NASA and Boeing are continuing preparations ahead of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight to prove the system can safely carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Teams inside the Starliner production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently began fueling the Starliner crew module and service module in preparation for launch of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) at 2:53 p.m. EDT on Friday, July 30. The fueling operations are expected to complete this week as teams load propellant inside the facility’s Hazardous Processing Area and perform final spacecraft checks.
Once fueling operations are complete, teams from Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) will prepare to transport Starliner to the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for mating with ULA’s Atlas V rocket. Beginning this week, ULA will begin stacking, or assembling, the Atlas V rocket at the VIF during an operation called Launch Vehicle on Stand (or LVOS).
In preparation for Starliner’s next flight, NASA and Boeing have closed all actions recommended by the joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team, which was formed as a result of Starliner’s first test flight in December 2019. The review team’s recommendations included items relating to integrated testing and simulations, processes and operational improvements, software requirements, crew module communication system improvements, and organizational changes. Boeing has implemented all recommendations, even those that were not mandatory, ahead of Starliner’s upcoming flight.
“I am extremely proud of the NASA and Boeing Starliner teams as they methodically work toward the OFT-2 mission next month with final checks of the crew module and service module hardware and software as we prepare for this important uncrewed test mission,” said Steve Stich, NASA Commercial Crew Program manager. “Closing all of the Independent Review Team findings for the software and communications systems is a huge milestone for the Commercial Crew Program and included many long hours of testing and reviews by our dedicated Boeing and NASA teams during this Covid-19 pandemic.”
In the weeks ahead, mission control teams in Florida and Texas will continue conducting simulated mission dress rehearsals for the uncrewed OFT-2 and follow-on crewed missions. Starliner’s landing and recovery teams also will perform an on-site checkout of one of the vehicle’s landing zones.
During the OFT-2 mission, Starliner will test its unique vision-based navigation system to autonomously dock with the space station and deliver approximately 440 pounds, or roughly 200 kilograms, of cargo and crew supplies for NASA. Starliner is expected to spend five to 10 days in orbit before undocking and returning to Earth, touching down on land in the western United States.
Providing Starliner’s second uncrewed mission meets all necessary objectives, NASA and Boeing will look for opportunities toward the end of this year to fly Starliner’s first crewed mission, the Crew Flight Test (CFT), to the space station with NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Nicole Mann, and Mike Fincke on board.
Boeing currently is refurbishing the first Orbital Flight Test crew module for crewed flight along with outfitting a brand new service module. The CFT Atlas V hardware is expected to arrive in Florida for processing next week as teams prepare for both missions in parallel.
Boeing has designed and developed the Starliner spacecraft in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to provide safe and sustainable commercial transportation services for crew and cargo to the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit destinations.
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 eventually to Mars.