NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test Stacking Up For Launch

United Atlas V rocket raised to vertical at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida
Crews raise a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to a vertical position at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

NASA, Boeing, and ULA (United Launch Alliance) are readying the rocket that will launch the first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket stands vertical at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket stands vertical, awaiting integration with the rocket’s Centaur upper stage and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner after moving inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

The ULA Atlas V rocket was moved into the company’s Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, which starts the preparations for its stacking operations ahead of NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test.

The rocket’s main stage was transferred from the nearby Advanced Spaceflight Operations Center to the integration facility Wednesday, Feb. 21, where it will await integration with the rocket’s upper Centaur stage and Starliner. The spacecraft will carry NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the orbiting laboratory for a short stay of about one to two weeks before returning to a landing site in the southwest United States.

The mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner system, including launch, docking, and a return to Earth. After successful completion of the mission, NASA will begin the final process of certifying Starliner and its systems for crewed rotation missions to the space station.

NASA and Boeing are targeting no earlier than late April for launch. Starliner completed two uncrewed flight tests, including Orbital Flight Test-2, which docked to the space station on May 21, 2022, and provided valuable data leading up to its first crewed flight.

Details about the mission and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, X, and Facebook.

NASA Astronauts Complete Key Boeing Mission Simulation

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Barry “Butch” Wilmore emerge from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, as part of an integrated crew exercise simulation for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT). Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore successfully completed an integrated crew exercise simulation that moves Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft one step closer to its first flight with astronauts to the International Space Station.

Targeted for launch no earlier than mid-April 2024, NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) will fly Williams and Wilmore to the orbiting laboratory for about up to two weeks. They will evaluate Starliner and its systems before returning to Earth in the Western United States. Liftoff will be aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Completing the simulation Wednesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida marks another milestone toward CFT launch. The integrated exercise involved participation from the flight crew, NASA, Boeing, and ULA, and allowed teams to rehearse prelaunch operations beginning roughly four hours before a targeted liftoff. The exercise began with Wilmore and Williams walking through suit-up procedures inside the Astronaut Crew Quarters in NASA Kennedy’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building.

Following this, they took an elevator down to the ground floor and exited the same double doors they will on launch day where their crew transportation vehicle was waiting to transport them to the launch pad. The crew and support teams then convoyed to the launch pad, where Williams and Wilmore supported operations from the white room – an area at the end of the launch tower’s crew access arm that will provide access to the spacecraft. The remainder of the rehearsal involved the crew traveling back to NASA Kennedy to support from Boeing’s Mission Control Center.

Over the next several weeks, teams will run through additional simulations focused on each phase of the mission. Some upcoming milestones include CFT certification, fueling Starliner with propellants, and stacking Starliner on the Atlas V rocket before rolling out to the launch pad in preparation for liftoff.

Starliner completed two uncrewed flight tests: Orbital Flight Test-2, which launched from Cape Canaveral and completed its space station mission in May 2022, and Orbital Flight Test-1, which provided teams with additional flight data in December 2019. During these two uncrewed missions, the end-to-end capabilities of the spacecraft were successfully tested.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program by following the commercial crew blog, X, and Facebook.

NASA, Boeing Move into Next Phases of Flight Test Prep

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner crew ship is pictured docked to the Harmony module's forward port on the International Space Station as the orbitng complex flew 261 miles above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexican state of Nayarit. Photo credit: NASA
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew ship is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s forward port on the International Space Station as the orbitng complex flew 261 miles above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexican state of Nayarit. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and Boeing teams are preparing for a flight test no earlier than mid-April in which the Starliner spacecraft will carry two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

Teams have made significant progress in resolving technical issues identified during the agency’s flight certification process. Following a successful drop test earlier this month in which recent modifications to Starliner’s parachute system were validated, NASA and Boeing are working to perform final analysis of the test data and complete overall system certification ahead of Starliner’s first crewed flight. This standard NASA process is designed to independently verify Starliner’s parachute system meets crew safety requirements and is expected to continue over the next six to eight weeks.

Meanwhile, Boeing completed removal of P213 tape that may have posed a flammability risk in certain environmental conditions. Boeing removed more than 17 pounds, or roughly 4,300 feet, of the material from the Starliner crew module. For areas in which removal of the tape carried an increased risk to Starliner hardware, Boeing applied tested remediation techniques such as overwrapping the P213 tape with another non-flammable, chafe-resistant tape, and installing fire breaks on wire harnesses. The agency worked to clarify the properties and safe usage guidance relative to P213 tape in the NASA Materials Usage Agreements database to prevent a similar misapplication from occurring across industry in the future.

Additionally, major integrated flight operations exercises are underway. Mission support teams recently completed a two-day undock to landing mission dress rehearsal with recovery personnel on the ground at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Teams simulated Crew Flight Test procedures and spacecraft sequences starting with pre-undock powerup and continuing through undock, entry, landing, and crew recovery. The exercise provided an additional training opportunity for NASA and Boeing to practice Starliner’s return to Earth in a high-fidelity environment before the flight.

Teams from ULA (United Launch Alliance) are preparing the Atlas V rocket hardware for processing and spacecraft integration. Boeing is targeting completion of Starliner assembly at the end of January. The upgraded parachutes were delivered and installed on the spacecraft, along with Starliner’s forward heat shield and ascent cover. Prior to fueling operations, following final installation of thermal protection system blankets and internal closeout work, Boeing will begin flowing a nitrogen purge into the Starliner’s service module to ensure ambient moisture does not permeate into the propulsion isolation or active thermal control system valves. In the weeks ahead, NASA and Boeing will work to identify any remaining work before loading Starliner propellant.

The next couple of months teams will:

  • work to complete overall Crew Flight Test certification;
  • put the finishing touches on the Starliner spacecraft, which is already joined to its service module;
  • run simulations of operational conditions to rehearse every phase of the mission with the crew, flight controllers, and ground operations teams;
  • fuel the spacecraft with propellants for its onboard thrusters for in-space maneuvering;
  • stack the ULA Atlas V rocket and Starliner spacecraft before rolling them to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida;
  • and work through detailed systems reviews, culminating with a flight readiness review in the days before launch to verify the system and teams are ready.

Starliner’s Crew Flight Test will launch NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the orbiting laboratory for a stay of one to two weeks before returning them to a landing in the southwest United States. The mission will mirror the tasks of regular crew rotation flights for Boeing’s Starliner under contracts with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Follow the commercial crew blog or Crew Flight Test mission blog for the latest information on Starliner’s progress toward launch. Details about the mission and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, X, and Facebook.

NASA, Boeing Provide Update on Starliner Crew Flight Test

Boeing's Starliner crew ship approaches the space station on the company's Orbital Flight Test-2 mission on May 20, 2022.
Boeing’s Starliner crew ship approaches the space station on the company’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission on May 20, 2022. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and Boeing teams continue to make progress in preparing for Starliner’s first crewed flight to and from the International Space Station.

In a media teleconference Aug. 8, leaders from NASA and Boeing discussed the path forward for the spacecraft, including work to address two technical issues identified during the agency’s certification process to ensure the system meets crew safety requirements.

The Starliner team expects to have the Crew Flight Test spacecraft ready in March 2024. A specific target launch date will be set closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of the International Space Station, United Launch Alliance, and Eastern Range availability.

A replay of the teleconference is available on NASA’s YouTube channel.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are assigned to fly Starliner and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to the International Space Station. The duo will remain docked at the orbiting laboratory for about two weeks to evaluate the new spacecraft and its systems before returning to Earth in the Western United States.

Following a successful first flight with crew, NASA will complete work to certify the Starliner system as an operational crew system for long-duration crew rotation missions to the space station.

Follow NASA’s commercial crew blog for the latest information on CFT progress. Details about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew on Twitter, and commercial crew on Facebook.