Boeing’s Starliner is a ‘big part of America’s overall strategy for access to low Earth orbit,’ says astronaut

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – Starliner will send its first astronaut crew into space as early as Monday (May 6), and Mission Control is planning one last major test to prepare for the event.

NASA And Boeing Starliner officials worked together at the government agency Johnson Space Center in Houston during an hour-long prelaunch test on Sunday (May 5). A NASA team from Mission Control took control Starlinerjust like the real event, simulating the countdown to launch.

“This is a big weekend for NASA… and it’s not just because we’re putting our friends on board a new spaceship,” Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Josh Kutryk told in a telephone interview from the nearby press center here. He is assigned to the crucial capcom (capsule communicator) position as the United Launch Alliance Atlas V spacecraft heads towards Soil track.

Related: Watch ULA assemble the Atlas V rocket ahead of the Boeing Starliner astronaut test flight (video)

“This is strategically important,” Kutryk added, noting that the approximately 10-day CFT aims to certify a second commercial spacecraft to regularly take NASA astronauts to space. International Space Station (ISS). “This is the second major part of America’s overall access strategy low Earth orbit after implementation [SpaceX’s] Dragon.”

The mission will launch Monday at 10:34 PM EDT (0234 GMT Tuesday, May 7) from the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, on United Launch Alliance’s Pad 41.

Crew Flight Test (CFT) astronaut crew Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will be the first NASA astronauts and people aboard Starliner, as well as the Atlas V rocket.

On April 26, the CFT crew – both former U.S. Navy test pilots – joined Mission Control in conducting another prelaunch test during which the crew donned suits and left quarantine here at NASA. Kennedy Space Center and went all the way to their launch pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Space force Station.

The CFT astronauts will not join them in this time, because they have to perform other tasks before the ascent. But Kutryk’s presence is notable: not only is he capcom during CFT’s launch, but he is also one of the astronauts aboard the first operational six-month spacecraft mission, Starliner-1, which will reach the ISS no earlier than 2025 will be launched.

During Sunday’s launch simulation exercise, “We’ll be doing a series of test items where we’re actually powering the Atlas V and Starliner stack on Pad 41,” Kutryk said. “We’re looking into some of these systems, testing the communications system for example, and making sure we’re all completely ready to go.”

After practicing on the console all day on Sunday, the launch team will return to the White Flight Control Room at JSC on Monday around 4:00 PM EDT (2000 GMT) for the big event. “It’s super exciting,” Kutryk said of the launch. That’s because NASA will manage a JSC and White Flight launch for the first time since launch spaceship program completed in 2011. (SpaceX manages its own launches from an independent center in Hawthorne, California.)

Shortly after arrival, the team will take control of the vehicle from Boeing and start up the system and refuel. Whitmore and Wilmore will make their way to the platform and also be strapped in about three hours before launch.

two astronauts in blue flight suits walk down a ramp

two astronauts in blue flight suits walk down a ramp

‘I’m going to talk to them [the crew], talking to their staff that is tying them down, making sure that the complex systems are working, and also that all these simple things are working,” Kutryk said.” You’ll hear us talk about, ‘Can you achieve this? Can you achieve that? And we will do pressure checks on the vehicle, pressure checks on the suits. Hundreds of pages of technical verification procedures.”

During the launch, the team will monitor, among other things, whether demolitions are required at various locations in the Atlantic Ocean. Assuming all goes according to plan, Starliner will be cleared to fire an orbital insertion engine about 31 minutes after launch. Kutryk said that moment will be “really critical to the entire mission” because it will put the astronauts in a “sustainable, safe orbit.” After that, we have a lot more options, a lot more flexibility, a lot more time to deal with. whatever…that’s really the job of this climbing team.”

Assuming all goes well at that point, the ascent team will transfer their Mission Control positions to another team. Kutryk will remain on call for the remainder of the mission and will naturally shift focus even more to Starliner-1 as the 2021 launch date approaches. Starliner-1 Commander Mike Fincke of NASA is backup to the CFT astronauts and has been quarantined with the CFT crew until launch. Scott Tingle from NASA is also present on Starliner-1.

Related stories:

– 2 astronaut taxis: why NASA wants both Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon

— Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule channels R2-D2 ahead of astronaut’s test flight

– NASA and Boeing postpone the launch of the first astronaut from the Starliner capsule until early May

Kurtyk said the next Starliner mission will include a new physical capsule currently located in the Boeing building: “It looks very good,” he said. The crew has fully certified itself for ISS operations, allowing them to focus on remaining Starliner-1 tasks in the coming months.

Starliner’s program takes a “build-up” approach, to use flight test jargon, gradually shifting from unmanned missions to CFT and then to Starliner-1. (Starliner needed two uncrewed missions after software problems on the first attempt in 2019 left the spacecraft stranded in the wrong orbit and unable to reach the ISS. But the second attempt in 2022 made up for it.)

Assuming CFT certifies as planned, “that changes the calculus, it changes the discussion around a lot of risk items, around a lot of system items,” Kurtyk said. There will be redesigned software that will allow future crews to dock in more ports than just one at the ISS Harmony module, which is the case now. The crew will also want to ensure that Starliner can be disabled from the ISS for months, rather than the few days required by CFT.

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