Starliner’s OFT-2 Launch Date Under Review, Ahead of Busy April at Space Station

The crew module of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is mounted atop its service module within the Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) on the Kennedy Area Middle (KSC) in January 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA

As SpaceX prepares to launch its second operational rotation mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, fellow Industrial Crew Program companion Boeing has met with extra as its CST-100 Starliner goals for a second uncrewed Orbital Flight Take a look at (OFT-2).

Originally scheduled to launch on 25 March, then postponed to no sooner than 2 April, the week-long mission now appears set to be pushed again but additional in response to a full plate of Visiting Car (VV) visitors on the sprawling multi-national orbital outpost. “Primarily based on the present visitors on the area station, NASA doesn’t anticipate that OFT-2 might be completed later in April,” the area company reported Thursday.

Video Credit score: AmericaSpace

It’s one more bitter blow for Boeing’s troubled spacecraft, which first launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster for its long-awaited OFT-1 mission to the ISS at 6:36 a.m. EST on 20 December 2019. Nevertheless, shortly after attaining orbit, an automated timing issue aboard Starliner compelled flight controllers to name off its rendezvous and docking with the ISS and the mission returned safely to Earth two days later, turning into the primary U.S. human-rated capsule to the touch down on strong floor when it landed via a combination of parachutes and air bags at White Sands, N.M., early on 22 December.

Regardless of the frustration of an incomplete OFT-1 mission, Starliner efficiently demonstrated its propulsion methods, its communications methods, its Steering, Navigation and Management (GNC), its Environmental Management and Help System (ECLSS) and—by means of a sequence of in-flight extension/retraction checks—its NASA Docking System (NDS).

Spectacular views of the December 2019 Atlas V launch carrying the primary CST-100 Starliner take a look at mission (OFT-1). Picture Credit score: Mike Killian /

Though NASA later famous that an precise ISS docking was not a compulsory requirement to “crew-certify” Starliner, and identified that had astronauts been bodily aboard OFT-1 they might have taken guide management and sure overcome the automated timing downside, it grew to become more and more probably as 2020 dawned {that a} reflight would happen.

A Excessive Visibility Shut Name (HVCC) Evaluate, led by NASA Affiliate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders and Industrial Crew Program Supervisor Stich revealed a worrisome number of technical and organizational root causes for the difficult mission. In March 2020, an joint NASA/Boeing Impartial Evaluate Crew (IRT) found that three principal anomalies had plagued the flight. Two had been categorised as “ program coding errors”.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner takes flight in December 2019 for the troubled OFT-1 mission. Picture: Alan Walters /

Particularly, Starliner incorrectly synched its Mission Elapsed Timer (MET) with the Atlas V earlier than the onset of the Terminal Countdown, main it to presume that it was at a unique level in its mission following separation from the booster and correspondingly failing to carry out its right maneuvers on the correct time. And one other problem may need impaired the profitable separation and disposal of its service module on the mission’s finish.

“Floor intervention”, it grew to become clear, had prevented a Lack of Car incident in each of those software program anomaly occasions. A 3rd problem revolved round an unanticipated lack of Area-to-Floor Communications, the place an intermittent forward-link problem impeded flight controllers’ efforts to command and management the spacecraft. This was traced to Radio Frequency (RF) interference with Starliner’s communications system. Had astronauts been aboard OFT-1, the flexibility of Mission Management to ascertain dependable voice communications with the crew may need been adversely impacted.

The OFT-1 Starliner sits atop its Atlas V rocket, forward of its December 2019 mission. Picture Credit score: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

In its overview, NASA outlined 80 suggestions to be addressed with Boeing after the conclusion of the HVCC course of. Areas of focus fell into 5 broad classes. Twenty-one associated to testing and simulation, emphasizing the necessity for higher {} and software program integration testing, efficiency of an end-to-end “run-for-record” take a look at earlier than every flight, evaluations of subsystem behaviors and limitations and the identification of simulation and emulation gaps.

Ten pertained to evaluation of all software program necessities with a number of logic circumstances to make sure full take a look at protection. Thirty-five others required modifications to Change Board documentation, bolstering the numbers of individuals in peer evaluations and take a look at information evaluations and and “rising the involvement of subject material specialists in safety-critical areas”. Seven handled the necessity for adjustments to the NASA/Boeing security tradition, while one other seven centered upon updates of the Starliner software program coding points which prompted the MET and repair module separation issues.

OFT-2 will probably be a repeat of Boeing’s troubled OFT-1 mission. Picture Credit score: Boeing

Following the investigation, Boeing dedicated to evaluate and proper the software program coding for the MET and repair module disposal burns, strengthened its evaluate processes and enhanced the constancy of its testing to make sure total “product integrity”. Early in April 2020, the corporate introduced to fly an uncrewed OFT-2 mission, at no added price to the U.S. Authorities, though that mission—initially focused for final fall—has met with vital delay, which pushed it firstly into early January 2021, then late March, then early April and now later within the spring and even early in the summertime.

Within the meantime, testing of the spacecraft methods continued unabated, with additional parachute trials at White Sands during the second half of 2020 under “dynamic abort conditions and a simulated failure”. And in January, Boeing reported that it had formally requalified Starliner’s flight software program load, forward of OFT-2.

Boeing’s Starliner again on Earth following its first uncrewed OFT. Picture: NASA

That work concerned an intricate sequence of static and dynamic checks within the Avionics and Software program Integration Lab (ASIL) in Houston, Texas, which validated software program efficiency in tandem with the beneficial flight {hardware} throughout “tons of of instances, starting from single-command verifications and complete end-to-end mission eventualities with the core software program”. Originally targeting a 29 March launch, this date was initially moved ahead to the 25th, then again to no before 2 April.

This additional delay was caused by a necessity for extra time for {hardware} processing. Avionics items aboard the spacecraft required alternative following an influence surge because of a Floor Help Tools (GSE) configuration problem throughout last final month. However with a packed Visiting Car coming-and-going manifest for a lot of April and into Might, it now appears probably that the OFT-2 flight will probably be delayed but additional.

Between June and December 2020, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner accomplished an more and more complicated sequence of parachute system validation trials. Picture Credit score: NASA

“Boeing and NASA have labored extraordinarily exhausting to help an early-April launch however we have to assess options to make sure NASA’s security work might be completed. NASA and Boeing know we fly collectively,” mentioned Kathy Lueders. “Boeing has accomplished an unbelievable quantity of labor on Starliner to be prepared for flight and we’ll present an replace quickly on after we count on to launch the OFT-2 mission.”

“I’m grateful for the extraordinary work being undertaken by our NASA companions as we progress in direction of our OFT-2 mission,” added John Vollmer, vice chairman and program supervisor of Boeing’s Industrial Crew Program. “And I’m very pleased with the Boeing Starliner workforce for working so diligently to get the {hardware}, software program and certification closure merchandise prepared for flight. We’re dedicated to demonstrating the protection and high of our spacecraft and progressing to our crewed take a look at flight and the missions past.”

Video Credit score: Boeing

Present plans name for Soyuz MS-18 to launch a brand new crew from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 April, after which Soyuz MS-17 crew members Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins are because of return to Earth across the 17th. After that, Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Aki Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet are slated to ride SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour uphill on the 20th and dock on the area station the following day.

And Crew-1 astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi will come home aboard Dragon Resilience in late April or early May. With a Russian Progress cargo ship additionally anticipated to depart the ISS on the finish of April, it doesn’t appear unreasonable to suppose that OFT-2 might now unavoidably slip into the Might timeframe.

The Crew Flight Take a look at (CFT), tentatively scheduled to launch in September, consists of Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore (middle), Pilot Nicole Mann (proper) and Joint Operations Commander (JOC) Mike Fincke. Picture Credit score: NASA

Wanting forward, OFT-2 is ready to final roughly every week and can dock and undock autonomously at Worldwide Docking Adapter (IDA)-2, on the forward-facing port of the station’s Concord node. Assuming that the mission runs with out vital wrinkles, the Crew Flight Take a look at (CFT)—comprising Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Pilot Nicole Mann and Joint Operations Commander (JOC) Mike Fincke—is focused to launch no sooner than September.

An actual length for CFT stays to be confirmed, with preliminary expectations of a flight lasting about two weeks, although in April 2019 NASA and Boeing indicated an intention to fly a longer mission. However with direct handovers deliberate between the SpaceX Crew-2 and Crew-3 Dragons later this year, and related direct handovers between the Soyuz MS-18 and MS-19 missions within the fall, the ISS already has a fully-booked employees of seven all through 2021, elevating the prospect that CFT might revert to a shorter-duration flight.  

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