Science and cargo from Boeing’s OFT-2 Starliner mission to space station

Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch at 6:54 p.m. EDT (2254 GMT) Thursday, May 19 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

This company’s second uncrewed test mission Starliner The capsule serves as a critical milestone in NASA’s certification of the spacecraft for human spaceflight, following the OFT’s incomplete original mission in December 2019 and valve issues that delayed the spacecraft’s liftoff. OFT-2 from summer 2021 until now.

OFT-2 will transport more than 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of cargo to the orbital laboratory, including at least 440 pounds (200 kg) of food and supplies for the station’s current crew. The remaining payloads were provided by Boeing and include, among other flight memorabilia, memorabilia such as flags and pins commemorating historically black colleges and universities in the United States (HBCUs).

In picture : Boeing’s Starliner OFT-2 mission in pictures
Live Updates: Starliner’s OFT-2 Mission

“Closing representation gaps within our company and industry is a priority for Boeing, and inspiring diverse students to pursue careers in aerospace is an important part of that effort,” said David Calhoun, President and CEO. from Boeing management. said in a statement last year.

Taking her second ride aboard Starliner will also be an affectionately named flight test dummy Rosie the Rocket. Rosie boarded the first OFT and provided engineers with data on the G-force exerted on the body during launch. For this flight, according to a statement from Boeing, the same sensors used for Rosie on OFT-1 will be used to directly measure the strain on the vehicle’s four seats. (Rosie’s primary duty on OFT-2 will be to provide ballast, mission team members said.)

Robotic cargo launches to the space station are common, occurring every few months with a rotation of Russian Progress ships and two private US vehicles – the Cygnus spacecraft from Northrop Grumman and SpaceX. Dragon capsule. These freighters carry large cargoes to the ISS, and the Reusable Dragon also brings the hardware back. (Progress and Cygnus burn up in Earth’s atmosphere when their stay on the ISS is over.)

Speaking about the benefits of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during a briefing ahead of OFT-2’s planned first launch attempt last year, NASA’s Deputy Chief Scientist for the international space station Program, Jennifer Buchli, pointed to the benefits of being able to transport more astronauts and scientific equipment at a faster rate, which Starliner could help achieve:

“Having more crew in orbit and more cargo back and forth from the ISS means we can do more science,” Buchli said. “We really do a wide variety of experiments in everything from human research to fluid physics, technology demonstrations, life sciences, and education.”

To date, NASA has performed more than 3,000 experiments on the orbiting laboratory, which has hosted crews of astronauts in continuous rotation since the end of 2000. These experiments, which vary in size and composition, form a part cargo regularly transported to, and sometimes back. , the International Space Station.

International Space Station: Facts, History and Tracking

However, it doesn’t look like Starliner will be carrying a lot of meaningful science equipment for the orbiting lab on the next mission. According to NASA, OFT-2’s cargo includes “food and preference items for current expedition crew members on station and provisions, such as clothing and sleeping bags, for astronauts on the station. CFT”. (CFT stands for “Crew Flight Test,” the first Starliner astronaut mission, which Boeing and NASA plan to launch later this year if all goes well with OFT-2.)

For OFT-2, the science is mostly the spacecraft itself (and, to a lesser extent, Rosie the Rocketeer). Testing whether or not Starliner is ready for astronauts is crucial before strapping them on board for a crewed flight.

OFT-2 aims to demonstrate that Starliner can travel to and dock with the space station, a task it failed to accomplish during the original OFT after suffers from a number of software issues. To do this, the vehicle will use an instrument known as the Vision-based Electro-optical Sensor Tracking Assembly, or VESTA.

Speaking on NASA’s “Houston, We’ve Got a Podcast”, Amy Comeau, project engineer for the Boeing Starliner Chief Engineer’s Office, pointed out that VESTA was the “primary focus” of the design objective. ‘OFT-2 docking at station. She described VESTA’s camera suite, which was designed to differentiate the visual characteristics of the space station in the same way a human would:

“The system uses visual cues on the space station…such as solar panels, stickers, modules, etc., and it also uses star tracking information so it can interpret, [in] in real time, the precise localization of the position of Starliner in relation to the position of the International Space Station. And so that information is actually fed into our flight computers which ultimately direct the spacecraft into the appropriate docking port.”

At a May 11 press conference following Starliner’s successful flight readiness review, NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Emily Nelson remarked that VESTA is ” one of the biggest and really coolest sensors they have. [the] spatialship.”

According to Nelson, once flight operators confirm that VESTA “correctly sees the space station and identifies where it needs to go,” Starliner will begin a number of demonstration maneuvers. “The spacecraft will stop to demonstrate that if we tell it to stop, it will actually stop. It will automatically back up, to demonstrate that we have this retreat capability,” Nelson said.

Starliner will remain docked with the ISS for five to eight days before parachuting back to Earth somewhere in the western United States, according to NASA. When it returns, it will take nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) of cargo with it, including three of the station’s dozen NORS (“Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System”) tanks.

NORS tanks supply atmospheric gases to the space station. These tanks are often sent back on cargo missions, and more recently one of them accompanied the crew of the private pioneer Mission Ax-1 back on Earth in their SpaceX Dragon Capsule last month. However, OFT-2 will be the first mission to return three NORS tanks at once, NASA ISS program manager Joel Montalbano said during the May 11 briefing.

At an introductory OFT-2 press conference on May 3, Montalbano summed up Starliner’s cargo by saying, “the majority of the cargo going up will be food, and so approximately just over 450 , 460 pounds [204 to 209 kg] …And then, on the way back, we’ll take home some of the NORS tanks, the nitrogen and oxygen refill tanks that we have on board. They’re used, so we’re going to get them back on the ground, refurbish them, and then fly them again. And so those are the big highlights. We’re also flying small vehicle hardware, EVA spacewalk supply hardware as well.”

The majority of Boeing’s cargo will also return to Earth with Starliner at the end of OFT-2. In addition to flags and lapel pins representing HBCU heritage, other space memorabilia on OFT-2 include Rosie the Riveter coins commemorating women in the aerospace industry during World War II, seeds of five species of different trees to echo the “moon tree“an effort first undertaken by Apollo astronaut Stu Roosa in 1971, as well as the original company identity card issued to Boeing founder Bill Boeing, which bears his signature.

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