NASA and Boeing are getting back on track to get their commercial partnership to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station on board the CST-100 Starliner.
The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is viewed Nov. 2, 2019, while undergoing launch preparations inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After several issues forced the company to agree to redo its uncrewed test flight to the ISS, which wasn’t able to dock with the station in a launch last December, Boeing is moving forward with that launch now targeting no earlier than December 2020. NASA released the timetable for that mission, dubbed Orbital Flight Test-2, as well as the first crewed test mission no earlier than June 2021, and then the first of six contracted service flights with crew to the ISS scheduled for no earlier than December 2021.
SpaceX, the other company servicing NASA for astronaut transport, completed both of its uncrewed and crewed test flights already. The Demo-2 mission took astronauts Doug Hurly and Bob Behnken to the ISS in May and returned them on board the Dragon capsule the duo dubbed “Endeavour” for a safe splash down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida on Aug. 2. SpaceX is now targeting Oct. 23 for its first regular service mission, Crew 1. SpaceX is also contracted for six crewed flights to the ISS.
For Boeing, though, the failures of its uncrewed test flight forced NASA and the company to do a full review of the mission, and the two have been working in tandem to get the Starliner back on track.
OFT-2 won’t launch, though, until hardware readiness and flight software qualification are signed off on. In July, the NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team updated its list of issues with the mission, enumerating 80 problems with the December flight, which NASA designated a “high visibility close call.” The problems addressed needs for more hardware and software integration testing, peer review, updating software code and fixing earth-to-vehicle communication. NASA has since taken on more oversight with software testing than it did initially.
Software issues led to the primary trajectory error that caused the flight to miss its chance to dock with the ISS. While the flight didn’t reach its goal, it did manage to make a safe landing back on Earth. Since then, the two groups have modified and are reverifying flight code and have begun qualification testing, a comprehensive test of flight software ahead of a full mission rehearsal test. Boeing has completed 75% of the 80 proposed actions from the joint review team.