Boeing Starliner OFT “Go” for December 20

Boeing Starliner OFT “Go” for December 20

NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard announced today that the Boeing CST-100 Starliner uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is “go for launch” on December 20.  A Flight Readiness Review concluded that the mission is ready for its launch to the International Space Station (ISS) as another step towards launching astronauts, hopefully in 2020.

The OFT launch is scheduled for 6:36 am Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 20 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas v rocket.  If launch takes place as planned, Starliner will dock with ISS at 8:19 am EST on December 21,  and return to a landing at White Sands Missile Range, NM, on December 28 at 5:47 am EST.

Similar to Russia’s Soyuz capsule, Starliner lands on the ground, not in the ocean like Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.  It is the first U.S. human space capsule to land on land.  The airplane-like space shuttle was a completely different design and landed on a runway.

White Sands is one of four Boeing Starliner landing sites. The others are Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Edwards Air Force Base, California; and Willcox Playa, Arizona.  Boeing’s Vice President and Program Manager for the Commercial Crew Program, John Mulholland, said during a media teleconference today that because of the capsule’s limited cross-range capability, the company wants two landing sites available on consecutive days in case of bad weather.  He did not mention what the backup landing site is for this mission.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner descending under two (instead of three) parachutes during Pad Abort Test at White Sands Missile Range, NM, November 4, 2019.

Boeing conducted a Pad Abort Test at White Sands last month.

No one will be aboard this flight although it will carry an anthropomorphic test dummy named Rosie (after Rosie the Riveter). It will, however, be fully outfitted with the life support systems needed to support a crew.

A Crewed Flight Test (CFT) is next with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson (a former NASA astronaut).  Mulholland and NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders are optimistic that the crewed test flights both for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will take place in the first quarter of 2020.

SpaceX’s plans are contingent on a successful In-Flight Abort Test currently scheduled for January 4.  It successfully conducted its uncrewed test flight, Demo-1, in March.

Today’s announcement came after a “thorough and transparent review” that resulted in “unanimous approval to proceed” according to Mulholland.

Morhard said he could not overstate the importance of the launch as part of the commercialization of space.  “We’re go for launch…”

NASA’s Phil McAlister, Director of  Commercial Spaceflight Development, noted that there still is some “standard open work to complete and a couple of technical issues we have to close out” so the launch “could move off the 20th.”  Backup dates are available on December 21, 23 and 25-28.  The launch has an instantaneous launch window.

ISS program manager Kirk Shireman said the ISS international partners were “full participants in this whole process” except for access to Boeing proprietary data and export controlled data.  They had the opportunity to express concerns and “they did not.”

Boeing and SpaceX are developing their commercial crew systems as public-private partnerships with NASA.  They own the systems.  NASA simply purchases services and its goal is to be just one of many customers.

Asked how much it will cost for “tourists” to fly aboard Starliner, Mulholland demurred, saying only that they have developed a training program for them and are negotiating pricing with “a lot of interested participants.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.