Boeing to Move Up Service Modules for Commercial Crew Flight Tests

On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Following extensive testing and analysis of oxidizer isolation valves on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner service module propulsion system, Boeing has decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The service module originally planned for its Crew Flight Test (CFT) will now be used for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, and the service module planned for the Starliner-1 flight will be used for CFT.

“NASA has been working side-by-side with Boeing on the service module valve investigation, including leveraging the agency’s materials and propellants expertise to better characterize the potential causes of the issue,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Because of the combined work, we have a much better understanding of the contributors that led to the valve issues, and ways to prevent it from happening in the future. Boeing remains diligent and driven by the data during its decision making, which is key to ensuring the Starliner system is ready when we fly our test missions in 2022.”

Ongoing investigation efforts continue to validate the most probable cause to be related to oxidizer and moisture interactions. NASA and Boeing will continue the analysis and testing of the initial service module on which the issue was identified leading up to launch of the uncrewed OFT-2 mission in August 2021.

“Our objective was to get back to flight safely and as soon as possible. With this objective in mind, we set out on parallel paths: remediating valves to preserve the option of utilizing the existing service module (SM2), while also working to accelerate the build of the next service module (SM4),” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “Based on the results to date we’ve decided to fly SM4 next and continue longer term tests with SM2 hardware, on the vehicle and in offline facilities.”

Teams conducted extensive analysis on the valves in Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and outside laboratories. That analysis included testing samples of the corrosion, using specialized micro CT scans and borescopes to see inside the valves, exposing parts of valves to various conditions, and removing and disassembling several valves.

“I am incredibly proud of the entire NASA and Boeing team for their creativity and technical excellence while working this investigation,” Stich said.

Testing is continuing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility to expose the valves to conditions similar to those that the spacecraft experienced inside the factory and at the Atlas V launch pad and Vertical Integration Facility prior to the last launch attempt.

Testing has already taken place on the former CFT, now OFT-2, service module to ensure the health of the hardware. The team will also apply preventative remediation efforts to this service module to prevent similar issues from occurring. The team is now working through next steps for removing and replacing the service module.

“The members of the combined team are consummate professionals, who continue to safely and systematically troubleshoot and safe the wet propellant system,” said Vollmer. “I’m very proud of their resolve.”

NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance and the Eastern Range continue to assess potential launch windows for OFT-2. As part of the standard process for requesting a launch slot on ULA’s manifest in the first half of 2022, Boeing has agreed to an open window in May, pending spacecraft readiness and space station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

NASA to Secure Additional Commercial Crew Transportation

NASA insignia.NASA intends to issue a sole source modification to SpaceX to acquire up to three additional crew flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract. The additional crew flights allow NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station.

In October, NASA issued a request for information from American industry capable of providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective human space transportation services to and from the International Space Station to ensure a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory.

After a thorough review of the near-term certified capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one certified to meet NASA’s safety requirements to transport crew to the space station, and to maintain the agency’s obligation to its international partners in the needed timeframe.

“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”

NASA anticipates a potential need to use any additional flights as early as 2023 to maintain mission readiness. Securing additional flights now also allows NASA to continue working with Boeing on the development of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which also will fly NASA and international partner astronauts to and from the space station after completing its certification effort.

“NASA commends Boeing for its ongoing investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August, prioritizing safety over schedule while working to solve this challenge,” said Phil McAlister, director, commercial spaceflight at NASA. “NASA and Boeing will provide additional updates on the status of Starliner’s next mission as we work through the investigation and verification efforts to determine root cause and effective vehicle remediation.”

NASA continues to have a need for two unique crew capabilities to ensure dissimilar redundancy, maintain safe space station operations, and allow each company to work through any unforeseen issues that could arise as private industry builds operational experience with these new systems. NASA’s plan is still to alternate missions between SpaceX and Boeing, once both are operational.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

NASA also is working to extend the life of the space station beyond 2024 to allow for a seamless transition to commercially operated, low-Earth orbit destinations and allow NASA to continue its vital scientific research to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to benefit life on Earth. NASA continues to anticipate a need for crew transportation into the foreseeable future as the agency enables a low-Earth orbit economy.

In 2014, NASA awarded the CCtCap contracts to Boeing and SpaceX through a public-private partnership as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Under CCtCap, NASA certifies that a provider’s space transportation system meets the agency’s requirements prior to flying missions with astronauts. After years of development, commercial crew systems have achieved or are nearing operational readiness for regular crewed missions, including providing a lifeboat capability, to the space station.

For more than 20 years, NASA has continuously had astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 249 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 109 countries and areas.

The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and to expand commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit. As commercial companies focus on providing human space transportation services and developing a robust low-Earth orbit economy, NASA is preparing for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Underway as Endurance Journeys to Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon atop, soars upward after liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021. Aboard the Crew Dragon are SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; along with Matthias Maurer, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and mission specialist. Launch time was at 9:03 p.m. EST. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are on their way to the International Space Station, following the picture-perfect launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the crew, launched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida at 9:03 p.m. EST.

“What a beautiful evening for a launch. It was another great experience seeing those four guys take off into space on top of that Falcon 9 on that Dragon,” said NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana. “It is a huge challenge to safely get humans to and from low-Earth orbit, and the partnerships that we have with our international partners and our commercial crew partners has enabled this space economy that we have right now. What a great time to be part of America’s space program.”

Upon their arrival at the space station, the Crew-3 astronauts will be greeted by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov – the Expedition 66 crew already on board. During their six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew in conducting a number of science and research investigations.

Some of these include a food physiology experiment that will study the impacts of an enhanced spaceflight diet on astronaut health, a sensor that will test a set of LED beacons with which Astrobee free-flying robots will interact during formation flight maneuvers, and a Human Research Program project that will collect a set of core measurements related to human spaceflight risks from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions.

The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Crew-3 is the third of six crew rotation missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This is the first flight for Chari, Barron, and Maurer, and the third for Marshburn, who flew on STS-127 and Expedition 34/35.

Crew-3 astronauts are slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow, Nov. 11, with docking targeted for 7:10 p.m. EST. Following docking and hatch opening, a welcoming ceremony is planned for 9:20 p.m. EST. Participants will include:

  • The Expedition 66 crew aboard the station
  • Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA
  • David Parker, director, Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA

Coverage of Crew-3’s arrival to the station will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website, beginning with docking at 7:10 p.m. EST.

For mission updates, visit the station blog at https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/. Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following @Commercial_Crew@space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the Commercial Crew FacebookISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Crew-3 Postlaunch News Teleconference Set for 10 p.m.

NASA's SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency’s Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. From left are ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron. Photo credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on their way to the International Space Station has safely reached orbit, and the nosecone has been opened.

At 10 p.m., NASA will host a postlaunch news teleconference from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Participants in the briefing will be:

  • Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
  • Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station Program, NASA Johnson
  • Sarah Walker, director, Dragon Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Frank de Winne, program manager, International Space Station, ESA

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

Separation Confirmed, Crew Dragon Now Flying Solo

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft separates from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage for the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully separates from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, sending the Crew-3 astronauts on their solo journey to the International Space Station on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the Crew-3 astronauts, has successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and is now flying on its own.

The spacecraft has safely reached orbit, and its nosecone has been opened. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, along with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are slated to arrive at the International Space Station about 22 hours from now, around 7:10 p.m. EST on Nov. 11.

First Stage Sticks the Landing!

The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully lands on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean following launch of the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission.
The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lands on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean following launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has successfully landed on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket used for today’s mission previously flew on SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in June 2021.

Next up, Crew Dragon will separate from the rocket’s second stage to continue its journey to the International Space Station.

Falcon 9 Second Stage Engine Shuts Down

Shutdown of the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage engines occurs right on time, and Crew Dragon is now in orbit. In just a moment, the rocket’s first stage will attempt to land on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Crew-3 Confirms Trajectory is Nominal

The call came in from Crew-3 Commander Raja Chari that trajectory is nominal, and the first stage has started its descent. The Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage will continue to burn for the next few minutes before intentionally shutting down.

Main Engine Cutoff; Falcon 9’s First Stage Separates

The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage has reached main engine cutoff, known as MECO, and the first and second stages have separated. As the second stage continues carrying Crew Dragon on its flight, the rocket’s first stage will attempt a targeted landing on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

LIFTOFF! Crew-3 Astronauts Begin Their Journey to the Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

We have liftoff! At 9:03 p.m. EST, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft lit up the night sky at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer on the start of a 22-hour journey to the International Space Station.

Coming up in just one minute, the rocket will pass through Max Q – the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket. Following this, the Falcon 9’s first and second stages will separate.