NASA, Boeing ready for second Starliner test flight

WASHINGTON — NASA and Boeing say they’re assured they’ve resolved a valve problem that delayed a take a look at flight of the corporate’s CST-100 Starliner business crew automobile final yr and are able to attempt once more later this month.

Boeing moved the Starliner spacecraft from a processing facility on the Kennedy Area Heart Could 4 to a United Launch Alliance automobile processing facility at Area Launch Complicated 40. The Starliner might be put in on the Atlas 5 rocket there for ultimate preparations for the Orbital Flight Take a look at (OFT) 2 mission, scheduled for launch Could 19 at 6:54 p.m. Japanese.

The corporate was hours away from launching OFT-2 final August when it scrubbed the depend due to issues opening propellant valves within the spacecraft’s service module. The corporate later referred to as off the launch after discovering 13 valves had been corroded shut when nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) interacted with moisture, creating nitric acid.

In a Could 3 name with reporters, Boeing officers mentioned months of investigation, carried out with NASA, confirmed their earlier evaluation that NTO, seeping by Teflon seals within the valve, interacted with ambient moisture to create nitric acid and corrode the aluminum housing of the valves. That evaluation included intensive testing at NASA’s White Sands Take a look at Facility and evaluation of the corroded valves on the Marshall Area Flight Heart.

“There’s been a major quantity of testing and root trigger evaluation that’s been carried out by all the crew,” mentioned Mark Nappi, vp and program supervisor of Starliner at Boeing. “We’re assured that we’ve the correct mitigation in place.”

That mitigation consists of doing a “dry purge” of the valves with nitrogen fuel to take away moisture and sealing up {an electrical} connector that may very well be a path for moisture to take. The NTO was loaded into the spacecraft later within the processing of the automobile to cut back the time it may seep by the valve. The valves will even be activated each two to 5 days to verify they’ll transfer correctly.

The valves themselves haven’t been redesigned, mentioned Michelle Parker, vp and deputy normal supervisor of house and launch at Boeing. “We have now a usable answer for OFT-2. We don’t count on to have any points,” she mentioned. “We’ll look long-term to see if there are enhancements to be made. The aluminum housing could also be one piece of that. However proper now, we’re assured within the answer that we’ve.”

The upcoming OFT-2 mission might be a second uncrewed take a look at flight of Starliner. The unique OFT mission in December 2019 suffered technical issues, together with a mission timer that was incorrectly set that brought on issues after the spacecraft reached orbit, in addition to a software program problem found throughout the truncated flight that would have brought on the spacecraft’s service module to collide with the crew module after separation simply earlier than reentry.

“We definitely realized quite a bit with OFT-1,” Parker mentioned. The important thing assessments for OFT-2 might be to verify the software program modifications made to deal with the issues throughout the first flight in addition to to method and dock with the Worldwide Area Station, which it was unable to do throughout OFT. “These areas that we haven’t but demonstrated might be of specific curiosity to us, though all the mission has standards that we have to meet.”

Starliner will ship about 225 kilograms of cargo, principally meals, to the station, and stay docked to the station for a number of days. It is going to return with about 270 kilograms of cargo, comparable to empty nitrogen-oxygen fuel recharge tanks.

A profitable OFT-2 flight would enable Boeing to proceed with its Crew Flight Take a look at (CFT) mission, the primary crewed flight of the spacecraft. Nappi mentioned Boeing may very well be able to fly CFT as quickly as the tip of the yr. “We perceive we’re going to be taught quite a bit from OFT-2,” he added. “That, and plenty of different variables, will dictate the place the ultimate schedule falls with the launch of CFT.”

Steve Stich, NASA business crew program supervisor, confirmed that CFT may very well be able to launch as quickly as the tip of the yr. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” he mentioned. “The perfect path to CFT is a profitable OFT-2 flight.”

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