Reading time ( words)
NASA and Boeing are taking another major step on the path to regular human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil with the second uncrewed flight test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is targeting launch of the Starliner spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 2:53 p.m. EDT Friday, July 30, from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Starliner is expected to arrive at the space station for docking about 24 hours later with more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies.
The mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States. OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station.
Though no crew will be onboard the spacecraft for OFT-2, the Starliner commander’s seat will be occupied by Rosie the Rocketeer, the Boeing’s anthropometric test device.
During OFT-1, Rosie was outfitted with 15 sensors to collect data on what astronauts will experience during flights on Starliner. For OFT-2, spacecraft data capture ports previously connected to Rosie’s 15 sensors will be used to collect data from sensors placed along the seat pallet, which is the infrastructure that holds all the crew seats in place.
During Starliner’s approach to the space station, NASA and Boeing will verify data links and command capabilities by the station crew, including a commanded hold during approach by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut and station commander Aki Hoshide. Starliner also will test an automated retreat capability during approach in the event an issue should occur on the docking axis.
Starliner also will test its vision-based navigation system to autonomously dock with the space station. Docking is scheduled for 3:06 p.m. Saturday, July 31, or about 24 hours after launch.
After a successful docking, Starliner will spend five to 10 days aboard the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth in the western United States. The spacecraft will return with more than 550 pounds of cargo, including reusable Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) tanks that provide breathable air to station crew members.
OFT-2 is the second orbital flight for the CST-100 Starliner, and the first for the second crew module in the Starliner fleet. Boeing is flying this second orbital test to prove the Starliner system meets NASA’s requirements, including docking to the space station.
OFT-2 will build on the mission objectives achieved during Starliner’s flight test, including verifying:
- In-orbit operation of the avionics, docking system, communications and telemetry systems, environmental control systems, solar arrays and electrical power systems and propulsion systems;
- Performance of the guidance, navigation & control systems of the Starliner and Atlas V through ascent, on-orbit, and entry;
- Acoustic and vibration levels, and loads across the Starliner exterior and interior
- Launch escape trigger monitoring
- Performance of the Starliner system end-to-end mission operations
The OFT-2 mission also will test the changes and improvements made to Starliner, and prove the system is ready to fly astronauts.
In preparation for OFT-2, NASA and Boeing completed all actions recommended by the joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team, which was formed as a result of Starliner’s first test flight in December 2019. The review team’s recommendations included items relating to integrated testing and simulation, processes and operations, software, the crew module communication system, and organization. Boeing implemented all recommendations, including those that were not mandatory, ahead of Starliner’s upcoming flight.
As long as Starliner’s second uncrewed mission meets all necessary objectives, NASA and Boeing will look for opportunities toward the end of this year to fly Starliner’s first crewed mission to the space station, the Crew Flight Test (CFT), with NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Nicole Mann, and Mike Fincke on board.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is delivering on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through partnership with American private industry.
This partnership is changing human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.