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.

Astronauts Tour SpaceX Rocket Facility in Texas

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Bob Behnken at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts who will be the first humans to fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft recently toured the company’s Rocket Development Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to crew SpaceX’s Demo-2 flight test in June 2019, which will be the first flight of Crew Dragon with people onboard.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will crew SpaceX’s first regular mission to the International Space Station, following Demo-2 and NASA’s certification of SpaceX commercial crew systems.

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and with Boeing to return human spaceflight launch capability from the United States.

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

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.

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.

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