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.
NASA and Boeing are targeting no earlier than Thursday, March 25, for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA to the International Space Station.
The target launch date is enabled by an opening on the Eastern Range, the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, steady progress on hardware and software, and an International Space Station docking opportunity.
Boeing recently mated the spacecraft’s reusable crew module on its brand new service module inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams are working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts.
Boeing also recently completed the formal requalification of Starliner’s OFT-2 flight software. Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner’s software meets design specifications. Boeing also will complete an end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and final versions of Starliner’s flight software to model the vehicle’s expected behavior before flight.
The OFT-2 mission will launch Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, dock to the space station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test flight to prove the system is ready to fly crew.
NASA and Boeing now are targeting March 29 for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path toward flying crew missions for NASA.
For the OFT-2 mission, the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, dock to the International Space Station and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test to prove the system is ready to fly crew.
The OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft is nearing final assembly inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The vehicle’s reusable crew module has been powered up and final checkouts of the avionics, power and propulsion systems are nearing completion. The spacecraft’s parachutes, landing airbags, base heat shield, and its back shells are installed signifying the completion of the vehicle build phase. In the coming weeks, teams will load the crew module with cargo, including Rosie the Rocketeer, and weigh the vehicle before mating it to its service module, which is already complete.
In parallel, Boeing technicians continue to refurbish the crew module flown on Starliner’s first Orbital Flight Test while also building a brand-new service module for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), which is now targeting launch in summer 2021, following a successful OFT-2 mission.
NASA and Boeing have completed Starliner’s last parachute balloon drop test ending a reliability campaign that will help strengthen the spacecraft’s landing system ahead of crewed flights to and from the International Space Station.
The campaign, developed by both Boeing and NASA, used six balloon drop tests of a Starliner test article to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing system. Each drop test focused on a different set of adverse conditions and used pre-flown parachutes to evaluate reusability margins for future missions.
Starliner is the first American-made orbital crew capsule to land on land. The spacecraft uses a series of parachutes and airbags that deploy at specific altitudes allowing Starliner to touch down gently in the desert of the western United States. NASA also will use the data gathered from the parachute testing to model Starliner parachute performance in different mission scenarios.
For the final test, a high-altitude balloon provided by Near Space Corporation lifted the Starliner test article 35,000 feet above the New Mexico desert. Equipped with reused parachutes, Starliner’s landing system successfully executed an unlikely re-entry scenario simulating two separate faults.