A Closer Look at NASA’s Proposed Human Exploration Plan

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would launch the first element of a human-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in 2022 under a proposed exploration plan that would make use of commercial and international partnerships.

A power and propulsion module would be followed soon afterward by habitation, airlock, and logistics modules. The gateway would serve as a base for astronauts to explore the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 lifted off from the surface in 1972.


NASA KSC Director Looks Ahead to 2018 Milestones

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees at the Florida spaceport about plans for the coming year. (Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently spoke to spaceport employees about plans for 2018. The coming year will be highlighted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners preparing to launch test flights for crewed missions to the International Space Station.

“This is going to be an awesome year for us,” Cabana said speaking to center employees on Jan. 11, in the Lunar Theater of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo Saturn V Center. “The number one priority this year is we’ve got to get commercial crew flying to the International Space Station.”


A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!


NASA Commercial Crew Flights Slip Slide Toward 2019

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe evaluate Crew Dragon controls. (Credit: NASA)

Crucial flight tests for NASA’s two commercial crew vehicles are slipping ever closer to 2019. The space agency released the following updated schedules for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicles today:

Targeted Test Flight Dates

Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Boeing’s schedule has not changed from the previous update. SpaceX’s demonstration flights have slipped from April and August to August and December, respectively. No reasons have been given for the slips.

A reliable source tells Parabolic Arc that SpaceX experienced a delay several months ago due to issues with Dragon 2’s environmental control and life support system (ECLSS). The problem was estimated to delay the first demonstration flight about six months. At about that same time, the schedule for that first uncrewed flight slipped from February to April.

A SpaceX spokeswoman would not comment for the record on this report.

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.


Commercial Crew Providers Face Key Safety Reviews

Credit: NASA

It’s crunch time for commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX as the companies attempt to meet NASA’s safety requirement of one possible fatal accident in 270 flights.The space agency is planning a comprehensive safety review of the spacecraft next month.

But these commercial efforts face formidable obstacles in meeting safety requirements set by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, posing policy and public-relations dilemmas for the agency’s chiefs.

Experts say NASA likely will require inspections in space to reduce the threat of catastrophic accidents, a last-ditch safeguard that it had hoped to avoid when approving the plan three years ago. Still, it is unclear is whether such on-orbit checks by NASA would alleviate dangers from space debris and tiny meteor fragments, say experts inside and outside the agency….

The commercial designers are seeking to alleviate other risks. They are concerned that extra shielding to better safeguard equipment and crews from collisions with debris could make spacecraft too heavy. They also are examining risks associated with vibrations during launch, explosives that deploy parachutes, vulnerabilities of heat shields and other issues.

But their biggest safety challenge stems from the thousands of tiny meteors or space particles now prevalent in space that can damage or penetrate the space capsules. Traveling at approximately 17,000 miles an hour, even a paint chip can spark disaster. Boeing partly addressed this by changing its design to install Kevlar backing. SpaceX is relying on other features.

SpaceX Commercial Crew Progress & Schedule

Dragon 2 weldment and heat shield. (Credit: SpaceX)

The following slides are from a recent NASA update on SpaceX’s Dragon 2 commercial crew effort. The company is currently schedule to fly an automated Dragon 2 flight to the International Space Station in February followed by a test flight with crew four months later.

Updated SpaceX Commercial Crew Schedule

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX plans to conduct an automated flight test of its Dragon 2 crew spacecraft to the International Space Station in February 2018 , followed by a similar test with a crew four months later in June

That is the latest schedule presented to the NASA Advisory Council this week by agency officials. If the schedule holds and the tests go well, the Dragon 2 will be certified to carry astronauts to the station in September of next year.

In addition to the two flight tests, SpaceX will need to validate Dragon 2’s propulsion module, certify the parachute system, and conduct an in-flight abort test before it receives certification for the vehicle.