As construction on the second CST-100 Starliner for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Transportation initiative continues in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Boeing has outlined its progress to date as well as future milestones in the coming two years as the company deepens construction of the first four Starliner modules that will help NASA restore domestic crew space transportation services.
A second Starliner:
Following closely behind the joining of the two major hull components for the Structural Test Article (STA) of the CST-100 Starliner, Boeing and NASA are marking the arrival of the upper dome, one half of the Starliner pressure vessel, for the second Starliner module.
Arrival of the second Starliner’s upper dome followed the lower dome and docking hatch arrival in May.
The three components will undergo separate outfitting operations in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) where wiring lines, avionics and other systems will be installed and tested before the pieces are connected to form a complete Starliner.
This second Starliner module is known to Boeing as Spacecraft 1.
Once completed inside C3PF, Starliner Spacecraft 1 will be outfitted with electrical and fluid systems before engineers will attach the outer thermal protection shielding and the base heat shield that will eventually protect crewmembers during re-entry.
Starliner Spacecraft 1 will be used in the pad abort test to validate that the launch abort system will be able to lift astronauts away from danger in the event of an emergency during launch.
Upcoming milestones – the path to crewed flight tests:
While integration work on Starliner Spacecraft 1 begins in earnest at KSC, Boeing is finalizing construction of the Starliner STA that will be used for the first round of Structural Verification Testing (SVT).
NASA and Boeing teams will use the STA results to compare against computer model expectations and make any needed changes to the spacecraft’s design as it nears uncrewed and crewed flight tests.
After completion of assembly at Kennedy, the Starliner STA will be transported to Huntington Beach, CA, where it will be subjected to numerous structural tests, including modal surveys, critical load conditions, structural integrity checks, ordnance-actuated shock levels, and performance of crew module/service module separation systems.
Thermal, vacuum, and electronic interference chambers will also be used to evaluate aspects of the Starliner’s ability to withstand the rigors of flying astronauts in the hazardous environment of low-Earth orbit.
In anticipation of this SVT, the service module for the STA was shipped to Huntington Beach at the end of May.
The Starliner crew module STA is currently scheduled to ship to Huntington in June.
This SVT is part of the overall Structural Qualification Program (SQP), which also includes hot fire testing of the service module at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico to demonstrate integrated propulsion system performance and system dynamics.
The third part of the SQP will be performed on an actual flight-worthy Starliner and will involve ground verification as well as environmental qualification testing at the Kennedy Space Center and in El Segundo, CA.
Under this third SQP, Boeing will perform vehicle-level environmental verification testing and system-level non-chamber qualifications to verify system performance, electromagnetic capability, and thermal vacuum and acoustic environments of Starliner.
Speaking at the Space Tech Expo, John Leuer, Executive Director of Commercial Crew Program for Boeing, also discussed the ongoing field tests that various Starliner modules and module simulators will be put through in addition to the SQP.
As discussed by Mr. Leuer, the path to flight operations includes five field testing initiatives ranging from full-scale crew module drop tests in Utah to the actual Crew Flight Test of the CST-100 Starliner.
The first of these field test initiatives involves the full-scale crew module drop tests at the Dunway Proving Ground in Utah as well as NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
These drop tests – currently underway – will help verify spacecraft landing impact attenuation performance as well as parachute system performance, forward heat shield separation, and base heat shield jettison across various nominal and off nominal conditions.
Other field test initiatives involve integrated system verification testing to demonstrate system performance between the spacecraft and the International Space Station and end-to-end testing with complete crew transportation system connectivity and integration across the segments and external interfaces of the vehicle.
This will all lead to a critical pad abort test, scheduled to take place at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico with the Starliner Spacecraft 1, currently under construction in the C3PF.
Once these critical field tests and the SQP have been completed, Boeing will proceed to the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), which will see a Starliner launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket and perform a full-up orbital test in late 2017.
Following completion of the OFT, Boeing and NASA will analyze the data collected during the uncrewed flight before proceeding to the Crew Flight Test (CFT) in early 2018.
Four spacecraft for the qualification and field test programs:
In order to accomplish all the SPQ and field test program initiatives, Boeing has outlined a four spacecraft strategy.
Currently, the Starliner STA in undergoing final preparations for shipment across the country while Spacecraft 1 undergoes early integration activities at the Kennedy Space Center.
The STA will be used for structural verification testing, as will its service module.
However, the STA service module will also be used for the service module hot fire test SPQ at White Sands.
Spacecraft 1, and its service module, is scheduled to be used for ground verification and the pad abort test.
Spacecraft 2 and its service module, which are listed as “under construction” by Boeing, with hardware in production via the company’s supply base, will be used for environmental qualification testing before being reconfigured for the CFT in 2018.
Right now, Spacecraft 3 will be used for the OFT and is currently “processing through unit and sub-system build via supply base.”
(Images: Boeing, NASA, NSF Member Marek Cyzio, Derrick Stamos for NSF, Space Tech Expo, and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)
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