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Starliner astronauts desirous to see outcomes of crew capsule take a look at flight – Spaceflight Now


NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore speaks with reporters Wednesday on the Kennedy Area Middle. Credit score: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The NASA astronauts coaching for the primary crew missions on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft might be intently watching every step of the capsule’s unpiloted take a look at flight to the Worldwide Area Station, set for blastoff Thursday from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA has funneled greater than $5 billion into Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program since 2010, however the spacecraft is operating years not on time. The mission set for launch Thursday, named Orbital Flight Take a look at-2, is a precursor demonstration flight to show out key Starliner programs earlier than NASA commits to placing astronauts on the car.

The primary Starliner take a look at flight in December 2019 ended prematurely because of software program issues, forcing the mission to return to Earth earlier than docking on the house station. Boeing engineers returned a Starliner capsule to the launch pad for a launch try final August, however caught valves within the spacecraft’s propulsion system delayed the OFT-2 mission 9 extra months till this week.

Learn extra in regards to the valve downside in our earlier story.

“We wouldn’t be right here proper now if we weren’t assured that this is able to be a profitable mission,” mentioned Butch Wilmore, one in all a bunch of NASA astronauts assigned to the Starliner program. “However there are at all times unknown unknowns. That’s what traditionally has at all times gotten us. It’s these issues that we don’t find out about and we don’t anticipate.”

Liftoff of the Starliner spacecraft is scheduled for six:54:47 p.m. EDT (2254:47 GMT) Thursday on high of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Assuming an on-time launch Thursday, the Starliner spacecraft will head for docking on the house station round 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) Friday.

“We’re prepared,” Wilmore instructed reporters Wednesday. “This spacecraft is prepared. These groups are prepared. Boeing is prepared. ULA is prepared. The mission ops people that may management the spacecraft in house are prepared, and we’re excited.”

The Starliner spacecraft set for launch Thursday on the OFT-2 mission received’t have an astronaut crew on-board. An instrumented take a look at dummy named for “Rosie the Riveter” from World Warfare II sits within the commander’s seat on the spacecraft.

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule is one in all two human-rated spaceships NASA chosen in 2014 to ferry astronauts to and from the Worldwide Area Station. The opposite spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, started flying astronauts in 2020 and has now launched seven crew missions.

After OFT-2, and following a take a look at flight with astronauts, NASA plans to certify the Starliner spacecraft for normal crew rotation missions to the house station. The company plans to alternate between the Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, offering “dissimilar redundancy” for crew entry to the station.

“We’re going to be targeted on this mission, the flight take a look at targets, in addition to preparing for the flight take a look at targets for the Crew Flight Take a look at, which has a objective of certification on the finish, in order that we as NASA can have regularly-scheduled dissimilar redundant flights to the Worldwide Area Station,” mentioned Mike Fincke. “So we will go up, one flight with Boeing, one flight with SpaceX.”

NASA astronauts Suni Williams, Mike Fincke, and Butch Wilmore with ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft throughout rollout to the launch pad Wednesday. Credit score: Boeing/John Grant

The Starliner spacecraft completed some take a look at targets on the abbreviated two-day OFT-1 mission in 2019. The launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket was profitable, and the Starliner proved out its re-entry and touchdown programs, comprising three major parachutes and airbags to melt the landing on the desert flooring.

The first touchdown web site for the OFT-2 mission is at White Sands Area Harbor in New Mexico. It’s the primary orbital-class U.S. spacecraft designed to return astronauts underneath parachutes to a floor touchdown. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, just like the U.S. crew capsules of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, splashes down within the ocean.

The milestones in between — arriving at and departing from the house station — might be demonstrated for the primary time on the OFT-2 mission.

Engineers additionally need to guarantee thermal imaging cameras — a part of the Starliner’s Imaginative and prescient-based, Electro-Optical Sensor Monitoring Meeting, or VESTA — are working accurately. The vision-based navigation sensors will assist the spaceship robotically dock to the house station.

“We’re going be paying consideration on this mission to the substitute imaginative and prescient system known as VESTA, which we didn’t get an opportunity to work or see in motion on the (first) Orbital Flight Take a look at. We didn’t get near the house station,” Fincke mentioned.

The orbital link-up would be the first use of a brand new docking mechanism known as the NASA docking system, a distinct design than used on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

The NASA docking system is designed for use on a number of varieties of spacecraft. The same mechanism will fly on NASA’s Orion spacecraft on missions to the moon.

“We’re going to see how the automated docking system works with the substitute imaginative and prescient system all through the NASA docking system. We’re going to observe together with our fortunate ISS crewmates who’re aboard the house station.”

The Starliner and house station will set up a communications hyperlink, permitting the astronauts on the complicated to ship easy instructions to the capsule through the rendezvous and docking. The station astronauts take a look at the command hyperlink by signaling Starliner to activate a docking gentle and briefly maintain place about 820 ft (250 meters) from the outpost.

If wanted, the station astronauts might additionally ship a command for Starliner to retreat and fly away from the complicated.

As soon as Starliner is docked on the station, astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines will open hatches and float contained in the capsule. The station crew will unpack about 500 kilos (227 kilograms) of cargo, assess the situation of the Starliner’s inner cabin, and carry out voice checks by the Starliner communications system.

The delays have prompted NASA and Boeing to shuffle Starliner crew assignments. Not one of the unique crew members stay assigned to the primary Starliner crew flight.

Wilmore was assigned as commander of the Starliner Crew Flight Take a look at in 2020, changing Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson — a former NASA shuttle commander — who withdrew from the mission, citing household causes. NASA astronaut Eric Boe was changed by Fincke, a veteran of three house missions, because of a medical challenge.

And rookie NASA astronaut Nicole Mann was reassigned to fly on a Dragon mission to the house station later this yr, offering her with spaceflight expertise ahead of she would obtain if she waited for a Starliner flight.

“I don’t really feel like we’ve been ready,” mentioned Wilmore, a veteran house shuttle pilot and house station crew member. “We’ve been busy working.”

NASA astronaut Suni Williams, with 321 days of spaceflight expertise, is engaged on the Starliner program. She was initially assigned as commander of the primary operational crew rotation flight on a Starliner spacecraft, following the Crew Flight Take a look at.

However NASA officers mentioned Wednesday the company has not finalized which of the cadre of Starliner astronauts, together with Wilmore, Fincke, and Williams, will truly fly on the CFT mission or the primary operational Starliner mission.

NASA’s astronaut workplace on the Johnson Area Middle in Houston will assess crew assignments for the Crew Flight Take a look at and different missions to the house station in 2023, mentioned Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s house operations division.

“We’ve received to cowl all of the bases,” Lueders mentioned Wednesday. “We’ve simply received to go have a look at how the schedules lay out and ensure we do the crew assignments with the autos, understanding what could also be a main increment crew, what could also be a backup, and the way that matches in with the coaching with the totally different autos. However we’ve received to get by this (OFT-2) demo first.”

NASA is assigning crews to fly to the station on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, and the U.S. house company hopes to finalize an settlement with Russia’s house company to proceed launching astronauts to the station on Russian Soyuz autos on a no-funds-exchanged foundation. If the barter settlement is accredited, Russian cosmonauts would fly on U.S. crew capsules.

Lueders mentioned the Starliner Crew Flight Take a look at will possible have a period of about 5 to seven days. Wilmore mentioned NASA managers adjusted the crew assignments for the Starliner program final yr, following the scrubbed launch try in August that delayed this system one other 9 months.

“We all know that we aren’t essentially assigned for CFT,” Wilmore mentioned. “The powers that be might assign anybody they need. We hope they choose one in all us three, or a few us three, to go on CFT,” he mentioned referring to himself, Fincke, and Williams.

“We’ve been working this system,” Wilmore mentioned. “However we’ve identified since that point we’ve been working as a cadre. This isn’t information to us.”

An instrumented anthropometric take a look at machine, named Rosie, contained in the Starliner spacecraft. Credit score: Boeing

Fincke and Williams deliberate to climb contained in the Starliner spacecraft Wednesday night time for a crew cabin checkout. The astronauts will confirm swap configurations within the Starliner cockpit, and carry out voice checks by NASA’s Monitoring and Information Relay Satellites.

“We’re going to have an opportunity to step contained in the spacecraft this night to complete up some comm checks and switches, which I feel is custom for astronauts to assist arrange the spacecraft earlier than launch,” Fincke mentioned. “And we’ll give Rosie a excessive 5 on the best way out, as a result of we’re slightly jealous of Rosie.”

Boeing technicians will shut the hatch to Starliner spacecraft through the countdown Thursday.

The Starliner astronauts will stay in Florida for the launch Thursday night, then head to Houston to be in mission management for docking on the house station. Then they’ll journey farther west for the touchdown in New Mexico, at present slated for no sooner than Could 25, the mission takes off Thursday.

“We’re actually trying ahead to this spacecraft coming residence as a result of that’s when the remainder of the work will begin to occur, and we’ll prepare for the Crew Flight Take a look at,” Williams mentioned.

“One of many issues that Rosie doesn’t do is she doesn’t breathe. So we would be the first ones, once we get in it, to be the breathers, the creators of carbon dioxide,” Williams mentioned. “So we wish this spacecraft to get again so we will begin testing the environmental management system with interplay with individuals. There’s numerous work forward of us earlier than we get to the crewed flight, however we’re chomping on the bit.”

Boeing has constructed two space-qualified Starliner crew capsules, every designed for as much as 10 flights. The spacecraft launching on the OFT-2 mission — on its first flight — might be refurbished for the primary operational six-month Starliner crew rotation mission.

The capsule from the OFT-1 mission is being configured for the Crew Flight Take a look at, scheduled for late this yr or early subsequent yr, pending the result of the OFT-2 demo mission.

“We’re prepared for this spacecraft to go as much as the house station, be actually profitable, come again, have a pleasant tender touchdown, after which we’ll be prepared for the work for the Crew Flight Take a look at,” Williams mentioned.

E mail the writer.

Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.



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