NASA’s astronauts will play an integral role in flight testing America’s future space transportation vehicles as the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) works toward mid-decade service missions to the International Space Station.
During a media briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 27, CCP’s manager Ed Mango and astronaut Mike Good discussed the joint test team concept that will be built into the program’s next phase of certification efforts.
“You can design and analyze and test things on the ground, but ultimately you have to put the system to the test in the environment it was designed to operate in and in our case that’s space,” said Good, who is serving as the flight crew representative to the program.
The newest certification phase expected to kick off next summer will be called the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap). The program manager said CCtCap will include at least one crewed demonstration mission to the orbiting laboratory.
“NASA personnel will have an early involvement in those activities that will culminate in a crewed flight test to the International Space Station,” Good said.
The joint test team concept is based on the Department of Defense model used for testing new aircraft, but is modified for commercial spacecraft. NASA and its aerospace industry partners will be intimately involved in the day-to-day testing of CCP spacecraft. The goal is to leverage the combined knowledge and experience of NASA and the commercial partners in order to mitigate risk and increase safety during flight testing.
“In the end, it’s really about getting crew, whether it’s our NASA crew or any other crew to low-Earth orbit safely and back home so they can see their families,” Mango said.
The “human-in-the-loop” assessments, as they’re called, will allow NASA to gain a firsthand understanding of the vehicle handling qualities, situational awareness provided in the cockpit, and the workload and complexity of operational tasks. Astronauts also will have a chance to assess cockpit layout, displays and controls, and the flight crew suits.
“This really takes me back to my roots in the Air Force, going back to the flight test center out at Edwards Air Force Base and the test pilot school,” Good said. “It’s exciting to start thinking about actually flying and doing flight tests.”
For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.