The launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, now is targeted for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20. NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) agreed to target the new date to allow for completion of a critical prelaunch milestone, known as a wet dress rehearsal, on Friday, Dec. 6. The milestone occurred one day later than planned due to the weather-related launch delay of an International Space Station re-supply mission, which created a resource conflict with the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is poised atop a fueled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s (CCAFS) Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida for the program’s first ever Integrated Day of Launch Test, or IDOLT. Today’s rehearsal is practice for Boeing’s upcoming uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) to the International Space Station. The rocket’s booster has been filled with liquid oxygen and a form of rocket-grade kerosene called RP-1, and its Centaur upper stage loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for today’s full run-through of the launch countdown.
Boeing, ULA and NASA teams are participating from several locations, including the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) at CCAFS; Boeing’s Mission Control Center (BMCC) at nearby Kennedy Space Center; and the flight control room supporting Starliner missions inside the Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, slated to fly to the station on Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, monitored the rehearsal from consoles in the ASOC and BMCC.
Although OFT is uncrewed, rehearsals like today’s are standard for human spaceflight missions and similar rehearsals were a regular part of space shuttle missions. They provide a final opportunity for all teams to work through dynamic launch preparations in real time.
The Atlas V rocket will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is working with its commercial partners to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011.
The launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, now is targeted for 6:59 a.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 19. NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) agreed to target the new date to allow ULA sufficient time to resolve an issue with the rocket’s purge air supply. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will launch to the International Space Station on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has taken a significant step toward launch. Starliner rolled out of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, making the trek on a transport vehicle to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
At the pad, Starliner was hoisted up at the Vertical Integration Facility and secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the flight test to the space station.
The Atlas V rocket that will carry Starliner comprises a booster stage and dual-engine Centaur upper stage, as well as a pair of solid rocket boosters.
The uncrewed flight test, targeted to launch Dec. 17, will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations.
The data 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.
NASA is working in partnership with Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. Safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the space station will allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft passes by the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Nov. 21, making its way to the Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At the pad, Starliner will be secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in preparation for Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston
NASA and Boeing are preparing for the next step in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on Thursday, Nov. 21, as the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft begins its transport for integration on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket ahead of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station.
During the operation, the fueled Starliner will be moved from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy to ULA’s Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Later the same day, the spacecraft will be stacked on top of an Atlas V rocket for final processing ahead of the launch.
Boeing’s uncrewed flight test, which is targeted for Dec. 17, will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the rocket, spacecraft and ground systems, as well as, in-orbit and landing operations. The data will be used toward certification of Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry through public-private partnerships to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. The goal of the program is safe, reliable and cost-effective human space transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time aboard the station and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, which includes sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
On Thursday, Nov. 7, Boeing Commercial Crew Vice President and Program Manager John Mulholland and NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders addressed preliminary results of the Nov. 4 CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test during a media teleconference.
Preliminary results indicate that the test, conducted from Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, met NASA’s primary test objectives:
- Validated the launch abort system’s capability to perform a safe abort
- Safely separated CST-100 from a static launch vehicle adapter on the launch pad
- Validated the launch abort system’s capability to propel Starliner safely to a target point to avoid re-contact with any potential debris or other pieces of hardware
- Demonstrated stability and control characteristics of the launch abort system
- Safely separated the crew module from the service module during the abort sequence
- Deployed landing and recovery system to execute a controlled land landing
- Validated functionality of guidance, navigation & control and command & data handling system for appropriate sequencing of commands to the propulsion controllers
During the test, two of three of Starliner’s main parachutes deployed and eased Starliner to the ground. Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety. Boeing has determined that the parachute anomaly occurred because the rigging between one of the three pilot and main parachutes was improperly connected. Boeing has verified this through closeout photos, and understands how this happened on a test vehicle. The company is validating that its processes were followed correctly on its Orbital Flight Test vehicle, which is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 17.
NASA is encouraged by the preliminary results of the Pad Abort Test and remains committed to working in concert with Boeing to ensure crew safety as we move to return astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.
Boeing is preparing to put its CST-100 Starliner’s launch abort system to the test on Monday, Nov. 4, at Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. MST (9 a.m. EST) with a three-hour window, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day. This will be Boeing’s first flight test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will help evaluate the performance of the abort system prior to missions to the International Space Station with a crew onboard.
For the demonstration, Starliner and its service module will be resting on the test stand when a zero-zero abort is declared. This means the 16.5-foot vehicle is in the launch position at zero altitude and traveling zero miles an hour. The flight test begins with ignition of Starliner’s four launch abort engines (LAE), pushing the spacecraft away from the stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust. The orbital maneuvering and attitude (OMAC) thrusters kick in simultaneously with LAE ignition to maneuver the spacecraft into the proper orientation for parachute deployment. The vehicle is expected to reach an altitude of about 4,500 feet above the ground, and push about 7,000 feet (about 1 mile) north of the test stand.
The ascent cover and forward heat shield protecting the spacecraft’s parachutes will jettison roughly 19 seconds into flight in preparation for landing. Then, drogue parachutes will deploy, prior to the main parachutes, slowing the descent of the vehicle.
After the parachutes open, the service module will separate from the crew module, followed by the base heat shield. Finally, airbags will inflate, and Starliner will touch down in the New Mexico desert approximately one-and-a-half minutes after the test began. The spacecraft service module, which has a total of 52 engines including those designed to give small directional changes in orbit, is not planned or expected to survive the test.
The zero-zero abort scenario is especially challenging because the spacecraft abort system must quickly get away from a potentially dangerous rocket, but also must gain enough altitude and distance for the parachutes to open and landing systems to be activated.
The abort test will provide Boeing and NASA with reams of data to help evaluate and verify the performance of the vehicle’s abort systems – a critical capability for NASA’s certification of Starliner to fly astronauts to station.
Although Boeing’s abort test does not have to be completed prior to the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the space station, it is a major milestone ahead of the first flight of the new system with astronauts, called Crew Flight Test.
NASA and its commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are working toward returning the capability to launch American astronauts to the space station and low-Earth orbit on American-built spacecraft from American soil.
- Boeing Pad Abort Test: Nov. 4, 2019 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
- Boeing Orbital Flight Test: Dec. 17, 2019 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
NASA and its commercial partners remain committed to flying astronauts as quickly as we can without compromising crew safety, and we always will give safety precedence over schedule. As more dates are reviewed, NASA will update its schedule.
NASA and SpaceX conducted a formal verification of the company’s emergency escape, or egress, system at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Sept. 18, 2019. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Shannon Walker participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and swiftly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2.
“This demonstration allowed all the various teams responsible for ground operations, system design, ground safety and emergency management to observe and verify the system is ready for operational use,” said Steve Payne, launch operations integrator for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s a system we hope we never have to use, but we have to be prepared for every scenario.”
During the exercise, Behnken and Walker demonstrated two escape methods to show the crew could leave the 265-foot-level of the launch tower quickly. One method was an expedited non-emergency egress, where the crew started at the end of the crew access arm, called the white room, as if they just exited the capsule, and descended the crew access tower by taking the elevator to the base of the launch pad. Then, they were picked up by the pad team to be returned to crew quarters.
The other method involved an emergency egress, where the crew and pad team started at the crew access arm and escape to the ground using the slidewire baskets, with all alarms and fire suppression systems activated. From there, they boarded an armored vehicle that took them to safety.
“Safety of crew members is the top priority,” Walker said. “This was a great opportunity to test the emergency egress system and procedures on the pad.”
SpaceX provided a demonstration of activating alarms and beacons, putting on emergency breathing air bottles and activating the water deluge system on the crew access level, followed by egress from the white room. The astronauts also practiced loading into the baskets. The release mechanisms were also tested, and a weighted empty basket was sent down the length of the slidewire cable to the landing area.
The slidewire baskets have had a number of design improvements since they were used during the shuttle era. A new braking system was added that regulates the speed as astronauts descend the slidewire, which makes for a smoother ride for the crew. Adjustments to the system have also made dismounting the slidewire baskets much easier than with the previous design.
Also, the platform used for emergency escape on the tower was relocated and reinstalled to the 265-foot-level, up 70 feet from its original shuttle-era location, in order to accommodate a taller launch vehicle.
“If the emergency egress system were ever to be needed to escape from a hazardous event, we want to have complete confidence that it will operate as designed and get our flight crew and pad personnel off the tower quickly and safely,” Payne said.
The verification team also included personnel from the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA Flight Surgeons, SpaceX systems engineers, Kennedy Aero Medical, Commercial Crew Program Safety, and other observers.
“Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn’t help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day,” Behnken said. “It’s exciting to have this verification test behind us on our way to the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.”
As commercial crew providers SpaceX and Boeing 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.