NASA, Boeing target February for first crew flight on Starliner spacecraft – Spaceflight Now


Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking May 20 on the unpiloted Orbital Flight Test-2 mission. Credit: NASA

NASA and Boeing have penciled in a launch date in February for the primary piloted take a look at flight of the Starliner industrial crew capsule, permitting time to implement fixes on the spacecraft after an unpiloted demo to the International Space Station earlier this yr.

The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft’s first flight to the station launched May 19 from Cape Canaveral on prime of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The capsule docked with the station May 20, then undocked and returned to Earth for a parachute-assisted touchdown in New Mexico on May 25.

The uncrewed demonstration mission, often called Orbital Flight Test-2, was “very successful,” based on Mark Nappi, Boeing’s vice chairman and supervisor for the Starliner program.

A earlier orbital take a look at flight, referred to as OFT-1, ended prematurely in 2019 attributable to a software program downside that stored the capsule from reaching the area station.

Boeing has constructed two reusable Starliner crew modules, that are fitted with new service modules for attain mission. The crew module that flew on the OFT-1 mission in 2019 will fly once more on the Crew Flight Test, and spacecraft from the OFT-2 mission will probably be reused on the primary of six operational Starliner crew rotation missions.

Nappi stated Boeing is finishing a closing report for NASA on the outcomes from the OFT-2 mission, which had 222 flight take a look at goals to show out the spacecraft earlier than the subsequent mission — often called the Crew Flight Test — flies with astronauts.

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, a veteran U.S. Navy take a look at pilot, area shuttle pilot, and area station commander, will command the Starliner Crew Flight Test. He will probably be joined by NASA crewmate Sunita Williams, additionally a former Navy take a look at pilot. The Starliner astronauts will spend about eight days on the area station on the Crew Flight Test mission.

NASA and Boeing officers stated after the OFT-2 mission in May that groups on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida had been on observe to be prepared for Starliner’s Crew Flight Test by the top of December. Officials determined to make some minor modifications to the spacecraft earlier than the Crew Flight Test after extra opinions of the efficiency of the OFT-2 mission.

“We looked at all those systems, or areas that we needed to go do a little more more work on the system, and we plugged that into the plan, and that’s what moved us out by about a month or five weeks or so,” Nappi stated.

“We knew that we were going to learn something from the (OFT-2) flight, and there was likely going to be some what I would call fine-tuning that we would need to do to make the system work better, and more like the design was intended,” Nappi stated.

Boeing and NASA engineers recognized 4 areas for “minimal” modifications on the Crew Flight Test spacecraft.

One of these areas includes the spacecraft’s Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control thrusters. Two of the 20 OMAC engines on the OFT-2 mission shut down early throughout the spacecraft’s orbit insertion burn simply after launch. The different engines compensated for the issue with none important impacts to the remainder of the flight.

Nappi stated investigators decided particles within the propulsion system probably induced the issue with the OMAC engines. Technicians have inspected the spacecraft for the Crew Flight Test to ensure its propulsion system is freed from any related particles.

Several smaller Reaction Control System, or RCS, thrusters additionally stopped working throughout the Starliner spacecraft’s rendezvous with the station. Nappi stated the most definitely reason for that downside concerned “low inlet pressures and some manifold pressure dynamics that delayed the sensor responses.”

That subject might be resolved by introducing a “very small change” to tweak timing and tolerance settings within the propulsion system, Nappi stated.

The RCS and OMAC engines had been on the Starliner service module, which burned up throughout re-entry into the environment.

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, commander of the Starliner Crew Flight Test, participates n a flight readiness evaluation earlier than the launch of the Starliner program’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission earlier this yr. Credit: NASA/Amber Jean Notvest

Boeing can be eradicating some pointless filters from cooling loops on the spacecraft’s thermal management system after excessive pump pressures had been detected throughout the OFT-2 mission.

“We’ve determined that that was due to a restriction of flow through some of the (coolant) lines,” Nappi stated. “We found there were some filters in the system that we’ve determined are not required, so we’ve removed those filters to alleviate that problem from happening in the future.”

The Starliner spacecraft’s Vision-based, Electro-Optical Sensor Tracking Assembly, or VESTA, rendezvous sensors carried out effectively throughout the capsule’s closing strategy to the area station. The VESTA sensors feed place and closure fee knowledge to the Starliner’s flight laptop to autonomously information the spacecraft in for docking.

The rendezvous navigation system generated extra knowledge than anticipated throughout the OFT-2 docking sequence. Boeing is updating the Starliner’s flight software program load to accommodate the elevated knowledge feeding into the flight laptop throughout the rendezvous with the area station.

“All this work has been planned into our schedules, and we’ve determined the launch readiness date in the February timeframe,” Nappi stated.

The crew module for the Crew Flight Test, named “Calypso,” will probably be linked with its service module within the November timeframe at Boeing’s Starliner manufacturing facility and refurbishment facility on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The up to date software program revision, mission planning, and crew coaching can be on observe to be full in time for a launch date in February, Nappi stated.

Running years late, Boeing’s Starliner program will give NASA a second U.S. spacecraft able to ferrying crews to and from the area station.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched with astronauts for the primary time in May 2020. Seven Dragon crew missions have launched so far, together with 5 NASA-contracted missions to the area station. NASA awarded multibillion-dollar contracts to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 to finish improvement of their industrial crew automobiles.

Assuming the Starliner Crew Flight Test is efficiently accomplished in early 2023, NASA hopes to fly the primary operational sick-month Starliner crew rotation mission with a workforce of 4 astronauts within the fall of 2023.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has launched station crews at roughly six-month intervals since 2020. Once Boeing’s capsule is licensed for long-duration missions, the Starliner and Dragon spaceships will alternate on the area station schedule, with every firm launching NASA crews as soon as per yr.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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