The crew has been involved in spacecraft system testing checkouts, spacesuit fit checks and launch simulations.
This work all comes in addition to the traditional training flow for astronauts bound for the space station. The standard training regimen for crew members training for long stays includes learning how to live and work onboard station, respond to emergency situations, conduct spacewalks and execute the hundreds of experiments taking place during each flight. This training takes place at NASA locations across the country and at facilities managed by the station’s international partners all across the globe.
To further prepare for commercial crew arrival at the space station, Expedition 56 astronauts installed new cameras on the station during a spacewalk in June 2018. These high-definition cameras will provide NASA with an enhanced look of Boeing and SpaceX’s capsules as they approach and dock to the station.
Boeing continued to manufacture its Starliner spacecraft inside its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The company is manufacturing three Starliner spacecraft, two of which are designed to be reused up to 10 times for flight tests and operational missions to station. The other spacecraft will be used for pad abort testing.
Spacecraft 2, intended for the Crew Flight Test, finished initial production and is undergoing environmental qualification testing at Boeing’s facilities El Segundo, California.
Astronauts participated in training using mixed reality—a combination of real world and virtual environment—technology to practice exiting their seats in an unusual landing situation. The crew were suited and secured in a mock-up Starliner allowing them to simulate removing their seat harness and opening the hatch of the spacecraft without outside assistance.
Boeing completed the first in a series of reliability tests of the Starliner flight drogue and main parachute systems. They also completed three of five qualification tests of the overall parachute system using a full-scale boilerplate, or test version of the craft. Data collected from these tests continue to improve accuracy of computer models in predicting parachute performance and verifying reliability.
Boeing, NASA and U.S. Army teams rehearsed safely bringing the Starliner spacecraft home to Earth at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where two of the Starliner’s five landing sites are located. When the spacecraft prepares for landing, it will deploy a parachute system and touch down in the desert. This exercise tested procedures, communication and equipment that will be in place for recovery teams to retrieve the capsule and the crew after their mission.
Starliner will be launching on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V for Boeing’s Orbital Flight test was completed in 2018, including the first and second stages, ahead of the uncrewed test flight. The dual-engine second stage, called Centaur, and the rocket’s booster arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for final processing by ULA technicians.
Teams from Boeing, NASA and ULA gathered in control rooms across the country several times throughout the year for integrated launch, ascent, rendezvous, as well as re-entry and landing simulations. These exercises are beneficial for teams, because by practicing the processes and procedures for months leading up to the flight tests, their work becomes a habit much like muscle memory in an athlete.
To reinforce safety, NASA, the Department of Defense, Boeing and ULA teams held a crew evacuation and triage simulation from Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to practice escaping from the pad in the unlikely event of an emergency on launch day. Astronauts and ground crews drove Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicles to a triage site, where medical teams treated the participants based on their simulated symptoms.
SpaceX continues to test its systems and integrate its launch infrastructure to support the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The company currently has six Crew Dragon modules in various stages of production and testing.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived in Florida for final processing ahead of the company’s uncrewed flight test, known as Demo-1. Prior to arrival, the spacecraft underwent thermal vacuum and acoustic testing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio. This testing allowed SpaceX and NASA to verify Crew Dragon’s ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space. All Demo-1 joint SpaceX-NASA tests for software, docking, communications, equipment interface, and capsule environments are now complete.
SpaceX conducted static fires of the Falcon 9’s first and second stage boosters for the Demo-1 mission in McGregor, Texas and shipped the completed trunk to Kennedy for final processing.
The company conducted parachute system tests on the spacecraft this year, demonstrating the Crew Dragon parachute system’s ability to land the spacecraft safely in the unlikely event of a low-altitude abort scenario. Further testing of the parachutes is planned.
SpaceX also completed another major round of astronaut and operations team training and simulations in preparation for the Demo-2 mission. Seats for the Demo-2 Crew Dragon are in production, and vehicle integration in the cleanroom is ongoing. Heat shield qualification, as well as a majority of qualification testing for both Crew Dragon and Falcon 9, is now complete.
NASA, SpaceX and the DoD conducted joint rescue and recovery exercises in the Atlantic Ocean off of Florida’s eastern coast. In this simulation, DoD pararescue specialists jumped from military aircraft, parachuted to the water, and simulated stabilizing the Crew Dragon capsule and safely removing astronauts from the spacecraft.
In the unlikely event of an astronaut medical emergency after landing, SpaceX outfitted its recovery ship, GO Searcher, with a medical treatment facility and a helipad in the center of the vessel. The company completed helicopter landing and patient loading rehearsals on the ship, practicing how the helicopter will pick up astronauts and fly them to a nearby hospital. The aircraft will also serve to carry doctors and paramedics to care for the astronauts. This will allow the SpaceX medical team to provide the best possible care to astronauts on the ship, in-flight, and get them safely to a hospital.
To reinforce safety, NASA, the Department of Defense (DoD), and SpaceX teams held a triage simulation near Launch Complex 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to practice medical evacuation in the unlikely event of an emergency on launch day. Medical teams treated the participants based on their simulated symptoms, and DoD and NASA helicopters airlifted the participants to area hospitals.
Commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements and are ready to begin regular flights to the station. Starting next year, both companies will fly uncrewed test flights to the station followed by tests to verify the abort capabilities of each spacecraft. Once those tests are complete, each company will then fly a test flight with a crew onboard.
Following each test, NASA will review the performance data to ensure each upcoming mission is as safe as possible. After completion of all test flights, NASA will continue its review of the systems and flight data for certification ahead of the start of regular flights with crew to the space station.
Following the test flights, NASA will review the performance data and resolve any issues in order to certify the systems for operational missions. NASA has not determined which company will fly an operational mission first. However, the first two operational missions are targeted for August and December 2019.
Four NASA astronauts have been assigned to these missions. NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Suni Williams will fly on Boeing’s first operational mission and NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will fly on SpaceX’s first operational mission.