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NASA & Boeing "GO" for Boeing CST-100 Starliner Launch

NASA and Boeing have announced their readiness and are confirmed "GO" for launch of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri May 31 2024Written by Zac Aubert

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA and Boeing have announced their readiness and are confirmed "GO" for launch of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board. This decision comes after thorough reviews of the spacecraft’s parachutes and a last-minute cargo swap.

At a briefing held on May 31, officials confirmed that there were no outstanding issues with the Starliner spacecraft or its Atlas 5 launch vehicle ahead of the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission.

The launch is scheduled for 12:25 p.m. Eastern on June 1, with a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions for both the primary launch window and a backup opportunity on June 2.

Engineers had previously identified a helium leak in a spacecraft thruster following a scrubbed launch attempt on May 6. This review also revealed a "design vulnerability" in the propulsion system that, under rare conditions, could prevent the spacecraft from deorbiting.

A flight test readiness review conducted on May 29 approved plans to address both the helium leak and the propulsion system issue. Officials expressed confidence that the helium leak would not jeopardize the mission.

“It’s a really, really small leak, and it’s well within the margin that we have...We concluded the smartest thing to do is to go fly the mission, and we can fly it safely.” - Steve Stich, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager.

“It is safe, and that’s why we determined that we could go fly with what we have,” - Mark Nappi, Boeing Vice president and Program Manager for Commercial Crew

The review also scrutinized a potential issue related to the parachute system, highlighted by an incident during the May 19 launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. On that flight, one of three parachutes failed to fully deploy. Given that Starliner’s parachutes use similar components, this incident prompted a detailed examination.

Steve Stich praised Blue Origin for their transparency in sharing information about the parachute issue, which was valuable to NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX. He explained that the parachute malfunctioned due to a cutter failure in the reefing process, a staged inflation technique. Starliner’s parachutes employ a similar cutter.

Engineers reviewed test data for Starliner’s parachute cutters.

“We’ve never seen an issue with any of our cutters” out of 160 tests... “All the testing was superb on cutting the reefing line, so that’s why we proceeded. We have good flight rationale.” - Steve Stich, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager.

In addition to these reviews, NASA made a cargo adjustment, swapping out some items that will travel with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams. A malfunctioning urine reprocessing system pump on the International Space Station (ISS) necessitated the inclusion of a replacement pump on the Starliner. This pump, crucial for recycling urine into drinking water, will replace two suitcases of clothes and hygiene products intended for the ISS crew.

Dana Weigel, NASA ISS program manager, emphasized the urgency of the swap, noting the limited storage options for urine on the ISS without the functioning pump. She assured that the station has generic supplies to cover the needs that would have been met by the swapped-out cargo.

Mike Fincke, the backup astronaut for the CFT mission and assigned to Starliner-1, the first operational mission of the spacecraft, relayed the confidence of Wilmore and Williams in the preparations made by NASA and Boeing.

“I think if you ask Butch and Suni directly, and I can answer for them, they feel very comfortable and confident that we’ve chosen a good path forward,...We are excited for launch and we have confidence in this mission.” - Mike Fincke, NASA Astronaut

With all issues addressed and contingency plans in place, NASA and Boeing are poised to proceed with the highly anticipated launch, marking a significant milestone for the Starliner program.