MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – NASA and Boeing hosted a teleconference Friday to discuss an upcoming flight test of the Starliner spacecraft, the last such mission intended before the capsule is certified for crew rotation flights to the International Space Station.
Featuring NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich, Boeing Commercial Crew Program Vice President and Program Manager Mark Nappi and Jeff Arend, manager of the NASA International Space Station Program Systems Engineering and Integration Office, the conference opened with a promise from Stich that no big announcements would necessarily be made, only some updates on progress toward NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT).
“We’re all very excited to bring the Starliner capability online to have another crew transportation system for one of only two certified transportation systems and human-rated systems for the space station, so it’s an exciting time for us and I know the crew is very excited about that as well,” Stich said.
With the Crew-6 mission still on track for launch no earlier than Feb. 26, Stich said the window for CFT would likely be open from early-to-mid April.
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”Again, we’re taking our time with this flight, we’re stepping through it methodically just like we did our first demonstration mission for the Dragon spacecraft, Demo-2; we had a lot of validation and certification work that was actually being worked on in this very same timeframe for that flight, so I would say when I compare Starliner to Dragon, it’s really no different. NASA and Boeing are working together to close out all that certification and analysis work and really this is the final piece to say that the vehicle is is ready to go fly the missions and become human-rated for that mission,” Stich said.
CFT will involve the Starliner spacecraft launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Originally set for February, then pushed to April at the earliest, the mission will take NASA astronaut test pilots pilots Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS before landing them approximately eight days later in White Sands, New Mexico, proving the spacecraft’s capabilities.
Arend commented on the astronauts’ upcoming arrival, giving Wilmore and Williams an early welcome on behalf of the ISS crew and its Earthbound operators.
“We’re excited to see Butch and Suni show up on Starliner for their eight-day mission. Both Suni and Butch bring a wealth of experience in their careers and will complement the crew onboard station brilliantly. During their time on station, they will be busy conducting science technology demonstrations, outreach and commercial activities, and it’s kind of just a big deal for us because we go from seven crew to nine crew and just having more hands on on board really helps us complete our mission,” Arend said.
Following a successful flight to the ISS, NASA and Boeing’s next move will be to wrap up the final process of certifying Starliner for crew rotation flights to the space station.
According to Nappi, Wilmore and Williams will participate next week in a crew interface test to give them better familiarity with Starliner. After the two-part test — with the second part scheduled in early March, involving the loading of cargo — the spacecraft will be loaded with propellant, a crucial step said to give NASA and Boeing the clearest-yet approximation of a launch date.
“We’ll determine, you know, our line of sight of how the projects are coming together and when we think our launch date is going to look, and that’s also based on some of the ISS traffic, and we’ll determine whether or not we want to load simulations, operational failure scenarios, with the crew,” Nappi said. “...All that work is- not all of it, but most of that work is all behind us, it’s been very successful.”
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