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NASA engineers evaluate ECLSS for Commercial Crew missions

ECLSS interior view

The view inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Environmental Control and Life Support System Module (ECLSS). (Click for full view) Photo Credit: SpaceX

NASA engineers are hard at work performing evaluations on the life support systems vital to successful flight tests for the Commercial Crew missions as NASA prepares to return human spaceflight to the United States.

One of those systems, built by Space X, is called the ECLSS – short for Environmental Control and Life Support System and pronounced ‘e-cliss’ – the system is a complex network of machinery, pipes, tanks, and sensors built into a mockup of the Crew Dragon (Dragon v2) spacecraft.

ECLSS Module Test at SpaceX

Engineers work inside the ECLSS Module at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX said that the ECLSS Module was manufactured as close to the specifications of an operational spacecraft as possible, so that experience gained during its production and testing could be passed on smoothly to flight versions of the spacecraft.

Brian Daniel, Crew Systems lead for the Commercial Crew Program, said: “ECLSS Systems and Subsystems present unique challenges to a developer. Such systems must assure tight control of parameters that are important to human safety such as temperature, carbon dioxide levels, oxygen levels, and cabin pressure.

“The various functions of the life support system must not only be failure tolerant and robust, but also able to perform their function for the whole gamut of the mission, from countdown to splashdown.”

The ECLSS provides air for the spacesuits that astronauts will wear during launch and re-entry, manages cabin pressure, and monitors all the conditions inside the spacecraft; e.g., temperature and humidity. It also serves to provide fire suppression and filters the air to remove the carbon dioxide that astronauts exhale.

The manufacturers of spacecraft normally conduct tests on their vehicles during construction; however, NASA engineers are still required to certify that the results meet the requirements for safe and reliable operation in flight.

The SpaceX ECLSS module

The SpaceX ECLSS module was built to provide a testing area for the environmental control system. Photo Credit: SpaceX

To simulate the conditions that astronauts will experience when in flight, the engineers were sealed inside the ECLSS Module for four hours, during which the ECLSS provided them with a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen.

Nicholas Lima, a life support systems engineer at SpaceX, said: “Unlike relying solely on computer simulation and analysis, the ECLSS Module allows us to test and observe Crew Dragon’s life support systems as they autonomously control a real cabin environment.

“Extensive testing of the ECLSS module has and will continue to contribute to improvements to Crew Dragon’s design and operation, which ultimately leads to greater crew safety.”

Both Boeing and SpaceX are building the spacecraft, the launch systems, and the operational networks for Commercial Crew Program missions to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon spacecraft; the firm plans to use the Falcon 9 to send the capsule into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) in Florida. Whereas Boeing is working on its CST-100 spacecraft that will launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket.

Barring further delays, both companies are well on their way to having their own spacecraft certified for flight by NASA in 2018.




College student and long time space enthusiast, Jose has been a constant visitor to Cape Canaveral since he moved to central Florida. He joined the SFI team in the hopes of becoming more involved in the coverage of spaceflight and space exploration.

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