First Starliner to Launch Crew Ready for Environmental Testing

Boeing technicians carefully close Starliner’s shipping container at the company’s Florida factory ahead of its trip to El Segundo, Calif.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft destined to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready to undergo a series of flight-like simulations similar to the actual environments the spacecraft will experience during different stages of flight.

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip.

The spacecraft recently arrived at the company’s facilities in El Segundo, California for the series of tests. In order to ship the spacecraft, technicians painstakingly prepared and secured Starliner inside its shipping container on Nov. 12, before the spacecraft completed its 10-day, cross-country trip.

Now, Starliner will begin the test campaign wherein acoustic and vibration testing will simulate the environment during launch and ascent, thermal vacuum testing will expose Starliner to the extreme heat and cold it will experience in orbit, and electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility testing will make sure that those signals or radiation do not interfere with operations on Starliner or with sensitive equipment on station. The series of tests are expected to last about three months.

Starliner is unboxed inside Boeing’s satellite test facilities in California to prepare for environmental qualification testing.

The company’s CFT is targeted for August 2019, and will be Starliner’s first flight with crew onboard. Following the CFT, Boeing will refurbish the spacecraft for regular crewed missions to the space station.

During these environmental tests, Boeing also expects to complete production in its Florida factory on the Starliner to be flown in the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, targeted for March 2019.

The shipping container with Starliner’s crew module arrives at Boeing’s facilities in El Segundo, Calif.

Boeing is developing the Starliner spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demo-1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will carry out spacecraft abort tests to demonstrate their crew escape capability during an actual on-pad, or ascent emergency. The final test flights for each company will be crew flight tests to the space station prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following target dates reflect the current schedule as of Friday, Dec. 7.

Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): March 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Between OFT and CFT
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): August 2019
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): January 17, 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: Between Demo-1 and Demo-2
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): June 2019

SpaceX also completed a pad abort test in 2015. Following the test flights, NASA will review the performance data and resolve issues as necessary to certify the systems for operational missions.  Boeing, SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program are actively working to be ready for the operational missions; however, as with all human spaceflight development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.

Anticipated Readiness Dates for Operational Missions:
First operational mission: August 2019
Second operational mission: December 2019

For more information, see https://go.nasa.gov/2QwW3Sd.

Launch Teams Simulate Boeing Uncrewed Flight Test Prelaunch Procedures

Inside the Boeing Mission Control Center at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., launch control teams for the CST-100 Starliner rehearse a fully integrated prelaunch simulation of the spacecraft’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test. Boeing Spacecraft Launch Conductor Louis Atchison speaks on console to the Mission Management Team as the countdown in the launch simulation progresses.

Boeing, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and NASA completed an integrated rehearsal of prelaunch procedures for Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket for commercial crew missions to the International Space Station. The simulation, conducted on Nov. 7, focused on launch procedures beginning at five hours before launch, and continuing through a simulated scrub before liftoff.

Inside the White Flight Control Room in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Boeing’s Flight Control Team rehearses prelaunch procedures for the company’s Orbital Flight Test of Starliner.

The rehearsal consisted of launch teams participating from Boeing and NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston. It incorporated voice communications, pad closeout events, polling for tanking, or fueling, readiness, and discussions about conditions, including flight hardware and weather.

Boeing’s Pad Team Lead, Melanie Weber, performs simulated prelaunch operations inside the Boeing Mockup Trainer for the Starliner located in Houston. As launch control teams from NASA, Boeing and ULA participate in a prelaunch rehearsal for the Starliner’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test, Weber practices her launch day pad operations from inside the trainer.

Prelaunch anomalies were introduced into the rehearsal to provide opportunities for the teams to execute their resolution process. A scrub was called during the countdown rehearsal, allowing participants to test procedures for a delay and a decision to de-tank and prepare for a launch attempt the next day.

Boeing’s first uncrewed test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), is slated for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in March 2019. This will be the first flight of the Starliner, and it is a major step toward demonstrating that the spacecraft is ready to begin carrying astronauts to the space station.

Members of NASA’s launch support team gather in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. to rehearse prelaunch operations for the Orbital Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The EOC is where directors for medical triage and launch rescue will execute real-time responses in the unlikely event of an emergency on launch day.

Boeing is manufacturing three Starliner spacecraft in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Starliner is designed to be reused up to 10 times.

Astronauts Tour Boeing Spacecraft Test Facilities

Commercial crew astronauts Nicole Mann, Eric Boe and Chris Feguson in El Segundo, Calif.

Astronauts slated to fly on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner for its upcoming Crew Flight Test recently toured two spacecraft testing facilities in southern California. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, met with employees who conduct the structural and environmental testing on the spacecraft built to ferry them to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

NASA astronaut Eric Boe in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Upcoming environmental qualification testing is a major milestone on the road to launch. Performed at the El Segundo, Calif. test facility, it ensures that the CST-100 Starliner, designed and built in Florida, can withstand the extreme environments of space. Likewise, structural testing conducted in Huntington Beach verifies that the vehicle hardware is adequately built to withstand the pressures and load dynamics during flight.

Commercial crew astronauts Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Boeing test teams will put the spacecraft through several assessments including thermal vacuum testing which simulates hot and cold temperature swings the vehicle experiences on orbit. They’ll also perform acoustic testing, meant to safely shake the capsule to ensure it’s been properly built, and electromagnetic testing to see whether the frequencies expected in space would cause any dangerous interference.

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson takes a selfie with a Boeing employee in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Launch Gear Arrives for Boeing’s Uncrewed Flight Test

Mariner sailed into Port Canaveral carrying the Launch Vehicle Adapter. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

The Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) that will attach Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to an Atlas V rocket for an uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station arrived at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Nov. 12, after traveling by ship nearly 2,000 miles from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) factory in Decatur, Ala.

Technicians unloaded the elements and they were transported for the LVA to begin integrated operations with the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

The crated LVA rolls off Mariner. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

The LVA is the specially-designed structure that will be fitted to the top of Centaur. It will soon be attached to the Centaur during pre-launch stacking operations and eventually support the Starliner spacecraft during launch of Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT), targeted for March 2019.

The LVA is seen here readied for shipping from Decatur. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

Also part of the LVA is the aeroskirt, which ULA designed in collaboration with Boeing and NASA for added aerodynamic stability during flight. This metallic orthogrid structure will smooth the air flow over the Starliner-Atlas V vehicle, and will separate from the vehicle after the first stage of flight during normal operations. The aeroskirt also has provisions for venting in the unlikely event the Starliner abort engines are fired.

OFT is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launch capability to the U.S. Following the uncrewed flight test, Boeing will launch its Crew Flight Test, which will carry two NASA astronauts and one Boeing astronaut to the International Space Station.

Astronauts Practice Spacewalks Virtually

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to return human spaceflight launches to the United States in 2019. Williams is assigned to Boeing’s first operational mission after the company’s test flight with crew. Hopkins is assigned to SpaceX’s first operational mission after the company’s test flight with crew.

Rocket Segment Arrives in Florida

The ULA Atlas V Dual Engine Centaur for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test arrives at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The dual-engine Centaur upper stage that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station has arrived at Cape Canaveral, Fla. for final processing by United Launch Alliance technicians.

The stage arrived Oct. 19 aboard the Mariner cargo ship, the ocean-going vessel that ULA uses to transport rocket stages from the manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama to the launch sites.

Wrapped in a protective covering for the transit, the Centaur was offloaded at the Port Canaveral wharf and driven on a specialized trailer to ULA’s Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center for initial arrival checks.

Later, it will move to the Delta Operations Center to be raised vertically, mounted onto the interstage structure and fitted with the adapter that will support Starliner atop the rocket. That combined stack will then be ready for mating to the Atlas V first stage at the Vertical Integration Facility early next year.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner will transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

*NASA, Boeing and SpaceX provided an update on Nov. 21, 2018. For the details on the flight tests and the latest schedule, visit https://go.nasa.gov/2OTaK0J.

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demo-1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. The following target dates reflect the current schedule as of Friday, Nov. 9, following a joint commercial crew and International Space Station program review.

Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): March 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Between OFT and CFT
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): August 2019
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): January 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: Between Demo-1 and Demo-2
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): June 2019

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

Anticipated Readiness Dates for Operational Missions:
First operational mission: August 2019
Second operational mission: December 2019

For more information, see https://go.nasa.gov/2QwW3Sd.

Commercial Crew: Supporting Critical Research

Boeing and SpaceX are getting ready to launch astronauts from U.S. soil, but getting off the ground is just the beginning.  Once they arrive at the International Space Station, astronauts will be working on research to improve life on Earth, and help us send humans into deep space—farther than ever before.

International Space Station

How Astronauts Train to Fly Commercial Spacecraft

From trying on spacesuits to preparing for potential emergencies, see how astronauts are getting ready to fly on the test flights and first missions of Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

From left: Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, Suni Williams