NASA and Boeing hosted a full-day flight readiness exam on Thursday and cleared the company’s CST-100 Starliner astronaut ferry to launch on July 30 in a second unmanned test flight to the Station. international space.
The spacecraft’s maiden flight in December 2019 was marred by major software glitches that prevented a scheduled rendezvous with the station. Next week’s # 2 Orbital Flight Test, or OFT-2, will test a wide variety of upgrades and improvements designed to pave the way for a piloted test flight by the end of the year. ‘year.
“After reviewing the team’s data and the readiness of all parties, everyone said ‘go’ for the launch,” said Kathy Lueders, director of spaceflight at NASA. “For me, this review was a reflection of the diligence and passion of this team at Boeing and NASA who truly chose to learn and adapt and come back stronger for this unmanned demonstration mission. “
Liftoff from the Cape Canaveral space station on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled for 2:53 p.m. ET next Friday, around the time that Earth’s rotation carries pad 41 into the plane of the orbit of the space station.
If all goes well, the commercially-built reusable spacecraft will perform an automated rendezvous with the lab complex, moving to dock at the forward port of the Harmony module just after 3 p.m. the next day. The ship will depart five days later for a parachute descent to a landing near White Sands, New Mexico.
“We will test the NASA docking system, we will test the rendezvous sensor system,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. “These things that you can test on the ground, in analysis and in test in simulators, but at some point you have to go and pilot these systems.”
Over the past 18 months, he said, “the Boeing and NASA team have worked side by side to solve a lot of issues, to review and close the requirements, and we’re really ready to go. fly now. It is therefore an exciting time. “
Boeing and SpaceX are both under contract with NASA to provide commercial crew capsules to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station, thus ending the agency’s sole dependence onfor transport in low earth orbit.
Under a $ 2.6 billion contract, SpaceX designed and built a crewed version of itswhich climbs into orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing’s Starliner is being developed under a $ 4.2 billion contract and relies on the Atlas 5 for the in-orbit ride.
SpaceX has successfully completed two test flights of its Crew Dragon capsule, one unmanned and one with two NASA astronauts on board, and has now launched two crews of four to the space station for extended stays.
Boeing performed an unmanned test flight of its Starliner capsule in December 2019, but major software glitches and a communication glitch prevented a meeting with the station and nearly resulted in the loss of the spacecraft.
As it stands, flight controllers were able to direct the ship to a safe landing, but plans to launch a piloted test flight have been put on hold.
After a lengthy joint review with NASA, various corrective actions were ordered and Boeing ultimately chose to launch a second unmanned test flight to demonstrate the capsule was ready to carry astronauts.
Assuming the flight test goes well, the first crew is expected to fly aboard a Starliner before the end of the year. OFT-2 is a major step in this direction, both for NASA and for Boeing.
“So in terms of how important this is to the Boeing company, this is extremely important,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program. “This is serious and ruthless business, so we take it very seriously. It is extremely important to us that we are successful on this flight.”
Based on the work done over the past 18 months to address shortcomings and implement improvements at all levels, “we are very confident that we are going to have a good flight,” he said. “Will there be an apprenticeship? There will certainly be some learning during this flight. It’s a test flight.
But the lessons learned “will help us build the safest possible vehicle for crew flights. So it is paramount that we have a successful flight.”