NASA, Boeing Prepare to Replace Starliner Service Modules Ahead of Upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2

Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.
Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.

NASA and Boeing continue making progress toward the agency’s upcoming Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams recently completed offloading fuel from the OFT-2 spacecraft inside Starliner’s production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for separating and replacing the current service module (SM2) from the crew module.

“The Starliner team and successful completion of the spacecraft’s development phase are critical to sustaining International Space Station operations through 2030,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The team’s dedication to developing effective remedies and corrective action after our first OFT-2 launch attempt demonstrates their continued commitment to safely flying NASA crews for years to come.”

In December, Boeing decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests. The service module originally planned for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) is now being used for OFT-2, and the service module originally planned for Starliner’s first post-certification mission, Starliner-1, now will  be used for CFT.

With fuel offload complete, the spacecraft was moved out of the hazardous processing area and into the production factory high bay.

“Because this is not an operation that we normally perform, our team took the time to fully coordinate and assess the proper spacecraft and ground support equipment configurations, and then execute to plan to ensure the safety of our team,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once separated in the coming weeks from the OFT-2 crew module, SM2 will be sent to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico for additional testing related to the issue affecting the spacecraft’s oxidizer isolation valves.

The investigation into the valve issue continues to substantiate that the most probable cause is interaction of moisture with nitrogen tetroxide that permeates through the Teflon seal in the valve, leading to corrosion. Testing continues to fully understand how this occurrence affects the valves in various environments.

Tests include environmental seal evaluation and exposing valves, in a controlled setting, to temperatures and conditions similar to those the spacecraft experienced prior to the planned launch of OFT-2. The results of these tests will help in the ongoing development of remediation efforts to prevent similar issues on future service modules.

For example, the team designed a purging system that will be integrated into the spacecraft to protect the valves from potential exposure to moisture at the factory, launch complex, and launch pad.

Progress also continues with production of the new service module (SM4) that will go onto the OFT-2 crew module. That service module was recently moved from the low bay production area to the factory’s hazardous processing area for high pressure leak testing. Remaining tasks before mating this service module with the OFT-2 crew module include acceptance testing, final wire harness mating, installation of solar array panels, and final closeouts.

NASA and Boeing continue to work toward an opening in United Launch Alliance’s launch window availability in May for OFT-2. An actual launch date will be determined closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of Eastern Range and International Space Station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review and will be determined after a safe and successful OFT-2.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Boeing to Move Up Service Modules for Commercial Crew Flight Tests

On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Following extensive testing and analysis of oxidizer isolation valves on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner service module propulsion system, Boeing has decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The service module originally planned for its Crew Flight Test (CFT) will now be used for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, and the service module planned for the Starliner-1 flight will be used for CFT.

“NASA has been working side-by-side with Boeing on the service module valve investigation, including leveraging the agency’s materials and propellants expertise to better characterize the potential causes of the issue,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Because of the combined work, we have a much better understanding of the contributors that led to the valve issues, and ways to prevent it from happening in the future. Boeing remains diligent and driven by the data during its decision making, which is key to ensuring the Starliner system is ready when we fly our test missions in 2022.”

Ongoing investigation efforts continue to validate the most probable cause to be related to oxidizer and moisture interactions. NASA and Boeing will continue the analysis and testing of the initial service module on which the issue was identified leading up to launch of the uncrewed OFT-2 mission in August 2021.

“Our objective was to get back to flight safely and as soon as possible. With this objective in mind, we set out on parallel paths: remediating valves to preserve the option of utilizing the existing service module (SM2), while also working to accelerate the build of the next service module (SM4),” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “Based on the results to date we’ve decided to fly SM4 next and continue longer term tests with SM2 hardware, on the vehicle and in offline facilities.”

Teams conducted extensive analysis on the valves in Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and outside laboratories. That analysis included testing samples of the corrosion, using specialized micro CT scans and borescopes to see inside the valves, exposing parts of valves to various conditions, and removing and disassembling several valves.

“I am incredibly proud of the entire NASA and Boeing team for their creativity and technical excellence while working this investigation,” Stich said.

Testing is continuing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility to expose the valves to conditions similar to those that the spacecraft experienced inside the factory and at the Atlas V launch pad and Vertical Integration Facility prior to the last launch attempt.

Testing has already taken place on the former CFT, now OFT-2, service module to ensure the health of the hardware. The team will also apply preventative remediation efforts to this service module to prevent similar issues from occurring. The team is now working through next steps for removing and replacing the service module.

“The members of the combined team are consummate professionals, who continue to safely and systematically troubleshoot and safe the wet propellant system,” said Vollmer. “I’m very proud of their resolve.”

NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance and the Eastern Range continue to assess potential launch windows for OFT-2. As part of the standard process for requesting a launch slot on ULA’s manifest in the first half of 2022, Boeing has agreed to an open window in May, pending spacecraft readiness and space station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

NASA to Secure Additional Commercial Crew Transportation

NASA insignia.NASA intends to issue a sole source modification to SpaceX to acquire up to three additional crew flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract. The additional crew flights allow NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station.

In October, NASA issued a request for information from American industry capable of providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective human space transportation services to and from the International Space Station to ensure a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory.

After a thorough review of the near-term certified capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one certified to meet NASA’s safety requirements to transport crew to the space station, and to maintain the agency’s obligation to its international partners in the needed timeframe.

“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”

NASA anticipates a potential need to use any additional flights as early as 2023 to maintain mission readiness. Securing additional flights now also allows NASA to continue working with Boeing on the development of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which also will fly NASA and international partner astronauts to and from the space station after completing its certification effort.

“NASA commends Boeing for its ongoing investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August, prioritizing safety over schedule while working to solve this challenge,” said Phil McAlister, director, commercial spaceflight at NASA. “NASA and Boeing will provide additional updates on the status of Starliner’s next mission as we work through the investigation and verification efforts to determine root cause and effective vehicle remediation.”

NASA continues to have a need for two unique crew capabilities to ensure dissimilar redundancy, maintain safe space station operations, and allow each company to work through any unforeseen issues that could arise as private industry builds operational experience with these new systems. NASA’s plan is still to alternate missions between SpaceX and Boeing, once both are operational.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

NASA also is working to extend the life of the space station beyond 2024 to allow for a seamless transition to commercially operated, low-Earth orbit destinations and allow NASA to continue its vital scientific research to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to benefit life on Earth. NASA continues to anticipate a need for crew transportation into the foreseeable future as the agency enables a low-Earth orbit economy.

In 2014, NASA awarded the CCtCap contracts to Boeing and SpaceX through a public-private partnership as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Under CCtCap, NASA certifies that a provider’s space transportation system meets the agency’s requirements prior to flying missions with astronauts. After years of development, commercial crew systems have achieved or are nearing operational readiness for regular crewed missions, including providing a lifeboat capability, to the space station.

For more than 20 years, NASA has continuously had astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 249 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 109 countries and areas.

The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and to expand commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit. As commercial companies focus on providing human space transportation services and developing a robust low-Earth orbit economy, NASA is preparing for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The Station Crew Welcomed Four New Members

The Expedition 66 crew poses for a photo after SpaceX Crew-3's arrival to station.
The Expedition 66 crew poses for a photo after SpaceX Crew-3’s arrival to station. Credit: NASA TV

Running more than 30 minutes ahead of schedule, the SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts docked to the International Space Station at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer opened the hatch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance at 8:25 p.m. and participated in a welcome ceremony with their new Expedition 66 crewmates at 9 p.m.

On board to welcome them were fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 66 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Joining the welcome ceremony from Earth were Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations, NASA and Josef Aschbacher, ESA director-general.

The newest crew to the microgravity laboratory is the agency’s third crew rotation mission with SpaceX and will remain on board until April 2022 as a part of Expedition 66.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Crew Dragon Endurance Docked to the Space Station

Nov. 11, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman's Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia's Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 78 and 79 resupply ships.
Nov. 11, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 78 and 79 resupply ships.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer arrived at the International Space Station at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 11. Crew Dragon Endurance docked to the orbital complex while the spacecraft were flying 260 miles above the eastern Caribbean Sea.

Following Crew Dragon’s link up to the Harmony module, the astronauts aboard the Endurance and the space station will begin conducting standard leak checks and pressurization between the spacecraft in preparation for hatch opening scheduled for approximately 8:10 p.m.

Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew of Mark Vande Hei of NASA and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos for a planned six-month mission living and working aboard the microgravity laboratory to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration approach, including lunar missions through NASA’s Artemis program.

The welcome ceremony is at approximately 8:45 p.m. with time subject to change.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Watch SpaceX Crew-3 Arrival Live on NASA TV

The astronauts of SpaceX Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their suits during a training session inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. From left are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron.
The astronauts of SpaceX Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their suits during a training session inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. From left are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron. Credit: SpaceX

NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing live continuous coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission carrying NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on their way to the International Space Station 

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance, began the final phase of its approach to the station at 5:02 p.m. EST Thursday and is scheduled to dock at about 6:32 p.m. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously, but the crew aboard the spacecraft and the space station will monitor the performance of the spacecraft as it approaches and docks to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module. 

The hatch opening now is approximately at 8:10 p.m. and the welcome ceremony is at approximately 8:45 p.m. with times subject to change.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Ahead of Schedule for Docking

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured during its approach to the International Space Station on April 24, 2021.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured during its approach to the International Space Station on April 24, 2021.

NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing live continuous coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, flying on Crew Dragon Endurance, currently are ahead of the planned mission timeline. The international crew of four now are expected to dock with the microgravity laboratory at approximately 6:33 p.m. EST, today, Thursday, Nov. 11.

Here’s an updated timeline of mission activities:

All times approximate (EST)

3:31 p.m. – Mattias Maurer Downlink Event for Germany

5:06 p.m. – Approach Initiation Burn

6:33 p.m. – Docking

The hatch opening and welcome ceremony also are expected to move ahead in the timeline.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Underway as Endurance Journeys to Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon atop, soars upward after liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021. Aboard the Crew Dragon are SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; along with Matthias Maurer, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and mission specialist. Launch time was at 9:03 p.m. EST. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are on their way to the International Space Station, following the picture-perfect launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the crew, launched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida at 9:03 p.m. EST.

“What a beautiful evening for a launch. It was another great experience seeing those four guys take off into space on top of that Falcon 9 on that Dragon,” said NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana. “It is a huge challenge to safely get humans to and from low-Earth orbit, and the partnerships that we have with our international partners and our commercial crew partners has enabled this space economy that we have right now. What a great time to be part of America’s space program.”

Upon their arrival at the space station, the Crew-3 astronauts will be greeted by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov – the Expedition 66 crew already on board. During their six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew in conducting a number of science and research investigations.

Some of these include a food physiology experiment that will study the impacts of an enhanced spaceflight diet on astronaut health, a sensor that will test a set of LED beacons with which Astrobee free-flying robots will interact during formation flight maneuvers, and a Human Research Program project that will collect a set of core measurements related to human spaceflight risks from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions.

The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Crew-3 is the third of six crew rotation missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This is the first flight for Chari, Barron, and Maurer, and the third for Marshburn, who flew on STS-127 and Expedition 34/35.

Crew-3 astronauts are slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow, Nov. 11, with docking targeted for 7:10 p.m. EST. Following docking and hatch opening, a welcoming ceremony is planned for 9:20 p.m. EST. Participants will include:

  • The Expedition 66 crew aboard the station
  • Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA
  • David Parker, director, Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA

Coverage of Crew-3’s arrival to the station will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website, beginning with docking at 7:10 p.m. EST.

For mission updates, visit the station blog at https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/. Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following @Commercial_Crew@space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the Commercial Crew FacebookISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Crew-3 Postlaunch News Teleconference Set for 10 p.m.

NASA's SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency’s Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. From left are ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron. Photo credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on their way to the International Space Station has safely reached orbit, and the nosecone has been opened.

At 10 p.m., NASA will host a postlaunch news teleconference from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Participants in the briefing will be:

  • Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
  • Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station Program, NASA Johnson
  • Sarah Walker, director, Dragon Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Frank de Winne, program manager, International Space Station, ESA

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

Separation Confirmed, Crew Dragon Now Flying Solo

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft separates from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage for the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully separates from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, sending the Crew-3 astronauts on their solo journey to the International Space Station on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the Crew-3 astronauts, has successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and is now flying on its own.

The spacecraft has safely reached orbit, and its nosecone has been opened. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, along with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are slated to arrive at the International Space Station about 22 hours from now, around 7:10 p.m. EST on Nov. 11.