NASA and Boeing are targeting an early February 2023 launch for the first CST-100 Starliner flight with astronauts to the International Space Station.
Preparations are underway for the launch of NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) as teams work to ready the hardware, crew, and mission support teams for flight as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Two NASA astronaut test pilots, Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams, will fly on CFT to the space station, where they will live and work for approximately eight days. Mission and crew support teams and the CFT astronauts are continuing with preparations and training. NASA and Boeing teams recently conducted an integrated crew exercise to rehearse the prelaunch timeline and responses to various launch event scenarios. In the coming weeks, Wilmore and Williams will don their spacesuits and climb aboard their crew module to check out the vehicle systems and interfaces that support their health and safety.
Refurbishment of the CFT crew module following the first Orbital Flight Test in December 2019 is progressing. Its external shell and thermal protection system will be completed next, followed by preflight checks to finalize the crew module build and test phase. Production of a new service module also is progressing, with teams wrapping up acceptance testing of the thermal control system, installing the pressurant system and integrating the propulsion system. This service module incorporates the same valve mitigations as the OFT-2 spacecraft. That purge system performed as needed during OFT-2 and a similar system has been implemented into the service module for CFT as a preventative measure. Once both the crew module and service module are completed, the two will be mated for flight.
“The Starliner team has done an excellent job throughout the refurbishment process of incorporating all the learning from our uncrewed orbital test flight,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “We expect to do even more learning on our next flight with astronauts to set Starliner up for certification and future operational missions.”
For the crewed flight, Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Following a successful CFT mission, NASA will begin the final process of certifying the Starliner spacecraft and systems for crew missions to the space station.
NASA and SpaceX leadership provided an update Oct. 6 as part of the agency’s Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station – the third crew rotation flight that will carry an international crew of four astronauts on a science expedition to the microgravity laboratory as part of the Commercial Crew Program.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer will launch aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft launching on a Falcon 9 rocket on its way to the space station. The mission is scheduled to lift off Saturday, Oct. 30, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Crew-3 mission will fly a new Crew Dragon spacecraft, and will be the first mission to fly a previously used nosecone.
Crew-3 astronauts also will provide an update on their upcoming mission at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 7, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas prior to going into standard preflight quarantine ahead final launch preparations.
Launch on Oct. 30 would have Crew-3 arriving at the space station early the next day after an approximate 22-hour journey for a short overlap with the astronauts who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission.
Prior to launch, NASA and SpaceX will complete a final dress rehearsal for the mission, and continue reviewing data as a part of the standard mission reviews. In support of Crew-3, SpaceX implemented several improvements to the Crew Dragon system based on knowledge gained from previous flights, including making a software change to build in more communications robustness against radiation effects while docked, adding more cleaning techniques to cut down on foreign object debris, improving computer performance during re-entry, and enhancing the spacecraft’s docking procedures and mechanisms to mitigate hardware interference on the International Space Station side of the interface.
NASA and SpaceX also have been working to conduct joint inspections of the waste management system on the Crew-2 spacecraft at the space station following an observation during a non-NASA mission. Based on the inspections, teams will limit the use of the waste system during the return flight of Crew-2. Earlier this year, the Dragon spacecraft supporting the Crew-2 mission completed a short port relocation flight around the International Space Station, and all systems on the spacecraft performed normally during its undocking and re-docking maneuver. SpaceX will implement a small design improvement on the new Dragon spacecraft supporting the Crew-3 mission and all future spacecraft to make the system even more robust.
Through data sharing with SpaceX, NASA also has gained additional insight into higher-altitude flights of Crew Dragon, the performance of the thermal protection system, and more data on micrometeoroid environment of space helping to improve modeling. In addition, NASA learned more about the environmental control and life support system on an extended in-orbit mission with crew continuously on board, including the system’s carbon dioxide scrubber. On all missions, including cargo flights, SpaceX continues to recover and examine parachutes for continued analysis by NASA, ultimately driving up the safety of all missions.
After Crew-3 arrival to the space station, return of the Crew-2 mission with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, is planned for early November. This Friday, the Crew-2 spacecraft is targeted to break the record set by Crew Dragon Resilience as it passes 168 days in orbit.
Missions teams continue to target April 15, 2022, for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the space station for a six-month science mission aboard the microgravity laboratory.
Crew-4 will be commanded by Kjell Lindgren with Bob Hines as pilot, both NASA astronauts. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will be a mission specialist and command the station’s Expedition 68 crew, while the remaining crew member has yet to be named. Crew-3 astronauts are set to return to Earth in late April 2022 following a similar handover with Crew-4.
NASA also announced it has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station. NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions.
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps remains assigned to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 for a long-duration science mission aboard the International Space Station. It is important for Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps to gain their first spaceflight experience, and Epps currently is cross training with the team on the Crew Dragon system. There are many factors in play before any crew assignment is ready, including discussions with our international partners and Multilateral Crew Operations Panel approval. All three crew members have ample time to train on commercial crew systems and become fully prepared for their missions to the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, Mike Fincke, and Suni Williams will continue to provide experience for Boeing as the agency prepares for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test and Starliner-1 missions. Additional Boeing flight assignments will be made in the future.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket – set to help write a new chapter in human spaceflight by launching the first flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station – has arrived at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The Atlas V will launch NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann on Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) to demonstrate the ability of the Atlas V and Starliner to safely carry astronauts to and from the space station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. CFT is targeted for later this year after successful completion of Starliner’s second uncrewed mission, Orbital Flight Test-2, which is targeted to launch on July 30 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
The rocket-delivery ship, called R/S RocketShip, transported the Atlas V first stage and the Dual Engine Centaur upper stage from ULA’s manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. RocketShip set sail on June 14, arrived June 20, and the Atlas V was unloaded June 21.
Now at the Cape, the Atlas V will undergo receiving checks at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center and await the start of operations to prepare for the flight, which will send the three astronauts to the space station. The crewmates are working closely with Boeing to develop the new spacecraft systems, which will provide round-trip crew transportation services to the space station and low-Earth orbit.