On July 28th, the International Space Station (ISS) suffered a mishap after a new Russian module (named Nauka) fired its thrusters just hours after arriving. As a result, the entire station was temporarily pushed out of position, forcibly delaying the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission. This would have been Boeing’s CT-100 Starliner’s second attempt to rendezvous with the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
The ISS managed to correct its orbit shortly thereafter, while the OFT-2 launch was delayed until the next available opportunity (Wednesday, Aug. 4th). Unfortunately, the mission was delayed again due to an issue with one of the valves on the spacecraft’s propulsion system. This prompted the ground crews to move the Starliner and Atlas V launch vehicle back into Vertical Integration Facility (VIF), so they can look for the source of the problem more closely.
On Sunday, August 2nd, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashed down with their Crew Dragon spacecraft (Endeavour) in the Gulf of Mexico. This brought their historic mission (Demo-2) to a close and marked the beginning of a new era in space exploration. For the first time in almost ten years, astronauts bound for the ISS had been launched from American soil – effectively restoring domestic launch capability to the US.
On May 30th, SpaceX and NASA made history when a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS). With this one flight, NASA and SpaceX demonstrated that the US once again has domestic launch capability, something they have not enjoyed since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
In one week, Sunday, August 2nd, Robert and Douglas will be returning to Earth using the same Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) that took them to the ISS. This is the most crucial part of Demo-2 flight, where the spacecraft is tasked with bringing the astronauts home, safe and sound. As you can imagine, there are a lot of people who are understandably nervous, not the least of which is SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
In 2014, NASA contracted two major aerospace companies (Boeing and SpaceX) to help them restore domestic launch capability to the United States. As part of the Commercial Crew Program (CCE), Boeing and SpaceX developed the CST-100 Starliner the Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. But whereas the Crew Dragon finished testing and even carried astronauts to the ISS, the Starliner met with some problems.
During its first uncrewed test flight – Orbital Flight Test-1 (OFT-1) – in December 2019, the Starliner experienced some failures that prevented it from docking with the ISS. After a thorough investigation, the joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review team has completed its final assessment and identified 80 areas where corrections need to be made before the Starliner can conduct another orbital flight test.
For the purpose of restoring domestic launch capability to US soil, NASA launched the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in 2010. Alongside its commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, the focus of this program has been to develop crew-capable spacecraft that could deliver payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), something NASA has been unable to do since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
On May 30th, 2020, the CCP fulfilled its purpose as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft was launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and successfully delivered two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) to the ISS. Looking ahead, NASA and SpaceX have modified their contract agreement, which gives the company permission to use previously-flown Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters to send NASA astronauts to the ISS.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, NASA has become dependent on its Russian counterparts to send and return astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Hoping to restore domestic launch capability to American soil, NASA has contracted with aerospace developers like SpaceX and Boeing to develop crew-capable spacecraft, as part of their Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
After years of development, Boeing managed to get their CST-100 Starliner ready for its first uncrewed test flight on December 20th, 2019. Unfortunately, a hiccup occurred during the mission that prevented the spacecraft docking with the ISS. After an independent review of the mission, NASA and Boeing have determined that 61 corrective actions need to be taken before the Starliner can fly again.
In 2014, Boeing was awarded a contract through NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to provide commercial launch services to the International Space Station (ISS). To this end, they have been busy developing the CST-100 Starliner, a space capsule that will be able to deliver cargo and crews of up to 7 astronauts to the ISS. On December 20th, 2019, the Starliner passed a major milestone when it conducted an uncrewed test.
While an error prevented this Starliner (designated Calypso) from docking with the ISS as planned, the space capsule still managed to make it to space and land safely near White Sands, New Mexico. This makes it the first crew capsule to touchdown on land in the United States. To celebrate this accomplishment, Boeing recently released a highlight reel of footage taken by cameras inside the Calypso during the flight test.
As part of their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program, NASA has contracted with aerospace giants like SpaceX and Boeing to provide commercial launch services to the International Space Station (ISS). These services will consist of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (Dragon 2) and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner bringing astronauts to orbit in the coming years, effectively restoring domestic launch capability to the US.
To get these spacecraft ready for flight, Boeing and SpaceX have been putting them through rigorous launch tests. Tomorrow morning (Saturday, Jan. 17th), SpaceX will be conducting its final test in preparation for crewed flights. This is the all-important in-flight abort test, which will be live-streamed by NASA TV – will take place at 7:45 AM EST (4:45 AM PST) from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
For years, NASA has been working to restore domestic launch capability to the US and send astronauts to the Moon and beyond. A crucial part of this is the development of next-generation crew capsules that can carry crews and payloads to space. These include Lockheed Martin’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Crew Space Transportation (CST) -100 Starliner currently being developed by Boeing.
Earlier today (on Monday, Nov. 4th), the CST-100 passed a critical milestone with a successful end-to-end test of its abort system. The Pad Abort Test took place at Launch Complex 32 at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. When crewed missions to space begin using the CST-100, this system will ensure that astronauts will be carried to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff.
“American will once again lead in space for the benefit and security of all of our people and all of the world,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a speech on Thursday, July 6, addressing a huge crowd of more than 500 NASA officials and workers, government dignitaries and space industry leaders gathered inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center – where Apollo/Saturn Moon landing rockets and Space Shuttles were assembled for decades in the past and where NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion deep space crew capsule will be assembled for future human missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Pence pronounced the bold space exploration goals and a reemphasis on NASA’s human spaceflight efforts from his new perch as Chairman of the newly reinstated National Space Council just established under an executive order signed by President Trump.
However Pence was short on details and he did not announce any specific plans, timetables or funding during his 25 minute long speech inside the iconic VAB at KSC.
It remains to been seen how the rhetoric will turn to reality and all important funding support.
The Trump Administration actually cut their NASA 2018 budget request by $0.5 Billion to $19.1 Billion compared to the enacted 2017 NASA budget of $19.6 Billion – including cuts to SLS and Orion.
By contrast, the Republican led Congress – with bipartisan support – is working on a 2018 NASA budget of around 19.8 Billion.
“Let us do what our nation has always done since its very founding and beyond: We’ve pushed the boundaries on frontiers, not just of territory, but of knowledge. We’ve blazed new trails, and we’ve astonished the world as we’ve boldly grasped our future without fear.”
“From this ‘Bridge to Space,’ our nation will return to the moon, and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” Pence declared.
Lined up behind Pence on the podium was the Orion spacecraft flown on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in 2014 flanked by a flown SpaceX cargo Dragon and a mockup of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule.
The crewed Dragon and Starliner capsules are being developed by SpaceX and Boeing under NASA contracts as commercial crew vehicles to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
Pence reiterated the Trump Administrations support of the ISS and working with industry to cut the cost of access to space.
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot also welcomed Vice President Pence to KSC and thanked the Trump Administration for its strong support of NASA missions.
“Here, of all places, we can see we’re not looking at an ‘and/or proposition’,” Lightfoot said.
“We need government and commercial entities. We need large companies and small companies. We need international partners and our domestic suppliers. And we need academia to bring that innovation and excitement that they bring to the next workforce that we’re going to use to actually keep going further into space than we ever have before.”
After the VAB speech, Pence went on an extensive up close inspection tour of KSC facilities led by Kennedy Space Center Director and former shuttle astronaut Robert Cabana, showcasing the SLS and Orion hardware and infrastructure critical for NASA’s plans to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.
“We are in a great position here at Kennedy, we made our vision a reality; it couldn’t have been done without the passion and energy of our workforce,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Cabana.
“Kennedy is fully established as a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial partners in the space industry. As America’s premier multi-user spaceport, Kennedy continues to make history as it evolves, launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond.”
Pence toured the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) where the Orion deep space capsule is being manufactured for launch in 2019 on the first integrated flight with SLS on the uncrewed EM-1 mission to the Moon and back – as I witnessed for Universe Today.
Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.