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.
Furthermore Whitson received a long distance phone call of exuberant congratulations from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins direct from the Oval Office in the White House to celebrate the momentous occasion.
“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight!” said President Trump during the live phone call to the ISS broadcast on NASA TV.
As of today, Whitson exceeded 534 cumulative days in space by an American astronaut, breaking the record held by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.
“Today Commander Whitson you have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. 534 days and counting,” elaborated President Trump.
“That’s an incredible record to break. And on behalf of the nation and frankly the world I would like to congratulate you. That is really something!”
“You’re an incredible inspiration to us all.”
Trump noted that thousands of school students were listening in to the live broadcast which also served to promote students to study STEM subjects.
“Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers,” said President Trump.
“As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again. When I signed the INSPIRE Women Act in February, I did so to ensure more women have access to STEM education and careers, and to ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy.”
How does it feel to break the endurance record? Trump asked Whitson.
“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible,” Whitson replied from orbit to Trump.
“And so it’s a very exciting time to be at NASA. We are all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s. And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there.”
“It’s a very exciting time, and I’m so proud of the team.”
“We have over 200 investigations ongoing onboard the space station, and I just think that’s a phenomenal part of the day.”
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer is also serving aboard the station on his rookie flight and also took part in the phone call with President Trump.
Whitson is currently serving as Space Station Commander of Expedition 51. She most recently launched to the ISS on Nov 17, 2016 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as part of a three person crew.
At the time of her Soyuz launch she had accumulated 377 total days in space.
She holds several other prestigious records as well. Whitson is the first woman to serve twice as space station commander.
Indeed in 2008 Whitson became the first woman ever to command the space station during her prior stay on Expedition 16 a decade ago. Her second stint as station commander began earlier this month on April 9.
Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 53 hours and 23 minutes of EVA time over eight spacewalks.
Overall, Expedition 51 involved her third long duration stay aboard the massive orbiting laboratory complex.
“This is an inspirational record Peggy is setting today, and she would be the first to tell you this is a record that’s absolutely made to be broken as we advance our knowledge and existence as both Americans and humans,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, in a statement.
“The cutting-edge research and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station will help us go farther into our solar system and stay there longer, as we explore the mysteries of deep space first-hand. Congratulation to Peggy, and thank you for inspiring not only women, but all Americans to pursue STEM careers and become leaders.”
When she returns to Earth in September she will have accumulated some 666 days in space.
Trump made note of the science and commercial industrial work being carried out aboard the station.
“Many American entrepreneurs are racing into space. I have many friends that are so excited about space. They want to get involved in space from the standpoint of entrepreneurship and business,” said President Trump.
“And I’m sure that every student watching wants to know, what is next for Americans in space.”
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The next generation of America’s human spaceships is rapidly taking shape and “making fantastic progress” at the Kennedy Space Center as Boeing and NASA showcased the start of assembly of the first flightworthy version of the aerospace giants Starliner crew taxi vehicle to the media last week. Starliner will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by early 2018.
“We are making fantastic progress across the board,” John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing Commercial Programs, told Universe Today at the July 26 media event in Boeing’s new Starliner factory.
“It so nice to move from design to firm configuration, which was an incredibly important milestone, to now moving into the integrated qual phase of the campaign.”
Boeing is swiftly making tangible progress towards once again flying Americans astronauts to space from American soil as was quite visibly demonstrated when the firm showed off their spanking new Starliner ‘clean-floor factory’ to the media last week, including Universe Today – and it’s already humming with activity by simultaneously building two full scale Starliner crew vehicles.
“We are on track to support launch by the end of 2017 [of the uncrewed orbital test flight],” Mulholland told me.
“The Structural Test Article (STA) crew module is almost ready to be delivered to the test site in California. The service module is already delivered at the test site. So we are ready to move into the qualification campaign.”
“We are also in the middle of component qualification and qualifying more than one component every week as we really progress into assembly, integration and test of flight design spacecrafts.”
Starliner is being manufactured in what is officially known as Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida under contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
And the Boeing CST-100 Starliner assembly line aiming to send our astronauts to low Earth orbit and the space station is now operating full speed ahead at KSC.
Formerly known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3, or OPF-3, the facility was previously used as a servicing hanger to prepare NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for flight.
The facility has now been completely renovated and refurbished by removing about 11,000 tons of massive steel work platforms that once enshrouded the space shuttle orbiters for servicing and refurbishment for flight – and been transformed into Boeings gleaming white C3PF Starliner manufacturing facility.
Components for the first Starliner that will actually fly in space – known as Spacecraft 1 – began arriving recently at the C3PF. These include the upper and lower domes, as well as the docking hatch for the spacecrafts pressure vessel.
“You can see the beginning of Spacecraft 1. To build it all of the major structural elements are here,” Mulholland explained.
“The lower dome will be populated and get to first power on early next year. We are really looking forward to that. Then we will mate that to the upper dome and start in on the ground qualification on Spacecraft 1.”
Altogether Boeing is fabricating three Starliner flight spacecraft.
“We will start building Spacecraft 2 in the Fall of this year. And then we will start Spacecraft 3 early next year.”
“So we will have three Starliner spacecraft flight crew module builds as we move into the flight campaign.”
Technicians are outfitting these individual components of the pressure vessel with wiring and lines, avionics and other systems, before they are bolted together.
Spacecraft 1 is actually the second Starliner being manufactured at the Kennedy Space Center.
The first full scale Starliner vehicle to be built is known as the Structural Test Article (STA) and is nearing completion.
Notably Spacecraft 1 will be the first Starliner to fly in the company’s pad abort test.
“Spacecraft 1 will go into the ground campaign and then the pad abort,” Mulholland stated.
“The test is designed to prove the launch abort system planned for the spacecraft will be able to lift astronauts away from danger in the event of an emergency during launch operations,” says NASA.
The Pad Abort test is currently slated for October 2017 in New Mexico. Boeing will fly an uncrewed orbital flight test in December 2017 and a crewed orbital flight test in February 2018.
“Spacecraft 3 will be the first to fly in orbit on the uncrewed flight test by the end of 2017,” Mulholland confirmed.
‘Spacecraft 2 will go through a several month long thermal vac testing and EMI and EMC in California in the middle of next year and then go into the crewed flight test [in 2018].”
The rather distinctive, olive colored aluminum domes are manufactured using a weldless spin forming process by Spincraft, based in North Billerica, Massachusetts.
They take on their honeycombed look after being machined for the purposes of reducing weight and increasing strength to handle the extreme stresses of spaceflight. The lower dome is machined by Janicki Industries in Layton, Utah, and the upper dome is machined by Major Tool & Machine in Indianapolis.
Engineers bolted together the upper and lower domes of Boeings maiden Starliner crew module in early May to form the complete hull of the pressure vessel for the Structural Test Article (STA).
Altogether they are held together by 216 bolts. They have to line up perfectly. And the seals are checked to make sure there are no leaks, which could be deadly in space.
Boeing expects to finish fabricating the STA by August.
The completed Starliner STA will then be transported to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California for a period of critical stress testing that verifies the capabilities and worthiness of the spacecraft.
“Boeing’s testing facility in Huntington Beach, California has all the facilities to do the structural testing and apply loads. They are set up to test spacecraft,” said Danom Buck, manager of Boeing’s Manufacturing and Engineering team at KSC, during an interview in the C3PF.
“At Huntington Beach we will test for all of the load cases that the vehicle will fly in and land in – so all of the worst stressing cases.”
“So we have predicted loads and will compare that to what we actually see in testing and see whether that matches what we predicted.”
Boeing has also vastly updated the mockup Starliner to reflect the latest spacecraft advances and assist in manufacturing the three planned flight units.
Bastian Technologies built many of the components for the mockup and signed as new 18-month new Mentor-Protégé Program agreement with Boeing and NASA at the media event.
The mock up “is used as a hands-on way to test the design, accessibility and human factors during the early design and development phase of the program. The mock-up is currently being used for rapid fire engineering verification activities, ergonomic evaluations [including the seats and display panels], and crew ingress and egress training,” says NASA.
The Boeing CST 100 Starliner is one of two private astronaut capsules – along with the SpaceX Crew Dragon – being developed under a commercial partnership contract with NASA to end our sole reliance on Russia for crew launches back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS).
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is to restore America’s capability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to the ISS, as soon as possible.
Boeing was awarded a $4.2 Billion contract in September 2014 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to complete development and manufacture of the CST-100 Starliner space taxi under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.
Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, the US was been 100% dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronauts rides to the ISS at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.
Starliners will launch to space atop the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Buildup of the first of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew spaceships is ramping up at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) – the new spacecraft manufacturing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA has just received a significant boost in the agency’s current budget after both chambers of Congress passed the $1.1 Trillion 2016 omnibus spending bill this morning, Friday, Dec. 18, which funds the US government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.
Restoring America’s ability to once again launch US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil on US rockets took another significant step forward when NASA ordered the first the agency’s first commercial crew rotation mission from the Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX. NASA and SpaceX hope that the blastoff with a crew of up to four astronauts will take place by late 2017.