SpaceX Completes Crew Dragon Static Fire Tests

Today, SpaceX completed a series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in advance of an in-flight launch escape demonstration, known as the In-Flight Abort Test.

The engine tests, conducted near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, began with two burns for a duration of one-second each for two of Crew Dragon’s 16 Draco thrusters. The Draco thrusters are used for on-orbit maneuvering and attitude control, and would also be used for re-orientation during certain in-flight launch escapes. Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff.

In quick succession, immediately after the SuperDracos shut down, two Dracos thrusters fired and all eight SuperDraco flaps closed, mimicking the sequence required to reorient the spacecraft in-flight to a parachute deploy attitude and close the flaps prior to reentry. The full sequence, from SuperDraco startup to flap closure, spanned approximately 70 seconds.

In April, during a similar set of engine tests, the spacecraft experienced an anomaly which led to an explosion and loss of the vehicle. In the following months, an Anomaly Investigation Team made up of SpaceX and NASA personnel determined that a slug of liquid propellant in the high-flow helium pressurization system unexpectedly caused a titanium ignition event resulting in an explosion. Based on that investigation’s findings and months of testing, SpaceX redesigned components of the system to eliminate the possibility of slugs entering the high-flow pressurization system.

Today’s tests will help validate the launch escape system ahead of Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from today’s test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test.

OFT Mission Taking Shape at Space Launch Complex 41

A Centaur upper stage is lifted at the Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 8, 2019.
A Centaur upper stage is lifted at the Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 8, 2019, for mating to the United Launch Alliance Atlas V first stage in preparation for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT). The uncrewed OFT mission will rendezvous and dock Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Starliner will launch atop the Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket set to launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on its maiden voyage to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready for the mating of Starliner to the top of the launch vehicle.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V first stage is lifted to the vertical position on Nov. 4, 2019, in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V first stage is lifted to the vertical position on Nov. 4, 2019, in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

On Monday, Nov. 4, the Atlas V’s first stage was lifted to the vertical position inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, followed by the mating of two solid rocket boosters to the booster. ULA teams then attached the Centaur upper stage and launch vehicle adapter atop the Atlas V first stage.

Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission will rendezvous and dock the Starliner spacecraft with the space station. OFT will help set the stage for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT), which will carry NASA astronauts Michael Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson to the space station and return them safely home.

As aerospace industry providers Boeing and SpaceX begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

NASA and Boeing Discuss Preliminary Pad Abort Test Results

On Thursday, Nov. 7, Boeing Commercial Crew Vice President and Program Manager John Mulholland and NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders addressed preliminary results of the Nov. 4 CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test during a media teleconference.

Preliminary results indicate that the test, conducted from Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, met NASA’s primary test objectives:

  • Validated the launch abort system’s capability to perform a safe abort
  • Safely separated CST-100 from a static launch vehicle adapter on the launch pad
  • Validated the launch abort system’s capability to propel Starliner safely to a target point to avoid re-contact with any potential debris or other pieces of hardware
  • Demonstrated stability and control characteristics of the launch abort system
  • Safely separated the crew module from the service module during the abort sequence
  • Deployed landing and recovery system to execute a controlled land landing
  • Validated functionality of guidance, navigation & control and command & data handling system for appropriate sequencing of commands to the propulsion controllers

During the test, two of three of Starliner’s main parachutes deployed and eased Starliner to the ground. Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety. Boeing has determined that the parachute anomaly occurred because the rigging between one of the three pilot and main parachutes was improperly connected. Boeing has verified this through closeout photos, and understands how this happened on a test vehicle. The company is validating that its processes were followed correctly on its Orbital Flight Test vehicle, which is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 17.

NASA is encouraged by the preliminary results of the Pad Abort Test and remains committed to working in concert with Boeing to ensure crew safety as we move to return astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

Boeing’s Starliner Pad Abort Test Complete

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s airbags inflate in preparation for landing in the New Mexico desert in the company’s Pad Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Image credit: NASA TV
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters ignite in the company’s Pad Abort Test, pushing the spacecraft away from the test stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust, from Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters ignite in the company’s Pad Abort Test.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test is complete. The test began at 9:15 a.m. EST (7:15 a.m. MST) with ignition of the vehicle’s launch abort engines and orbital maneuvering and attitude control system, concluding a short time later with touchdown on a cushion of airbags.

The test was designed to verify that each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff. During the test, Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and altitude control thrusters fired to push the spacecraft approximately 1 mile above land and 1 mile north of the test stand.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner lands in the New Mexico desert in the company’s Pad Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner lands in the New Mexico desert in the company’s Pad Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Image credit: NASA TV

Boeing’s next mission, called Orbital Flight Test, will launch an uncrewed Starliner spacecraft to the station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. Launch is targeted for Dec. 17.

For more information, read the news release at https://go.nasa.gov/2PKrTxB.

New T-0 for Pad Abort Test: 9:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. MST

Teams at Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico have adjusted the Pad Abort Test time to 9:15 a.m. EST (7:15 a.m. MST).

The Pad Abort Test is Boeing’s first test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership with the American aerospace industry to launch astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011.

The test is designed to verify that each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff.

Boeing Pad Abort Test to air live on NASA TV

Tune in to NASA TV and the agency’s website at 8:50 a.m. EST today to follow live coverage of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test from Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test is scheduled for 9 a.m. EST with a three-hour test window. Coverage will be adjusted as necessary within the window.

The Pad Abort Test is Boeing’s first test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership with the American aerospace industry to launch astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011.

The test is designed to verify that each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff.

Boeing Starliner Spacecraft to Demonstrate Critical Launch Pad Abort Capability

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and its service module sit atop the test stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico ahead of the company’s Pad Abort Test. The test is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2019.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and its service module sit atop the test stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico ahead of the company’s Pad Abort Test. The test is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2019, and will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing is preparing to put its CST-100 Starliner’s launch abort system to the test on Monday, Nov. 4, at Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. MST (9 a.m. EST) with a three-hour window, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day. This will be Boeing’s first flight test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will help evaluate the performance of the abort system prior to missions to the International Space Station with a crew onboard.

For the demonstration, Starliner and its service module will be resting on the test stand when a zero-zero abort is declared. This means the 16.5-foot vehicle is in the launch position at zero altitude and traveling zero miles an hour. The flight test begins with ignition of Starliner’s four launch abort engines (LAE), pushing the spacecraft away from the stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust. The orbital maneuvering and attitude (OMAC) thrusters kick in simultaneously with LAE ignition to maneuver the spacecraft into the proper orientation for parachute deployment. The vehicle is expected to reach an altitude of about 4,500 feet above the ground, and push about 7,000 feet (about 1 mile) north of the test stand.

The ascent cover and forward heat shield protecting the spacecraft’s parachutes will jettison roughly 19 seconds into flight in preparation for landing. Then, drogue parachutes will deploy, prior to the main parachutes, slowing the descent of the vehicle.

After the parachutes open, the service module will separate from the crew module, followed by the base heat shield. Finally, airbags will inflate, and Starliner will touch down in the New Mexico desert approximately one-and-a-half minutes after the test began. The spacecraft service module, which has a total of 52 engines including those designed to give small directional changes in orbit, is not planned or expected to survive the test.

The zero-zero abort scenario is especially challenging because the spacecraft abort system must quickly get away from a potentially dangerous rocket, but also must gain enough altitude and distance for the parachutes to open and landing systems to be activated.

The abort test will provide Boeing and NASA with reams of data to help evaluate and verify the performance of the vehicle’s abort systems – a critical capability for NASA’s certification of Starliner to fly astronauts to station.

Although Boeing’s abort test does not have to be completed prior to the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the space station, it is a major milestone ahead of the first flight of the new system with astronauts, called Crew Flight Test.

NASA and its commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are working toward returning the capability to launch American astronauts to the space station and low-Earth orbit on American-built spacecraft from American soil.