Successful Static Tests Set Stage for Key In-Flight Abort Demonstration

SpaceX In-flight abort test
The uncrewed in-flight abort demonstration is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. There is a four-hour test window. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are preparing to launch the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test, known as in-flight abort, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The uncrewed flight test is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, at the start of a four-hour test window, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

SpaceX performed a full-duration static test Saturday, Jan. 11, of the Falcon 9 and completed a static fire of the Crew Dragon on Nov. 13, setting the stage for the critical flight test.

Prior to launch, SpaceX and NASA teams will practice launch day end-to-end operations with NASA astronauts, including final spacecraft inspections and side hatch closeout. Additionally, SpaceX and NASA flight controllers along with support teams will be staged as they will for future Crew Dragon missions, helping the integrated launch team gain additional experience beyond existing simulations and training events.

After liftoff, Falcon 9’s ascent will follow a trajectory that will mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station matching the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent.

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NASA Update on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test

Boeing, NASA, and U.S. Army personnel work around the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft shortly after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The team will review the primary anomalies experienced during the Dec. 2019 flight test, any potential contributing factors and provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment.

In parallel, NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review. NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing. Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.

The uncrewed flight test was proposed by Boeing as a way to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements for certification and as a way to validate that the system can protect astronauts in space before flying crew. The uncrewed mission, including docking to the space station, became a part of the company’s contract with NASA. Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration. Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts onboard.

Starliner currently is being transported from the landing location near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida. Since landing, teams have safed the spacecraft for transport, downloaded data from the spacecraft’s onboard systems for analysis and completed initial inspections of the interior and exterior of Starliner. A more detailed analysis will be conducted after the spacecraft arrives at its processing facility.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

Boeing’s Starliner Separates from Atlas V Centaur

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has separated from the Atlas V Centaur and is flying on its own, embarking on its inaugural flight to the International Space Station. The Atlas Centaur will fall back to Earth and impact the ocean near Australia. After a series of orbital adjustments, Starliner will be on course for rendezvous and docking with the space station at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21.

Liftoff! Atlas V Clears the Launch Pad with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 20, 2019. Liftoff time was 6:36 a.m. EST.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 20, 2019. Liftoff time was 6:36 a.m. EST. Photo credit: NASA

Booster ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket is on its way, carrying Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station. About one minute after launch, the Atlas V rocket will achieve Mach 1. The Atlas V solid rocket boosters will jettison nearly two-and-a-half minutes into the flight.

About two-and-a-half minutes into flight, a series of key events will begin to occur over the next few minutes. The Atlas V solid rocket boosters will fall away shortly after launch. The Atlas first-stage booster engine will cut off, followed by separation from the dual-engine Centaur second stage. The Centaur first main engine will start, following by aeroskirt jettison. A few minutes later the Centaur engine will cut off.

The Launch Team is “Go” for Launch, T-4 Minute Hold Complete

Launch conductors have completed their polls of the launch teams. The T-4 minute built-in hold has been released and the countdown has resumed. The Starliner spacecraft has been configured for terminal count. Three seconds before launch, the Atlas V booster’s RD-180 engine will ignite.

Weather Remains Good for Launch of Atlas V and Boeing CST-100 Starliner

The latest weather update remains favorable for launch. Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predict a 90% chance of favorable weather for launch this morning. Primary concerns are a chance of violation due to ground winds, but those winds currently are well within limits.