NASA security advisors voice considerations over Boeing’s Starliner, SpaceX’s Starship – Spaceflight Now

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Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft descends beneath parachutes on Dec. 22, 2019, on the conclusion of the Orbital Flight Check-1 mission. Credit score: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Members of NASA’s unbiased security advisory panel on Thursday cautioned the area company to not rush towards a crew check flight of Boeing’s troubled Starliner spacecraft, and voiced considerations about ultimate certification of the capsule’s parachutes and Boeing staffing ranges on this system.

The protection advisors additionally mentioned there are “apparent security considerations” about SpaceX’s plan to launch the enormous Starship rocket from pad 39A on the Kennedy Area Middle, the identical facility used for crew missions to the Worldwide Area Station.

Boeing plans to launch a redo of a problem-plagued check flight of its Starliner crew capsule subsequent week. The mission — referred to as Orbital Flight Check-2, or OFT-2 — won’t carry astronauts. But when it goes nicely, the OFT-2 mission will pave the best way for the following Starliner launch to ferry a crew to the area station for a ultimate demonstration mission — referred to as the Crew Flight Check, or CFT — earlier than NASA and Boeing declare the brand new industrial car prepared for operations.

Developed in a public-private partnership, the Starliner spacecraft will give NASA a second human-rated capsule able to ferrying astronauts to and from the area station, alongside SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship, which launched with a crew for the primary time in Could 2020.

With SpaceX now offering common crew transportation companies to the area station, NASA officers had time to wring out technical points with the Starliner spacecraft. Nonetheless, NASA is raring to have two crew transportation suppliers to keep away from once more counting on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut flights within the occasion SpaceX runs into any important delays.

“The panel is happy that from all indications there is no such thing as a sense of needing to hurry to CFT,” mentioned David West, a member of the Aerospace Security Advisory Panel, in a public assembly Thursday. “The view that was persistently expressed to us (from NASA) is that this system will proceed to CFT when, and solely when, they’re prepared. In fact, the most effective path to CFT will likely be a profitable OFT-2.”

NASA has signed a sequence of contracts with Boeing, valued at greater than $5 billion, since 2010 for Starliner improvement, check flights, and operations. The contracts embrace agreements for six crew rotation flights to the area station — every with a four-person crew — following the completion of the OFT-2 mission and the shorter-duration Crew Flight Check with astronauts on-board.

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However the Starliner program has confronted years of delays. Software program woes prevented the spacecraft from docking on the area station on the OFT-1 mission in 2019, forcing Boeing to place collectively a second unpiloted check flight at its personal expense. The OFT-2 mission was on the launch pad final August, prepared for liftoff on prime of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, when engineers observed 13 oxidizer isolation valves within the Starliner spacecraft’s propulsion system had been caught within the closed place.

After 9 months of testing, investigations, and a swap to a brand new propulsion module, Boeing transferred the Starliner spacecraft again to ULA’s rocket hangar Could 4 for lifting on prime of an Atlas 5 rocket, prepared for an additional go at launch. Learn our earlier story in regards to the valve repairs.

West mentioned Thursday that NASA managers have signed off on the oxidizer valve repair for the OFT-2 mission, however famous “there’s some query as as to if a valve redesign will likely be required for future flights after OFT-2.” He additionally mentioned managers authorized “flight rationale” for points with a excessive strain latch valve on the Starliner command module propulsion system, a separate difficulty from the oxidizer valves within the service module.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is raised inside ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility on Could 4 in preparation for the OFT-2 mission. The Starliner crew module is on prime, and the service module is on backside. Credit score: NASA/Frank Michaux

“Additionally, there’s concern that the certification of Boeing parachutes is lagging behind,” West mentioned.

He additionally famous a “important programmatic concern” with the restricted variety of human-rated Atlas 5 rockets remaining in ULA’s stock. ULA has 24 extra Atlas 5 rockets to fly earlier than retiring the rocket in favor of the cheaper, extra highly effective Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Eight of these 24 rockets are already allotted to the Starliner program, sufficient to satisfy Boeing’s contractual requirement to NASA, which incorporates two extra check flights and 6 operational crew rotation missions to the area station.

ULA’s new Vulcan rocket has not but flown.

“One other issue is that the Vulcan launch car slated to switch the Atlas 5 for Starliner launches must be licensed for human spaceflight, and the method of getting that certification might take years,” West mentioned.

West, a longtime engineering security supervisor and examinations director on the Board of Licensed Security Professionals, mentioned normal considerations in regards to the NASA and contractors workforce throughout the company’s human spaceflight program have “specific significance in Boeing’s case.

“The panel has famous that Boeing staffing ranges appear to be particularly low,” West mentioned. “The panel will likely be monitoring the scenario within the close to future to see what influence if any this might have on the existence or mitigation of any security dangers.

“Whereas we don’t need to see and undue dashing towards the CFT launch, Boeing ought to be sure that all out there sources are utilized to fulfill an affordable schedule and keep away from pointless delays,” West unhappy.

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“We’re actually behind the concept of not launching till (it) is prepared, till all security has been taken care of,” mentioned Mark Sirangelo, one other member of the security panel. “On the similar time, if the delays are attributable to a scarcity of sources being utilized to this system, that has important impacts, or might have important results, to the NASA schedule for its return to the moon and lots of different issues which are going to fan out from these delays.”

NASA and Boeing officers have declined to set a goal schedule for the Crew Flight Check, solely saying that preparations on the capsule for the primary astronaut mission had been on observe to have the car prepared for launch by the top of this yr. The schedule  for the Crew Flight Check will largely hinge on the end result of the OFT-2 mission.

An astronaut on the Worldwide Area Station took this image March 30 of the Kennedy Area Middle, exhibiting pad 39B at decrease proper, pad 39A simply above it, and the Car Meeting Constructing. North is down on this picture. Credit score: NASA

SpaceX, NASA’s different industrial crew contractor, has achieved 5 crew launches for NASA, plus two all-private astronaut missions utilizing the corporate’s fleet of Dragon spacecraft.

Officers mentioned final yr that SpaceX would finish manufacturing of recent Dragon capsules after constructing 4 human-rated automobiles. The fourth and latest member of the fleet launched for the primary time final month. Every Dragon spacecraft is designed for a minimum of 5 flights, and SpaceX and NASA might certify the capsule for extra missions.

“We’re positively involved about whether or not necessities for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS by way of its remaining life, no matter that’s, might be met with none extra Dragons,” West mentioned. “It will be advisable to conduct parametric research to tell and assist related choices about whether or not extra Dragon capsules are required.

“The Dragon launch fee continues, nevertheless, and measures are being taken to maintain the launch fee up,” West mentioned. “A few of these measures might embrace deferring preventive upkeep and reusing Dragon a number of instances. “The panel will likely be watching carefully to see if these measures might be applied with out rising danger.

“‘It must be famous, by the best way, that there’s an enormous quantity of information coming from all these SpaceX launches,” West mentioned. “Whereas the info can profit NASA, we expect the care must be taken to maintain from changing into overwhelmed by an excessive amount of information.”

In February, NASA ordered three extra crew rotation missions from SpaceX, including to the six flights on the unique industrial crew contract. As soon as Starliner is operational, NASA needs to alternate crew rotations each six months between Boeing and SpaceX, giving every supplier one NASA astronaut flight per yr.

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West added that SpaceX plans to finally launch the massive next-generation Starship rocket, presently beneath improvement in South Texas, from the Kennedy Area Middle might pose a danger to the Falcon 9 and Dragon launch facility at pad 39A.

“One attainable choice that has been recognized for launching Starship is from a deliberate new facility inside the bodily boundaries round pad 39A on the Kennedy Area Middle, the place Dragons are launched from,” West mentioned. “There are apparent security considerations about launching the big, and as but unproven, Starship in such shut proximity, reportedly solely 300 yards or so, from one other pad, not to mention the trail so vitally crucial for the industrial crew program.”

Pad 39A can also be the one launch facility presently able to launching SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, essential to haul some heavier NASA and U.S. navy spacecraft into orbit.

The Starship and its gigantic Tremendous Heavy booster stage mix to face practically 400 ft (120 meters) tall. The system is designed to be absolutely reusable, and SpaceX plans to vertically land the Starship booster and higher stage again on the launch website.

SpaceX is ending work on a Starship launch pad in South Texas, however the Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the environmental impacts of SpaceX’s operations on the website earlier than issuing a industrial launch license for the primary full-up Starship orbital check flight.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract final yr to develop a model of the Starship car to land astronauts on the moon.

“In conclusion, I’d similar to to say that these are extraordinarily advanced instances for CCP,” West mentioned, referring to NASA’s industrial crew program. “Because the Starship launch website issued demonstrates, there are quite a few exterior however associated concerns to be made. One factor that continues to be clear, although, is that it’s nonetheless crucial to achieve the purpose the place NASA has two viable CCP suppliers.”

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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