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.

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon to Deliver New Space Station Docking Adapter for Commercial Crew Spacecraft

The International Docking Adapter 3, a critical component for future crewed missions to the International Space Station, is carefully packed away in the unpressurized "trunk" section of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the SpaceX facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 19.
The International Docking Adapter 3, a critical component for future crewed missions to the International Space Station, is carefully packed away in the unpressurized “trunk” section of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the SpaceX facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 19. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

A new International Docking Adapter, called IDA-3, is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station this July aboard SpaceX’s 18th cargo resupply mission to the microgravity laboratory. When installed on the space station, the one-of-a-kind outpost will have two common ports enabling expanded opportunities for visiting vehicles, including new spacecraft designed to carry humans for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The docking adapters are the physical connections spacecraft like Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and future, yet-to-be designed international spacecraft will use to autonomously attach to station. The adapters are important because the plans are readily available for spacecraft builders and standardize a host of docking requirements.

The International Docking Adapter 3, a critical component for future crewed missions to the International Space Station, is carefully packed away in the unpressurized “trunk” section of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the SpaceX facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 19.
The International Docking Adapter 3, a critical component for future crewed missions to the International Space Station, is carefully packed away in the unpressurized “trunk” section of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the SpaceX facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 19. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Currently stowed in the trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft, the IDA-3 was assembled at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and comprises of a number of sensors that spacecraft will communicate with and connect to through use of onboard computers and navigation systems.  Docking requires no crew assistance and can be completed much more quickly than the berthing process often used for cargo spacecraft today, which may involve astronauts aboard the station manually capturing spacecraft using a robotic arm then maneuvering the craft to attach to a common hatch mechanism.

IDA-3 is one of the primary payloads on the SpaceX resupply mission and is identical to the International Docking Adapter-2, IDA-2, installed in the summer of 2016. IDA-2 was used by SpaceX during the company’s first uncrewed flight test, called Demo-1, for commercial crew. Both docking adapters were built by Boeing.

Once at the space station, flight controllers will use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to remove the IDA-3 from Dragon’s trunk and place it over a Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-3) on the station’s Harmony module, or Node 2. Later this summer, two Expedition 60 crew members will perform a spacewalk to permanently install the IDA-3 to PMA-3.

The SpaceX CRS-18 mission is scheduled to launch at 7:35 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 21, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After its arrival, the Dragon cargo spacecraft will remain at the space station for about a month.