WASHINGTON – Boeing and SpaceX plan to perform two critical tests on their commercial vehicles next week, with the hope that both vehicles will be ready for astronaut transportation by early next year.
In a presentation Oct. 30 to the NASA Advisory Committee on Human Research and Operations, Katie Luders, NASA's commercial crew program manager, said Boeing was still working on a Nov. 4 waiver test on its space carrier. ship CST-100 Starliner, which the company announced three weeks earlier.
In this test, on the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico, Starliner will fire aborting engines into its service module to simulate the escape of carrier rockets. The Starliner will fly at about 1
"The car is stacked and ready to go," Luders said. "We are currently within the scope of the WSMR next Monday morning to conduct this review. This is a huge, huge ordeal for us. "
In addition to testing the abortion engines themselves, she said that key areas of the test would be the separation of the Starliner Crew Module from its service module and after engine shutdowns, such as deploying parachutes for the Crew Module.
] The Starliner, which will fly an undeveloped orbital test flight called the Boeing Orbital Flight Test (OFT), does not have an interruption system, but Lueders said the isolation test was nonetheless critical to him. " the system is split, it will affect the progress of OFT, "she said. It is of utmost importance to us to begin this test and to understand it before launching the spacecraft for an orbiting test flight.
This OFT mission is scheduled to launch on December 17 at Cape Canaveral United At Launch Alliance Atlas 5 "This Starliner presentation from the Boeing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center to the ULA Processing Center for integration in the Atlas 5 will take place about a week after the swab abandonment test," she said.
The Boeing pad interruption test will take place just days before SpaceX performs a static fire test of SuperDraco abortion engines on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. Luders said the Florida test is expected to take place in the middle of next week.
In preparation for a similar static fire interruption test, an explosion was made in April, destroying the Crew Dragon spacecraft that flew a Demo-1 retreat mission to the International Space Station in March and was prepared for an abortion test in flight scheduled for summer. The investigation, which is still ongoing, involves a leak valve that allows the nitro tetroxide (NTO) oxidizer into a part of the propulsion system, which is thrown into the titanium control valve by pressure, igniting it.
"There's something like this happening is a big call to wake the team up, that they have to be careful and careful about it," says Luders, noting that even NASA wasn't aware of the "compatibility issue" between the NTO and titanium components under these conditions.  She added that both NASA and SpaceX were lucky that the incident occurred on the ground during a no-on-board test and access to video and other telemetry to support the investigation. "It would be bad for us to find out in orbit."
If the static fire test is successful, SpaceX will be ready to perform an interruption test using this Crew Dragon spacecraft in early December, this test will include The spacecraft, originally built for the Demo-2 crew test, escaped from Falcon 9 nearly 90 seconds after taking off from the Kennedy Space Center.
Both Boeing and SpaceX, Luyers says, may be ready for crew test flights to the ISS in early 2020. The Starliner test flight to Boeing Crew is expected to end by the end of the first quarter of 2020, until Crew Dragon's new Demo-2 spacecraft is due to be completed and ready to ship to Florida by the end of December this year.
However, the determination of the date for the launch of these equipped test flights will depend on the completion of the forthcoming tests as well as on other work to qualify vehicles for the transport of astronauts. This includes completing parachute testing, a highlight that none of the companies have achieved according to a chart shown by Lueders in her briefing.
Boeing officials have previously said they have completed their parachute testing but that the final their certification is awaiting results. the pad break test and the orbital flight test. SpaceX recently announced that it is testing a new version of the Crew Dragon parachutes called the Mark 3, which have higher safety margins than earlier versions, which suffered at least one test failure earlier this year.
Lueders said little about the two companies parachuting into her presentation, beyond a leaky reference to SpaceX's work. "People at SpaceX have done 12 chute tests a week while we're working on refining the Mark 3 design," she said. "We continue to work with them on what this schedule is, and we are completing it."
Both SpaceX and NASA provided little detail about this Mark 3 parachute job, which SpaceX CEO and CEO Ilon Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein highlighted when they met on October 10 at SpaceX Headquarters in California. "The highest priority is parachutes," Bridenstein said at the time. "Elon told me and he showed me that this is their priority. They put in as much resources and manpower as possible to prepare these parachutes. "
A SpaceX employee, speaking on the background of a few days after the event, confirmed that Mark 3 parachute testing was in progress, but did not answer questions about the number of tests completed so far and whether all tests had been completed successful. A NASA spokesman who asked for a SpaceX parachute test on October 25 referred questions to SpaceX.
The lack of information on the status of the parachute tests contrasts with Musk's comments during a media statement with Bridenstine, where he said the company would be more transparent about Crew Dragon testing. "We will do a lot of testing on Mark 3 parachutes," he said. "We will keep the public informed so that you will know what went wrong and what is going on and what we are doing about it."