NASA, Boeing Update Starliner Orbital Flight Test Date

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft
NASA and Boeing teams are adjusting the launch date of Orbital Flight Test-2 to allow more time for CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and hardware processing. Photo credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing now are targeting no earlier than Friday, April 2, for launch of the agency’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station.

As preparations continue for the second uncrewed flight test, teams remain focused on the safety and quality of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and successful launch of the end-to-end test to prove the system is ready to begin flying astronauts to and from the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams are adjusting the launch date to allow more time for spacecraft and hardware processing. Ahead of final propellant loading, the company recently replaced avionics units affected as a result of a power surge due to a ground support equipment configuration issue during final checkouts.

“NASA continues to work alongside Boeing to prepare for this first mission of 2021,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The Boeing and NASA teamwork on all aspects of flight preparation including final certification, hazard analysis, and software testing is extraordinary. Even though this uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station is a key milestone on the path to the first Starliner crewed mission planned for later this year, we will fly when we are ready.”

With formal software tests completed, Boeing is continuing with flight preparations. The company is ready to conduct an end-to-end mission rehearsal, using high-fidelity flight hardware and final flight software, to ensure the readiness of the team and combined systems.

Boeing continues to support NASA as it reviews flight readiness, and teams have completed about 95% of the recommendations identified by the joint NASA and Boeing Independent Review Team, formed following the anomalies during the company’s first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test in December 2019.

“We appreciate the significant work NASA is undertaking ahead of launch,” said John Vollmer, Starliner’s vice president and program manager at Boeing. “We’re fully engaged in the agency’s review process as a valuable investment of our time to ensure confidence in the spacecraft.”

NASA and Boeing Target New Launch Date for Next Starliner Flight Test

Technicians observe Boeing’s Starliner crew module being placed on top of the service module in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 14, 2021.
Technicians observe Boeing’s Starliner crew module being placed on top of the service module in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 14, 2021. The Starliner spacecraft is being prepared for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2). As part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Photo credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing are targeting no earlier than Thursday, March 25, for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA to the International Space Station.

The target launch date is enabled by an opening on the Eastern Range, the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, steady progress on hardware and software, and an International Space Station docking opportunity.

Boeing recently mated the spacecraft’s reusable crew module on its brand new service module inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams are working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts.

Boeing also recently completed the formal requalification of Starliner’s OFT-2 flight software. Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner’s software meets design specifications. Boeing also will complete an end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and final versions of Starliner’s flight software to model the vehicle’s expected behavior before flight.

The OFT-2 mission will launch Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, dock to the space station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test flight to prove the system is ready to fly crew.

Learn more about commercial crew by visiting https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/ and following @Commercial_Crew on Twitter and the Commercial Crew Facebook account.

Learn more about Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner by visiting www.boeing.com/starliner.

NASA and Boeing Target New Launch Date for Next Starliner Flight Test

Boeing’s Starliner crew module, with back shells installed, is inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on December 8, 2020, in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). During the OFT-2 mission, the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft will fly to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing’s Starliner crew module, with back shells installed, is inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on December 8, 2020, in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). During the OFT-2 mission, the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft will fly to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing now are targeting March 29 for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path toward flying crew missions for NASA.

For the OFT-2 mission, the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, dock to the International Space Station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test to prove the system is ready to fly crew.

The OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft is nearing final assembly inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The vehicle’s reusable crew module has been powered up and final checkouts of the avionics, power and propulsion systems are nearing completion. The spacecraft’s parachutes, landing airbags, base heat shield, and its back shells are installed signifying the completion of the vehicle build phase. In the coming weeks, teams will load the crew module with cargo, including Rosie the Rocketeer, and weigh the vehicle before mating it to its service module, which is already complete.

In parallel, Boeing technicians continue to refurbish the crew module flown on Starliner’s first Orbital Flight Test while also building a brand-new service module for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), which is now targeting launch in summer 2021, following a successful OFT-2 mission.

NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” WilmoreMike Fincke, and Nicole Mann continue to train for CFT, the inaugural crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft. After the completion of both test flights, NASA astronauts Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps will launch on the Starliner-1 mission, the first of six crew rotation missions NASA and Boeing will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Read the full story here.

NASA, Boeing Complete Series of Starliner Parachute Tests Ahead of Future Flights with Astronauts

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner's three main parachutes slow the test article to a safe and soft landing during the final balloon drop parachute test Sept. 19, 2020, at White Sands, New Mexico.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s three main parachutes slow the test article to a safe and soft landing during the final balloon drop parachute test Sept. 19, 2020, at White Sands, New Mexico.
Credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have completed Starliner’s last parachute balloon drop test ending a reliability campaign that will help strengthen the spacecraft’s landing system ahead of crewed flights to and from the International Space Station.

The campaign, developed by both Boeing and NASA, used six balloon drop tests of a Starliner test article to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing system. Each drop test focused on a different set of adverse conditions and used pre-flown parachutes to evaluate reusability margins for future missions.

Starliner is the first American-made orbital crew capsule to land on land. The spacecraft uses a series of parachutes and airbags that deploy at specific altitudes allowing Starliner to touch down gently in the desert of the western United States. NASA also will use the data gathered from the parachute testing to model Starliner parachute performance in different mission scenarios.

For the final test, a high-altitude balloon provided by Near Space Corporation lifted the Starliner test article 35,000 feet above the New Mexico desert. Equipped with reused parachutes, Starliner’s landing system successfully executed an unlikely re-entry scenario simulating two separate faults.

Read the full story here.

NASA, Boeing Announce Crew Changes for Starliner Crew Flight Test

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson review International Space Station training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson review International Space Station training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in December 2018. Photo credit: Boeing

Veteran NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore will join astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test, the inaugural crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner launching to the International Space Station in 2021.

Wilmore will take the place of Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson on the flight test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Ferguson decided not to fly for personal reasons.

Wilmore has been training side-by-side with the crew since being named the sole backup for all flight positions in July 2018. He now will shift his focus specifically to the spacecraft commander’s duties in preparation for the flight to the space station. The flight is designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new Starliner system.

Commander Barry Wilmore takes a self-portrait with food packages (smoked turkey, cranapple dessert, cornbread dressing, and tea with sugar) planned for his Thanksgiving meal.
Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore takes a self-portrait with food packages planned for his Thanksgiving meal in November 2014 aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore

Wilmore has spent a total of 178 days in space over the course of two missions. In 2009, he served as the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, helping to deliver 14 tons of spare parts for the space station. In 2014, he returned to the space station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 167-day mission, during which he performed four spacewalks.

The development of a safe, reliable and cost-effective solution for crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station remains a priority for NASA and Boeing, allowing the on-orbit research facility to continue to fulfill its promise as a world-class laboratory.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and to the space station. Commercial transportation to and from the station will provide expanded utility, additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery on the orbital outpost.

Read the full news release here.

Boeing’s Starliner Makes Progress Ahead of Flight Test with Astronauts

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, left, Mike Fincke, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, right
NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, left, Mike Fincke, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, right, pose for a photograph on Sept. 11, 2019, as they, along with teams from NASA, Boeing and the White Sands Missile Range, rehearse landing and crew extraction from Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing continue to make progress toward the company’s second uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft prior to flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Commercial Crew Program currently is targeting no earlier than December 2020 for launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.

Over the summer, Boeing’s Starliner team focused on readying the next spacecraft for its upcoming flight tests as well as making improvements identified during various review processes throughout the beginning of the year. NASA also announced an additional crew assignment for its first operational mission, NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1, with astronauts to the space station.

Click here to read the full story.

NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps Joins NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 Mission

NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps
NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps

NASA has assigned astronaut Jeanette Epps to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, the first operational crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Epps will join NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada for a six-month expedition planned for a launch in 2021 to the orbiting space laboratory. The flight will follow NASA certification after a successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 and Crew Flight Test with astronauts.

Read the full release here.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and to the space station. Commercial transportation to and from the station will provide expanded utility, additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery on the orbital outpost.

NASA and Boeing Complete Orbital Flight Test Reviews

An artist's illustration of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit.
An artist’s illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have completed reviews of the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that flew in December 2019 and are working toward a plan to refly the mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review team completed their final assessments of issues that were detected during the first test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Following this conclusion, the team identified a total of 80 recommendations that Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, is addressing. A launch date has not been set yet for the second flight test, dubbed OFT-2.

To read the full article, click here.

Starliner Parachutes Perform Under Pressure

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
Two drogue parachutes successfully deploy from a Boeing Starliner test article during a landing system reliability test conducted on June 21 above White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing put Starliner’s parachutes to the test again on June 21 as part of a supplemental reliability campaign designed to further validate the system’s capabilities under an adverse set of environmental factors.

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
An inflated high altitude balloon hovers over the desert at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on June 21 ahead of Boeing Starliner’s recent parachute reliability drop test.
Photo credit: Boeing

Boeing is developing the Starliner spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

This latest balloon drop, conducted high above White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, demonstrates Starliner’s parachutes continue to perform well even under dynamic abort conditions and a simulated failure. Boeing and NASA jointly developed the conditions for this test as part of a comprehensive test campaign to demonstrate Starliner parachute performance across the range of deployment conditions.

Teams wanted to be sure that if an abort were to occur early into launch, certain parachutes in Starliner’s landing sequence would inflate correctly despite needing to deploy in significantly different flight conditions than those seen with normal landings.

“Parachutes like clean air flow,” said Jim Harder, Boeing’s flight conductor. “They inflate predictably under a wide range of conditions, but in certain ascent aborts, you are deploying these parachutes into more unsteady air where proper inflation becomes less predictable. We wanted to test the inflation characteristics at low dynamic pressure so we can be completely confident in the system we developed.”

This critical test phase began six seconds into the drop when small parachutes designed to lift away Starliner’s Forward Heat Shield deployed successfully. Ten seconds later, the vehicle’s two drogue parachutes followed suit, inflating perfectly despite the low dynamic pressure. But the Starliner boilerplate wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Test teams added a fault scenario to the test objectives by preventing one of Starliner’s three main parachutes from deploying altogether. At 98 seconds into flight, just two pilot chutes were fired resulting in only two of the three main parachutes deploying. Despite the higher loading, Starliner’s parachutes performed effectively, bringing the test article down to Earth safely and slowly about two-and-a-half minutes later.

Boeing conducts a landing system reliability test on June 21, 2020.
A Boeing Starliner test article descends over White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on June 21 during a landing system reliability test designed to simulate dynamic abort conditions and a main parachute failure.
Photo credit: Boeing

The data extracted from this test will be utilized to improve the reliability of the Starliner parachute system ahead of crewed flights and be shared with NASA for their own vehicle use.

“Our parachute system is very similar to the design NASA uses to bring humans safely back from the Moon. Turns out, we can use some of their test data to model our mission scenarios, and they can use a lot of our data to model theirs,” said Starliner test manager Dan Niedermaier. “It really is all about the data. The more you have, the more accurate your models will be. This shared approach helps to keep both systems incredibly safe.”

During the summer, Boeing and NASA will continue to test Starliner’s parachute strength, building out even more reliability on a system that’s already shown to be consistently robust.

“Our parachutes have passed every test.” Niedermaier said. “We continue to push our system because we know what’s at stake. This demanding test program ensures Starliner can bring our astronauts home safe.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a public-private partnership combining NASA’s experience with new technology and designs pioneered by private industry to make space travel safer and available for all. This test is one of many steps that advances NASA’s goals of returning human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil on commercially-built and operated American rockets and spacecraft, preparing for a human presence on the Moon, and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars.

Boeing to Fly Second Uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner lifted off Dec. 20, 2019 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft successfully landed two days later, completing an abbreviated uncrewed test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Boeing has decided to fly a second uncrewed flight test as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Although no new launch date has been set, NASA has accepted the proposal to fly the mission again and will work side-by-side with Boeing to resume flight tests to the International Space Station on the company’s CST-100 Starliner system.

The agency’s Commercial Crew Program is a unique approach to human spaceflight in which NASA provides a set of mission and safety requirements and private companies, like Boeing and SpaceX, propose their own unique strategies to prove the systems meet the intent of the requirements. Consistent with that approach, Boeing had the responsibility to bring NASA its proposal on how to proceed with the flights.

An uncrewed flight test originally was proposed by Boeing to demonstrate the Starliner system could perform as designed to fly to the space station prior to having a crew onboard. With that proposal, the uncrewed flight became a part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract in 2014 between NASA and Boeing.

Although many of the objectives of Boeing’s first uncrewed flight test in December 2019 were accomplished, Boeing decided the best approach to meeting the agency’s requirements would be to fly the mission again, including docking with the space station. Data from the next and previous flight test will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

If Boeing would have proposed a crewed mission as the next flight, NASA would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan. However, as this was not the recommendation made by Boeing, NASA will not speculate on what the agency would have required.

The second uncrewed flight does not relieve Boeing from completing all the actions determined from the joint NASA/Boeing independent review team, which was commissioned following the flawed initial flight.  NASA still intends to conduct the needed oversight to make sure those corrective actions are taken.

NASA and Boeing are in the early stages of the decision to fly a second uncrewed orbital mission to the station, and a timeline for flying crew has not been determined.

Although completing a second uncrewed flight test was not in the timeline for returning U.S. human spaceflight on Starliner, NASA fully supports our Boeing partner’s commitment to flying astronauts as safely as possible.

This is exactly why NASA decided to select two partners in the commercial crew effort. Having dissimilar redundancy is key in NASA’s approach to maintaining a crew and cargo aboard the space station and to keeping our commitments to international partners. It also allows our private industry partners to focus on crew safety rather than schedule. The safety of our commercial crew team always will remain as our top priority.