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NASA Approves Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Crewed Flight Test Mission

NASA has announced the successful completion of the flight readiness review for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. This milestone paves the way for the historic Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Apr 26 2024Written by Zac Aubert

In an eagerly anticipated development for space enthusiasts and industry observers alike, NASA announced the successful completion of a crucial pre-launch review for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. This milestone paves the way for the historic Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, marking a significant stride in the commercial crew program.

During the two-day Flight Test Readiness Review, officials gave the green light for the Crew Flight Test mission, setting the launch for May 6 at 10:34 p.m. Eastern Time from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex (SLC) 41. Backup launch opportunities are available on May 7, 10, and 11, ensuring flexibility in case of unforeseen circumstances.

NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free expressed confidence in the meticulous preparation undertaken by the teams involved, stating, "I can say with confidence that the teams have absolutely done their due diligence. There’s still a little bit of closeout work to do, but we are on track for a launch."

Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, outlined the remaining tasks as routine pre-launch preparations, including the replacement of a valve in a liquid oxygen replenishment system and additional analysis on a component of the parachute system. Stich emphasized that these measures were taken out of an abundance of caution to ensure mission success.

However, the launch timeline hinges on the readiness of the International Space Station (ISS). The departure of the CRS-30 Dragon spacecraft, currently docked at the ISS, is a prerequisite for the Starliner mission. Once CRS-30 undocks, the Crew-8 crew will relocate their Crew Dragon spacecraft, clearing the forward port for Starliner's docking.

Weather conditions have delayed the departure of CRS-30, prompting concerns about potential delays to the Starliner launch. Dana Weigel, NASA ISS program manager, stated that while it was too early to ascertain the extent of the delay, the Starliner launch could proceed as scheduled if Crew Dragon's port relocation occurs by May 2 or 3.

The Crew Flight Test mission signifies a pivotal moment for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, following two previous uncrewed flights. Originally planned for last year, the mission encountered setbacks due to issues with parachute system components and the removal of flammable wiring tape.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are set to pilot the Starliner, docking with the ISS approximately one day after launch. Their mission objectives include testing spacecraft systems, conducting manual control maneuvers, and verifying the performance of life support systems during their over a week-long stay at the ISS.

Addressing questions about the future of Starliner, Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program, reaffirmed the company's focus on the imminent Crew Flight Test. While Boeing currently holds a contract with NASA for six post-certification missions to the ISS, Nappi emphasized the importance of delivering on current commitments.

The safety of the mission remains a paramount concern for both NASA and Boeing. Susan Helms, chair of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, expressed confidence in NASA's risk management framework and safety culture. Astronaut Butch Wilmore echoed these sentiments, affirming their trust in the rigorous safety measures in place.

As preparations intensify for the Crew Flight Test, anticipation builds for this next chapter in commercial spaceflight, underscoring the collaborative efforts between NASA and its industry partners to advance human space exploration.