NASA, Boeing Prepare to Replace Starliner Service Modules Ahead of Upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2

Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.
Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.

NASA and Boeing continue making progress toward the agency’s upcoming Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams recently completed offloading fuel from the OFT-2 spacecraft inside Starliner’s production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for separating and replacing the current service module (SM2) from the crew module.

“The Starliner team and successful completion of the spacecraft’s development phase are critical to sustaining International Space Station operations through 2030,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The team’s dedication to developing effective remedies and corrective action after our first OFT-2 launch attempt demonstrates their continued commitment to safely flying NASA crews for years to come.”

In December, Boeing decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests. The service module originally planned for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) is now being used for OFT-2, and the service module originally planned for Starliner’s first post-certification mission, Starliner-1, now will  be used for CFT.

With fuel offload complete, the spacecraft was moved out of the hazardous processing area and into the production factory high bay.

“Because this is not an operation that we normally perform, our team took the time to fully coordinate and assess the proper spacecraft and ground support equipment configurations, and then execute to plan to ensure the safety of our team,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once separated in the coming weeks from the OFT-2 crew module, SM2 will be sent to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico for additional testing related to the issue affecting the spacecraft’s oxidizer isolation valves.

The investigation into the valve issue continues to substantiate that the most probable cause is interaction of moisture with nitrogen tetroxide that permeates through the Teflon seal in the valve, leading to corrosion. Testing continues to fully understand how this occurrence affects the valves in various environments.

Tests include environmental seal evaluation and exposing valves, in a controlled setting, to temperatures and conditions similar to those the spacecraft experienced prior to the planned launch of OFT-2. The results of these tests will help in the ongoing development of remediation efforts to prevent similar issues on future service modules.

For example, the team designed a purging system that will be integrated into the spacecraft to protect the valves from potential exposure to moisture at the factory, launch complex, and launch pad.

Progress also continues with production of the new service module (SM4) that will go onto the OFT-2 crew module. That service module was recently moved from the low bay production area to the factory’s hazardous processing area for high pressure leak testing. Remaining tasks before mating this service module with the OFT-2 crew module include acceptance testing, final wire harness mating, installation of solar array panels, and final closeouts.

NASA and Boeing continue to work toward an opening in United Launch Alliance’s launch window availability in May for OFT-2. An actual launch date will be determined closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of Eastern Range and International Space Station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review and will be determined after a safe and successful OFT-2.

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, Boeing Update Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 Status

Starliner
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is seen in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 12, 2021. Part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Photo credit: Boeing

Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 8 to reflect that the team is working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022 for Orbital Flight Test-2.

The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.

“I am proud of the work our integrated teams are doing,” said Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “This is a complex issue involving hazardous commodities and intricate areas of the spacecraft that are not easily accessed. It has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine.”

Boeing has demonstrated success in valve functionality using localized heating and electrical charging techniques. Troubleshooting on the pad, at the launch complex, and inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center has resulted in movement of all but one of the original stuck valves. That valve has not been moved intentionally to preserve forensics for direct root cause analysis.

Most items on the fault tree have been dispositioned by the team including causes related to avionics, flight software and wiring. Boeing has identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions, and although some verification work remains underway, our confidence is high enough that we are commencing corrective and preventive actions. Additional spacecraft and component testing will be conducted in the coming weeks to further explore contributing factors and necessary system remediation before flight.

Boeing completed a partial disassembly of three of the affected Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) thruster valves last month and plans to remove three valves from the OFT-2 spacecraft in the coming weeks for further inspection. The team also is evaluating additional testing to repeat the initial valve failures.

Boeing has identified several paths forward depending on the outcome of the testing to ultimately resolve the issue and prevent it from happening on future flights. These options could range from minor refurbishment of the current service module components to using another service module already in production. Each option is dependent on data points the team expects to collect in the coming weeks including a timeline for safely proceeding back to the launch pad.

“Safety of the Starliner spacecraft, our employees, and our crew members is this team’s number one priority,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Starliner program. “We are taking the appropriate amount of time to work through the process now to set this system up for success on OFT-2 and all future Starliner missions.”

Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range. The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022 pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.

Starliner Returns to Factory, Preparations Underway to Resolve Valve Issue

OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned Aug. 19, 2021, from the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams will work to diagnose and resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 launch attempt of NASA Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2. Photo credit: Boeing

Teams from Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) safely returned the CST-100 Starliner to its production facility in Florida on Aug. 19 for continued work on the spacecraft’s service module propulsion system.

The Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft was removed from its Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and returned to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The team now will perform propulsion system checkouts inside the factory’s hazardous processing area and determine the appropriate vehicle configuration for accessing and analyzing the system further. NASA and Boeing will recommend forward work as part of a formal process designed to aid in determining root cause and remediation steps.

In the weeks ahead, engineering teams from NASA and Boeing will work to diagnose and ultimately resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 countdown for NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2, and resulted in the decision to postpone the launch destined for the International Space Station.

NASA, Boeing, and ULA will establish a new launch date once the issue is resolved.

NASA, Boeing Continue to Work Toward Understanding Starliner Service Module Valve Performance Issue

Boeing Starliner spacecraft
On July 29, 2021, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is shown on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket in ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility.

NASA continues to work side-by-side with Boeing to understanding the CST-100 Starliner’s service module valve performance, including the unexpected indications some of the valves were in the closed position during its Aug. 3 launch attempt of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2).

With troubleshooting ongoing in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Starliner will be powered and run through various procedures to help understand the issue, NASA will move forward with the launch and berthing of an important cargo mission to the International Space Station.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch on the company’s Antares rocket at 5:56 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, with capture and berthing scheduled two days later at about 6:10 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 12.

In parallel, managers and engineers with NASA and Boeing will continue to evaluate schedules based on where the troubleshooting efforts take them before deciding when the next official launch for the OFT-2 mission will take place.

NASA, Boeing Continue Starliner Data Analysis

Atlas V rocket with Starliner on launch pad
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad on Thursday, July 29, 2021, at Space Launch Complex 41 in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

NASA and Boeing are continuing to work through steps to determine what caused the unexpected valve position indications on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V with the Starliner spacecraft on top will be returned to its Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Thursday where engineers will have direct access to Starliner for continued troubleshooting.

The data will drive any corrective measures that may be necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for launch. When NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing Space agree the issue is resolved, a new launch opportunity will be selected, taking into account the readiness of all parties involved.

“The Boeing and NASA teams are working methodically to understand what caused the valve indications on the Starliner service module propulsion system,” Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program, said. “The troubleshooting in the Vertical Integration Facility will help focus on potential causes and next steps before we fly the OFT-2 mission.”

Early in the launch countdown for the Tuesday, Aug. 3 launch attempt, engineers detected indications that not all of Starliner’s propulsion system valves were in the proper configuration needed for launch of the company’s second uncrewed orbital flight test to the International Space Station, a mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the crew-capable system as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Mission teams decided to halt the countdown to further analyze the issue, which was conducted later Tuesday via several steps to troubleshoot the incorrect valve indications, including cycling the service module propulsion system valves.

After presenting the data to NASA and Boeing managers, it was decided to relocate the Atlas V and Starliner to the VIF for further inspection and testing where access to the spacecraft is available. Engineering teams have ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, and the direct access is required to continue the assessment.

“This mission is extremely important for the Commercial Crew Program on the path to the Boeing Crewed Flight Test,” Stich said. “We will fly the mission when we are ready. I am extremely proud of the NASA and Boeing teams for their professionalism, perseverance, and methodical approach to solving complex problems.”

NASA and Boeing will take whatever time is necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for its important uncrewed flight test to the space station and will look for the next available opportunity after resolution of the issue.

NASA, Boeing Standing Down on Aug. 4 Starliner Launch Attempt

NASA and Boeing are standing down from the Wednesday, Aug. 4, launch attempt of the agency’s Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station as mission teams continue to examine the cause of the unexpected valve position indications on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

Early in the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 attempt, mission teams detected indications that not all valves were in the proper configuration needed for launch. Mission teams decided to halt the countdown to further analyze the issue.

NASA and Boeing worked through several steps to troubleshoot the incorrect valve indications, including cycling the service module propulsion system valves, within the current configuration of the Starliner and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Mission teams have decided to roll the Atlas V and Starliner back to the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) for further inspection and testing where access to the spacecraft is available. Boeing will power down the Starliner spacecraft this evening. The move to the VIF is expected to take place as early as tomorrow.

Engineering teams have ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, but additional time is needed to complete the assessment.

NASA and Boeing will take whatever time is necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for its important uncrewed flight test to the space station and will look for the next available opportunity after resolution of the issue.

What You Need to Know about NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day. Photo credit: Boeing/John Grant

Leerlo en español aquí.

NASA and Boeing are taking another major step on the path to regular human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil with the second uncrewed flight test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is targeting launch of the Starliner spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 2:53 p.m. EDT Friday, July 30, from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Starliner is expected to arrive at the space station for docking about 24 hours later with more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies.

The mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States. OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

Read the full feature here.

Flight Readiness Concludes for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2

NASA and Boeing leadership conduct the flight readiness review for Boeing's OFT-2 mission.
The Flight Readiness Review for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) mission was held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 22. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA and Boeing are proceeding with plans for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station following a full day of briefings and discussion during a Flight Readiness Review that took place at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A photo of Kathy Lueders during the flight readiness review for Boeing's uncrewed OFT-2 mission.
Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, chaired the Flight Readiness Review for Boeing’s OFT-2 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Launch of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for 2:53 p.m. EDT Friday, July 30, from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

OFT-2 will test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States. OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

At 6 p.m., NASA and Boeing will hold a flight readiness review media teleconference at Kennedy with the following representatives:

  • Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA
  • Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Program
  • Norm Knight, director, NASA’s Flight Operations Directorate

The teleconference will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/live.

More details about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook

Flight Readiness Review Begins for NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2

The Flight Readiness Review is underway for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 22.
The Flight Readiness Review is underway for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 22. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA and Boeing are holding a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) today at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson kicks off the Flight Readiness Review for Boeing’s upcoming OFT-2 mission.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson kicks off the Flight Readiness Review for Boeing’s upcoming OFT-2 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Teams have gathered to hear presentations from key mission managers as part of an in-depth assessment on the readiness of flight for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and systems, mission operations, support functions and readiness of the space station program to support Starliner’s mission to the microgravity laboratory.

Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s human exploration and operations, is leading the meeting. The senior Boeing official at the review is John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. The meeting will conclude with a poll of all members of the review board.

At 6 p.m. or one hour after the readiness review, NASA and Boeing will hold a media teleconference to discuss the review and status to flight with the following participants:

  • Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA
  • Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Program
  • Norm Knight, director, NASA’s Flight Operations Directorate
NASA astronauts for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Pilot Nicole Mann, and Joint Ops Commander Mike Fincke addressed the Flight Readiness Review for the uncrewed OFT-2 mission. Their flight currently is targeted for late 2021.
NASA astronauts for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Pilot Nicole Mann, and Joint Ops Commander Mike Fincke addressed the Flight Readiness Review for the uncrewed OFT-2 mission. Their flight currently is targeted for late 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The teleconference will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/live.

Launch of Starliner is targeted at 2:53 p.m. EDT Friday, July 30, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida; the spacecraft will rendezvous and dock with the orbiting laboratory about a day later.

The flight test will provide valuable data NASA will review as part of the process to certify Boeing’s crew transportation system is as safe as possible for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

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

NASA and Boeing Evaluating Launch Date for Orbital Flight Test-2

Technicians observe Boeing’s Starliner crew module being placed on top of the service module in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 14, 2021. The Starliner spacecraft is being prepared for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2). As part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Credit: Boeing/John Proferes

NASA and Boeing are evaluating a new target launch date for the CST-100 Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) to the International Space Station after winter storms in Houston, and the recent replacement of avionics boxes, set the program back about two weeks. NASA also is weighing the volume of verification and validation analysis required prior to the test flight and the visiting vehicle schedule at the International Space Station.

Previously, the launch was targeted for no earlier than April 2.

An important factor the teams are evaluating is the visiting vehicle schedule at the International Space Station, which already has a scheduled crewed Soyuz launch and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April. Based on the current traffic at the space station, NASA does not anticipate that OFT-2 can be accomplished later in April. NASA and Boeing are working to find the earliest possible launch date.

“Boeing and NASA have worked extremely hard to support an early-April launch but we need to assess alternatives to ensure NASA’s safety work can be accomplished. NASA and Boeing know we fly together,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Boeing has done an incredible amount of work on Starliner to be ready for flight and we’ll provide an update soon on when we expect to launch the OFT-2 mission.”

“I’m grateful for the extraordinary work being undertaken by our NASA partners as we progress towards our OFT-2 mission,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “And I’m very proud of the Boeing Starliner team for working so diligently to get the hardware, software and certification closure products ready for flight. We’re committed to demonstrating the safety and quality of our spacecraft and progressing to our crewed test flight and the missions beyond.”

The company has been conducting dry-runs ahead of an end-to-end mission rehearsal that will allow the operations team to practice and observe integrated interactions through the whole mission profile, from launch to docking and undocking to landing. Additionally, power-on testing and checkouts of the OFT-2 vehicle, with new avionics boxes installed, have been completed successfully. Spacecraft fueling operations and the stacking of the launch vehicle are also ready to commence.