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 Target Flight Dates

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner prepares for electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic contamination (EMI/EMC) testing in a specialized test chamberNASA and Boeing continue to evaluate flight dates to deliver realistic schedules to the public and both have agreed on the following target dates:

  • Boeing Pad Abort Test: Nov. 4, 2019 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test: Dec. 17, 2019 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

NASA and its commercial partners remain committed to flying astronauts as quickly as we can without compromising crew safety, and we always will give safety precedence over schedule.  As more dates are reviewed, NASA will update its schedule.

Commercial Crew Program Testing Fosters Improvements in Parachute Safety

Crew Dragon parachutes successfully deploy during a development test.

As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has been developing and testing the Crew Dragon parachute system, which is comprised of two drogue parachutes and four main ring-sail parachutes—the same type of parachutes that have been commonly and successfully used for human spaceflight in the past.

SpaceX conducts a Crew Dragon parachute test.

In the last four years, SpaceX has completed 30 drop tests and 18 system-level tests of their parachute system, including the successful Demo-1 mission flight test. Through this test campaign, the SpaceX team, in partnership with NASA, has gained insight that could change the way parachutes are developed, tested and integrated into spacecraft design. Throughout this process, NASA has shared lessons learned from its own human spaceflight heritage to assist in parachute development.

One of the most relevant benefits originating from the rigorous, multi-year parachute testing campaign is a better understanding of how to safely design and operate parachute clusters. Specifically, NASA and SpaceX now have greater insight into what is termed “Asymmetry Factor,” an integral part of how safety in design is measured and weighed. This asymmetry factor is an indicator of uneven load distribution between individual suspension lines attached to the parachute canopy. As a cluster of parachutes is deployed, the first parachute to open may crowd or bump others as they open up, causing an uneven load distribution on the main parachutes. If the lines or the joints are not designed to account for the unevenness or asymmetry, they might get damaged or even fail.

Crew Dragon parachutes successfully deploy during a development test.

In April 2019, SpaceX performed a developmental test designed to simulate the loss of one of its four main parachutes. During the test, there was an unexpected failure which has offered a unique insight into parachute loading and behavior. The test results have ultimately provided a better understanding of parachute reliability and caused a closer examination of the current industry standard used to calculate the asymmetry factor.

SpaceX is using this new data to calculate structural margins and influence parachute design. The unique results allow more accurate prediction of reliability in the flight parachute configuration. In fact, this new data further verified SpaceX’s most recent successful developmental test, which simulated a pad abort, where the vehicle is tumbling at low altitude before parachute deploy.

Through testing, SpaceX has sought to better characterize margins on their current and future parachute designs, using more robust materials, operational mitigations, and continuation of model refinement based on data from almost 50 recent tests and counting, 19 Cargo Dragon parachute landings, and the successful Demo-1 mission, to ensure that Crew Dragon has the safest parachute design possible. Additionally, these new findings are being shared within NASA to ensure that all human spaceflight applications are assessed for adequate margin and reliability.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a public-private partnership with Boeing and SpaceX to take the experience of NASA and couple it with new technology and designs being pioneered by private industry. Together, we are making space travel safer and available for all. This is one of many steps that advances NASA’s goal to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil on commercially-built and operated American rockets and spacecraft and prepare for a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

NASA, Boeing Perform Landing and Recovery Rehearsals in New Mexico

Teams from NASA, Boeing and the White Sands Missile Range, rehearse landing and crew extraction from Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 at the White Sands Missile Range outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Teams from NASA, Boeing and the White Sands Missile Range, rehearse landing and crew extraction from Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 at the White Sands Missile Range outside Las Cruces, New Mexico. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Boeing, NASA and the U.S. Army conducted exercises, known as mission dress rehearsals, for Boeing’s upcoming CST-100 Starliner missions to the International Space Station. This series of rehearsals at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico focused on the landing and recovery aspect of Starliner’s mission, and was one of three of Boeing’s formal dress rehearsals that took place over the last couple of weeks as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Unlike any other American-made orbital crew capsule, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is designed to land on land, and is expected to touch down at one of five potential landing zones in the western United States, including two at White Sands, New Mexico. During last week’s integrated rehearsal, teams practiced recovering Starliner and extricating crews in more than a half dozen different landing scenarios covering both the upcoming uncrewed and crewed test flights. The rehearsals included all of the recovery personnel and equipment necessary to locate, safe and cool the spacecraft prior to opening the hatch.

Astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann of NASA and Chris Ferguson from Boeing observed a few of the exercises to better understand what will be happening outside Starliner before ground teams can open the hatch and officially welcome them back to Earth. During the final “run-for-record,” obstacles were introduced in order to simulate an emergency scenario, in which the team succeeded at locating the Starliner and opening the hatch in less than an hour.

Using a convoy of vehicles Boeing uses to recover their spacecraft after landing and a boiler plate test article of the Starliner capsule, the teams worked through the steps necessary to safe the vehicle and get future crew members out of the Starliner to return home.
The teams worked through the steps necessary to safe the vehicle and get future crew members out of the Starliner to return home. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Earlier rehearsals included simulating a Starliner launch and ascent through docking to the space station, as well as undocking from station through landing the spacecraft on land in the western United States.

These exercises are a necessary step in preparing the teams for all aspects of a mission from launch to landing. This series of rehearsals has taken place ahead of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the space station, in which the Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

As commercial crew 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.

Astronauts and Ground Teams Put Emergency Escape Procedures to the Test

An emergency medical technician cares for an astronaut with simulated injuries during a joint emergency escape and triage exercise led by NASA, along with Boeing and United Launch Alliance, at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 24, 2019. The simulation is part of a series in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA led a joint emergency escape and triage simulation with Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) on July 24 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station. The exercise ranged from astronauts and support teams quickly escaping the launch pad to emergency personnel practicing rescue and life support procedures focused on the safety of the launch site teams.

Medical and fire-rescue personnel park ambulances and set up a decontamination and triage area for the joint emergency escape and triage simulation.

In the event of an emergency on launch day, astronauts and support teams would need to exit the launch pad as quickly as possible. The exercise was designed to validate the escape procedures from the crew access tower – the nearly 200-foot-tall structure astronauts will ascend to the same level as the spacecraft on top of the rocket – to a pre-staged medical location a safe distance away from the launch pad. The second half of the rehearsal included the rescue teams that would conduct initial triage for the crew and ground team.

NASA astronauts Josh Cassada, currently in training for the second flight with crew aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, and Eric Boe, along with astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli, served as flight crew for the simulation.

During the exercise, the astronauts and support teams put on portable respirators and made their way to the emergency egress system – a commercial, off-the-shelf zip line modified and constructed as a safety measure for human spaceflight – for escape. The emergency system is on the same level of the crew access tower as the crew access arm, the bridge astronauts walk across to enter the Starliner. The launch teams, secured in seats, descended the tower to the pad perimeter below.

Wearing portable respirators, astronauts and personnel with simulated injuries exit an armored vehicle during the simulation.

Next, using mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, the crew members drove just under a mile north to a helipad, where flight surgeons and the emergency medical services teams waited with ambulances and a decontamination vehicle. Astronauts evacuating from a pad emergency may come into contact with hazardous substances, such as fuel from the rocket or spacecraft, and must be decontaminated to allow medical personnel to safely treat them. In a true emergency, anyone injured would then be transported via helicopter to area hospitals.

Personnel from Kennedy Space Center emergency medical services, pad rescue teams and environmental health, along with CCAFS fire and rescue and the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing worked in tandem with NASA, Boeing and ULA to whisk the astronauts to safety – and, in the process, test necessary procedures and equipment, while providing new team members valuable experience.

The simulation is one of several NASA has conducted with our commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, in preparation to launch astronauts from American soil. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to place astronaut safety at the forefront of preparations for human spaceflight.

NASA Provides Update on SpaceX Crew Dragon Static Fire Investigation

NASA continues to work closely with SpaceX as they lead the accident investigation into the April 20 Crew Dragon static fire anomaly at Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Teams have completed work to ensure the site is safe and are focusing on the root cause analysis, which will determine the impact to commercial crew flights tests. SpaceX had several Crew Dragon vehicles in production, and plans to shift the spacecraft assignments forward. The spacecraft originally assigned to Demo-2, the first flight test with a crew onboard, now will be used for the company’s in-flight abort test and the first operational mission spacecraft will be used for Demo-2.

The Crew Dragon static fire was designed as a health check of the spacecraft’s Draco systems and to demonstrate integrated system SuperDraco performance. During the static fire, SpaceX successfully completed a firing of 12 service section Dracos with the anomaly occurring during the activation of the SuperDraco system. Over the course of development, SpaceX has tested the SuperDraco thrusters hundreds of times.

Following the test, NASA and SpaceX immediately executed mishap plans established by the agency and company. SpaceX fully cleared the test site and followed all safety protocols. Early efforts focused on making the site safe, collecting data and developing a timeline of the anomaly, which did not result in any injuries. NASA assisted with the site inspection including the operation of drones and onsite vehicles.

NASA and SpaceX remain committed to the safety of our astronaut and ground crews and will proceed with flight tests when ready.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Boeing Test Flight Dates and SpaceX Demo-2 Update

Illustration of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon in Earth orbit, along with International Space Station and Moon*NASA and Boeing provided updates on Oct. 11, 2019. For the details on Boeing flight tests and the schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/328xeSL.

NASA and Boeing are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation for crew systems that will return human spaceflight launches from American soil on missions to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station.

Boeing now is targeting the company’s uncrewed mission, called Orbital Flight Test, in August 2019, although this is a working target date and to be confirmed. The CST-100 Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The decision to adjust the launch date was guided by limited launch opportunities in April and May, as well as a critical U.S. Air Force national security launch – AEHF-5 – atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 in June.

Following the uncrewed flight, Boeing is planning to fly a test mission with crew on board to the space station in late 2019, with the specific date to be confirmed closer to that timeframe. NASA and Boeing have agreed to extend the duration of that flight test to the International Space Station after completing an in-depth technical assessment of the Starliner systems. Boeing also will fly a Pad Abort Test before those two orbital flights to demonstrate the company’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from a launch vehicle emergency, if necessary. Find a full mission and Boeing progress feature here: https://go.nasa.gov/2FM8zcQ.

Following the test flights, NASA will review performance data and resolve any necessary issues to certify the systems for operational missions. NASA and Boeing are actively working to be ready for the operational missions. As with all human spaceflight vehicle development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.

The following planning dates reflect updated schedule inputs for Boeing’s test flights as of March 26, 2019.

Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Summer 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): current target working date August 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): current target working date late 2019

SpaceX Demo-2 Update

NASA also is working with SpaceX to return human spaceflight launches to American soil. The company completed an uncrewed flight test, known as Demo-1, to the space station in March.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX are reevaluating target test dates.

Crew Dragon Lifted Onto Recovery Ship

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is safely aboard the company's recovery vessel, Go Searcher, following splashdown at 8:45 a.m. EST on Friday, March 8, 2019.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is safely aboard the company’s recovery vessel, Go Searcher, following splashdown at 8:45 a.m. EST on Friday, March 8, 2019. Image credit: NASA TV

About 200 miles off Florida’s east coast, SpaceX teams have recovered the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and lifted it aboard SpaceX’s primary recovery ship, Go Searcher. The spacecraft splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST, wrapping up the Demo-1 flight test that began one week ago today with liftoff aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Demo-1 is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership. The mission also marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.