Boeing flight test for Commercial Crew Program will pave way for future science

Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is the second uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a partnership with the aerospace industry to launch astronauts on U.S. rockets and spacecraft from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.

When Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft lifts off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket Dec. 20 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, scientists who research how things behave in space will be amongst the eager spectators watching with bated breath.

The flight test will provide valuable data about the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations. In addition, the Starliner spacecraft will carry about 600 pounds of crew supplies and equipment to the International Space Station and return some critical research samples to Earth. NASA will use data from the test as part of its process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts – and research – to and from the space station.

Boeing’s Chris Ferguson helps NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, left, and Mike Fincke, right, train for a spacewalk. (Boeing photograph)

Safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station makes it possible to maintain a full crew of space station astronauts, maximizing the time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory. So far, more than 4,000 researchers in 108 countries have conducted more than 2,700 experiments on the space station in the fields of biology/biotechnology, earth and space science, education, human research, physical science and technology development.

The effects of this scientific work reach far and wide. The space station program has generated more than 2,100 results publications since 1998, including many in top scientific journals. Science conducted on the space station covers 12 of the 13 primary disciplines of science, plays a major role in the growing space economy and private sector interest in space, and has many and varied benefits to humanity. Commercial crew spacecraft like Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will enable more of this important scientific work.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters ignite in the company’s Pad Abort Test. The test at Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico pushed the spacecraft away from the test stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust. (NASA photograph)

The data from the OFT mission supports certification of Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station. It is the next step in moving toward the crew flight test that will carry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke and Boeing’s Chris Ferguson to the space station where they will stay for an extended mission. NASA will validate the performance of Boeing’s systems before putting crew on board the spacecraft. Starliner completed a pad abort test at Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in November.

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to create integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems to carry astronauts on NASA missions in September 2014. Now these companies are building and operating this new generation of human-rated vehicles.

For daily updates on the International Space Station, follow @ISS_Research, or Space Station Research and Technology News. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

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