astronaut who is now the SpaceX Commercial Crew project manager leading their development effort. “We’re very proud to be part of the group that’s going to do something about that and get Americans back into space.”

IMG_3754a_SpaceX launch May 22 2012_Ken Kremer

Caption: Blastoff of SpaceX Cargo Dragon atop Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May, 22, 2012, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” said Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Sierra Nevada is developing the winged Dream Chaser, a mini-shuttle that launches atop an Atlas V rocket and lands on a runway like the shuttle. Boeing and SpaceX are building capsules that will launch atop Atlas V and Falcon 9 rockets, respectively, and then land by parachute like the Russian Soyuz capsule.

SpaceX appears to be leading the pack using a man-rated version of their Dragon capsule which has already docked twice to the ISS on critical cargo delivery missions during 2012. From the start, the SpaceX Dragon was built to meet the specification ratings requirements for a human crew.

DragonApproachesStation_640

Caption: Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on May 25, 2012 for grapple and berthing . Photo: NASA

Reisman said the first manned Dragon test flight with SpaceX test pilots could be launched in mid 2015. A flight to the ISS could take place by late 2015. Leading up to that in April 2014, SpaceX is planning to carry out an unmanned in-flight abort test to simulate and test a worst case scenario “at the worst possible moment.”

Boeing is aiming for an initial three day orbital test flight of their CST-100 capsule during 2016, said John Mulholland, the Boeing Commercial Programs Space Exploration vice president and program manager. Mulholland added that Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final shuttle flight by Atlantis, is leading the flight test effort.

Boeing has leased one of NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility hangers (OPF-3) at KSC. Mulholland told me that Boeing will ‘cut metal’ soon. “Our first piece of flight design hardware will be delivered to KSC and OPF-3 within 5 months.”

IMG_9198a_Boeing CST_Ken Kremer

Caption: Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer

Sierra Nevada plans to start atmospheric drop tests of an engineering test article of the Dream Chaser from a carrier aircraft in the next few months in an autonomous mode. The test article is a full sized vehicle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight; it is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” Sirangelo told me. “The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight.”

Now to the issue of using commercial space test pilots in place of NASA astronauts on the initial test flights.

At the briefing, Reisman stated, “We were told that because this would be part of the development and prior to final certification that we were not allowed, legally, to use NASA astronauts to be part of that test pilot crew.”

So I asked NASA’s Ed Mango, “Why are NASA astronauts not allowed on the initial commercial test flights?”

Mango replied that NASA wants to implement the model adopted by the military wherein the commercial company assumes the initial risk before handing the airplanes to the government.

“We would like them to get to a point where they’re ready to put their crew on their vehicle at their risk,” said Mango. “And so it changes the dynamic a little bit. Normally under a contract, the contractor comes forward and says he’s ready to go fly but it’s a NASA individual that’s going to sit on the rocket, so it becomes a NASA risk.

“What we did is we flipped it around under iCAP. It’s not what we’re going to do long term under phase two, but we flipped it around under iCAP and said we want to know when you’re ready to fly your crew and put your people at risk. And that then becomes something that we’re able to evaluate.”

“In the end all our partners want to fly safe. They’re not going to take any shortcuts on flying safe,” he elaborated. “All of us have the same initiative and it doesn’t matter who’s sitting on top of the vehicle. It’s a person, and that person needs to fly safely and get back home to their families. That’s the mission of all our folks and our partners – to go back home and see their family.”

Given the nations fiscal difficulties and lack of bipartisan cooperation there is no guarantee that NASA will receive the budget it needs to keep the commercial crew program on track.

Indeed, the Obama Administrations budget request for commercial crew has been repeatedly slashed by the US Congress to only half the request in the past two years. These huge funding cuts have already forced a multi-year delay in the inaugural test flights and increased the time span that the US has no choice but to pay Russia to launch US astronauts to the ISS.

“The budget is going to be an extremely challenging topic, not only for this program but for all NASA programs,” said Phil McAlister, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development director.

NASA is pursuing a dual track approach in reviving NASA’s human spaceflight program. The much larger Orion crew capsule is simultaneously being developed to launch atop the new SLS super rocket and carry astronauts back to the Moon by 2021 and then farther into deep space to Asteroids and one day hopefully Mars.

Ken Kremer

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Caption: Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

Want To Fly In Space? NASA Looking For More of the “Right Stuff”

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NASA is looking for folks with the “right stuff.” The space agency is seeking qualified individuals for when the space agency once again travels into space – and beyond low-Earth-orbit. The announcement of NASA’s process for selecting its next class of astronauts was made at an event held at the Webb auditorium at NASA Headquarters located in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

At this event was NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Jeri Buchholz, Flight Crew Operations Director Janet Kavandi as well as five members of the 2009 astronaut class. They were Serena Aunon, Kjell Lindgren, Kathleen Rubins, Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei.

NASA is currently attempting to hand off providing access to low-Earth-orbit or LEO as it attempts to send astronauts beyond LEO for the first time in four decades. Photo Credit: jeff Soulliere

“For 50 years, American astronauts have led the exploration of our solar system,” Bolden said. “Today we are getting a glimpse of why that will remain true for the next half-century. Make no mistake about it, human space flight is alive and well at NASA.”
Bolden is a former shuttle astronaut himself, having flown into space four times.

The 2009 class of astronauts – was the first to graduate in a new era of space flight – one which would eventually see the retirement of NASA’s fleet of space shuttle orbiters. NASA is currently working to develop not only a new spacecraft – but a new launch vehicle as well. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV may one day ferry astronauts to points beyond LEO.

With NASA's fleet of shuttle orbiters on their separate ways to various museums across the country, NASA is currently lacking the capacity to launch astronauts on its own and is dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. Photo Credit: Jeff Soulliere

To get the Orion MPCV to orbit the space agency is developing the Space Launch System or SLS. This launch vehicle, resembling a cross between the space transportation system (STS) that comprised the shuttle – and the Saturn V moon rocket was recently unveiled by the space agency.

As far as access to LEO is concerned, NASA is working to hand those responsibilities over to commercial space firms such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing. These companies will also work to deliver crew and cargo to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS). If it all works out these new astronauts could well be among the first to return the U.S. to the Moon or be the first person to visit an asteroid or even Mars.

The astronaut's selected in this process could very well be the first astronauts to land on an asteroid - or even the planet Mars. Photo Credit: Jeff Soulliere

The Astronaut Candidate Program is open to any person that meets the agency’s qualifications. They can submit their applications online through the USAJobs.gov website. For those considering a career in the astronaut corps, here are some of the requirements:

• Bachelor’s Degree in either science, engineering or math
• Three years of relevant professional experience
• Experience in flying high-performance jet aircraft is considered a plus
• Educators that have taught grades kindergarten through the 12 are highly encouraged to apply

NASA will be accepting applications through January 27, 2012. The agency will bring in applicants to be interviewed and evaluated. NASA plans to make their final decision in 2013 – with training of these new astronauts starting that summer.

NASA has been working to see that the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV is ready in time for deep space missions. Photo Credit: NASA.gov

Boeing To Use Shuttle Hangar for CST-100 Space Taxi

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA hosted an event on Monday, Oct. 31, at 10 a.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) to announce a new partnership between NASA, Space Florida and Boeing. Space Florida in turn will lease OPF-3 to Boeing. Under the terms of this arrangement, Boeing will use OPF-3 to manufacture and test Boeing’s “space taxi” the CST-100.

Boeing will use OPF-3 as the firm’s commercial crew program office. The OPF, essentially a hangar, will be converted to construct Boeing’s CST-100 space capsule, which is currently being developed to deliver astronauts to low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

In the past Boeing has issued imagery that displayed its CST-100 launching from a variety of different launch vehicles which call Florida's Space Coast their home. Photo Credit: Boeing

This new partnership was developed following a Notice of Availability that the space agency issued at the beginning of this year. The notice was used to identify interest from industry for space processing and support facilities at Kennedy. With NASA’s fleet of orbiters being decommissioned, NASA was seeking ways to effectively use its existing facilities.

It is hoped that this, and similar partnerships will help create jobs in the region as well as to help the U.S. regain leadership in the global space economy.

Boeing's CST-100 is called a "space-taxi" and is being designed to carry both crew and cargo to both the International Space Station as well and other low-Earth-orbit destnations. Image Credit: Boeing

The CST-100 is currently proposed as a reusable spacecraft that is comprised of two parts – a crew module and service module. It is designed to house up to seven astronauts, but it can also be used to ferry both people and cargo to orbit.

With the space shuttle fleet retired, NASA is completely reliant on Russia for access to the International Space Station. Russia charges the space agency about $63 million a seat on its Soyuz spacecraft.

“Only Congress can determine when we will stop the investment of our nation’s tax dollars into the purchase of continued space transportation services from the Russians – and invest instead in the U.S. work force and commercial industry capabilities,” said Space Florida’s President Frank DiBello.

During the final launch of the shuttle era, Boeing had both a mock-up as well as this test article on display. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

NASA has worked to keep the public apprised about its efforts to open its doors to private space companies. The space agency held press conferences to announce both the Space Act Agreement (SAA) that NASA had entered into with Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and EADS Astrium concerning the Liberty launch vehicle, as well as the release of the design of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket (which was announced on the following day).

“Thanks so much John and John, I love what you have done with the place!” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver referring to OPF-3.

The CST-100 has been proposed as a means of transportation to other future destinations in low-Earth-orbit such as one of the inflatable space station's currently under development by Bigelow Aerospace. Image Credit: Boeing

Space Florida is the organization that works to maintain and cultivate the aerospace industry within the State of Florida. The purpose of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to develop U.S. commercial crew space flight capabilities. It is hoped that they will one day allow the U.S. to achieve reliable, safe and cheap access not to just the space station – but other destinations in LEO as well.

“If we’re going to find a way to fund exploration beyond the vicinity of Earth, particularly in today’s fiscally-constrained environment – we’ve got to find a way to do the job of transporting crew to the International Space Station in a more affordable manner,” said Boeing’s John Elbon. “That’s one of the primary purposes of the commercial crew program – to provide affordable access to low-Earth-orbit so that we can use the International Space Station as the great laboratory that it is.”

Through an agreement with Space Florida, NASA will lease Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) to Boeing for its CST-100 space taxi. It is hoped that this and efforts like this one will eventually reduce the cost of sending crews to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA