Saturday, January 6, 2018

Boeing CST-100 Starliner One Step Closer to Flight with Completion of DCR

Artist’s depiction of Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in the vicinity of the International Space Station. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

The first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 “Starliner” spacecraft is one step closer to the launch pad with the successful completion of an Atlas V Launch Segment Design Certification Review (DCR). Colorado-based United Launch Alliance announced on Thursday, Jan. 4, that the review had been completed in support of Boeing’s efforts to send astronauts to the International Space Station via Starliner.

The DCR was conducted at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in early December of 2017. If everything continues to go as it is currently planned, an uncrewed test flight of Starliner could take place as soon as August of this year (2018). The Orbital Flight Test (OFT) booster of the Atlas V 422 rocket is currently undergoing final assembly at ULA’s facilities located in Decatur, Alabama. 

The Centaur upper stage has completed pressure testing and other hardware, like the launch vehicle adapter and aeroskirt are currently on schedule to support test articles and, eventually, flight. 

“Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations,” said Barb Egan, ULA Commercial Crew program manager via a release issued by ULA. “Hardware and software final qualification tests are underway, as well as a major integrated test series, including structural loads. Future tests will involve launch vehicle hardware, such as jettison tests, acoustic tests, and, finally, a pad abort test in White Sands, New Mexico.”

With more than 70 missions under its belt and a success rate listed by ULA at some 100 percent, Boeing tapped the Atlas V as the booster that it hopes Starliner will eventually use to launch astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

“ULA is progressing into the operational phase to launch the OFT and Crew Flight Test in 2018, and we are pleased with the progress we’re making toward a successful launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Atlas V,” said Gary Wentz, ULA Human and Commercial Systems vice president via a company-issued release. “We cannot overstate the importance of all the steps that go into this process as there is more than just a mission or hardware at stake, but the lives of our brave astronauts.”

The 422 configuration is unique among the Atlas V rockets as it will have two engines in its Centaur upper stage. Generally, Atlas Vs fly with a lone RL-10 engine in the Centaur upper stage. The Atlas V would launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 located in Florida which has been outfitted with a crew access arm in preparation for astronauts to ride the Atlas V to orbit.

If the uncrewed flight goes off without an issue, the first flight of Starliner with astronauts on board could take place as soon as November of 2018. Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA under the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program. to conduct crewed flights to the orbiting laboratory.

Written by: Jason Rhian
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