The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program arrived on Saturday at Cape Canaveral Force Station in Florida.
The booster stage and the Dual Engine Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V rocket, designated AV-082, arrived on ULA’s Mariner cargo ship from the company’s facility in Decatur, Alabama.
The Atlas V rocket now located in the company’s Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center at Cape Canaveral will undergo receiving checks and await the start of operations for its mission. The CFT mission will take NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson to the station to demonstrate Starliner and Atlas V’s ability to safely carry crew to and from the orbiting laboratory.
CFT will be the second Starliner flight following the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that is targeted to launch to the station in August. The rocket for OFT, called AV-080, was brought to the Cape last year.
Both flights are key elements of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that will return the nation’s capability to launch astronauts into orbit on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil. Regular commercial transportation using Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to and from the space station will enable the addition of another crew member, expanded station use, and additional research time aboard the orbiting laboratory. This time will help address the challenges of moving humanity toward the Moon and Mars as we learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, to the Moon and Mars.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner propulsion system was put to the test on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system, which are key elements on the path to restore America’s capability to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil.
The test used a flight-like Starliner service module with a full propulsion system comprising of fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system and orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics.
During the test:
19 thrusters fired to simulate in-space maneuvers.
12 thrusters fired to simulate a high-altitude abort.
22 propulsion elements, including the launch abort engines, fired to simulate a low-altitude abort.
Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will complete a Starliner pad abort test and uncrewed flight test, called Orbital Flight Test, to the station ahead of the first flight test with a crew onboard. 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.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program emerged on Thursday from the production factory in Decatur, Alabama for transport in a giant cargo ship to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rocket, known as AV-082, will launch Starliner and its crew of NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson to the station following the spacecraft’s maiden voyage, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test targeted for August.
From the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, the Atlas V booster stage and Dual Engine Centaur upper stage were moved down the road for loading into the Mariner vessel docked nearby. The 312-foot-long ship is purpose-built to navigate both shallow waters of rivers and ocean travel to reach ULA’s launch sites. It has been making the trek from Decatur to Cape Canaveral since 2001.
Once at Cape Canaveral, the Atlas V will begin integrated operations and processing for the CFT launch.
NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to transport crew to the space station from the United States, returning the nation’s human spaceflight launch capability. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions.
Regular commercial transportation using Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to and from the station will enable expanded station use and additional research time aboard the orbiting laboratory. Research on the space station helps address the challenges of moving humanity forward to the Moon and Mars as we learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.
For our commercial crew flights, we plan for any scenario that may arise, including unlikely emergencies, such as a spacecraft abort and subsequent splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, two NASA astronauts as well as a team from the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support Office Rescue Division practiced what they will do in that very scenario. The DoD team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. To learn more about both team’s practices, check out our crew rescue feature.
NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division are conducting a search and rescue training exercise over the next several days at the Army Warf on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first at-sea exercise with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, ahead of the commercial crew flight test with astronauts targeted for later this year.
The HSFS teams have supported all NASA human spaceflight programs and will be on standby for both NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Orion launches and landings. The team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. This multi-day exercise consists of ground- and water- based training to prepare the DoD pararescue team for an emergency situation on ascent. The HSFS teams will rehearse locating the Starliner spacecraft, sending out rescue teams to extract DoD team members, acting as astronauts, from the capsule and providing immediate medical treatment. The HSFS team will arrange for pickup, transport and follow-on medical care.
At the conclusion of this exercise, HSFS will complete a full mission profile to validate best practices for configuring and air-dropping U.S. Air Force Pararescue team members from a C-17 aircraft with their associated watercraft, specialized rescue equipment and advanced medical capabilities. HSFS conducted a similar exercise with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in early December 2018.
This simulation is another example of how safety is being built into systems, processes and procedures for commercial crew missions. It is standard practice to conduct these exercises, and was regularly done during the Space Shuttle Program.
During normal return scenarios, Boeing’s Starliner will land on land in a safe zone of about 15 square miles in the Western United States. Throughout the commercial crew development phases with NASA, Boeing has performed dozens of qualification tests on its parachute and airbag systems simulating conditions on land and in the water.
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.
The following is a transcript of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:
It’s great to be here representing the Commercial Crew Program. What an outstanding day to be part of our program. We started our contracts in 2014 for these first missions, and to sit here today and talk about Demo-1 and how great the flight went and what we’re going to learn from it is just amazing.
I’d like to congratulate the SpaceX team on a phenomenal job getting the vehicles ready and executing the flight, and our whole NASA team that worked the mission. If you just think about the enormity of what happened in this flight and all of the prep that went into it—getting the pad refurbished at (Launch Complex) 39A, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicles built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis, all of the mission support that went into it, the simulations and the practice leading up to this flight over the last year or so—it’s just been a tremendous job.
I would say one of the things that we learned during this flight is the great relationship we have between the program and SpaceX. I would say our teams worked seamlessly back and forth with SpaceX, not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight through the Dragon mission management team, and then also working with Kenny Todd and the International Space Station Program. The space station program did a phenomenal job supporting our program while we were docked to station, on the way to station, and the international partnership as well, so it was a really great opportunity for this mission.
The last 24 hours have been exciting for us. You know we closed the hatch yesterday around noon (Central Time), got into the undock today around 1:31 a.m. (Central Time), did a few small separation burns to get away from station—if you watched that on NASA TV that was flawless—did about three separation burns to get down below station, executed the deorbit burn at about 6:52 a.m. Central Time and then landed just a few minutes ago at 7:45 a.m. (Central Time).
The vehicle is doing well. The recovery crews are out on the scene. They’ve already been around the spacecraft and made sure it was secure for personnel. It was a very calm day with low winds and low sea states, and one of the chutes kind of landed on the Dragon capsule; they’ve already gotten that off, so that’s going really well. It’ll probably take 30 minutes to maybe an hour to get it back on the ship.
When you look overall at this mission, it was a great dress rehearsal for Demo-2. We learned a phenomenal amount in the prelaunch timeframe about how to load the vehicle, and thinking forward to how we’ll put the crews in the vehicle. The ascent profile for this flight, we practiced the exact profile that Mike Hopkins and others will fly very soon—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (on Demo-2). We had the abort system—the crew escape system on Dragon—actually enabled for this flight, and we were able to see how that worked and we’ll get the data back and look at those triggers and how it performed.
On-orbit we got a lot of great data on the vehicle in terms of the thermal performance and power performance; the vehicle really did better than we expected. Then the rendezvous was phenomenal as we came in and checked out those sensors. During the attached phase of course we had cargo operations, and we’ll do the same thing both on Demo-2 and then Crew Dragon-1 and other missions. Then we did a robotic survey of the vehicle to look at the thermal protection system and other systems, and that went really well.
I will say one thing: this mission, it was only six days long. It was a sprint from start to finish, and thinking about where we’ve been in operations in that sprint, I think Kenny (Todd) would probably tell you the same thing—it was just a phenomenal job by the team. And then of course today, the undocking, watching how those systems performed, that went flawlessly. It’s a very tight sequence between undocking and de-orbit burn, how the nose cone performed, how the de-orbit burn was executed, then the entry was phenomenal.
We did have Ripley on board, an anthropomorphic test device, and that’s going to give us a lot of important data for the accelerations during both the ascent phase and then the entry phase under the parachutes and then landing. So we’ll collect that data, and then look at that.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing post-flight reviews. In fact just next week we’ll have one for the launch vehicle and the ground segment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), we’ll start reviewing that. And then subsequently we’ll do reviews with SpaceX on the orbit phase of the mission.
This flight really sets us up well for the rest of the year. The vehicle that’s hit the water in the Atlantic today will be the in-flight abort vehicle, and so one of the first things that’ll happen is the vehicle will come back to KSC and go over into the processing area and start getting refurbished for the in-flight abort test which should be in the June timeframe. And then the Demo-2 vehicle is in Hawthorne, CA getting ready for the first crewed mission. That’s in progress and going well. That work has continued all through the flight, so it will be a busy year for us with SpaceX with in-flight abort in the June timeframe and then Demo-2 later in the year with the first crewed mission.
I don’t think we saw really anything in the mission so far—and we’ve got to do to the data reviews—that would preclude us from having the crewed mission later this year.
If you look in the April timeframe we’re also getting ready for the Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and that will happen very soon. So our program will transition after this mission and the data reviews into preparing not only for in-flight abort and Demo-2, but also the Orbital Flight Test—the uncrewed flight test—for Boeing, and that’ll be coming up in the April timeframe. Spacecraft 3, which is the Boeing vehicle, is coming together at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility down in Florida. And (Boeing) is in the middle of a bunch of very critical testing right now out at El Segundo (California) to verify that the spacecraft can work successfully in space. And then later on this year we’ll have the Crew Flight Test for Boeing as well.
If you just look at all the activities in commercial crew, it’s a super busy time. In addition to this flight, in the last few weeks we did parachute tests for SpaceX and Boeing and so if you look at all of the activities to get ready for flying our crews, it’s just a very exciting time.
Again, congratulations to our SpaceX team and all of the NASA people across the country that worked so hard for many, many years on this flight. It really sets us up for the rest of the year, and it’s a super exciting time to be in commercial crew.
Throughout NASA’s history, the agency has worked with industry and academia to explore and utilize the space frontier. Contractors built rockets, satellites and spacecraft. Colleges and universities have worked with NASA scientists and engineers to develop technology to support investigations leading to discoveries.
As the 30-year Space Shuttle Program was drawing to a close, NASA again began plans to reach beyond low-Earth orbit. To allow a focus on exploration to the Moon and Mars, NASA has entered into partnerships with industry opening a variety of new opportunities.
A little more than two years after the final shuttle flight, SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft began successfully launching atop their company’s Falcon 9 and Antares rockets to resupply the International Space Station. The companies developed the rockets and spacecraft through public-private partnerships under the agency’s commercial resupply services contracts.
More recently, NASA selected Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft to join with Northrop Grumman and SpaceX, in delivering critical science, research and technology experiments to the space station for the agency’s second commercial resupply contracts from 2019 to 2024.
Additionally, NASA formed the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.
In September 2014, NASA announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station aboard their CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. This will end the nation’s reliance on Russia to transport crews to the orbiting laboratory. Boeing’s Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and SpaceX Falcon 9 will power the company’s Crew Dragon to orbit.
The first uncrewed Demo-1 test flight of the Crew Dragon is slated for March 2, 2019 and the Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is planned for no earlier than April 2019. The inaugural crewed missions of the Crew Dragon and Starliner are set to take place later this year.
The flourishing U.S. space industry continues its growth with Blue Origin building a facility to manufacture and launch reusable rockets from just outside the gates of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. For launch operations, Blue Origin plans to refurbish Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a no-longer-needed Atlas II launch pad. This is the first time an entire rocket system will be built and processed on Florida’s Space Coast.
The upcoming flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be the first time NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies. By allowing industry to provide transportation services to the space station, the agency can concentrate on developing emerging technologies for exploring distant destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit such as the Moon and Mars.
In September 2014, the agency announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station. This also will mark the return of launching U.S. astronauts on American spacecraft and rockets to low-Earth orbit since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.
The inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, known as Demo-1, will be uncrewed and is designed to validate end-to-end systems and capabilities, leading to certification to fly a crew. SpaceX’s first crewed flight, Demo-2, will fully demonstrate the company’s ability to safely fly NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station. Behnken and Hurley have each flown two space shuttle missions.
In the near future, the uncrewed, opening act for Boeing’s Starliner, known as its Orbital Flight Test, will demonstrate the human transportation capabilities in advance of certification to fly astronauts to space. The first flight with crew aboard a Starliner, the Crew Flight Test, will fully demonstrate Boeing’s ability to fly humans safely to and from the International Space Station. Onboard will be NASA astronaut Mike Finke, a veteran of three spaceflights; NASA astronaut Nicole Mann; and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who previously led Starliner’s Crew and Mission Systems and flew three space shuttle missions.
CCP will provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit destinations, and it will end reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. As a result, the station’s current crew of six can grow, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.
In preparation for Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Boeing and Department of Defense personnel conducted a successful integrated crew exercise on Feb. 12.
Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of Starliner will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The joint team executed a mock countdown that practiced fueling the Atlas V and operating the unique launch day timeline that features a four-hour built-in hold to allow launch teams to work any technical issues that arise in the countdown. The hold is lifted four minutes prior to launch.
The team was presented with simulated issues with hardware and downrange assets to exercise troubleshooting, problem resolution procedures and the coordination that goes into adjusting the countdown as necessary. There were even simulated challenges from the weather, forcing officials to react to changing weather conditions at the pad. The exercise culminated with a successful liftoff and climb into space.
Formal rehearsals like this one allow launch teams in geographic locations across the country to function as one well-coordinated team.
OFT will be the uncrewed test of Starliner as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during which Starliner will fly to the International Space Station for an automated rendezvous and docking, complete a short stay and then return to Earth; the mission is the precursor to Boeing’s flight test with crew.