Starliner CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation-100) System of Boeing
The CST-100 Starliner crew capsule is a spacecraft design constructed by Boeing in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace as their entry for NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Its primary purpose is to transport crew to the ISS (International Space Station) and to private space stations such as the proposed Bigelow Aerospace Commercial Space Station.
NASA's Commercial Crew Development(CCDev) program started in 2006 with the goal of establishing a US commercial crew space transportation capability to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective access to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and the ISS (International Space Station). To achieve this goal by 2017, NASA is supporting a number of commercial companies by providing funds, data and assistance as these companies go through their development efforts and meet milestones which are reviewed by NASA.
• In the first phase of the program, NASA provided a combined $50 million in 2010 to five American companies, intended to foster research and development into human spaceflight concepts and technologies in the private sector.
• A second set of Commercial Crew Development proposals were solicited by NASA in October 2010 for technology development project durations of up to 14 months.
• In August 2012, NASA awarded Space Act Agreements for the third phase, named CCiCap (Commercial Crew Integrated Capability). NASA partnered with companies to mature the design and development of transportation systems that include spacecraft, launch vehicles, and ground and mission systems.
• As of August 31, 2013, NASA has spent $1.1 billion of seed money on its commercial crew development efforts in a public/private partnership. NASA is currently working with three companies – The Boeing Company (Boeing), Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), and Sierra Nevada Corporation (Sierra Nevada) – using a combination of funded Space Act Agreements and contracts based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to develop commercial crew transportation capabilities. 1)
NASA's acquisition strategy:
1) NASA awarded firm-fixed-price contracts to Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada for delivery and acceptance of certification plans for their crew transportation system.
2) In mid-summer 2014, NASA plans to enter into at least one but ideally two firm-fixed-price contracts for the verification, validation, test, and final certification of a crew transportation system or systems.
3) NASA plans to implement Part 3 of the acquisition strategy by issuing a firm-fixed-price ISS transportation services contract to at least one partner in 2017.
In May 2014, NASA and Industry completed the First Phase to Certify New Crew Transportation Systems. Under the contracts, The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems (SNC) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) completed reviews detailing how each plans to meet NASA's certification requirements to transport space station crew members to and from the orbiting laboratory. NASA awarded the contracts totaling $30 million in December 2012. 2)
• The Boeing entry is called CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation-100)
• The Dragon Spacecraft is the entry of SpaceX
• The SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation) entry is the Dream Chaser spaceplane.
Table 1: NASA chooses American companies to transport U.S. Astronauts to the International Space Station 3)
The design draws upon Boeing's experience with NASA's Apollo, Space Shuttle and ISS programs as well as the Orbital Express project sponsored by the Department of Defense. The CST-100 has no Orion heritage, but it is sometimes confused with the earlier and similar Orion-derived Orion Lite proposal that Bigelow Aerospace was reportedly working on with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin.
It will use the NASA Docking System for docking and use the Boeing Lightweight Ablator for its heatshield. The Starliner's solar cells will provide more than 2.9 kW of electricity, will be placed on top of the micro-meteoroid debris shield located at the bottom of the spacecraft's service module.
The Starliner was designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low-Earth orbit. For NASA service missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research. The Starliner has an innovative, weldless structure and is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It also features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces. 4)
For NASA service missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research. The Starliner has an innovative, weldless structure and is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It also features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.
As a 21st century, fully self-flying spacecraft, Starliner will seek out the International Space Station, dock with it, undock and then safely land, all without human intervention. Manual controls, designed in part by Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, are always available as a backup, but crew members are intended to be able to enjoy the orbital cruise.
Rendezvous and docking are among the most difficult spaceflight challenges, and starliner does both completely autonomously. Rendezvous procedures start dozens of kilometers away, when Starliner's camera spot the space station as a bright spot of light in front of a sea of stars. Then, an intricate orbital maneuver begins as Starliner drift closer and closer to the station. Hundreds of finely tuned thruster firings then guide Starliner into dock.
Figure 1: Boeing plans an uncrewed CST-100 Starliner test flight in the fourth quarter of 2019 (image credit: Boeing Corp.)
• December 11, 2020: A second uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft is now scheduled for no earlier than the end of March, 15 months after its first, flawed mission. 5)
- NASA and Boeing announced Dec. 9 that the launch of the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission is scheduled for March 29 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral. That is three months later than the last formal update for the mission announced by the organizations in August, when they still hoped to fly the mission by the end of 2020.
- Agency officials said last month that updates to the spacecraft’s software was driving the revised launch schedule. “The pacing item really is getting the software ready to go,” said Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, at a press conference in November ahead of SpaceX’s Crew-1 commercial crew launch. At the time he said the launch was expected no earlier than the first quarter of 2021. “As they continue to make progress on the flight software and the testing of that software, we’ll be able to refine that date a little bit better.”
- NASA said in a statement about the new OFT-2 launch date that Boeing had completed more than 90% of the recommended actions from an independent review earlier this year of the original OFT mission. “NASA and Boeing are doing a tremendous amount of work on all aspects of their flight software,” Stich said in the statement.
- “With each vehicle closeout, line of code tested and document delivered, we’re on a path to proving we have a robust, fully operational vehicle,” said John Vollmer, Starliner vice president and program manager at Boeing, in a statement.
- Boeing announced in April it would fly the OFT-2 mission, at its own expense, after the OFT mission in December 2019 suffered problems that truncated its mission and prevented the spacecraft from docking with the International Space Station. Those problems included a miscalibrated timer that led the spacecraft to think it was in the wrong phase of its mission immediately after launch, and another software flaw corrected just before reentry that could have caused the spacecraft’s service module to collide with the crew capsule after separation.
- While engineers complete updates to the spacecraft’s software, the spacecraft itself is nearing final assembly, Boeing said, with all the major components if the crew capsule installed and final checkouts of systems underway. It will then be mated to the spacecraft’s service module, which is already complete.
- Despite the delay in the OFT-2 mission, NASA and Boeing said they’re still planning to follow it with a Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission in the summer. In August, when OFT-2 was scheduled for launch at the end of 2020, NASA said CFT would fly no earlier than June 2021.
- The CFT mission will fly NASA astronauts Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Barry Wilmore to the ISS. NASA and Boeing announced in October that Wilmore would replace Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, who stepped aside from the CFT mission for personal reasons.
- NASA hasn’t announced how long the CFT mission will last. NASA had prepared to extend what was originally envisioned as a short test flight to a stay of as long as six months on the ISS when it was worried that delays in the commercial crew program would jeopardize access to the station. With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon now in service, those concerns have faded.
- NASA had targeted the launch of the second operational Crew Dragon mission, Crew-2, for as soon as late March, but the decision to schedule OFT-2 for that date suggests that Crew-2 could be moved to later in the spring, avoiding conflicts with both OFT-2 and a Soyuz mission planned for April. There are only two docking ports on the ISS for commercial crew vehicles, with the Crew-1 spacecraft occupying one of them.
- The schedule for a third Crew Dragon mission, as well as the first operational Starliner mission, Starliner-1, remain uncertain. NASA announced in August that Starliner-1, with NASA astronauts Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps, along with a fourth crew member yet to be assigned, would launch no earlier than the end of 2021.
• October 2, 2020: A NASA safety panel said that while Boeing was making good progress on implementing changes to its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, it had doubts that work could be done in time to allow another test flight this year. 6)
- At an Oct. 1 meeting of the ASAP (Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel), committee member Donald McErlean said Boeing was making “substantial progress” on preparations for Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2, a second uncrewed test flight that the company said earlier this year it would fly after the original OFT mission last December suffered a series of problems.
- He said the Starliner crew module that will fly the OFT-2 mission is about 80% complete and its service module 90% complete. Other components for the mission, including its Atlas 5 launch vehicle and a spacecraft adaptor, have either been delivered or are being completed.
- NASA and Boeing announced Aug. 28 that the OFT-2 mission would launch no earlier than December. It will be followed by a Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, with three astronauts from NASA and Boeing on board, no earlier than June 2021. If those missions fly as scheduled and are successful, Starliner could begin regular crew rotation missions to the International Space Station at the end of 2021.
- That schedule, though, is subject to resolving recommendations by a joint NASA-Boeing independent review team that investigated the problems with the OFT mission. That team provided 61 recommendations, primarily dealing with spacecraft software and “mission data loads” for Starliner. It later provided 19 additional recommendations involving a communications problem Starliner experienced during the OFT mission.
- McErlean said of the 61 original recommendations, 27 were classified as “mandatory” to resolve before the next mission, while 13 were “highly recommended” to resolve before the next flight and the other 21 were considered a lower priority. Of the additional 19 recommendations, 15 were considered mandatory and 1 highly recommended.
- However, he said, “Boeing has committed and is working towards correcting all of these items prior to OFT-2.” That requires, he said, working with the independent review team to both fully understand the recommendation and to ensure that corrective actions meet the intent of the recommendation.
- That effort involves “a very intense and significant amount of work,” he said. “We continue to worry, and show a source of concern, as to whether or not their progress towards final resolution will, in fact, meet the current evolved schedule.”
- A Boeing spokesperson told SpaceNews Oct. 2 that the company has either completed or is in the process of completing all the recommendations from the independent review. “This work will be completed prior to our next flight,” the company said.
- That work includes implementing 95% of all software-related recommendations in preparation for upcoming end-to-end testing. More than half of the recommendations regarding to the communications system are also complete.
- During the ASAP meeting, other members noted that NASA was applying some of the recommendations from the OFT investigation into planning for its exploration programs, such as improved software testing for both the Space Launch System and Orion. The panel endorsed that effort.
- “There are many lessons learned that can benefit both ongoing programs and many of the new efforts being initiated,” said Patricia Sanders, chair of the panel. “Instituting a formal review process will ensure that lessons learned both in development and during operations from the commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, can benefit other agency programs and future commercial partners.”
• August 28, 2020: NASA and Boeing continue to make progress toward the company’s second uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft prior to flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 7)
- The Commercial Crew Program currently is targeting no earlier than December 2020 for launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.
- Over the summer, Boeing’s Starliner team focused on readying the next spacecraft for its upcoming flight tests as well as making improvements identified during various review processes throughout the beginning of the year. NASA also announced an additional crew assignment for its first operational mission, NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1, with astronauts to the space station. Here’s more on the recent progress:
Figure 2: The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is viewed Nov. 2, 2019, while undergoing launch preparations inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: Boeing)
- Teams from Boeing are well into final assembly of the crew and service modules that will fly OFT-2 to the space station inside of the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. OFT-2 will fly a new, reusable Starliner crew module providing additional on-orbit experience for the operational teams prior to flying missions with astronauts. For Boeing’s Commercial Crew missions, the Starliner spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
- With the majority of assembly complete, recent progress is focused on the NASA docking system re-entry cover, which was added to the design for additional protection of the system. The team also has completed the installation of the Starliner propellant heater, thermal protection system tiles and the air bags that will be used when the spacecraft touches down for landing. As final production activities continue to progress, the crew module recently entered acceptance testing, which will prove out the systems on the spacecraft before it’s mated with its service module.
- In Houston, the software team is nearing the final stages of modifying and re-verifying the flight code after the first uncrewed flight test. As part of that effort, the team recently began a major milestone called Formal Qualification Testing, which is a comprehensive test of flight software and an important step in preparing for an end-to-end mission rehearsal test.
- Boeing also remains focused on incorporating the recommendations from the joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team with almost 75% of the 80 proposed actions implemented. The independent team was formed to review anomalies experienced during OFT, which led to Starliner not reaching its planned orbit or docking to station as planned, and to provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. In addition to opting to re-fly its uncrewed flight test, Boeing elected to comprehensively implement all of the recommendations provided by the review team.
- Following a successful OFT-2, Boeing will focus full attention on preparations for its final flight test with astronauts and is already completing work on the Crew Flight Test spacecraft in parallel. Teams continue refurbishing the crew module flown on Starliner’s first uncrewed flight test for reuse with astronauts. After removing and conducting checkouts on various systems and flight hardware, Boeing is preparing to reassemble the vehicle for flight. Soon, outfitting of the crew module’s interior will begin along with packing parachutes and airbags ahead of installation. The vehicle’s NASA Docking System has been modified to accommodate the new cover, and outfitting of subsystem components continues on the spacecraft’s brand new service module.
Crew Updates and Target Flight Schedules
- In advance of the OFT-2 mission, flight control teams from NASA and Boeing completed an integrated launch-to-docking simulation in August with additional mission simulations on the horizon as the teams fine-tune flight rules and procedures.
- After a successful OFT-2, Boeing and NASA will fly Starliner’s first crewed mission, the Crew Flight Test, currently targeted for no earlier than June 2021, with the first post-certification mission, called Starliner-1, tentatively scheduled for no earlier than late December 2021.
- In addition to training for living and working on station, astronauts continue to work closely with Starliner test teams. Several crew members plan to participate in ongoing acceptance testing of the OFT-2 crew module inside the C3PF.
- Recently, the CFT (Boeing’s Crew Flight Test) crew helped test software updates with real flight hardware in Boeing’s Avionics and Software Integration Lab in Houston. They practiced performing manual separation events for several low likelihood contingencies, demonstrating the software improvements had no adverse effect on controls needed to stay safe in any situation. The crew also participated in procedural dry runs for future life support tests with the Starliner spacecraft in Florida. Later this year, the CFT crew will be suited inside the spacecraft with the vehicle providing all of their life support.
- NASA astronauts Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps are crew members of the Starliner-1 mission. Cassada and Williams were both selected for the mission in August 2018, and NASA announced Epps’ assignment Aug. 25.
- Astronauts for both CFT and Starliner-1 missions regularly participate in rehearsals of launch and mission operations in both normal and emergency scenarios. They also are continuing with on-going mission-specific training for life in orbit including the work they’ll perform after joining their respective Expedition crews awaiting them on station.
- The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
• July 7, 2020: NASA and Boeing have completed major reviews of the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test in December 2019 and are continuing with preparations to refly the test, designated Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 8)
- “NASA and Boeing have completed a tremendous amount of work reviewing the issues experienced during the uncrewed flight test of Starliner,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator at NASA. “Ultimately, everything we’ve found will help us improve as we move forward in the development and testing of Starliner, and in our future work with commercial industry as a whole.”
- The joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review team completed the final assessment into the intermittent space-to-ground communication issue detected during the first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The review team previously completed its investigation into the two other primary anomalies experienced during the test.
- With the completion of the investigation’s third and final focus area, the review team identified a total of 80 recommendations that Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, is addressing, with action plans for each already well under way. Although the full list of recommendations is company sensitive and proprietary, the categories of the corrective and preventative actions are as follows:
a) Testing and Simulation: 21 recommendations including the need for greater hardware and software integration testing; performance of an end-to-end “run for record” test prior to each flight using the maximum amount of flight hardware available; reviewing subsystem behaviors and limitations; and addressing any identified simulation or emulation gaps.
b) Requirements: 10 recommendations including an assessment of all software requirements with multiple logic conditions to ensure test coverage.
c) Process and Operational Improvements: 35 recommendations including modifications to change board documentation; bolstering required participants in peer reviews and test data reviews; and increasing the involvement of subject matter experts in safety critical areas.
d) Software: 7 recommendations including updating the software code and associated artifacts to correct the Mission Elapsed Timer Epoch and Service Module disposal anomalies; and making the antenna selection algorithm more robust.
e) Knowledge Capture and Hardware Modification: 7 recommendations such as organizational changes to the safety reporting structure; amending the Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) approach; and the addition of an external Radio Frequency (RF) filter to reject out-of-band interference.
- As a result of this work and Boeing’s separate analysis, the company proactively announced in April it would fly a second orbital test at no cost to the government to prove the Starliner system meets NASA’s requirements, including docking to the space station.
- Boeing and NASA have asked the independent review team to remain engaged as a valuable and important partner in the Starliner’s path to crewed flight. Additionally, lessons learned from the Starliner’s first uncrewed flight test are being shared across the human spaceflight community to strengthen the industry as a whole.
- “As vital as it is to understand the technical causes that resulted in the flight test not fulfilling all of its planned objectives, it’s equally as important to understand how those causes connect to organizational factors that could be contributors,” said Jurczyk. “That’s why NASA also decided to perform a high visibility close call review that looked at our combined teams.”
- NASA has now also completed the high visibility close call investigation to specifically review the organizational factors within NASA and Boeing that could have contributed to the flight test anomalies. The close call investigation team, established in March, was tasked with developing recommendations that could be used to prevent similar close calls from occurring in the future.
- The close call team built off the technical findings of the joint independent review team related to the software coding errors made during the development of the spacecraft. The team also received additional briefings, held subject matter expert discussions and conducted interviews across the organizations.
Table 2: Based on the findings, the team developed the following recommendations for the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate to incorporate into future programs
- With the development of these recommendations, the high visibility close call investigation has concluded.
- “I can’t stress enough how committed the Boeing team has been throughout this process,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA. “Boeing has worked collaboratively with NASA to perform these detailed assessments. To be clear, we have a lot more work ahead, but these significant steps help us move forward on the path toward resuming our flight tests.”
- Boeing and NASA have not yet established a launch date for OFT-2.
• April 6, 2020: Boeing has decided to fly a second uncrewed flight test as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Although no new launch date has been set, NASA has accepted the proposal to fly the mission again and will work side-by-side with Boeing to resume flight tests to the International Space Station on the company’s CST-100 Starliner system. 9)
- The agency’s Commercial Crew Program is a unique approach to human spaceflight in which NASA provides a set of mission and safety requirements and private companies, like Boeing and SpaceX, propose their own unique strategies to prove the systems meet the intent of the requirements. Consistent with that approach, Boeing had the responsibility to bring NASA its proposal on how to proceed with the flights.
- An uncrewed flight test originally was proposed by Boeing to demonstrate the Starliner system could perform as designed to fly to the space station prior to having a crew onboard. With that proposal, the uncrewed flight became a part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract in 2014 between NASA and Boeing.
- Although many of the objectives of Boeing’s first uncrewed flight test in December 2019 were accomplished, Boeing decided the best approach to meeting the agency’s requirements would be to fly the mission again, including docking with the space station. Data from the next and previous flight test will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
- If Boeing would have proposed a crewed mission as the next flight, NASA would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan. However, as this was not the recommendation made by Boeing, NASA will not speculate on what the agency would have required.
- The second uncrewed flight does not relieve Boeing from completing all the actions determined from the joint NASA/Boeing independent review team, which was commissioned following the flawed initial flight. NASA still intends to conduct the needed oversight to make sure those corrective actions are taken.
- NASA and Boeing are in the early stages of the decision to fly a second uncrewed orbital mission to the station, and a timeline for flying crew has not been determined.
- Although completing a second uncrewed flight test was not in the timeline for returning U.S. human spaceflight on Starliner, NASA fully supports our Boeing partner’s commitment to flying astronauts as safely as possible.
- This is exactly why NASA decided to select two partners in the commercial crew effort. Having dissimilar redundancy is key in NASA’s approach to maintaining a crew and cargo aboard the space station and to keeping our commitments to international partners. It also allows our private industry partners to focus on crew safety rather than schedule. The safety of our commercial crew team always will remain as our top priority.
• December 16, 2019: When Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) launches on Dec. 20, 2019, it will be a major step toward returning human spaceflight capability to the U.S. 10)
- The uncrewed mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will rendezvous and dock Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with the International Space Station and return to Earth on Dec. 28. Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
- “This test flight will give us valuable data about Starliner’s performance in the actual environment through each phase of flight and demonstrate its capability to transport crew to the space station and bring them home safely,” said Trip Healey, NASA’s mission manager for OFT. “Being on the cusp of this huge moment in history is really exciting.”
Figure 3: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, stands on Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 4, 2019. Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test will launch on Dec. 20, 2019 (image credit: Boeing)
- Data from the mission will validate spacecraft system performance and will move Starliner farther down the path toward its first flight with astronauts aboard — Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT).
- NASA astronauts Michael Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson will be onboard Starliner for CFT. All three were on hand when the spacecraft for this flight test rolled out of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, making the roughly six-mile trek on a transport vehicle to SLC-41 to be mated atop the Atlas V rocket.
- The crew also recently participated in an integrated day of launch test for OFT and witnessed Boeing’s Pad Abort Test. These tests are part of verifying each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts on the Crew Flight Test and future missions by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff. For this test without crew members, the abort system will not be active.
- “We’re looking forward to the day when we’re launching people on a regular basis,” said Fincke. “As graduates of military test pilot schools, we are really excited to see how Starliner’s going to behave; we know it’s going to be awesome, and we’re going to get all kinds of really great test data from it.”
- The uncrewed flight test is the culmination of years of ingenuity and perseverance throughout the design, build, and test phases of the program.
- “The most inspiring thing to note through this partnership is how the Boeing, ULA and NASA teams continue to work together to resolve challenges,” Healey said. “There is definitely a team spirit, or esprit de corps, that has helped bring us to this point.”
• December 12, 2019: NASA and Boeing are proceeding with plans for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test following a full day of briefings and discussion called a Flight Readiness Review that took place at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 11)
- Launch of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20, from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The uncrewed flight test will be Starliner’s maiden mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
- NASA is working with its commercial partners to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. Safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the space station will allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration.
Figure 4: Ken Bowersox, deputy associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters, speaks during the flight readiness review for Boeing’s upcoming Orbital Flight Test in Operations Support Building 2 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dec. 12, 2019. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test will be the Starliner’s first flight to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
• November 22, 2019: Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was transported from NASA's Kennedy Space Center to a facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Later in the day it was placed atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket ahead of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station. 12)
Boeing’s uncrewed flight test, which is targeted for Dec. 17, will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the rocket, spacecraft and ground systems, as well as, in-orbit and landing operations. The data will be used toward certification of Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
Figure 5: The CST-100 Starliner on a flatbed (image credit: NASA)
- NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry through public-private partnerships to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. The goal of the program is safe, reliable and cost-effective human space transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time aboard the station and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, which includes sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
• November 4, 2019: Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed a critical safety milestone on Monday in an end-to-end test of its abort system. The Pad Abort Test took place at Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. 13) 14)
- The test was designed to verify each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff. This was Boeing’s first flight test with Starliner as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from American soil.
- “Tests like this one are crucial to help us make sure the systems are as safe as possible,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analyzing whether everything worked as we expected.”
Figure 6: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters ignite in the company’s Pad Abort Test, pushing the spacecraft away from the test stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust, from Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico (image credit: NASA)
- During the test, Starliner’s four launch abort engines, and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters simultaneously ignited to rapidly push the spacecraft away from the test stand. Five seconds into flight, the abort engines shut off as planned, transferring steering to the control thrusters for the next five seconds.
- A pitcharound maneuver rotated the spacecraft into position for landing as it neared its peak altitude of approximately 4,500 feet. Two of three Starliner’s main parachutes deployed just under half a minute into the test, and the service module separated from the crew module a few seconds later. Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety. After one minute, the heat shield was released and airbags inflated, and the Starliner eased to the ground beneath its parachutes.
- The demonstration took only about 95 seconds from the moment the simulated abort was initiated until the Starliner crew module touched down on the desert ground.
- “Emergency scenario testing is very complex, and today our team validated that the spacecraft will keep our crew safe in the unlikely event of an abort,” said John Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “Our teams across the program have made remarkable progress to get us to this point, and we are fully focused on the next challenge—Starliner’s uncrewed flight to demonstrate Boeing’s capability to safely fly crew to and from the space station.”
- Boeing’s next mission, called Orbital Flight Test, will launch an uncrewed Starliner spacecraft to the station on a UAL (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. The launch is targeted for 17 December 2019.
• October 9, 2019: Boeing expects to carry out a pad abort test for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle in early November, followed by an uncrewed orbital flight test in mid-December, a company executive said on 8 October. 15)
Figure 7: Boeing plans to launch its CST-100 Starliner on an uncrewed test flight Dec. 17, while SpaceX will perform an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late November or early December (image credit: Boeing/SpaceX)
- That mission, called the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) by Boeing, will send the Starliner to the International Space Station, docking with the station and remaining there for about a week before undocking and landing at one of several locations in the western United States. Mulholland said that if the mission launches as currently scheduled, the landing would most likely be at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
- Boeing had planned to fly OFT earlier this year, but announced in April it was delaying the launch, then scheduled for May, until later in the summer because of a tight schedule and a conflict with another Atlas 5 launch.
• May 24, 2019: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner propulsion system was put to the test on Thursday at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system, which are key elements on the path to restore America’s capability to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil. 16)
- The test used a flight-like Starliner service module with a full propulsion system comprising of fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system and orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics.
During the test:
a) 19 thrusters fired to simulate in-space maneuvers.
b) 12 thrusters fired to simulate a high-altitude abort.
c) 22 propulsion elements, including the launch abort engines, fired to simulate a low-altitude abort.
- Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will complete a Starliner pad abort test and uncrewed flight test, called Orbital Flight Test, to the station ahead of the first flight test with a crew onboard. As commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.
Figure 8: Boeing teams ran multiple tests on Starliner’s in-space maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s launch abort system on 24 May at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico (photo credit: Boeing)
• March 18, 2018: Aerojet Rocketdyne recently completed delivery of all of the crew module engines for Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft. Boeing will integrate the engines into the Starliner crew module at its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 17)
- The Starliner crew module is designed to transport up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo for missions to low-Earth orbit destinations. Developed in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, the Starliner will carry up to four astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA missions.
• January 4, 2018: NASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year. 18)
- Since NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, the companies have matured space system designs and now have substantial spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware in development and testing in preparation for the test flights. The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a public-private approach. NASA, Boeing and SpaceX have significant testing underway, which will ultimately lead to test missions when the systems are ready and meet safety requirements.
- Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.
- After completion of each company’s uncrewed and crewed flight tests, NASA will review the flight data to verify the systems meet the requirements for certification. Upon NASA certification, the companies are each slated to fly six crew missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2024.
- Spacecraft: In 2018, Boeing will continue with the production and outfitting of three crew modules and multiple service modules inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has a structural version of its spacecraft going through loads, shock and separation test events in Huntington Beach, California. It will conduct a series of service module hot-fire tests in White Sands, New Mexico, as well as environmental testing to include thermal, vacuum and electromagnetic frequency in El Segundo, California.
- Spacesuit: Boeing’s spacesuit will continue to undergo integrated system verification tests. These include environmental control and life support system testing, immersing the suit in water, egress demos with the aid of virtual reality, suited launch and landing cabin operations, prelaunch emergency exit with ground crews, ascent simulations with mission operations teams and post-landing egress.
- Engine Testing: Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne will finish qualification testing of the launch abort engines and thrusters that will power the Starliner through the pad abort, uncrewed and crew flight tests. Each of the four launch abort engines and 48 thrusters is tested at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico prior to installation on the service module.
- Parachute Testing: Boeing will continue with the Starliner’s parachute test program in 2018. To date, Boeing has completed two of five planned qualification tests. The testing involves a giant helium-filled balloon that lifts a full-size version of the spacecraft over the desert in New Mexico before releasing it. The spacecraft climbs more than 300 m per minute before it is dropped from an altitude of about 12 km. A choreographed parachute deployment sequence initiates, involving two drogue, three pilot and three main chutes that slow the spacecraft enough for a safe touchdown on land. Additional parachute testing with a long-dart shaped vehicle released from a C-17 aircraft near Yuma, Arizona, is also scheduled to begin next year.
- Pad Abort Test: In 2018, Boeing will complete an uncrewed pad abort test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to demonstrate the ability of the Starliner to safely accomplish an emergency escape of the capsule and its crew members from a rocket. During the test, four launch abort engines and 20 orbital maneuvering engines will fire to simulate an abort from the Atlas V rocket on the launch pad. Together, the engines produce about 188,000 pounds of thrust for about six seconds to push the spacecraft to one mile in altitude to clear the launch vehicle in an emergency. At the proper time in the abort sequence, the service module will separate from the crew module so that it can parachute down to a safe landing.
- Orbital Flight Test: Following launch from Space Launch Complex 41, the uncrewed Starliner will dock to the International Space Station. After about two weeks connected to the station during which the teams will gather extensive performance data, the spacecraft will return to Earth under parachutes to land in the Western United States. The test will demonstrate the launch vehicle, Starliner, the ground system and the Boeing team are ready to perform a crew flight test.
- Crew Flight Test: Two crew members will be aboard the Starliner for Boeing’s first commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and land again in the western United States. The mission will represent a major milestone in the return of human spaceflight from the United States. After the test and NASA certification, Boeing’s Starliner can begin regularly flying astronauts to and from the space station on NASA missions.
- Recovery Training: Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Defense will conduct rehearsals of crew recovery training during the coming year. The final full scale rehearsal tests will simulate astronaut returns to Earth in the Western region of the United States. Boeing’s Starliner is designed to land on land, but testing is also being conducted to prepare for water landings in case of an emergency.
Launch: The uncrewed Boeing Starliner spacecraft lifted off aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket on Dec. 20, 2019 at 6:36 a.m. EST (11.36 UTC), from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a flight test to the International Space Station. The Starliner did not reach the planned orbit and will not dock to the space station. Teams worked quickly to ensure the spacecraft was in a stable orbit and preserved enough fuel to ensure a landing opportunity. Boeing, in coordination with NASA, is working to return Starliner to land in White Sands, New Mexico on Sunday, Dec. 22. 19)
Figure 9: The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, stands on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday, 6 Deccember, during a wet dress rehearsal for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (image credit: NASA)
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º.
Figure 10: A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 lifts off Dec. 20 carrying Boeing's CST-100 Starliner on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station (image credit: NASA, Joel Kowsky)
• December 20, 2019: The Starliner spacecraft separated from the Centaur nearly 15 minutes after liftoff, having been placed into a suborbital trajectory designed to permit safe aborts for the Starliner during ascent. Four orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters on the Starliner were scheduled to fire 31 minutes after liftoff to put the spacecraft into an initial orbit. 20)
- However, that burn did not take place as planned. NASA and Boeing commentators said the spacecraft suffered an “off-nominal” orbital insertion and was in a “stable” orbit with electrical power, but didn’t specify the orbital parameters. Spacecraft controllers “are assessing options,” they said.
- “Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is not in its planned orbit. The spacecraft currently is in a stable configuration while flight controllers are troubleshooting,” NASA said in a brief statement. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that a thruster burn did not take place but that the spacecraft was in a stable orbit.
- Bridenstine later tweeted that the problem was a “Mission Elapsed Time (MET) anomaly” with Starliner, “causing the spacecraft to believe that it was in an orbital insertion burn, when it was not.” The spacecraft, he said, consumed more fuel than expected, precluding a docking with the International Space Station.
- This mission, formally unknown as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), is a key test of the spacecraft before carrying people, and is similar to the Demo-1 mission that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft flew in March. A successful OFT would allow a crewed flight to take place some time in 2020, although both NASA and Boeing officials have been hesitant to estimate a more precise date until after the OFT mission ends.
• December 22, 2019: In retrospect, it was discovered that the capsule started its flight with an 11-hour error in its mission elapsed timer setting, triggering a cascading series of problems that led to the Starliner burning too much fuel to reach the space station and deliver its cargo. 21)
Mission control uplinked commands for the spacecraft to perform a series of burns with its smaller thrusters to reach a stable, but unplanned orbit, but the ship was no longer in a position to reach the space station.
Hence, the unpiloted demonstration flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule ended prematurely on Sunday (Dec. 22) with a smooth airbag-cushioned predawn landing in New Mexico after a timing glitch prevented it from docking with the International Space Station, leaving some test objectives incomplete as NASA begins analyzing data to determine if astronauts should fly on the next Starliner mission.
NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test — and Inspection
• March 7, 2020: A review team studying software glitches and other miscues that cropped up during an unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner (CST-100) crew capsule last December has made some 60 recommendations to make sure all the known shortcomings are addressed before the spacecraft is cleared for another flight, NASA managers said Friday. 22)
- During the December test flight, a major software error, coupled with communications dropouts, prevented a planned rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station. Another software mistake could have caused a catastrophic failure during the capsule’s return to Earth had it not been caught in time.
- Douglas Loverro, director of spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, told reporters Friday he classified the incidents as a “high-visibility close call,” a formal designation that kicks off additional government review. In the meantime, he said the agency will make sure the review team’s recommendations are implemented.
- It’s not clear how long that may take. Loverro said he did not yet know whether NASA might require a second unpiloted orbital flight test, or OFT, to verify the performance of all of the CST-100 Starliner’s systems, or whether Boeing could develop a rationale for pressing straight ahead to a crewed flight test to the International Space Station.
- “Quite frankly, right now we don’t know,” Loverro said. “They have to now come back to NASA with a plan, how they’re going to go ahead and address all of those (recommendations). .... We will do our own inspection of the results of their work. And then we’ll be in a position to decide whether or not we need another (uncrewed) test flight or not.
- “So we are still a ways away from that. And I can’t even tell you what the schedule is for making that decision, because it’s very dependent upon what we see as Boeing’s corrective action plan and the thoroughness by which we believe that correction action plan has been implemented.”
- Jim Chilton, senior vice president at Boeing Space and Launch, said the company will do whatever NASA asks. The company told investors earlier that it was taking a $410 million charge against pre-tax earnings in large part to cover the possible cost of another test flight.
- “For us, it’s not that complicated,” he said. “Boeing stands ready to repeat an OFT (if required). .... There’s not any intent on our part to avoid it. We just want to make sure that whatever we fly next is aligned with NASA’s preferences. And of course for all of us, crew safety is number one.”
• February 27, 2020: Boeing's decision to break up tests of its Starliner space capsule flight software into segments was a major reason the craft failed to reach the International Space Station in December, company Vice president John Mulholland said Friday. 23)
- Boeing made the ill-fated decision to skip end-to-end software tests for the entire length of its Starliner space capsule flight to the International Space, breaking the flight into segments for testing instead.
- One of the tests ended at the point where the capsule separated from Atlas V rocket, which meant they missed a flaw that caused the capsule to utilize erroneous data about the mission clock, he said.
- "From a hindsight standpoint, it's very easy to see what we should have done because we uncovered an error," Mulholland said. "This is a tough business. It's a game of inches."
- He said the decision to break up flight software testing was "definitely not a matter of cost," but was done because engineers thought it was logical to avoid running the entire flight at once — which would have taken about 25 continuous hours of testing.
- In the future, the company will run the full launch-to-docking scenario, and then another complete test from undocking to landing, Mulholland said.
- NASA is preparing to announce the results March 6 of a two-month investigation by a joint, independent team into the flight failure.
- The investigation comes as NASA is feeling pressure to stop relying on Russian Soyuz capsules to carry astronauts to the station.
- Boeing and competitor SpaceX, are years behind schedule developing a new spacecraft to carry people. SpaceX successfully tested its Crew Dragon capsule last year in a flight to the space station, and is expected to launch astronauts before mid-2020.
- Starliner was launched Dec. 20 , 2019 without a crew, and the problem with its mission clock caused it to burn fuel needlessly. That meant it wasn't able to reach the orbit necessary to catch up with the space station.
- Despite the problem, Boeing and NASA said the test mission accomplished most of its goals. Initial data showed the capsule was a safe environment in which to carry people.
- However, investigations into the mission also showed additional software problems that could have caused a more catastrophic failure. Mulholland said the company still is working through the problems, but the longer tests would have detected them.
- NASA said data from the uncrewed test flight is essential for certification, but other ways might exist to demonstrate the capsule's full capabilities.
- "NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required," the agency said in January.
- The probe also comes as a federal watchdog, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said NASA needs a new approach to investigating private contractors like Boeing and SpaceX. That's because NASA is relying more on those contractors than ever before.
- The Starliner capsule that flew is being refurbished at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
• February 7, 2020: Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight: 24)
1) An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
2) A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
3) An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.
- The joint investigation team convened in early January and has now identified the direct causes and preliminary corrective actions for the first two anomalies. The intermittent communications issues still are under investigation. NASA reviewed these results on Friday, Jan. 31 along with multiple suggested corrective actions recommended by the team. While NASA was satisfied that the team had properly identified the technical root cause of the two anomalies, they requested the team to perform a more in-depth analysis as to why the anomalies occurred, including an analysis of whether the issues were indicative of weak internal software processes or failure in applying those processes. The team is in the process of performing this additional analysis, as well as continuing the investigation of the intermittent communications issues. NASA briefed the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on the status of the investigation this week.
- Regarding the first two anomalies, the team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards. Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases. Breakdowns in the design and code phase inserted the original defects. Additionally, breakdowns in the test and verification phase failed to identify the defects preflight despite their detectability. While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth.
- There was no simple cause of the two software defects making it into flight. Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects. Due to these breakdowns found in design, code and test of the software, they will require systemic corrective actions. The team has already identified a robust set of 11 top-priority corrective actions. More will be identified after the team completes its additional work.
- The joint team made excellent progress for this stage of the investigation. However, it’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system. We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened so that we can fully explain the root causes and better assess future work that will be needed. Most critically, we want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights. Separate from the anomaly investigation, NASA also is still reviewing the data collected during the flight test to help determine that future plan. NASA expects a decision on this review to be complete in the next several weeks.
- NASA and Boeing are committed to openly sharing the information related to the mission with the public. Thus, NASA will be holding a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7.
- In addition to these reviews, NASA is planning to perform an Organizational Safety Assessment of Boeing’s work related to the Commercial Crew Program. The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites. The review would be added to the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA previously completed a more limited review of the company. The goal of the Organizational Safety Assessment will be to examine the workplace culture with the commercial crew provider ahead of a mission with astronauts.
- Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.
• January 15, 2020: While NASA and Boeing engineers investigate the cause of a software error that cut short the first orbital test flight of the Starliner crew capsule last month, ground teams have returned the spaceship from its landing site in New Mexico back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 25)
- Preliminary inspections indicate the reusable spacecraft weathered its first trip into orbit better than expected, and Boeing teams are confident the ship will need only “minimal refurbishment” before its next launch with astronauts.
- While teams sort out the Starliner software problem, Boeing says the hardware performed as designed.
- “It’s in really good shape, very little external wear on the outside,” said Tim Reith, spacecraft engineering manager for Boeing’s Starliner program.
- “The team built an awesome vehicle,” said Ramon Sanchez, senior operations lead for Boeing’s commercial crew program.
- “For the most part, the vehicle performed very well, and we’re looking at minimal refurbishment to return this thing to flight,” Sanchez told reporters Wednesday during a media briefing inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- The capsule landed on 22 December 2019 at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, descending under parachutes before deploying airbags to cushion its touchdown in the remote desert. The unpiloted Orbital Test Flight lifted off Dec. 20 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, but a timing error in the Starliner’s software that went undiscovered before launch caused the spacecraft to miss a planned orbital insertion burn.
- The insertion burn was planned a few minutes after the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage deployed the Starliner spacecraft on a trajectory with a velocity just shy of that needed to enter a stable orbit. The Atlas 5 put the Starliner where it needed to be, and the Boeing capsule’s orbital maneuvering rockets were supposed to ignite to boost the spaceship into a preliminary orbit to begin its pursuit of the space station.
- But an on-board mission elapsed timer had a wrong setting, causing the Starliner spacecraft’s computers to believe the capsule was operating in a different phase of its mission. The capsule’s service module began firing maneuvering thrusters to control the vehicle’s pointing, consuming much of the craft’s fuel and causing it to miss the automated orbit insertion burn.
- The spacecraft was trying to perform two functions at the same time time, Reith said.
- “That’s where the vehicle got a little confused,” he said. “The orbit insertion, which the vehicle thought had already happened in the past, it was trying to prepare for that, as well as do some pointing guidance, and those two events were kind of in conflict with each other.
Figure 11: Boeing’s first space-ready Starliner crew capsule, named Calypso, is back inside the company’s assembly facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a two-day orbital test flight in December (image credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now)
- “That’s were we had the vehicle kind of fighting itself, if you will, and the thruster firings going,” Reith said. “You’ve got multiple software sequences running, so that’s where it got confused with multiple things going on at the same time.
- Ground controllers noticed the problem and tried to intervene, but commands to override the Starliner’s automation did not reach the spacecraft in time to perform the planned orbit insertion burn and keep the mission on track to dock with the International Space Station.
- “Everything’s automated, so the vehicle should have started moving itself toward this orbit insertion burn,” Reith said. “When that wasn’t happening, the flight control team in Houston and the engineering support teams around the country, we were able to figure that out pretty quick.
- “It was very intense,” said Reith, who also served as spacecraft chief engineer in the Starliner mission support room during last month’s mission. “You also have to remember this was the first time we’d seen it fly, so you have an expectation of what should happen, but at the same time you’re not sure what it’s going to do. So as you’re seeing things for the first time, you’re trying to understand is that what it should be doing, or is there something anomalous going on?”
- “Essentially, there are two opportunities for us to prepare for that orbit insertion burn,” he said. “When the first opportunity missed, and at the same time we were watching the telemetry from the vehicle with a lot of thruster firings, you start realizing, OK, something’s not right. So the flight control team attempted to send commands, and the vehicle wasn’t in a really good orientation from an antenna standpoint to receive those commands. So it kind of went on for a while until we got the antennas where we could get a good command to the vehicle. Once we got that command uplinked, we were able to turn the vehicle and do that orbit insertion burn that at least raised it up a little bit. But by that time we had expended a lot of propellant.”
- Instead of performing the pre-programmed insertion burn, the Starliner fired its engines to reach a stable orbit that ensured the capsule could safely return to Earth. By that time, the capsule had consumed too much propellant to complete the required burns to pursue the space station and perform a docking.
- “We had full control of the vehicle,” Reith said. “It didn’t tumble or anything like that.”
- The original eight-day flight plan, which included demonstration maneuvers and a docking with the space station, was shortened to two days. The capsule successfully landed in New Mexico, achieving many — but not all — of the planned objectives of Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test.
- The demonstration mission was a precursor to the first planned Starliner mission with astronauts — known as the Crew Flight Test — scheduled to launch later this year.
Figure 12: An instrumented flight test dummy, nicknamed Rosie after the iconic World War II character “Rosie the Riveter,” remains in her seat inside the Starliner spacecraft after a two-day mission in Earth orbit (image credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now)
- Boeing technicians are assembling a separate Starliner spacecraft for the CFT (Crew Flight Test). Located in an integration cell just a stone’s throw away from the Starliner that just returned from space, the CFT capsule will carry Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA crewmates Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann to the space station.
- Boeing has produced two reusable human-rated spaceships — each designed for 10 missions — for flights to the space station under a $4.2 billion contract with NASA. The space agency has signed a similar $2.6 billion contract with SpaceX in 2014 for development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, on which astronauts will fly new vehicles on each mission.
- The CFT mission with Ferguson’s crew will pave the way for operational crew rotation flights to the station, the first of which will be commanded by NASA astronaut Suni Williams, a veteran of two long-duration space station expeditions. Williams is slated to launch and land on the same capsule that flew on last month’s two-day demonstration mission.
- She named the spacecraft “Calypso” after its Dec. 22 landing in honor of the research vessel used by French explorer Jacques Cousteau.
- The planned Starliner flight sequence hinges on the outcome of an investigation into the cause of the software error that prevented the Calypso spacecraft from docking with the space station last month.
- “The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program,” wrote NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the space agency’s website Jan. 7.
- The investigation is expected to last about two months, according to Bridenstine.
- The NASA boss said agency officials are evaluating data from the Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test to determine if another unpiloted demonstration flight is required before the capsule is cleared to launch with astronauts. A decision on that matter is not expected for several weeks, Bridenstine wrote.
- ”Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration,” he wrote. “Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts on-board.”
- After the Starliner’s landing Dec. 22, Boeing teams secured the spacecraft and transported it via truck from New Mexico back to the Kennedy Space Center, where it arrived Jan. 8.
- “Currently, it’s under assessment by ... many of our experts,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “We have got the hatch door open. We will take an assessment of the exterior of the vehicle.
- “We have to make sure the interior is flight-ready,” Sanchez said. “It’s an awesome vehicle, well-built with safety and quality in mind.”
- The Starliner spacecraft includes two segments — a crew module and a service module — for the trip to the International Space Station. After departing the station and performing a braking burn to re-enter the atmosphere, the crew module jettisons the service module to burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
- The crew module is fitted with an ablative base heat shield, thermal tiles, and protective blankets to withstand the scorching temperatures as hot as 3,000º Fahrenheit (1,650º Celsius) during re-entry. The capsule jettisons a forward heat shield at the start of its parachute deployment sequence, then releases the base heat shield to plunge to the ground, allowing airbags to inflate to soften the crew module’s landing.
- That means each Starliner mission will fly with a new service module, and new forward and base heat shield elements. Teams will also have to re-pack parachutes and replace the mortars that fire to unfurl the chutes during descent, and an ascent fairing that covers the Starliner docking module will also come new with each mission, according to Sanchez.
- According to Reith, a manager on the Starliner engineering team, the reusable thermal blankets on the “backshell” panels around the circumference of the Starliner spacecraft showed little sign of damage from the re-entry.
- “You can see on the front — the hot side or leading edge side of the vehicle where the tiles are — you see a little deposit there,” Reith said. “We’ll go through and clean that up,” Reith said. “That should come right off.
- “There’s a dark diagonal stripe up the vehicle,” Reith told reporters Wednesday. “There’s a matching one on the other side. That’s where the plasma flow is. It comes around the vehicle ... So as it was picking up ablation off the base heat shield, it streaked up there and left that deposit.
- “We’ve got high expectation that’s going to come right off, so we’ll be able to clean this vehicle up and get it to near factory-fresh (condition) again for its next mission” Reith said.
- “Right now, the team is doing their external inspections,” Reith said. “We’ve had teams in looking at the top where the NASA docking system is. They’ve done all their inspections looking at that, and also the thermal protection system team, they’ve been looking at the blankets, the tiles we have.
- “Once they’re done with their work, we’ll go ahead and take the backshell panels off,” he said. “These are the gray panels that enclose all of the equipment inside .... Then we’ll start doing our inspections on the inside. At the same time we’ll be starting to take the cargo (that was to be delivered to the space station) off, Rosie will come off, and then we’ll start our refurbishment of the inside of the vehicle getting ready for the next mission.”
- Reith said Boeing teams will also remove the airbags from the bottom of the crew module to check for damage. The airbags are also designed to be reused on future flights.
- “It looks really clean from a standpoint of the wear-and-tear it took coming through re-entry,” Reith said. “Our TPS (Thermal Protection System) team is really, really surprised. They expected more blanket wear, more deposits. They’re really happy with the way the vehicle performed.”
• January 7, 2020: NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test. 26)
The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The team will review the primary anomalies experienced during the Dec. 2019 flight test, any potential contributing factors and provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment.
In parallel, NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review. NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing. Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.
In parallel, NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review. NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing. Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.
Starliner currently is being transported from the landing location near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida. Since landing, teams have safed the spacecraft for transport, downloaded data from the spacecraft’s onboard systems for analysis and completed initial inspections of the interior and exterior of Starliner. A more detailed analysis will be conducted after the spacecraft arrives at its processing facility.
Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.
Figure 13: File image of the Boeing Starliner after landing being safed for transportation. The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed (image credit: NASA)
• December 22, 2019: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 27)
Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.
Figure 14: The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. The landing completes an abbreviated Orbital Flight Test for the company that still meets several mission objectives for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. The Starliner spacecraft launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (image credit: NASA, Bill Ingalls)
“Congratulations to the NASA and Boeing teams on a bullseye landing of the Starliner. The hardest parts of this orbital flight test were successful,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is why we conduct these tests, to learn and improve our systems. The information gained from this first mission of Starliner will be critical in our efforts to strengthen NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and return America’s human spaceflight capability.”
Although Starliner did not reach its planned orbit and dock to the International Space Station as planned, Boeing was able to complete a number of test objectives during the flight related to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, including:
• Successful launch of the first human-rated United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket
• Checked out the Starliner propulsion systems
• Tested space-to-space communications
• Confirmed Starliner tracker alignments using its navigation system
• Tested Starliner’s NASA Docking System
• Validated all environment control and life support systems
• Completed a positive command uplink between the International Space Station and Starliner.
“Today’s successful landing of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is a testament to the women and men who have dedicated themselves to ensuring Starliner can safely transport crews to low-Earth orbit and back to Earth,” said Boeing Senior Vice President of Space and Launch Jim Chilton. “The Starliner Orbital Flight Test has and will continue to provide incredibly valuable data that we, along with the NASA team, will use to support future Starliner missions launched from and returning to American soil.”
“This mission has only strengthened the resolve of the NASA, ULA, and Boeing teams," said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. "Systems were tested, but more importantly the teams were tested. The hardest parts of this mission were a tremendous success. The Commercial Crew Program is strong. But keep in mind, this is a great reminder that human exploration is not for the faint of heart. We are just getting started!”
The Starliner that landed today will be refurbished for Boeing’s first operational crewed mission, following the Crew Flight Test. NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will fly on that mission, dubbed the spacecraft “Calypso” after the ship of famed explorer Jacques Cousteau.
“I love what the ocean means to this planet,” said Williams. “We would not be this planet without the ocean. There’s so much to discover in the ocean, and there’s so much to discover in space.”
The uncrewed Starliner spacecraft launched on the ULA Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Figure 15: The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019 (photo credit:(NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)
Figure 16: Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft descends under three red, white and blue main parachutes toward landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico (photo credit: NASA, Aubrey Gemignani) 28)
Starliner settled gently onto its air bags at 7:58 a.m. EST in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).