NASA and Boeing set for second Starliner test flight

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is able to try one other uncrewed take a look at flight to the Worldwide Area Station, with each the corporate and the company expressing confidence within the spacecraft regardless of previous issues.

The Starliner spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, rolled out to the pad at Area Launch Complicated 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, Could 18. Launch of the spacecraft on the Orbital Flight Check (OFT) 2 mission stays scheduled for six:54 p.m. Japanese Could 19.

At prelaunch briefings right here, NASA and Boeing officers stated they weren’t coping with any technical points forward of the launch, and climate forecasts venture a 70% probability of acceptable circumstances for launch. A backup launch alternative is accessible Could 20 at 6:32 p.m. Japanese, though climate forecasts venture solely a 30% probability of acceptable climate.

Based on the mission plan, Starliner will dock with the station about 24 hours after liftoff. It can stay there for a number of days for checks earlier than undocking and touchdown at White Sands Area Harbor in New Mexico. The mission will final 5 to 10 days, relying partly on climate circumstances on the touchdown web site.

This would be the second try and launch OFT-2. The preliminary launch in August 2021 was scrubbed hours earlier than liftoff when propellant valves within the spacecraft’s service module didn’t open when commanded. Engineers discovered that the valves had corroded shut, inflicting a long-term delay of the mission. NASA and Boeing later concluded that nitrogen tetroxide propellant, seeping by way of the valve’s Teflon seal, reacted with ambient moisture to create nitric acid that corroded aluminum parts of the valve.

This mission comes almost two and a half years after the unique OFT mission in December 2019. The spacecraft suffered issues instantly after separation from the rocket as a result of a mission occasions timer within the spacecraft was improperly set. Engineers additionally found a software program downside that would have brought about the spacecraft’s service module to bump again into the crew module after separation simply earlier than reentry, fixing it with solely hours to spare.

The OFT-2 mission will verify these points have been fastened. Mark Nappi, vice chairman and program supervisor of the business crew program at Boeing, stated at a Could 17 briefing that spacecraft controllers have been often biking the valves to make sure they don’t seem to be corroding. “All of them operated nominally, so we’re in fine condition,” he stated.

The spacecraft may even perform checks that the truncated OFT mission couldn’t, particularly approaching and docking with the ISS. “We’re going to be listening to the substitute imaginative and prescient system, known as VESTA, which we didn’t get an opportunity to see in motion on the primary Orbital Flight Check,” stated Mike Fincke, a NASA astronaut who’s amongst these coaching for future Starliner missions, at a Could 18 briefing. VESTA, or Imaginative and prescient-based Electro-optical Sensor Monitoring Meeting, helps the spacecraft establish the house station and method it.

There shall be checks as soon as Starliner is docked with the station, together with work by house station astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines. Fincke stated they are going to take a look at varied Starliner techniques, resembling communications handsets and microphones. “There are numerous issues with the interface to the Worldwide Area Station that the house station crew will assist us with.”

A profitable OFT-2 mission would permit NASA to proceed with a take a look at flight with astronauts on board, known as the Crew Flight Check (CFT). That might launch as quickly as the tip of the 12 months, though company officers had been reluctant in prelaunch briefings to set a schedule for CFT.

“We’re getting our Crew Flight Check automobile able to go by the tip of the 12 months,” Kathy Lueders, NASA affiliate administrator for house operations, stated Could 18. That schedule will rely upon each resolving any points that come up on OFT-2 in addition to the schedule of different ISS missions.

“We’d like to ensure there isn’t something we have to repair or replace on the spacecraft that we’re planning to have prepared by the tip of the 12 months, after which lay out the total schedule for everyone,” she stated, including that the company ought to know this summer season each the schedule for CFT in addition to who will fly it and the way lengthy the mission will final.

There should still be work to do even after a profitable OFT-2 mission. At a gathering of NASA’s Aerospace Security Advisory Panel Could 12, David West, a member of the panel, warned that Boeing’s work certifying Starliner’s parachutes was lagging delayed, however didn’t elaborate. He additionally stated the panel was involved that Boeing staffing ranges on this system had been “particularly low,” notably given the quantity of labor wanted to prepare for the CFT mission after OFT-2.

Nappi stated Could 17 that he believed the panel’s considerations had been with certification for operational, or post-certification, missions after CFT. “We do have some testing deliberate this summer season with NASA” on the parachutes, he stated. “The outcomes of that may clearly result in certification.”

Butch Wilmore, one other NASA astronaut who’s coaching for early Starliner missions, exuded confidence within the spacecraft regardless of previous issues and the potential for new issues, or “unknown unknowns,” on this mission. “We wouldn’t be right here proper now if we weren’t assured that this is able to be a profitable mission,” he stated at a Could 18 briefing alongside Fincke and Suni Williams, one other NASA astronaut.

“We’re prepared,” he stated. “This spacecraft is prepared. These groups are prepared. Boeing is prepared. ULA is prepared. The mission ops of us who will management the spacecraft in house are prepared, and we’re excited.”

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