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NASA Expects Commercial Crew Providers to Achieve Safety Requirements

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A NASA manager says Boeing and SpaceX should be able to achieve, or come close to, safety requirements established by NASA for their commercial crew spacecraft.

WASHINGTON — As the two companies developing commercial crew vehicles prepare for test flights in the next 12 months, a NASA official said the agency expects those companies to be able to meet, or come close to, stringent safety requirements for those spacecraft.

At a Nov. 29 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee, Lisa Colloredo, deputy program manager for NASA’s commercial crew program, said Boeing and SpaceX were making good progress towards achieving a “loss of crew”, or LOC, requirement established by NASA at the beginning of the program.

The LOC requirement states that the odds of an accident killing or causing serious injury to a crewmember be no more than 1 in 270 flights for a 210-day mission at the International Space Station. That covers all aspects of the mission, including launch and re-entry.

“We have a very difficult LOC requirement to meet, and we knew that when we going in,” Colloredo said. The 1-in-270 LOC requirement for commercial crew is more stringent than the 1-in-90 value at the end of the shuttle program. “I would say that we’ve made a lot of progress, and the providers have both done a lot of redesign work to improve their LOC numbers.”

Those changes, she said, include “more robustness” to the thermal protection systems on the spacecraft and additional parachute testing. “It’s served its purpose of getting the right look at the top drivers for LOC,” she said, including making design changes to improve those values.

Colloredo said she expected that both companies would meet the 1-in-270 LOC requirement, or come close enough that NASA would be willing to accept the vehicles as safe enough for its astronauts. “It’s pretty likely in the end that SpaceX and Boeing will come in with their evidence that they meet the requirement or close to it,” she said. Ultimately, she said, it will require NASA due diligence to either confirm they meet the requirement or be willing to accept a variance from the requirement in a specific area.

Another NASA committee has also monitored the ability of Boeing and SpaceX to meet the LOC requirement. At the October meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), committee members discussed the progress both companies were making on addressing key risk issues for their systems.

“The ASAP believes that NASA is judiciously continuing to address the risk drivers with the providers for the most serious scenarios through continued analysis, modeling, testing, and design development. It remains challenging,” the panel noted in the minutes from that meeting. “Nevertheless, the focus on worst case scenarios has driven positive design decisions for both providers, as well as other aspects such as increases in systems testing for some of the systems that carry notable risks.”

The biggest challenge, ASAP reported, was meeting micrometeoroid and orbital debris protection requirements. NASA was working to improve the modeling of the risks posed to those spacecraft from micrometeoroids and orbital debris through experiments mounted on the station as well as on Dragon cargo spacecraft.

At the NASA Advisory Council committee meeting, Colloredo said the LOC requirement was the biggest programmatic issue facing the overall program, but not the only one. She said NASA was assessing if it had included all the costs of various government-provided services for commercial crew missions. It was also working to ensure that search and rescue training for Air Force personnel supporting commercial crew launches would be ready in time for the first missions.

Both companies are working to schedules that call for both uncrewed and crewed test flights in 2018, although later in the year than previously planned. SpaceX is planning an uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon in April, previously scheduled for February. The crewed test flight is now planned for August, instead of June. Between the two flights will be an in-flight abort test.

Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner is now scheduled for August, two months later than previously planned. The crewed test flight has shifted from August to November, although the company said earlier this fall that the crewed test flight might slip into early 2019.

“We’re making a lot of progress with the providers,” Colloredo said. “We’re getting prepared for flight and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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In Pictures: Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Aces Glide Test Flight

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Free-Flying

Credit: NASA

The glide test success indicates the program is one step closer to orbital exercises.

Ready for Testing

Ready for Testing

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The spacecraft was moved from inside the facility by a transport to prepare for the test.

Gear in Place

Gear in Place

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Apparatus attached atop the Dream Chaser enabled a helicopter to raise the craft for the release and flight.

Up and Away

Up and Away

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The full scale Dream Chaser craft, shown here lifted by a Columbia Helicopters Model 234-UT Chinook helicopter, flew a pre-planned flight path after its release.

Safe and Secure

Safe and Secure

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The successful test flight ended at Edwards Air Force Base on Runway 22L.

Big Plans

Big Plans

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The first trip to the International Space Station for the Dream Chaser is planned for 2020.

Practicing for the Big Journey

Practicing for the Big Journey

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Dream Chaser is scheduled for at least six missions under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, beginning as early as 2020.

Proof

Proof

Credit: NASA

This atmosphere Free-Flight test verified the craft has the design and capabilities to return and land safely.

Free-Flight

Free-Flight

Credit: NASA

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser has displayed the ability to provide safe and reliable orbital flight, according to corporate vice president, Mark Sirangelo.

Approaching the Runway

Approaching the Runway

Credit: NASA

With NASA on board, Sierra Nevada Corporation will analyze the test data.

Wheels Down

Wheels Down

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Using results from this Free-Flight test, engineers can perfect the aerodynamics of the Dream Chaser, making it even safer for future flights.

Catching Some Air

Catching Some Air

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

As the full-scale test vehicle is raised by the Chinook helicopter on Nov. 13, 2017, Sierra Nevada Corporation looks to the future of this spacecraft.

Rollout

Rollout

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Dream Chaser spacecraft is readied for the atmospheric Free-Flight test.

Suspended Suspense

Suspended Suspense

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Rising high into the atmosphere, the Dream Chaser begins the atmospheric Free-Flight test.

Teamwork

Teamwork

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Flight Crew prepares Sierra Nevada Corporation’s full-scale Dream Chaser test vehicle for the upcoming Free-Flight test.

Last Minute Checks

Last Minute Checks

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Flight Crew for the Dream Chaser spacecraft completes preflight checks before the craft participates in the monumental test.

Future at Hand

Future at Hand

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft looks to be the next phase in NASA’s journey into space.

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Rocket Lab Aborts Test Launch Seconds Before Liftoff

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A Rocket Lab Electron rocket nearly took off from the company’s launch facility in New Zealand on Dec. 11, but launch was aborted seconds before takeoff.

The private spaceflight company Rocket Lab aborted a scheduled test launch of its small-scale Electron rocket today (Dec. 11), just 2 seconds before liftoff.

At Rocket Lab’s private launch facility in New Zealand, the countdown clock had nearly reached zero when a white puff of smoke erupted from the bottom of the Electron rocket — but then, the clock stopped, and the rocket failed to rise off the ground. The launch was abruptly halted at 10:50 p.m. EST on Dec. 11 (0350 GMT), which is 4:50 p.m. New Zealand Time on Dec. 12.

“After reviewing the telemetry and data, and time remaining in our launch window, the team has decided to wave-off for the rest of the day,” Daniel Gillies, Rocket Lab’s mission management and integration director, said during a live webcast on the company’s website.  

This is the second test launch of Rocket Lab’s small-scale Electron rocket; the first test flight took place in May. This test — which the company has named “Still Testing” — has a 10-day launch window that opened on Dec. 7. Poor weather conditions have delayed a launch attempt until today.

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield.Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Apollo 17 Astronaut Begins Releasing Diary 45 Years After Moon Mission

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Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, seen here during the first of his three moonwalks in December 1972, has begun to release his diary of the last lunar landing mission 45 years later.

Harrison Schmitt went for a walk on Dec. 11, 1972. Forty-five years later, he is almost ready to share his diary of that day.

The last of the twelve NASA astronauts to step foot onto the surface of the moon — and the only geologist to do so — Schmitt was the lunar module pilot on NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, the sixth, last, and as Schmitt puts it, “most recent human visit to the moon.” Now, on the 45th anniversary of his lunar journey, Schmitt is beginning to take the public on a stroll through history, his memories and the findings that came from exploring Taurus Littrow Valley on the moon.

“This project began 45 years ago,” explains Schmitt. “I am gradually getting to the point where the drafting, I think, is good enough that I can let other people share in what my impressions were during the mission, as well as what the whole operation was about.” [The Apollo Moon Landings: How They Worked (Infographic)]

Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man” quietly debuted as a new section of Schmitt’s website in early November when he uploaded the fourth chapter, “30 Days and Counting.” Although the first through third chapters still remain to be published, Schmitt chose the fourth to begin “because the interval between its online publication date and the launch date coincides with the chapter title,” he wrote in a note to accompanying the post.

On Friday (Dec. 7), 45 years to the day after he lifted off with Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan and command module pilot Ronald Evans, Schmitt posted the diary’s fifth chapter, “30 Seconds and Counting!” — an almost 49,000 word account of the Saturn V launch that follows Schmitt and his crewmates from the ground to leaving Earth orbit for the moon.

“[Seven and a half] 7.5 million pounds of thrust would lift us slowly at first and then faster and faster toward orbit on a trail of brilliant flame, not visible to us but splitting open the night for everyone below,” recounts Schmitt. “Pulsing waves of sound and searing streams of light buffeted the bodies and minds of onlookers, bringing spontaneous and unexpected hugs, cries and tears.”

The Apollo 17 launch marked the first time NASA had sent astronauts into space at night.

“Once again, a life-tipped pillar of fire, the Saturn rocket, a massive tribute to boldness and imagination, became a blazing symbol of human potential for greatness. Except for reflected light coming through the small window in front of Gene and another in the boost protective cover over the [crew] hatch, I had only a vague sense of the brilliant flame beneath us,” writes Schmitt.

Schmitt pulls from a wide variety of sources for the content of the diary. Amid his own observations, Schmitt cites from NASA air to ground radio transcripts, public affairs reports and the recollections of others. He has also formatted the journal to help readers keep track of the topics at hand.

“A complication to reading diaries is their instantaneous jump from subject to subject. In addition to the liberal use of endnotes, distinguishing between subjects and sources is aided by the consistent use of different font styles and colors in the text,” Schmitt explains in his preface.

Harrison Schmitt is releasing “Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man” in chapters on his website.

Credit: NASA

For example, Schmitt turns the text red when discussing anomalies, or problems, during the mission. He uses blue when writing of Earth observations and he uses purple for views about the moon. He reserves turquoise for “probable dialog” between he and his two crewmates, as he can best derive from his memory.

“On the horizon, bands of orange and blue lay below the black of space,” Schmitt writes, describing — in blue text — and captioning a photograph of his first view of Earth from space. “Outside, darkness finally had been broken by a spectacular sunrise that had provided what I described a few minutes later as ‘the biggest rainbow I’d ever seen,’ extending along the entire pre-sunrise horizon.”

“Like childhood’s home, we really see the Earth only as we prepare to leave,” waxes Schmitt.

“It [the diary] is both technical and philosophical, in some aspects,” Schmitt told collectSPACE.

Schmitt, who is now 82, logged a total of 75 hours on the lunar surface, including 22 hours out on three moonwalks. With Cernan’s death in January, Schmitt became the final living member of the Apollo 17 crew (Evans died in 1990).

Although 45 years have already passed for Schmitt to feel ready to prepare and share the diary, he still sees it as a “long-running project” that will not be completed within just the 12-day span of the mission.

“The 45th anniversary seemed like a good time to begin,” he said. “It is going to take a long time still. There is a lot to be said.”

To read “Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man,” see Harrison Schmitt’s website, americasuncommonsense.com.

Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2017 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

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