Boe­ing pre­pares for launch

Star­liner cap­sule a crit­i­cal mile­stone for NASA’s as­tro­naut space­craft pro­gram

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Cha­beli Her­rera

In the fi­nal days of 2019, Boe­ing will en­deavor to squeak through a ma­jor mile­stone for NASA’s as­tro­naut space­craft pro­gram, fin­ish­ing off a year marked by chal­lenges and de­lays for the two con­trac­tors hop­ing to take hu­mans to space one day.

One of those con­trac­tors, SpaceX, al­ready com­pleted the mile­stone Boe­ing will at­tempt on Fri­day. In March, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space­craft demon­strated it could launch to and re­turn from the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

Boe­ing will try to do the same with its CST-100 Star­liner cap­sule atop a United Launch Al­liance At­las V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Sta­tion’s launch com­plex 41. It has one shot at it at 6:36 a.m., about half an hour be­fore sun­rise.

The mis­sion is a crit­i­cal “dress re­hearsal,” said Pat For­rester, chief of the as­tro­naut of­fice at Houston’s John­son Space Cen­ter dur­ing a pre-launch press brief­ing. Boe­ing will launch with­out crew, as SpaceX did, to prove the cap­sule can safely per­form the mis­sion be­fore NASA OK’s both com­pa­nies to launch with crew aboard, which will likely come some­time next year if Boe­ing is suc­cess­ful.

Astro­nauts Chris Fer­gu­son, Ni­cole Mann and Mike Fincke — or as they’re known in Houston, “Fergie, Duke and Spanky” — would per­form that mis­sion.

“I don’t think there’s any­body in the of­fice that, as they’ve gone about their work, they haven’t thought about Chris, and Ni­cole and Mike,” For­rester said.

En­sur­ing the cap­sules are safe enough to trans­port hu­mans has been one of the largest chal­lenges fac­ing the pro­gram, called Com­mer­cial Crew. The pro­gram is at least two years be­hind sched­ule — crewed launches were sup­posed to be­gin in 2017. All year, NASA has said hoped to per­form pi­loted mis­sions by the end of 2019, re­turn­ing to the na­tion the ca­pa­bil­ity to send Amer­i­can astro­nauts to space from U.S. soil, some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened since the end of the space shut­tle pro­gram in 2011.

But tech­ni­cal is­sues, prob­lems with para­chute de­vel­op­ment and two ma­jor mis­steps dur­ing test­ing set the pro­gram back. In April, SpaceX’s test cap­sule ex­ploded dur­ing a test of its abort en­gines. And in June 2018, Star­liner ex­pe­ri­enced a fire dur­ing a test of its abort en­gines, too. Boe­ing was paid $4.2 bil­lion for its con­tract, while SpaceX got $2.6 bil­lion.

“The thing I’m most proud of, with Boe­ing and both of our Com­mer­cial Crew providers is, as they found is­sues, they didn’t short­cut,” said Kathy Lued­ers, man­ager of NASA’s Com­mer­cial Crew

Pro­gram. “We all un­der­stood that our mis­sion, for us to fly crew, we have to fly crew safely.”

To that end, there will be one pas­sen­ger aboard Star­liner Fri­day morn­ing: A test dummy named af­ter Rosie the Riveter. SpaceX also went with a fe­male name for its dummy in March, nam­ing her Ri­p­ley af­ter Sigour­ney Weaver’s char­ac­ter Ellen Ri­p­ley in the “Alien” films.

“We named her Rosie, which is just re­ally kind of pulling back from our legacy and re­ally in­spi­ra­tional, I think, to a lot of our work­force to­day,” said John Mul­hol­land, vice pres­i­dent and pro­gram man­ager for Boe­ing’s Com­mer­cial Crew Pro­gram. “And we’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to the data she’s go­ing to pro­vide and the ben­e­fit she’ll make for our mis­sion.”

Rosie will be equipped with sen­sors that will give teams a bet­ter idea of how an as­tro­naut may fare dur­ing a mis­sion.

Con­di­tions are look­ing fa­vor­able for Star­liner’s launch Fri­day. The Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron is fore­cast­ing 80% fa­vor­able weather and con­di­tions just be­fore sun­rise that could make for a “very pic­turesque launch,” said Will Ul­rich, a launch weather of­fi­cer with the squadron.

If the mis­sion launches Fri­day, Star­liner would ar­rive at the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion on Satur­day where it will spend about a week be­fore re­turn­ing to Earth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.