2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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Starliner Arrives Back in Florida

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner being processed by technicians after return from White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Boeing PR) — On Wednesday, January 8, the Starliner that flew the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  After launching from Cape Canaveral on December 20, 2019, and landing at the White Sands Missile Range on December 22, the Starliner was recovered and prepared for shipment across the country, and then left the desert on January 3.

In general, the plan for post-flight processing of this spacecraft is as follows:

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Starliner Orbital Flight Test Cabin Camera Views

Video Caption: Take a look inside the Starliner on its Orbital Flight Test. Four interior cameras captured the mission, and this video covers nearly every dynamic event during the flight, including launch, separation events, on-orbit maneuvering, re-entry and landing.

NASA, Boeing Forming Investigation Team on Starliner Snafu

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

by Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

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NASA Looks Forward to Busy 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA will be taking long strides toward returning astronauts to the Moon, continuing the exploration of Mars and developing new technology to make supersonic aircraft fly more quietly.

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Boeing: Starliner in Good Shape Following Orbital Flight Test

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WHITE SANDS, NM (Boeing PR) — Engineers and technicians are conducting closer studies of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft as they recover data from onboard systems and begin preparing the vehicle for its return to Florida, where it will be readied for a future crewed mission to the International Space Station.

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Boeing Starliner Lands Successfully in New Mexico Desert

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

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Boeing Update on Starliner Flight Anomaly

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

Boeing Mission Update

The CST-100 Starliner is in a safe, stable orbit after an anomaly this morning following launch and spacecraft separation from the Atlas V.

The anomaly appears to have been the result of a mission elapsed timer (MET) using an unexpected timeline, which delayed orbital insertion thruster firings, putting Starliner in an unplanned orbit. Further root cause analysis is needed.

The Boeing flight control team quickly took action to place Starliner into an orbit that supports a safe landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The combined Boeing and NASA team now plan to work together to define test flight objectives for the remainder of the mission, while preparing for the Starliner landing.

At this time, we do not expect the Starliner to dock at the International Space Station on this flight.

We are proud of the team for their professionalism and quick action to protect the vehicle and enable a safe return. We look forward to reviewing and learning from the data that has been generated from this mission so far.

ULA Successfully Launches Boeing Starliner on the Orbital Flight Test

Atlas V lifts off with Starliner on Orbit Flight Test 1. (Credit: NASA webcast)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., (Dec. 20, 2019) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Starliner capsule on the Orbital Flight Test lifted off on Dec. 20 at 6:36:43 a.m. EST, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This marks the 81st launch of an Atlas V rocket and ULA’s 136th successful launch.

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Boeing Flight Test for Commercial Crew Program Will Pave the Way for Future Science

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 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.

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Starliner Launch on Schedule for Friday Morning

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (ULA PR) — Everything is progressing toward the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch carrying the Orbital Flight Test (OFT),  Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule. 

The mission is set to lift off on Friday, Dec. 20, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The instantaneous launch is planned for 6:36 a.m. EST.

Live broadcast coverage of launch will begin at 5:30 a.m. EST on Dec. 20 and will broadcast live on NASA TV. Live launch updates and the webcast will be available at www.ulalaunch.com and  www.boeing.com/starliner

Atlas V rocket will deliver the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to a 98 nautical mile suborbital trajectory to the International Space Station. After Starliner separation from Atlas V, Starliner engines will burn taking it the rest of the way to orbit and on to the International Space Station.

The Starliner OFT will be the 81st launch of the Atlas V and will mark ULA’s 136th mission.

Launch Forecast Summary

Today’s forecast shows a 70 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. 

Overall probability of violating weather constraints: 30%
Primary concerns: Cumulus cloud rule, ground winds
Overall probability of violating weather constraints for 24-hour delay: 40%
Primary concern: Cumulus cloud rule, thick cloud layer rule

Updates

To keep up to speed with updates, dial the ULA launch hotline at 1-877-852-4321 or join the conversation at  www.facebook.com/ulalaunch,  twitter.com/ulalaunch and instagram.com/ulalaunch; hashtags #AtlasV #Starliner

NASA to Provide Coverage of Boeing Orbital Flight Test for Commercial Crew

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The launch of Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) to the International Space Station, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is targeted for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20. The uncrewed flight test will be the Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s maiden mission to the space station.

Live coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website  Tuesday, Dec. 17, with prelaunch events.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Gears up for Boeing Starliner’s First Flight

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — From start to finish, Aerojet Rocketdyne will play a major role in Boeing’s first demonstration mission of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for NASA, ushering in a new era of human spaceflight. The Starliner Orbital Flight Test (OFT) demonstration is slated to launch Dec. 20, 2019 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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Starliner Cleared for Dec. 20 Flight to Space Station

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA and Boeing officials said on Thursday that Boeing’s Starliner crew spacecraft has been cleared for a Dec. 20 launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

The announcement came after Boeing and the space agency completed a flight readiness review for the eight-day orbital test of the vehicle. Starliner will not have a crew aboard for the flight.

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Rocket Lab, OSIRIS-REx and Starliner Announcements Set for Thursday

Launch complexes on Wallops Island, Virginia

There are three major events that you can tune in for on Thursday.

Rocket Lab Wallops Launch Complex
11 a.m. EST
www.rocketlabusa.com

CEO Peter Beck will host a webcast from Wallops Island, Va., to open the company’s new launch complex and announce the first flight of the Electron booster from U.S. soil.

This artist’s concept shows the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft contacting the asteroid Bennu with the Touch-And-Go Sample Arm Mechanism or TAGSAM. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

NASA OSIRIS-REx Sampling Site
1 p.m. EST
http://nasa.gov/live

NASA will announced the site where OSIRIS-REx will collect a soil sample from asteroid Bennu.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft rolls out from the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credits: Boeing)

NASA Boeing CST-100 Starliner Mission Preview
2 p.m. EST (approximate)
https://www.nasa.gov/live

NASA and Boeing officials will hold a news teleconference for the upcoming CST-100 Starliner orbital test flight to the International Space Station on Dec. 20.

The teleconference will begin no earlier than 2 p.m. EST, or approximately one hour after the flight readiness review ends. The start time will be adjusted as necessary.