NASA, Boeing Provide Update on Starliner Flight Test Readiness

Crew Flight Test vehicle shown in April prior to going into the Hazardous Processing Area in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility.
Crew Flight Test vehicle shown in April prior to going into the Hazardous Processing Area in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility. Photo credit: Boeing/John Grant

NASA and Boeing completed a joint Crew Flight Test checkpoint review May 25 ahead of the first flight of Starliner with astronauts to the International Space Station. During the checkpoint, mission teams reviewed open work ahead of launch planned no earlier than July 21, including emerging issues that need a path to closure prior to a decision to fuel the spacecraft in June.

“We are taking a methodical approach to the first crewed flight of Starliner incorporating all of the lessons learned from the various in-depth testing campaigns, including Starliner’s flight tests and the agency’s verification efforts,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “All Orbital Flight Test-2 anomalies are closed. In addition to the closeout of ongoing work, the team remains vigilant on tracking new technical issues as we complete certification for crewed flight.”

As part of the ongoing effort, 95% of the Crew Flight Test certification products are complete. This includes approval of Starliner’s crew module batteries, based on additional testing and analysis, along with post-certification flight mitigations and a proposed battery upgrade for future missions. Teams are conducting final spacecraft closeouts and preparing for upcoming hardware milestones, including spacecraft fueling, spacecraft rollout to the launch site, and integration with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

While the team continues to work the remaining certification products, they also are working resolution paths on the following items:

Teams will remove and replace a by-pass valve on the active thermal control system, which is located on the Starliner service module and is used to flow coolant into the system to cool the onboard avionics. The Starliner team is replacing the valve that was restricting flow to one of two redundant loops, and running a diagnostic to confirm the suspected issue with the malfunctioning hardware. This work is expected to take about a week with no overall impact to the launch schedule at this time.

Engineers also are working to evaluate any elevated risk from a specific type of tape used on the spacecraft to protect wires from chafing. Although the tape is commonly used in spaceflight, the adhesive properties of the tape could present a flammability risk under certain conditions. NASA and Boeing are evaluating this material and the system’s overall wiring protection to confirm it is acceptable for crewed flight. Those efforts are ongoing and are expected to complete before Boeing begins fueling operations on the spacecraft.

NASA and Boeing also are working to reassess Starliner’s parachute system margins based on new data reviews as part of the ongoing design certification process. Engineers are reviewing the overall efficiency of certain joints within the parachute system to confirm they meet all required factors of safety for crewed flight.

“Crew safety remains the highest priority for NASA and its industry providers, and emerging issues are not uncommon in human spaceflight especially during development,” said Stich. “If you look back two months ago at the work we had ahead of us, it’s almost all complete. The combined team is resilient and resolute in their goal of flying crew on Starliner as soon as it is safe to do so. If a schedule adjustment needs to be made in the future, then we will certainly do that as we have done before. We will only fly when we are ready.”

Starliner spacecraft fueling is expected to begin as early as mid-June, and there is some operational flexibility in that timeline that can be used if needed. Teams will continue to monitor the forward work and determine whether an adjustment in the current launch date is needed. An update on the team’s progress will be provided in the coming weeks.

Find out more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at:

Mission Specialist Assigned to NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 Mission

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa was named a mission specialist for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 mission. Photo credit: NASA

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has been selected as a mission specialist for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 mission – the agency’s seventh rotational mission to the International Space Station.

Furukawa joins NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, who will serve as spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively. An additional crew member will be assigned at a later date.

Furukawa spent 165 days aboard the orbiting laboratory in 2011 as a flight engineer with Expeditions 28 and 29. As part of his duties, he helped support the final space shuttle mission, STS-135.

This will be the first spaceflight for Moghbeli, who became a NASA astronaut in 2017, and the first long-duration mission for Mogensen. He previously served as a flight engineer on a 10-day mission to the space station in 2015. Crew-7 will be his second trip to space.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than mid-August for the launch of Crew-7, aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The four astronauts will join an expedition crew aboard the space station.

For more insight on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program missions to the orbiting laboratory, follow the commercial crew blog. More details can be found @commercial_crew on Twitter and commercial crew on Facebook.