NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partner Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently reviewed the systems critical to sustaining crews in orbit and returning them safely to Earth aboard the company’s Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX is one of three commercial space companies working under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop spaceflight capabilities that eventually could provide launch services to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.
During the preliminary design review at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., company engineers presented NASA representatives and aerospace industry experts detailed analyses of Dragon systems critical to keeping crews safe in orbit and during re-entry operations. From basic life support functions, including pressurizing Dragon with breathable air, to stocking the capsule with enough food and water for as many as seven crew members, the spacecraft must be designed to protect humans in the harsh conditions of space. Company designers and NASA engineers dissected the plans carefully to make sure no details were overlooked.
“NASA has learned a lot about keeping our astronaut crews safe throughout a mission, and we don’t want those lessons to be forgotten,” said Ed Mango, NASA’s CCP manager. “So, we’re sharing a lot of what we already know, and the company is adding its own innovations to suit its needs and meet its challenges.”
The review detailed equipment and software aboard Dragon that would help guide crews to the International Space Station for rendezvous and docking operations. This included discussion on SpaceX’s planning for software code which, in this modern era of spaceship design, just as critical as the hardware design. The company also described how the spacecraft will be operated both by its onboard crew and by ground controllers.
While SpaceX works to further develop its crewed Dragon spacecraft, it also is preparing for the upcoming launch of the third of at least 12 cargo missions to the space station with a remotely controlled Dragon under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
“SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was designed from the outset to accommodate the upgrades necessary to safely carry people, so we’re excited to have reached the halfway point in our agreement with NASA to design those features,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “As we leverage our experience successfully delivering cargo both to the International Space Station and back to Earth, SpaceX remains committed to providing the safest manned flights ever conducted.”
In December, the company completed preliminary design reviews covering the ground systems and ascent, which are the first two phases of flight. Completion of the orbit and entry review clears the way for SpaceX to proceed with detailed designs for its integrated space transportation system, comprised of its Dragon spacecraft, Falcon 9 rocket and supporting ground systems.
The review was the seventh milestone for SpaceX under CCiCap. The company is on track to complete all 15 of its CCiCap milestones by the summer of 2014. All of NASA’s industry partners, including SpaceX, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.