NASA, Boeing Update Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 Status

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.

Houston, We Have a Pepper

Four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit. Photo credit: NASA

Recently, the four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit – several peppers, in fact.

Peppers developed from flowers that bloomed in the Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

The peppers developed from flowers that bloomed over the past few weeks. Peppers are self-pollinating, and once pollination occurred, peppers started forming 24 to 48 hours later; however, not all pollinated flowers developed into peppers.

A unique feature of the APH is that it can be controlled remotely. To pollinate the flowers in orbit, the team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center instructed APH to run its fans at variable rates to create a gentle breeze in microgravity to agitate the flowers and encourage the transfer of pollen. The space station crew also provided assistance by hand pollinating some of the flowers.

GMT273_12_13_For Huntsville_Megan McArthur_1091_Plant Habitat 04

Studies of fruit development in microgravity are limited, and NASA researchers have noted lower fruit development versus ground observations in this experiment for reasons that are not fully understood at this point. Overcoming the challenges of growing fruit in microgravity is important for long-duration missions during which crew members will need good sources of Vitamin C – such as peppers – to supplement their diets.

The average length for this type of pepper is just over three inches in ground tests. Hatch chile peppers are a mild heat pepper that starts out as green and will ripen to red over time, but it’s unknown what effect microgravity will have on the length to which they grow and their potency.

Astronauts will perform two harvests this year – one at 100 days in late October, and one at 120 days in early November. At those times, astronauts will sanitize the peppers, eat part of their harvests, and return the rest to Earth for analysis.

Cargo Dragon Splashes Down in the Atlantic, Science Delivered to Kennedy

SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft
SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft is lifted aboard a recovery vessel after splashing down off the coast of Florida on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. The capsule, carrying cargo that flew aboard NASA’s SpaceX 23rd commercial resupply services mission, undocked from the International Space Station Thursday at approximately 9 a.m. The event marked the first time a Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft completed a successful parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 30. The capsule undocked from the station’s forward port of the Harmony module Thursday at 9:12 a.m., completing the voyage in approximately 14 hours.

This marked the first time Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity to the coast of Florida enabled quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers hours after splashdown. The shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.

Dragon launched Aug. 29 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station the following day. The spacecraft delivered more than 4,800 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

NASA, SpaceX Continue Planning for Next Crew Rotation Missions to International Space Station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021.
With a view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at left, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021, carrying a crew of four on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission. Launch time was at 5:49 a.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA and SpaceX are continuing plans to launch Crew-3 astronauts to the International Space Station as early as Sunday Oct. 31, and targeting the return home of Crew-2 astronauts in the early-to-mid November timeframe.

Crew-3 will be the third crew rotation mission with astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from the United States to the space station, and the fourth flight with astronauts, including the Demo-2 test flight in 2020, Crew-1 mission in 2020-21, and the ongoing Crew-2 flight as part of the Expedition 65 crew.

The Crew-3 mission will launch NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander, Tom Marshburn, pilot, and Kayla Barron, mission specialist, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew is scheduled for a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, living and working as part of what is expected to be a seven-member crew.

Crew-3 astronauts plan to arrive at the station to overlap with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April 2021.

Missions teams also are targeting no earlier than 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 ISS 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’s Commercial Crew Program is working with industry through a public-private partnership to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which will allow for additional research time and will increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Dragon Docks to International Space Station

SpaceX Dragon capsule atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, is seen inside the company’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 24, prior to being rolled out to the launch pad in preparation for the 23rd commercial resupply services launch. Following an Aug. 29 launch from Kennedy, Dragon docked to the International Space Station’s Harmony module this morning, Aug. 30. Credit: SpaceX

While the International Space Station was traveling about 260 miles over Western Australia, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the forward-facing port of the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module at 10:30 a.m. EDT, Monday, Aug. 30. Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA monitored operations.

Among the science experiments Dragon is delivering to the space station are:

Building bone with byproducts
REducing Arthritis Dependent Inflammation First Phase (READI FP) evaluates the effects of microgravity and space radiation on the growth of bone tissue and tests whether bioactive metabolites, which include substances such as antioxidants formed when food is broken down, might protect bones during spaceflight. The metabolites that will be tested come from plant extracts generated as waste products in wine production. Protecting the health of crew members from the effects of microgravity is crucial for the success of future long-duration space missions. This study could improve scientists’ understanding of the physical changes that cause bone loss and identify potential countermeasures. This insight also could contribute to prevention and treatment of bone loss on Earth, particularly in post-menopausal women.

Keeping an eye on eyes
Retinal Diagnostics tests whether a small, light-based device can capture images of the retinas of astronauts to document progression of vision problems known as Space-Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS). The device uses a commercially available lens approved for routine clinical use and is lightweight, mobile, and noninvasive. The videos and images will be downlinked to test and train models for detecting common signs of SANS in astronauts. The investigation is sponsored by ESA (European Space Agency) with the German Aerospace Center Institute of Space Medicine and European Astronaut Centre.

Robotic helpers
The Nanoracks-GITAI Robotic Arm will demonstrate the microgravity versatility and dexterity of a robot designed by GITAI Japan Inc. Results could support development of robotic labor to support crew activities and tasks, as well as inform servicing, assembly, and manufacturing tasks while in orbit. Robotic support could lower costs and improve crew safety by having robots take on tasks that could expose crew members to hazards. The technology also has applications in extreme and potentially dangerous environments on Earth, including disaster relief, deep-sea excavation, and servicing nuclear power plants. The experiment will be conducted inside the Nanoracks Bishop Airlockthe space station’s first commercial airlock.

Putting materials to the test
MISSE-15 NASA is one of a series of investigations on Alpha Space’s Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility, which is testing how the space environment affects the performance and durability of specific materials and components. These tests provide insights that support development of better materials needed for space exploration. Testing materials in space has the potential to significantly speed up their development. Materials capable of standing up to space also have potential applications in harsh environments on Earth and for improved radiation protection, better solar cells, and more durable concrete.

Helping plants deal with stress
Plants grown under microgravity conditions typically display evidence of stress.  Advanced Plant EXperiment-08 (APEX-08) examines the role of compounds known as polyamines in the response of the small, flowering plant thale cress to microgravity stress. Because expression of the genes involved in polyamine metabolism remain the same in space as on the ground, plants do not appear to use polyamines to respond to stress in microgravity. APEX-08 attempts to engineer a way for them to do so. Results could help identify key targets for genetic engineering of plants more suited to microgravity.

Easier drug delivery
The Faraday Research Facility is a multipurpose unit that uses the space station’s EXPRESS payload rack systems, which enable quick, simple integration of multiple payloads . On this first flight, the facility hosts a Houston Methodist Research Institute experiment and two STEM collaborations, including “Making Space for Girls” with the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council in Orlando, Florida.

The Faraday Nanofluidic Implant Communication Experiment  (Faraday-NICE) tests an implantable, remote-controlled drug delivery system using sealed containers of saline solution as surrogate test subjects. The device could provide an alternative to bulky, cumbersome infusion pumps, a possible game changer for long-term management of chronic conditions on Earth. Remote-controlled drug delivery could simplify administration for people with limitations.

partnership between Faraday and Girls Scouts allows troops to play a role in conducting the control experiments, including providing them with images of the same experiments that are happening in space. The studies involve plant growth, ant colonization, and the brine shrimp lifecycle.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars through Artemis.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Spacecraft Ahead of Schedule, Coverage Begins at 9 a.m. EDT

SpaceX Dragon is approximately 30 minutes ahead of its targeted time to reach the International Space Station, with an expected docking of the cargo spacecraft around 10:30 a.m. EDT. Live coverage will now begin at 9 a.m. on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

CRS-23 mission patchThe spacecraft lifted off Sunday, Aug. 29, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the company’s 23rd Cargo Resupply Services mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. When it arrives to the space station, Dragon will dock autonomously to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module, with Expedition 65 Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA monitoring operations.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Prelaunch News Conference Set for Noon Today

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for 23rd commercial resupply services mission
NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting Saturday, Aug. 28, to launch its 23rd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

At noon today, NASA TV will broadcast a prelaunch news conference from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for SpaceX’s 23rd commercial resupply services mission. The event will feature representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program, SpaceX, and the U.S. Space Force Space Launch Delta 45.

Participants include: Joel Montalbano, manager for the International Space Station Program (remotely from Johnson Space Center in Houston); Jennifer Scott Williams, manager, Applications Client Support Office for the International Space Station Program; Sarah Walker, director, Dragon mission management at SpaceX; and Brian Cizek, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The public can ask questions by using #AskNASA on Twitter. Submitted questions may be answered in real-time during the segment. Immediately following the news conference, NASA TV will air a “What’s on Board” video that will introduce the public to some of the investigators flying science on this mission.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting tomorrow, Aug. 28, at 3:37 a.m. EDT, to launch SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to the space station. Liftoff, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will be from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy.

Dragon will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment for the international crew. Live coverage, starting Saturday at 3:15 a.m. EDT, will air on NASA TV, the NASA app and the agency’s website.

Weather Slips to 40% Favorable for Tomorrow’s Launch

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch tomorrow, Aug. 28, with the cumulus cloud rule, flight through precipitation, and the thick cloud layers rule serving as the primary weather concerns. The forecast is down 10% from Thursday’s favorable weather prediction.

CRS-23 mission patchSpaceX’s 23rd contract resupply mission under the second Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA is scheduled to deliver more than 4,800 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station. Launch is targeted for Saturday, with an instantaneous launch window opening at approximately 3:37 a.m. EDT.

About 12 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will separate from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station. Arrival to the station is planned for Sunday, Aug. 29. The spacecraft is expected to spend about a month attached to the orbiting outpost before it returns to Earth with research and cargo, splashing down off the coast of Florida.

Live coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, with prelaunch events starting today, Aug. 27, at noon. That will be immediately followed by a “What’s on Board” show, which will address some of the important science investigations that will be carried to the space station aboard Dragon.

Beginning Saturday, Aug. 28, at 3:15 a.m., join us here on the blog, or follow along on NASA TV or the agency’s website for the live launch broadcast.

From the Classroom to the Launchpad – University Satellites Prepare for Launch

Puerto Rico CubeSat NanoRocks-2
Professor Amilcar Rincón Charris talks to students, from right to left, Jesús Marrero Colón, Wilhem Sánchez Rodríguez, and Carlos Vergara during the process in which the satellite created by them and other students from the Bayamón campus of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico was inspected. Credit: Inter-American University of Puerto Rico

Leerlo en español aquí

NASA is preparing to launch three small, university-built research satellites aboard SpaceX’s 23rd Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. This mission, carrying more than 4,800 pounds of cargo, will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday Aug. 28 at 3:37 a.m. EDT.

The small satellites, or CubeSats – built by the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell –  comprise NASA’s 37th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission. Each CubeSat measures approximately four inches by four inches by 12 inches and will carry out unique tasks once deployed into low-Earth orbit.

Puerto Rico CubeSat NanoRocks-2 (PR-CuNaR2) is making history as the first CubeSat from Puerto Rico selected for launch by NASA. The small satellite contains millimeter-sized particles that will be mechanically shaken to induce collisions among the particles. The team hopes that results of the collisions might answer questions about how mass, density, composition of particles, and collision velocities contribute to the formation of protoplanetary disks – disks of gas and dust swirling around stars – and planetary ring systems, such as Saturn’s.

The CubeSat was designed and developed by about 25 students from the School of Engineering at the Bayamón campus of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, along with their professor, and principal investigator, Dr. Amilcar Rincón Charris.

Attitude Control Test of SPACE HAUC
Shanice Kelly participates in the Attitude Control Test of SPACE HAUC. Credit: Edwin Aguirre, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Science Program Around Communication Engineering with High Achieving Undergraduate Cadres (SPACE HAUC) is an undergraduate student mission from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Massachusetts. SPACE HAUC will demonstrate a student-developed communication system that can quickly transfer large amounts of data. Many CubeSats transfer large data files to ground controllers at 2 to 5 megabits per second. SPACE HAUC aims to increase that speed to about 50 megabits per second using an x-band phased array antenna.

This CubeSat was designed and built over five years and by more than 100 students from the Kennedy College of Sciences and the Francis College of Engineering. Dr. Supriya Chakrabarti, physics professor and director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology, is the principal investigator for this CubeSat mission.

Cool Annealing Payload Satellite (CAPSat)
The Cool Annealing Payload Satellite (CAPSat) will demonstrate enabling technology for space-based quantum communications. Credit: Michael Lembeck, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Cool Annealing Payload Satellite (CAPSat) was developed across several departments at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in cooperation with the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. CAPSat will test technology that could enable quantum links in space, which are important for global quantum networks, sensors, and quantum-enhanced telescopes. The demonstration will use a laser to repair single-photon detectors that sense quantum signals.

Over time, photon detectors can become noisy in space due to radiation-induced defects. The laser onboard CAPSat will heat the detector, exciting the atoms in its structure. Once the laser is turned off, the atoms anneal, or settle back into an ordered state, repairing the damage and restoring the detector. The principal investigator, Paul Kwiat, is a professor in the University of Illinois Physics Department.

NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) selected the CubeSats, which were assigned to the ELaNa 37 mission by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) based at the  Kennedy Space Center in Florida. LSP manages the ELaNa manifest. CSLI provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations.

To date, NASA has selected 202 CubeSat missions, 119 of which have been launched into space, with 59 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. The selected CubeSats represent participants from 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 102 unique organizations. CSLI recently released its Announcement of Partnership Opportunity for 2021. Applicants can submit CubeSat proposals until Nov. 19, 2021.

Stay connected with these CubeSat missions on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program on Facebook and Twitter.

Weather Now 50% Favorable for 23rd Commercial Resupply Services Mission

CRS-23: SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket
Shown here is an up-close view of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket after being raised to a vertical position at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 25, 2021, in preparation for the 23rd commercial resupply services launch to the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

The weather forecast has dipped slightly for the planned Saturday, Aug. 28, launch of SpaceX’s 23rd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station.

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 50% chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday’s targeted liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the company’s Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An instantaneous window opens at 3:37 a.m. EDT.

The primary weather concerns are cumulus cloud rule and flight through precipitation. The most recent forecast represents a 10% drop in favorable conditions from Wednesday’s predicted launch weather.

Dragon will be filled with supplies and payloads, including critical materials to directly support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 65 and 66. Upon Dragon’s arrival – slated for Sunday, Aug. 29 – NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur will monitor operations while the spacecraft autonomously docks to the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module.

Beginning Saturday at 3:15 a.m. EDT, join us here on the blog for live coverage, and follow along on NASA TV or the agency’s website for the live launch broadcast.