Following the latest in a series of reviews for the second crew rotation mission with astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from the United States, NASA and SpaceX managers and engineers continue to prepare for launch of the Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station no earlier than 6:11 a.m. EDT Thursday, April 22. Mission teams also are targeting the return of the Crew-1 astronauts on Wednesday, April 28, with undocking about 5 a.m. and splashdown approximately 12:35 p.m. off the coast of Florida.
The most recent review on Monday hosted by the International Space Station Program is one of several reviews that include SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program culminating with the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) April 15. That FRR formally sets the official launch time and date.
With Crew-2 mission preparations continuing, Crew-1 astronauts also are preparing to relocate the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft from one space station docking port to another on April 5 to clear the desired location for Crew-2’s arrival. This is the start of a process that allows Crew-2 to dock to the Harmony Node 2 forward port, freeing up the Node 2 Zenith port – following Crew-1 departure – for extraction of the new solar arrays from the SpaceX CRS-22 cargo mission’s trunk when it arrives.
Following a short handover, Crew-1 NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, plan to return home off the coast of Florida about five days after the Crew-2 arrival to the space station as long as mission priorities and weather cooperate.
NASA and Boeing are evaluating a new target launch date for the CST-100 Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) to the International Space Station after winter storms in Houston, and the recent replacement of avionics boxes, set the program back about two weeks. NASA also is weighing the volume of verification and validation analysis required prior to the test flight and the visiting vehicle schedule at the International Space Station.
Previously, the launch was targeted for no earlier than April 2.
An important factor the teams are evaluating is the visiting vehicle schedule at the International Space Station, which already has a scheduled crewed Soyuz launch and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April. Based on the current traffic at the space station, NASA does not anticipate that OFT-2 can be accomplished later in April. NASA and Boeing are working to find the earliest possible launch date.
“Boeing and NASA have worked extremely hard to support an early-April launch but we need to assess alternatives to ensure NASA’s safety work can be accomplished. NASA and Boeing know we fly together,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Boeing has done an incredible amount of work on Starliner to be ready for flight and we’ll provide an update soon on when we expect to launch the OFT-2 mission.”
“I’m grateful for the extraordinary work being undertaken by our NASA partners as we progress towards our OFT-2 mission,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “And I’m very proud of the Boeing Starliner team for working so diligently to get the hardware, software and certification closure products ready for flight. We’re committed to demonstrating the safety and quality of our spacecraft and progressing to our crewed test flight and the missions beyond.”
The company has been conducting dry-runs ahead of an end-to-end mission rehearsal that will allow the operations team to practice and observe integrated interactions through the whole mission profile, from launch to docking and undocking to landing. Additionally, power-on testing and checkouts of the OFT-2 vehicle, with new avionics boxes installed, have been completed successfully. Spacecraft fueling operations and the stacking of the launch vehicle are also ready to commence.