Dec. 19, 2019 -- A racecar-driving rocket scientist is directing the ULA operations team that will launch the two test flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop Atlas V rockets.
From the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the Launch Control Center, Bill Cullen will be at the wheel as ULA's launch director for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) this week and the next year's Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station.
"Coming out of school, I decided to work for McDonnel Douglas mainly because of human spaceflight, working on the Shuttle Payload Assist Module (PAM). But the narrowing of the shuttle mission focus and the growth of the ELV market sent me in a new direction, and I am looking forward to coming full circle to human spaceflight again," Cullen said.
Born in a suburb of Chicago, Cullen earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois. His first job was working on PAM, the rocket stage that transferred satellites from a space shuttle's low-Earth orbit to higher orbits.
He then went to work on Delta rocket missions, helping to write parts of the proposal that led to creation of the Delta II rocket to launch the Global Positioning System for the U.S. Air Force.
"After we won the contract, I designed electrical ground support equipment to support the larger, upgraded Delta II. Next, we upgraded the avionics suite and I led the corresponding launch system upgrade design where we evolved from switches and panel meters to a computer controlled launch control system," Cullen recalls.
"My wife and I had our first child shortly before fielding that system, making frequent and long-duration travel difficult, so I agreed to move to Florida for one year. That was 24 years ago.
"I was selected as the Delta II launch ops chief engineer in 1997 and then the Delta IV site manager and launch director in 2005. In 2013, I moved to Atlas as the site manager and launch director, and in 2017 became the launch IPT leader for Vulcan."
Cullen will take his seat in the mission director's booth overlooking launch control nearly seven hours before liftoff time of the Atlas V rocket and Starliner. He will remain at helm, authorizing the start of fueling operations, monitoring all aspects of the countdown and then pronouncing "the launch vehicle is ready to launch" about six minutes before launch.
"The launch director's role is to lead the integrated launch vehicle, range and spacecraft teams through the prelaunch activities ensuring team and hardware safety, overseeing resolution of anomalies and when everything is in place to give the launch conductor permission to launch," said Cullen.
"The OFT Integrated Day-of-Launch Test, or IDOLT, on Dec. 6 was the first time we have had people at the pad when the vehicle is fully tanked with propellants. We have completed extensive assessments and preparations to ensure the teams safety. The biggest difference from prior ULA launches is that OFT is the precursor and test for Atlas's return to human launch and with that comes the crew and pad teams' safety."
Having driven on world-renowned race tracks like Indianapolis, Laguna Seca, Sears Point, Daytona and Sebring, Cullen says there are similarities between auto racing and space flight.
"Preparation is key. I am at best an okay driver and I do well because my car is very well prepared. Two key parts to that preparation are enlisting help from and listening to experts and attention to detail. Listening to and learning from the people who are close to the hardware points me to where I should be focusing, at the track or the launch site. Likewise, attention to every detail is key to both a successful mission and racing," he said.
Cullen started racing in 1989 as a hobby and has earned a few victories along the way. "One year, I won enough contingency prize money I almost broke even!"
"I have owned the same race car since 1989. The car is called a Spec Racer and races under the Sports Club of America, or SCCA. As a spec class all of the cars are identical having the same chassis, body, engine and tires. There are over 900 of these cars across the country," he said.
In 2017, SCCA's championship race was held on road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Once this was announced, I knew I wanted to go."
"It was awe inspiring, hallowed ground for race fans. Flying into Indianapolis, I saw cars on track for test day 1 and felt like I was late to the party. After getting my credentials, I drove into the infield and saw the pagoda, timing tower and bleachers I had an ear to ear grin. I still have video from be first lap over the Yard of Bricks," he said.
"It was the first time I qualified to go to the Runoffs and between spending a full week at the track and being at Indy, it was quite a good time!"
Dec. 17, 2019 -- Eight specialists from United Launch Alliance and The Boeing Co., known as the Blue Team, will rehearse their job of loading astronauts into Starliner spacecraft during the Atlas V rocket's countdown to the Orbital Flight Test launch.
The Blue Team has the unique responsibility of preparing the crew module, assisting the astronauts into their seats and then closing the hatch for flight.
They will be the last people that the astronauts see until arriving at the International Space Station -- the destination for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
But the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test offers the Blue Team a "real world" dress rehearsal of their launch day tasks at the Space Launch Complex-41 pad ahead of upcoming crewed missions.
"We want to fully simulate the operations needed to prepare the spacecraft for crew. This is an Orbital Flight Test in every sense of the words, so this is our best opportunity to refine our operations and ensure everything works as planned and on the timeline needed to ensure we get everything ready for launch," said Dane Drefke, ULA's mechanical operations lead engineer who serves as the Blue Team Leader (BTL).
Drefke is in charge of the Blue Team's activities and has an obligation to ensure everyone's safety.
About six hours before liftoff, cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen will begin flowing into the Atlas V rocket's stages for launch. It is a hazardous operation and the area surrounding the pad will be cleared of all personnel.
Once fueling is completed and the rocket placed into a quiescent state, the Blue Team will drive up to the pad gates in two vehicles. Drefke leads them into the complex and parks at the base of the Crew Access Tower (CAT), the 200-foot-tall gantry built to support Atlas V launches of Starliner.
The team takes the elevator up to Level 12, the deck leading to the Starliner hatchway. It's now time for the Blue Team to go to work.
ULA's three representatives on the Blue Team begin activities by walking across the 48-foot-long retractable catwalk extending from the CAT to the White Room. Their duties include verifying the White Room is safe for personnel to enter, establishing access to the capsule, deploying the environmental seal between the pad and spacecraft and setting up access platforms.
The ULA members then switch places with five Boeing technicians waiting in the wings on the CAT, led by Boeing’s Pad Team Leader Melanie Weber.
"Even though we’re from two different companies, we really are one team," Weber said. "We have to be totally in sync and have each others' backs to make sure we’re successful on launch day."
"The Boeing team will open the capsule hatch and prepare the spacecraft for the crew to arrive. There's a myriad of checks and power up operations they do. The prepare each seat for the arrival of the crew members," said Drefke.
"The Blue Team Leader will direct all operations from outside the White Room on Level 12. The BTL has to ensure we don't exceed the personnel limits in the White Room, and that the crew members are ready to enter."
Once operations are completed -- for future missions, that means the crew and cargo have been loaded in the vehicle -- the Boeing technicians close the hatch and clear the White Room. The ULA members then configure the White Room for launch by retracting access platforms and deflating the environmental seal around the capsule to prepare the swing arm for rotation to the launch position.
"We then perform one last check of the tower and then clear the pad for launch," said Drefke.
The team departs the pad at Launch-minus 35 minutes.
The access arm will be hydraulically swung away from the spacecraft 10 minutes before launch. The process will take about two minutes to reach the stowed position against the CAT.
If the need arises, the arm can be redeployed in less than 15 seconds by dropping counterweights.
The Blue Team will be stationed to the north of the pad at liftoff.
"We stand by there in the event we need to return to the pad quickly to attend to the crew," said Drefke.
Unlike the space shuttle days that included astronauts on the Orbiter Closeout Crew to assist with flight crew ingress activities, the Blue Team will remain at 8 members in its current composition.
"Because returning to the pad in inherently dangerous with a fueled vehicle, we limit the number of people exposed to that hazard to the absolute minimum required. The NASA personnel from the crew office will fully train all of the Blue Team members in what is required to assist the crew, and we will perform those duties," Drefke explained.
Because safety is paramount, SLC-41 has an Emergency Escape System available for the Blue Team and astronuts to evacuate the launch pad using zip lines to rapidly travel 1,300 feet away from the tower to awaiting armored vehicles.
Dec. 16, 2019 -- United Launch Alliance's most seasoned launch conductor will orchestrate the countdown to fuel and ready the Atlas V rocket for liftoff on the historic inaugural voyage of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Doug Lebo joined the Atlas program 34 years ago, working with and learning from the original Atlas team that launched John Glenn into space and the first Centaur upper stage atop an Atlas rocket.
"I joined the Atlas/Centaur program right out of college. The early years of my career on the Atlas I/II program on Complex 36 were exciting and memorable moments as we transitioned to a commercial space provider and made process improvements to reduce our launch processing flows from 90 days down to 25 days between launches," Lebo said.
"Of course, the development of Atlas V has been a thrilling experience as we established an efficiency and cadence to launch missions successfully on-time."
He has been "on console" for 192 launches of Atlas and Delta rockets since 1985, and has worked at the launch conductor's station since 2001 supporting 120 launches as either the primary launch conductor or the assistant launch conductor.
"The launch conductor (LC) leads the integrated team of console operators thru the countdown. The LC has responsibility of the countdown operation from the start until T-0 and directs all launch pad activities," Lebo explained.
"For OFT, the LC coordinates with the Boeing team to ensure the Starliner operations are kept in-sync with the launch vehicle. Primary interfaces on Channel 1 are the Boeing spacecraft launch conductor (SLC) and the Houston flight director (FLIGHT)."
His career path started in the ground instrumentation group while also spending time on the Shuttle/Centaur and Titan/Centaur programs. He was promoted to lead engineer in 1992, then promoted to program support manager in 1998.
"I began working as assistant launch conductor and anomaly chief during Atlas II countdowns in 2001," he said.
"Shortly after ULA was formed, I joined the Delta IV team and have had the pleasure of learning the Delta systems and became a certified Delta IV LC in 2012."
Lebo began addressing the requirements for Starliner missions in 2013 in what became the most complex change to the Atlas V countdown with the addition of astronauts.
"The primary difference is the presence of crew on the pad after cryogenic tanking. During the four-hour hold at T-minus 4 minutes, the ground crew will re-enter the pad and enter the Crew Access Tower and White Room to perform Starliner countdown preps.
"During this time the LC monitors launch vehicle status and receives reports from the ULA operators to ensure the launch vehicle is in a stable configuration. If an emergency situation arises, the LC has authority to take emergency action and evacuate the pad team," Lebo said.
Lebo is ULA's chief launch conductor, overseeing the group of three other certified LCs for both Atlas and Delta launches.
"Currently I am only assigned as LC for CST-100 missions, for all other Atlas and Delta missions I serve as ALC to assist the other LC's during their missions," Lebo said.
The native Floridian grew up in South Florida and earned an electrical engineering degree from Florida Institute of Technology and later obtained a master's degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida.
When he is not working on rockets, Lebo enjoys antique car restorations and building street rods. He's also involved in local community theater, having performed in 13 musicals at the Titusville Playhouse.
"I'm most proud of the national security missions that I have participated in over the years knowing how critical these missions are to our country's freedom and protecting our Armed Forces around the world," Lebo said.
"The most exciting moment was launching the Pluto New Horizons mission in 2006 and seeing the stunning images that it returned from the Pluto flyby 9 years later."
Dec. 15, 2019 -- The Atlas V rocket will fly a special trajectory to space when launching Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules, a flight path that requires the Centaur upper stage to use two engines instead of one.
The Dual Engine Centaur (DEC) was standard aboard Atlas rockets for decades, but the performance generated by Atlas V rendered two engines on the upper stage unnecessary for the past 15 years.
For Starliner missions, however, the double-engine configuration returns so that the rocket can fly a flatter trajectory and ensure the capsule can execute an abort at any time to bring the astronauts back to Earth safely if a problem occurs.
Centaur is the most efficient upper stage flying today. It is constructed using pressure-stabilized stainless steel tanks to hold cryogenic liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen. The tank walls are 0.02 inches thick, thinner than a dime, which is one of the key features that makes it the highest-performing upper stage in the world.
The venerable stage was developed at the dawn of the space age to harness the power of liquid hydrogen and create a pathway for larger spacecraft to visit the Moon and every planet across the solar system.
First launched in 1962, it has flown 251 times and enabled scientific exploration from the Sun to Pluto and everywhere in between. U.S. national security and telecommunications around the world also have benefited from Centaur.
To date, there have been 166 Dual Engine Centaurs used by both Atlas and Titan rockets and 85 Single Engine Centaurs, exclusively on Atlas.
All Centaurs prior to 2000 were dual-engine configurations, and the most recent was in 2004 on the final launch of the Atlas IIAS vehicle. Atlas rockets have used DECs 143 times from 1962 to 2004 and Titan flew 23 DECs from 1974 to 2003.
Single Engine Centaur was introduced in 2000 on the Atlas IIIA rocket and that carried over to Atlas V for all 80 of its launches thus far.
OFT marks the return to Dual Engine Centaur, providing double the thrust from twin Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4-2 engines. That 44,600 pounds of thrust allows Centaur to execute a customized flight profile for Starliner that features just a single burn and a limited acceleration rate to manage the G-force experienced by the astronauts aboard.
The heritage has carried forward through current designs which allowed for minimal new hardware required to build the Dual Engine Centaur configuration for Starliner missions.
Following the first stage of flight, the Atlas V common core booster will jettison from the Centaur four minutes and 35 seconds after liftoff. The Centaur ignites both engines 10 seconds later at an altitude of approximately 60 nautical miles.
The Centaur burn will last just over seven minutes to deliver Starliner at the desired injection point for separation at T+plus 15 minutes into a 98 by 39-nautical mile suborbital trajectory, inclined 51.6 degrees relative to the equator.
Employing the same operational procedure as the space shuttle that also launched on suborbital trajectories, the Starliner capsule will perform an orbital-maneuvering engine firing about 15 minutes after separation from Centaur to reach a stable orbit. The capsule then begins the chase to catch the International Space Station for docking.
Meanwhile, the Centaur will passivate onboard tanks and re-enter over the Indian Ocean to complete its mission southwest of Australia an hour after liftoff.
Dec. 14, 2019 -- Building on a diverse career of rocketry, aircraft and helping develop the space station, the newest role for United Launch Alliance's Dane Drefke is leading the Blue Team that will ready Starliner just before it launches atop the Atlas V for the Orbital Flight Test.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and raised in Southern Missouri, the aerospace engineer began his career 25 years ago as a designer for General Electric, but soon moved to California and started working on the International Space Station for McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach.
"I was an Electronic Development Fixture specialist and engineering checker. I would assemble the detail models other groups made and would check for form, fit and function -- no structural interferences allowed in space! This was a lot of fun and I really was hooked on space at that point," Drefke recalls.
Then, Drefke transferred over to the Delta II program as a design engineer for the first stage separation systems.
"I became an ordnance specialist. I designed a lot of the hardware that would hold the solid rocket boosters on the core vehicle, and then separate them. I did a lot of travel to the launch sites to support many different Delta II missions. I really enjoyed it and had a lot of friends at the launch sites."
Later, he was asked to be a mentor and technical leader for the beginning of the Delta IV program.
"I would advise new engineers designing the hardware for the Delta IV Medium and Heavy on the lessons learned and heritage knowledge I had from Delta II. I designed all the ordnance architecture for the GEM60 solid motors that were flown on the Delta IV Medium variants. I was also involved in the ordnance and separation systems of the Delta IV Heavy design."
He moved back to Missouri to assist his mother who was battling cancer, which led to working for Boeing in St. Louis as a structures engineer on the Air Force's C-17 military aircraft and a short assignment on the A-10 program to design new wings for that aircraft.
In 2010, he returned to California and took a job with ULA at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
"I worked on all three of the ULA vehicles -- Delta IV, Delta II and Atlas V. I was the responsible engineer for all the ordnance operations for all three. I am especially proud of being a part of the team that launched the first Delta IV Heavy from the West Coast. More recently, I had the honor but bittersweet duty of helping to fly out the very last Delta II."
In 2016, Drefke became the Atlas mechanical operations lead at the Cape, heading up the group responsible for all the umbilical systems and mechanical access, such as platforms and work stands in the Vertical Integration Facility and at the launch pad.
"We're the ones that roll the rocket to the pad the day before launch, and my biggest role is the 'Stand Engineer' who is the field commander and eyes and ears for the launch conductor during roll out and launch preps."
During the final hours of the countdown, the launch conductor in the control room radios the stand engineer to clear all personnel from the complex for the start of fueling operations. Drefke has served in that role for the past 20 or so launches.
Now, he is ready to take on a new title, the Blue Team Leader (BTL) for the Orbital Flight Test launch of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
After the Atlas V rocket is fully fueled and the countdown reaches the T-minus 4 minute point, where clocks will hold for four hours, the Blue Team will enter Space Launch Complex-41 and take the elevator to Level 12 of the Crew Access Tower. That's the level with the swing arm and White Room leading to the Starliner hatchway.
Drefke, as the BTL, he will be in charge of the 8-member team of ULA and Boeing technicians responsible for readying Starliner's crew module for liftoff.
The Orbital Flight Test is an uncrewed voyage of Starliner to the International Space Station, a complete launch-to-landing demonstration of the spacecraft before astronauts fly in the capsule.
Despite no astronauts to load into Starliner for OFT, the Blue Team will use the launch to test the processes, timelines and tools to ensure all is in readiness for crewed missions to come.
"We want to fully simulate the operations needed to prepare the spacecraft for crew. This is an Orbital Flight Test in every sense of the words, so this is our best opportunity to refine our operations and ensure everything works as planned and on the timeline needed to ensure we get everything ready for launch," Drefke said.
"The Blue Team Leader will be the overall person in command on the Crew Access Tower when the team returns to the pad. I will direct the team, and ensure the emergency escape vehicles are started and ready," he said.
After the ULA technicians configure the White Room, the Boeing technicians will open the Starliner hatch and simulate the astronaut ingress activities.
"For the next few hours the Blue Team Leader will remain in constant contact with the launch conductor to monitor the status of the vehicle and all ground systems. The Blue Team Leader coordinates the movement and position of all personnel on the tower, including the arrival of the flight crew (for CFT and later missions)," he said.
Once the capsule operations are completed and the Boeing team clear, the ULA Blue Team members will then prepare the White Room for launch.
The team will be stationed just north of the pad for liftoff.
"We stand by there in the event we need to return to the pad quickly," Drefke said. "It will be an amazing place to view the launch and I'm really looking forward to it!"
Dec. 13, 2019 -- The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Here is a look at the launch by the numbers.
The Atlas V with Starliner stands 172 feet tall and will weigh 979,223 pounds when fully fueled for liftoff.
The Common Core Booster first stage is structurally rigid and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels to stand 107 feet long and 12.5 feet in diameter.
The RD-180 main engine burns 48,800 gallons of liquid oxygen and 25,000 gallons of RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, to generate 860,300 pounds of thrust.
This will be the 87th RD-180 to fly since 2000.
The first stage is augmented by two AJ60 solid rocket boosters that stand 66 feet long, 62 inches in diameter and each generate 348,500 pounds of thrust.
The SRBs are constructed of a continuous graphite-epoxy composite casing with the throttle profile designed into the propellant grain.
There have been 115 AJ60s launched since 2003.
The Centaur upper stage features pressure-stabilized tanks constructed of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. It is 42 feet long and 10 feet in diameter.
The Centaur is powered by two RL10A-4-2 engines that consume 12,300 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 4,150 gallons of liquid oxygen to generate a combined 44,600 pounds of thrust to shape the desired trajectory for Starliner.
There have been 80 flights of the Atlas V rocket since Aug. 21, 2002, successfully launching national security payloads, commercial spacecraft and scientific exploration missions with 100 percent mission success.
There have been 251 flights of the Centaur upper stage since May 1962, including 228 launches on Atlas rockets and 23 atop Titan vehicles.
There have been 166 Dual Engine Centaurs flown to date, with 143 launches by Atlas and 23 by Titan rockets. A total of 85 Single Engine Centaurs have launched, all on Atlas.
This will be the 497th and 498th RL10 production engines since 1962.
The Launch Vehicle Adapter provides the structural attachment of Starliner to the Atlas V rocket for ascent. It is constructed of a truss structure and metallic ring. The LVA also features a 70-inch-long aeroskirt to enhance the aerodynamic characteristics, stability and loads of the Atlas V.
During Project Mercury on Feb. 20, 1962, the Atlas 109-D rocket launched the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, and his Friendship 7 capsule.
Atlas 107-D launched Scott Carpenter and Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962 to orbit the Earth three times; Sigma 7 and Walter Schirra were launched by Atlas 113-D on Oct. 3, 1962 to complete 6 orbits; and Atlas 130-D launched Faith 7 and Gordon Cooper on a 34-hour voyage in orbit on May 15, 1963, completing the Mercury missions.
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is 16.5 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. The command module is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time.
The Mobile Launch Platform will transfer the Atlas V rocket from the Vertical Integration Facility to the Space Launch Complex-41 pad. The combined MLP and rocket weight at rollout will be 1.6 million pounds.
The pad includes the 200-foot-tall Crew Access Tower and 48-foot-long Crew Access Arm to reach the Starliner crew module hatch.
This will be the 66th Atlas V launch from the Space Launch Complex-41 and the 93rd overall launch from the pad since Titan began using the site in 1965.
The powered flight of Atlas V to launch Starliner's Orbital Flight Test lasts 11 minutes and 54 seconds The first stage of flight will last 4 minutes and 29 seconds. The single burn of the Centaur lasts 7 minutes and 9 seconds.
Atlas V will accelerate Starliner to 17,475 mph.
Starliner will be deployed at T+plus 14 minutes and 54 seconds on a suborbital trajectory with parameters of 98 by 39 nautical miles at 51.6 degrees.
Dec. 12, 2019 -- Having seen the perils of spaceflight firsthand, Ascent Team Lead Lars Onsager is integral to the layers of safety that will protect astronauts riding Starliner crew capsules atop Atlas V rockets.
Photo: United Launch Alliance
As a young engineer working guidance and navigation in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL) for Rockwell International at NASA's Johnson Space Center in 1986, Onsager remembers vividly the Challenger tragedy and sifting through data in the immediate aftermath to deduce what went wrong.
"SAIL was the secondary telemetry recording site for shuttle missions, and we reviewed data for hours after the accident to try to get a first look at what happened. At midnight that night, I sat with a group of engineers in the JSC center director's office where we provided our initial assessment. It was there that I heard that the data showed a probable burn-thru of the SRB," Onsager recalls.
"That event had a lot of impact on me and played into my current dedication to the Emergency Detection System and the Ascent Operations Team -- the two aspects of keeping the Starliner crews safe on our rocket."
More than three decades later and now a veteran at United Launch Alliance, Onsager served as the system integration lead in the development of the Emergency Detection System (EDS) to be used aboard crewed Atlas V launches as a the safety device to tell Starliner capsules if a malfunction is unfolding and an abort is necessary.
"I was a bridge between the avionics and the software teams, and ensured that not only did we follow our processes and do good systems engineering but to integrate those two functions and ensure that not fell through the gaps, that no risk was left unaddressed," Onsager said.
What's more, he also helped formulate the boundaries and testing methodology for every EDS parameter, and ensured Boeing, NASA's Commercial Crew Program and especially the astronauts have insight and the information they needed for this crucial system that would be "watching over" the ascending Starliner crews.
"I helped create and approve each and every threshold, or trigger level, to eliminate or minimize the chances of inadvertent or 'false' aborts while still keeping the astronauts safe. I personally briefed the crews for both the Crew Flight Test and Post Certification Mission-1 so they understood how the system worked and when it could take action to keep them safe," Onsager said.
On launch day, Onsager will be stationed with an elite group of ULA specialists at the Vehicle Ascent and Launch Operations Room (VALOR) at company headquarters near Denver.
He will be watching the performance of Atlas V during the 15-minute ascent and radioing pronouncements to Flight Director Richard Jones at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston. On crewed missions, several of Onsager's calls will be relayed to the astronauts aboard Starliner for situational awareness.
Photo: United Launch Alliance
"I have a number of specialized schematics and plots that I will be monitoring throughout flight. Acceleration, body rates and various switches/discretes that are the bulk of the telemetry that I will monitor. Every station has its own specialized screens, and I also have them up or have slightly simplified version as I need to verify crucial information before it’s passed along to the flight director," Onsager said.
"I will be making a dozen or so nominal calls, many of which will be passed along to the astronauts, to help ensure both teams are in synch, particularly for critical milestones like the start of guidance steering, booster engine cutoff, RL10 ignition and cutoff.
"Any off-nominal vehicle behavior detected by the team will be immediately evaluated and sent along through me to the flight director."
EDS was developed to enhance the capabilities of the Atlas V rocket's long and reliable flight history without requiring significant alterations in man-rating the vehicle. It is responsible for imminent hazards.
"EDS is a critical element of our human spaceflight certified system because it allow us to use our flight-proven launch vehicle without significant modifications, which might compromise our flight history, and add an additional layer of safety in case any of our non-redundant systems fail," Onsager said.
VALOR and the ascent team will be responsible for observing slow-forming, difficult-to-program issues that may require experience to correctly detect and assess.
"The ULA EDS system is as good as it is in part because of how simple or straightforward it is. However, not everything can be 'simple' and those are the issues we trained our team to identify and communicate. Together, EDS and VALOR provide the highest level of safety ULA could hope to achieve, building on our flight proven systems and adding additional safety measures on top," Onsager said.
For the OFT launch, Starliner will not be equipped with an abort capability. Engineers are using the uncrewed test to verify the EDS performance and whether any of the trigger parameters need tweaked before the first crewed launch.
Onsager was born in Connecticut and raised in Texas, graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in aerospace engineering and English with a minor in Shakespeare.
"Once I started college, majoring in aerospace engineering, I spent time with my roommate who was an English major. After taking a few classes with him, I was really taken with Shakespeare's writings. Those classes were nothing like engineering," Onsager said.
"When I figured out I could get both degrees in only four years, I dedicated myself to completing both and enjoying the best of both worlds, science and literature."
Married with five children, he enjoys downhill skiing, backpacking the Colorado Trail with the family and playing board games with the kids.
Dec. 9, 2019 -- While observers take in the events of the Atlas V Starliner mission, teams from ULA and Boeing will be working to ensure that the launch unfolds without a hitch – just like they rehearsed it.
The launch team orchestrates the countdown from the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. Photo: United Launch Alliance
The integrated day of launch test (IDOLT) on Dec. 6 gave ULA and Boeing a chance to test all of the launch vehicle and spacecraft systems before launch day and time to refine pre-launch processes.
Similar to a "wet dress rehearsal" (WDR), the IDOLT involved rolling the rocket out to the launch pad and fueling up for a full launch vehicle and spacecraft system checkout. However, the IDOLT process is unique to human spaceflight missions and takes WDR a step further by adding the spacecraft to the mix.
"This is the full stack of flight hardware -- the real rocket, the real spacecraft -- out at the pad, and we're going to act like it's day of launch," Mission Manager Caleb Weiss said before the test. "We'll do everything except launch."
Atlas V rolls to the launch pad for the first time with Starliner. Photo: United Launch Alliance
The IDOLT focused on ensuring that Boeing and ULA teams can complete their required pre-launch tasks quickly and efficiently.
The launch team in Cape Canaveral and Denver; the tiger team, which conducts a thorough inspection of the rocket; and the blue team, who will help Boeing staff prepare the capsule for launch, worked together to spot potential issues and identify ways to improve the efficiency of launch preparations.
Several aspects of the mission, including the configuration of the rocket itself, introduce some unique challenges and concerns that the teams will take into consideration during the test and at launch.
"We've had spacecraft with super unique, super challenging requirements, but this is a whole new configuration of a vehicle that we've never flown before, and that's really what makes for a challenge on this mission," Caleb said.
Atlas V Starliner on the pad for IDOLT. Photo: United Launch Alliance
Characteristics unique to the Atlas V that will launch Starliner include;
* Payload fairing: The Atlas V Starliner doesn’t have a payload fairing, which influences the aerodynamics and control of the launch vehicle.
* Dual-Engine Centaur: While most Atlas II and III missions used the dual-engine Centaur, the OFT launch will be the first time it's flown on Atlas V.
* Emergency Detection System: The emergency detection system (EDS) is a flight computer that evaluates measurements throughout the rocket thousands of times per second and will safely eject the crew if it identifies a safety concern.
"IDOLT is a risk-reduction exercise that puts us in the best position to succeed on day of launch and continue our record of mission success," Caleb said.
Now that IDOLT is complete, the rocket will undergo an additional set of evaluations leading up to launch day on Dec. 20, including the NASA Agency Flight Readiness Review.
Click here to learn more about the Commercial Crew astronauts who will fly on the Starliner’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission and the first mission to the International Space Station.
Dec. 6, 2019 -- The launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) Starliner spacecraft is now targeted for Dec. 20.
We successfully conducted a wet dress rehearsal (WDR), a critical pre-launch milestone, on Friday, Dec. 6. We were unable to complete the milestone on Thursday, Dec. 5, as planned due to a weather-related launch delay of an International Space Station re-supply mission, which created a range resource conflict. This caused our targeted launch date to shift to the right by one day.
We continue to work closely with Boeing to ensure that the Starliner flies as soon as the spacecraft and launch vehicle are ready.
Dec. 3, 2019 -- The launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) Starliner spacecraft is now targeted for Dec. 19.
During pre-launch processing of the Atlas V, there was an issue with the rocket’s purge air supply duct. Additional time was needed for the ULA and Boeing teams to complete an analysis of the issue, replace the duct and complete processing ahead of launch.
We continue to work closely with Boeing to ensure that the Starliner flies as soon as the spacecraft and launch vehicle are ready.
Nov. 21, 2019 -- Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has been mounted atop its ride to space, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) to the International Space Station in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program next month.
Starliner departs the C3PF. Photo: United Launch Alliance
Early this morning, the capsule traveled from Boeing's Commercial Crew & Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at Kennedy Space Center to ULA's Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for hoisting atop the waiting Atlas V.
Celebrations marked the rollout after years of design and manufacturing work to produce a 21st century spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from space.
ULA's motorized payload transporter, adapted to carry Starliner, moved at a top speed of 5 mph, heading from the former space shuttle hangar eastward to the beach and then southward to Space Launch Complex-41.
The KAMAG deck also held the In-Transport Payload Air Conditioning (ITPAC) to provide environmental controls to the spacecraft during the move.
Approaching the VIF, the KAMAG maneuvered up to the 30-story-tall building's doorway and parked. A four-point lifting sling, called the Handling Fixture Hoist Tool (HFHT), was connected to the Starliner for the overhead crane to carefully raise the capsule onto the Atlas V waiting inside the VIF aboard its Mobile Launch Platform (MLP).
Starliner was positioned for mating to the Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) that serves as the spacecraft's cradle atop the rocket during ascent. The LVA also features the aeroskirt structure that smooths the air over the combined payload and Atlas V for aerodynamic stability.
Starliner hoisted atop Atlas. Photo: NASA
Accommodations for Starliner in the VIF include a Class 100,000 clean enclosure to enter the capsule's crew module through the hatchway, access stands for technicians to detach the lift sling and complete preflight work to the craft's exterior, power and data transmission umbilicals, plus purge and cooling lines.
The joining of rocket and payload is a major milestone before any launch, and today's event underscores that OFT is a key step closer to launch.
Next up is the Integrated Systems Test, a tip-to-tail electrical check of the 172-foot-tall Atlas V and Starliner stack to verify all elements are communicating properly.
That will clear the way for IDOLT, or Integrated Day-of-Launch Test, to rehearse all aspects of the Atlas V countdown.
Nov. 20, 2019 -- The Mission Dress Rehearsal (MDR) was held yesterday to practice countdown scenarios for the upcoming launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its Orbital Flight Test.
Photo: United Launch Alliance
The simulation connected the United Launch Alliance teams at Cape Canaveral and in Denver with Boeing and NASA personnel at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at the Cape.
The MDR for OFT featured three phases to demonstrate different segments of the countdown while simulating problems for the teams to analyze and resolve.
Orchestrating the countdown was ULA Chief Launch Conductor Doug Lebo from his position in the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center’s Launch Control Center (LCC). He was joined by Assistant Launch Conductor Scott Barney, who operated the countdown clock and interfaced with Anomaly Chief David McFarland, leader of the problem-resolution process.
Situated in the Mission Director’s Center (MDC) above the LCC was ULA Launch Director Bill Cullen, the person with the overall responsibility of launch operations and giving the final approval to launch. He was seated next to LeRoy Cain, Boeing’s spacecraft mission director, who relayed Starliner’s readiness status to Cullen.
And Flight Director Richard Jones in Houston joined in to rehearse his aspects in the countdown and launch as the person in charge of final spacecraft configuration for liftoff and managing all operations during ascent.
The bulk of the day was spent rehearsing the Blue Team’s activities in the White Room at Space Launch Complex-41. ULA’s Dane Drefke served as the Blue Team Leader and Boeing’s Melanie Weber directed the steps that will be needed to prep Starliner’s command module for flight and close the hatch.
After two practice runs, the day’s third scenario focused on the last 30 minutes of the countdown including the final weather briefing from Launch Weather Officer Jessica Williams, the readiness polls of managers and engineers, Terminal Count and liftoff.
The MDR represents another milestone passed in the OFT launch campaign. It follows the completion of standard pre-flight testing of the Atlas V at the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) that has confirmed the rocket is ready for attachment of the Boeing Starliner capsule.
Nov. 8, 2019 -- The stages and boosters have been joined together to form the Atlas V rocket that will launch the inaugural flight of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Photo: United Launch Alliance
Stacking operations were completed today inside United Launch Alliance's Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The work began Monday, Nov. 4 when the first stage was hoisted aboard the Mobile Launch Platform. The twin solid rocket boosters were attached on Wednesday, Nov. 6 and Thursday, Nov. 7 to opposite sides of the stage.
The OVI structure, which consists of the interstage, Dual Engine Centaur upper stage and Launch Vehicle Adapter, was lifted atop the first stage this morning to finish the initial buildup of the vehicle.
Applying power to the rocket, testing of the flight controls, checks of the engine steering profiles and a Combined Systems Test will occur over the next week to verify Atlas V is ready to flight.
That will clear the way for delivery of the Starliner capsule from Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at the Kennedy Space Center to the nearby VIF at Space Launch Complex-41 for mating to the Atlas V in mid-November.
Launch remains targeted for Dec. 17.
Atlas V will propel Starliner off the pad at the exact moment the space station's orbital plane crosses over Space Launch Complex-41. The main engine and solids generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust to power the 172-foot-tall, 979,223-pound rocket skyward.
Starliner is headed for the International Space Station for its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
Nov. 4, 2019 -- It is known as LVOS, a day that is celebrated in the life of every rocket destined to launch into space.
Today at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, this special occasion occurred for United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing's first CST-100 Starliner capsule on its historic Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station in December.
The Atlas booster arrives at the VIF. Photo: United Launch Alliance
Rocket engineers are fond of speaking in acronyms, but common folks can appreciate this event as the Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) day, a milestone that officially begins the launch campaign and signals another mission is right around the corner.
The name is a blend of phrases from our heritage combined at United Launch Alliance. The Atlas program called this event Booster on Stand (BOS) while the Delta program used Vehicle on Stand (VOS). Now it is simply LVOS.
To accomplish LVOS for the Atlas V today, the common core booster first stage was moved from the holding bay at the Atlas Spaceflight Operation Center (ASOC) and hauled horizontally by semi-truck nearly four miles to the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF).
The stage will feed 25,000 gallons of RP-1 kerosene fuel and 49,000 gallons of liquid oxygen to the RD-180 main engine during the initial four-and-a-half minutes of the rocket's ascent into space.
The Atlas is hoisted upright to launch OFT. Photo: United Launch Alliance
By sunrise this morning, the rocket was parked at the doorway to the VIF, which serves as our 30-story-tall vertical assembly building for the Atlas V at Cape Canaveral. Crews then went to work setting up ground handling equipment.
Two cranes grappled both ends of the 107-foot-long stage so that it could be lifted free from its carrier. Next, the aft portion was secured in a special dolly that rides rail tracks, allowing the rocket to be rotated from horizontal to upright by the overhead crane while also the rear inched closer to the VIF.
Once vertical, the aft structure was disengaged and the crane holding the forward end of the rocket slowly and carefully hoisted the stage into the VIF and positioned it aboard the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP).
The Atlas booster goes vertical. Photo: United Launch Alliance
All the while, Air Force meteorologists from the 45th Weather Squadron monitored radar screens and anemometers to ensure no adverse storms were percolating that could cause a lightning warning and that winds were not too strong to interfere with the delicate work.
The weather never was a factor, and the stage was anchored to the three supports, called launch heads, protruding from the MLP's flame duct. Explosive bolts will be installed, which fire at liftoff to release the Atlas V to fly away from the pad.
Now that LVOS has been achieved, activities coming up will see the two solid rocket boosters brought to the VIF one-by-one and attached to the sides of the first stage, the Centaur upper stage will be hoisted atop the rocket and then the Starliner spacecraft will be mounted on the Atlas V.
The fully-assembled, 172-foot-tall rocket will be transferred aboard the MLP the one-third-of-a-mile from the VIF to the Space Launch Complex-41 pad in a few weeks for the Integrated Day-of-Launch Test (IDOLT), also known as a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR). The rocket will be returned to the VIF briefly after the countdown test to undergo final preps.
Launch of the Orbital Flight Test is targeted for no earlier than Dec. 17.
June 13, 2019 -- Watch the latest episode when we learn about the Emergency Detection System -- unique technology developed for the Atlas V Starliner designers to protect the crew and monitor the health of the rocket.
June 5, 2019 -- Another rocket shipment from the United Launch Alliance factory has arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and this one is extra special.The Mariner cargo vessel sails into Port Canaveral carrying the Atlas V booster and Centaur for the CFT launch. Photo: United Launch Alliance
The Mariner cargo ship has delivered the Atlas V booster stage and the Dual Engine Centaur upper stage that will write a new chapter in human spaceflight history by launching the first astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
The rocket delivered, designated AV-082, departed the factory in Decatur, Alabama, on May 23 for the journey that spanned rivers, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to reach Port Canaveral for berthing at the unloading wharf.
The ship arrived at dawn Saturday, June 1. The cradle carrier holding Centaur rolled off the Mariner on Monday, June 3, followed by another truck pulling the Atlas stage today.
Now at the launch site, the Atlas V will undergo receiving checks and await the start of operations for its mission to send three astronauts to the station on the Crew Test Flight (CFT) of Starliner.
The Centaur exits the Mariner. Photo credit: ULA
As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the CFT mission carrying Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann will fully demonstrate Starliner and Atlas V’s ability to safely carry crew to and from the orbiting laboratory.
Ferguson, a retired Navy captain born in Philadelphia, flew on three space shuttle missions, serving as pilot on space shuttle Atlantis' STS-115 mission in 2006 that installed a solar power truss on the International Space Station, commander of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission in 2008 that brought up critical equipment to remodel the outpost's interior in preparation for doubling the size of its resident crews and commander of Atlantis' STS-135 mission that brought the shuttle program to completion, marking the most recent human spaceflight launch from U.S. soil in 2011. He has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, has accumulated 5,700 hours of flight time in more than 30 types of aircraft and logged 40 days in space.
Fincke, a native of Pittsburgh, is a retired Air Force colonel with master's degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford and planetary geology from the University of Houston. In the Air Force, he was a test engineer and amassed over 1,900 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft. He was the science officer for Expedition 9 in 2004 on the space station, commander of Expedition 18 in 2008-2009 and a spacewalker on STS-134, the next-to-last shuttle flight, in 2011.
Mann, born in Petaluma, California, is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. and Naval Aviator with 47 combat missions to her credit in Iraq and Afghanistan for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She also earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering with a specialty in fluid mechanics from Stanford. CFT will be her first spaceflight after working closely with Boeing to develop Starliner spacecraft systems.
The three astronauts are currently in training for an extended duration stay at the station, contributing to life and work aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The Atlas first stage for CFT arrives at Cape Canaveral. Photo credit: ULA
CFT will be the second Starliner flight following the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) targeted to launch to the station in August. The rocket for OFT, tail number AV-080, was brought to the Cape last year.
Both flights are key elements of NASA's Commercial Crew Program that returns the capability of launching astronauts into orbit on American rockets from U.S. soil.
Atlas rockets safely launched four human spaceflights in NASA's Project Mercury between 1962 and 1963, including the historic voyage of John Glenn to become the first American to orbit the Earth. The legacy of Mercury-Atlas is the foundation for the Atlas V rocket to launch astronauts in Starliner.
The CFT first stage enters the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. Photo credit: ULA
May 23, 2019 -- The first Atlas V rocket to launch astronauts into space emerged from the United Launch Alliance factory today, rolling into a giant cargo ship for transport to Cape Canaveral.The Atlas V booster and Centaur stages leave the Decatur factory today for CFT launch. Photo: United Launch Alliance
ULA built the Atlas V at the sprawling 1.6-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama, taking raw materials and turning them into a rocket to launch the first crew of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
After speeches celebrating the milestone by Alabama elected officials and ULA and Boeing dignitaries in attendance, ULA workers moved the Atlas V booster stage and Centaur upper stage down the road for loading into the Mariner vessel docked nearby.
The 312-foot-long ship is purpose-built to navigate both shallow waters of rivers and ocean travel to reach ULA's launch sites. It has been making the trek from Decatur to Cape Canaveral since 2001.
The Atlas first stage for CFT travels down the road the Decatur dock. Photo credit: ULA
This rocket, known as AV-082, will launch Starliner on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. CFT will follow the maiden voyage of Starliner, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) targeted for August.
Aboard will be Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, a three-time space shuttle astronaut and commander of space shuttle Atlantis on the final shuttle mission; NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, a veteran of three spaceflights, including two long-duration stays on the International Space Station, and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, a spaceflight rookie making her first trip into space.
Once at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Atlas V will begin integrated operations and processing for the CFT launch.
Boeing's Rick Navarro and ULA's Gary Wentz addressed dignitaries and the news media in front of the CFT booster in the factory before rollout. Photo credit: ULA
May 1, 2019 -- Systems Engineer Greg Plettinck received NASA’s prestigious Silver Snoopy Award for outstanding support of NASA in his role as ascent room coordinator for the upcoming Atlas V Starliner missions.ULA’s Greg Plettinck, receiving a Silver Snoopy award, is joined by (L to R): NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams, ULA CEO Tory Bruno, astronaut Eric Boe, Plettinck, and CFT crew members Chris Ferguson, Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann. Photo: ULA
Plettinck received the award on April 30 from Eric Boe, chief of NASA’s astronaut office, and Boeing astronaut Christopher Ferguson during a town hall event in Denver. NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award is presented by astronauts to aerospace industry professionals for outstanding performance that contributes to mission success. Less than 1 percent of aerospace professionals are honored with the award annually, making it a special honor to receive this award.
In the nomination, Boe articulated that Plettinck’s leadership and comprehensive training plan for the ascent team was critical in preparation for upcoming flight tests. In addition, Plettinck’s attention to detail and dedication has created a realistic training environment to sharpen the skills of both the ground teams and the astronauts.
“The flight crew recognize that the success of each mission is measured by the dedication to excellence and teamwork of people such as you,” said Boe. “Your efforts have demonstrated that you are a vital link in the success of our space programs and we thank you for your contributions.”
Plettinck accepted the Silver Snoopy pin along with a certificate and commendation letter in front of colleagues and said he was surprised and humbled to receive the prestigious award.
“I think of the flight crew as part of my family and conduct all of my tasks with them in mind. It feels like everything comes full circle. The last Space Shuttle mission I worked on was STS-133 before getting hired at ULA, the very flight that this Silver Snoopy pin flew on,” Plettinck said. “I am grateful to ULA, Boeing, and NASA for the opportunity to contribute to the safety and success of human spaceflight.
April 17, 2019 -- United Launch Alliance is finalizing production of the Atlas V rockets that will launch the first two crewed flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station, known as the Crew Flight Test (CFT) and Post Certification Mission-1 (PCM-1).RL10 engines that will power CFT into space. Photo credit: ULA
At our factory in Decatur, Alabama, skilled technicians are putting the finishing touches on the CFT hardware before shipment to the Cape Canaveral launch site, and also working on the assembly and testing of the PCM-1 rocket.
These launches will be the second and third flights of the Starliner program. The first flight, the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), will be an uncrewed checkout mission to the International Space Station scheduled for August 2019. All Atlas V hardware for OFT is in Cape Canaveral and will soon begin processing for the first flight.The Atlas first stage for CFT is in final processing in Decatur. Photo credit: ULA
The CFT launch vehicle, designated AV-082, is in final processing in Decatur and will soon travel to Florida in the Mariner cargo ship. The Atlas V first stage and the Dual Engine Centaur (DEC) upper stage are fully assembled and now undergoing closeouts in preparation to depart the factory.
The PCM-1 rocket, designated AV-085, is making great strides in its manufacturing. The first stage tanks have been completed and the Dual Engine Centaur is in the final assembly cleanroom. The pictures below show the forward adapter that will hold the vehicle avionics being installed on the Centaur tank structure.The Centaur for PCM-1 being assembled. Photo credit: ULA
For each Starliner launch, the Atlas V first stage will fire for four-and-a-half minutes before separating. The DEC then ignites its twin Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines for a burn lasting more than seven minutes to put the spacecraft on the trajectory to reach the International Space Station.
CFT will carry Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann for an extended duration test flight to live and work aboard the station. The trio is undergoing training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, learning the intricate details of Starliner's systems and operational information about the station facility. Fincke and Mann are training to conduct spacewalks at the station, while Ferguson is rehearsing his support role from inside the complex.Both Centaurs for CFT and PCM-1 sit side-by-side in the Clean Room in the factory. Photo credit: ULA
PCM-1 will be NASA's first operational mission on Starliner, taking astronauts Suni Williams and Josh Cassada on a long duration expedition to the orbiting laboratory.
Starliner, and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets that will launch the spacecraft, are key elements of NASA's Commercial Crew Program to restore the capability to send astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil.
Feb. 18, 2019 -- The joint team that will launch the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on its Orbital Test Flight conducted a successful Integrated Crew Exercise (ICE) on Feb. 12.
ULA, Boeing, NASA and Air Force personnel executed a mock countdown that practiced fueling the rocket and operating on the unique launch day timeline that features a four-hour built-in hold at the T-minus 4 minute mark. The Blue Team entered Space Launch Complex-41 and took the Crew Access Tower elevator to the White Room for simulated work to ready the Starliner’s crew module for flight.
The team was given simulated issues with hardware and downrange assets to exercise troubleshooting, problem resolution procedures and the coordination that goes into adjusting the countdown as necessary. There were even simulated challenges from the weather, forcing officials to react to a changing weather conditions at the pad.
The exercise culminated with a successful liftoff and climb into space.
Participants were in various locations just like they will be on the day of launch, including Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Denver, Colorado and Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Formal rehearsals like this one allow the combined organizations to practice as one team, demonstrate the roles and responsibilities of each team member and practice the countdown scripts.
Leading the Atlas V countdown were ULA Chief Launch Conductor Doug Lebo, ULA Launch Director Bill Cullen and ULA Anomaly Chief Dave McFarland. Key personnel leading CST-100 Starliner activities were Spacecraft Mission Director LeRoy Cain at the Cape, Spacecraft Launch Conductor Louis Atchison at Boeing Mission Control at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Flight Director Richard Jones in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Commercial Crew astronaut Mike Fincke also participated in the simulation.
The OFT will be the uncrewed test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Starliner will launch to the International Space Station for an automated rendezvous and docking, complete a short stay and then return to Earth.
Feb. 13, 2019 -- Watch the episode where a rocket scientist (Tory Bruno, ULA CEO and President) and an Astronaut (Chris Ferguson, Boeing Astronaut) discuss the Atlas V Starliner, Star Wars and Star Trek, favorite moments leading to launch, their excitement about launch day and more.
Dec. 11, 2018 -- All launch vehicle hardware has been delivered to Cape Canaveral for the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to launch Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.
The Atlas V first stage rolled off of the Mariner cargo vessel on Dec. 7 at the Cape Canaveral wharf for the short drive to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center for receiving inspections and checkout.
Mariner is the ocean-going vessel that ULA uses to transport rocket stages from the manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama to the launch sites. The Atlas stage departed the factory Nov. 28 for the journey of nearly 2,000 miles.
Early in 2019, the stage will move further north to the Vertical Integration Facility to be raised on the mobile launch platform. The twin solid rocket boosters will be mounted to the bottom of the first stage. Then, the top of the rocket stack, which consists of the interstage, Centaur upper stage and payload adapter, will be hoisted into position.
This delivery means all of the hardware that ULA needs to launch the first Starliner has been received at the launch site for final integration.
Nov. 29, 2018 -- The dual-engine Centaur upper stage that will power Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner crew capsule into space for its Orbital Flight Test is one step closer to launch.
Inside a ULA launch site test cell, the Centaur has been hoisted upright and attached to the interstage adapter that supports the stage atop the Atlas V rocket’s first stage during the initial minutes of launch. The Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) was mated to the forward end of Centaur and provides the mechanical interface to attach Starliner.
This three-piece combined element is called the OVI stack, or Off-site Vertical Integration, for the Atlas V rocket’s launch campaign. It will be driven to the Vertical Integration Facility and lifted atop the first stage when the time comes.
The Atlas V program evolved to OVI stacking operations in 2015 to improve launch processing techniques and enable schedule efficiencies. This process eliminates several days of lifting operations at the VIF that would require acceptable weather to stack each structure separately.
The Centaur was built at ULA’s manufacturing facility located in Decatur, Alabama. It arrived at Cape Canaveral aboard the Mariner cargo ship on Oct. 19 and spent two weeks undergoing receiving activities at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center before the short drive to the Delta Operations Center to begin the OVI assembly sequence. The LVA arrived at the Cape on Nov. 12.
Centaur will separate from the interstage adapter during in-flight staging before igniting its twin RL10A-4-2 engines more than four minutes after liftoff. Starliner will be released from the Launch Vehicle Adapter when the spacecraft separates from the Atlas V to conclude the launch.
Nov. 15, 2018 -- An elite group of United Launch Alliance (ULA) specialists will serve as an ascent flight control team during launches of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft aboard Atlas V rockets.
Stationed in the Vehicle Ascent and Launch Operations Room (VALOR) at ULA’s Denver headquarters, this dedicated team will monitor the health and performance of the Atlas V rocket during every Starliner capsule’s climb to space.
The safety of astronauts is paramount in the return of human spaceflight launch capabilities to the United States, and ULA’s VALOR team takes this responsibility seriously. The highly trained engineers staffing the consoles will provide real-time status of the Atlas V vehicle and assist in making real-time decisions with Boeing’s flight director at Mission Control in Houston.
“This ULA Ascent Team in the VALOR is Boeing’s and the flight crew’s insight into the launch vehicle during ascent. If you compare it to the space shuttle program, we are equivalent to the BOOSTER position in Mission Control,” said Gregory Plettinck, the Ascent Room Coordinator (ARC).
VALOR is located in the Denver Operations Support Center, which provides engineering expertise during all ULA launches. This new room is isolated to ensure no distractions to the engineers’ work that goes beyond the normal level of ascent data monitoring.
Console positions will monitor all critical systems, like avionics, the engines, fuel tanks and the vehicle navigation. They also will be supplying confirmation of launch ascent events to Mission Control in Houston, such as engine ignitions, throttling events and cutoffs, and the jettisoning of the twin solid rocket boosters, the first stage, aeroskirt and Starliner itself.
“The team undergoes extensive training and all members must be certified to properly carry out their roles on day of launch. The safety of the flight crew depends on them,” said ULA Mission Manager Caleb Weiss.
In addition, VALOR will offer situational awareness of any off-nominal launch vehicle data in the telemetry stream from the rocket and prompt the engineers to report flight rule violations if they occur.
“In the event of a developing anomaly, the team will provide a recommendation to the flight director in Houston on the course of action to best keep the crew safe,” Weiss said.
The VALOR will be available to support other missions that use an Ascent Team such as the ULA-made Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage on NASA’s Space Launch System.
Nov. 12, 2018 –The Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) that will attach Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft to the Atlas V launch vehicle arrived at Cape Canaveral from the United Launch Alliance factory today.
The Mariner cargo vessel brought the LVA and two stages of a Delta IV rocket from our manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama. The ship, which was purpose-built to transport the large diameter Delta IV stages to Florida and California launch sites, set sail on Nov. 3 and traveled nearly 2,000 miles, arriving Nov. 11.
Technicians unloaded the elements today and they were transported for the LVA to begin integrated operations with the Centaur upper stage.
The LVA is the specially-designed structure that will be fitted to the top of Centaur. It will soon be attached to the Centaur during pre-launch stacking operations and eventually support the Starliner spacecraft during launch of the Orbital Flight Test next year.
Also part of the LVA is the aeroskirt, which ULA designed in collaboration with Boeing and NASA for added aerodynamic stability during the flight. This metallic orthogrid structure will smooth the air flow over the Starliner-Atlas V vehicle, and will be nominally jettisoned after the first stage of flight. The aeroskirt also has provisions for venting in the event the Starliner abort engines are fired.
OFT, the precursor to Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, is being performed in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to return the nation’s human spaceflight launch capability.
Oct. 25, 2018 -- Barry “Butch” Wilmore, the NASA astronaut who piloted shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 flight and commanded Expedition 42 on the International Space Station, stopped by ULA today to check out the dual-engine Centaur upper stage and engage with employees working on the Commercial Crew Program.
Oct. 19, 2018 -- The dual-engine Centaur upper stage that will launch Boeing's first Starliner spacecraft on its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station has arrived at Cape Canaveral for final processing by United Launch Alliance technicians.
The stage arrived Oct. 19 aboard the Mariner cargo ship, the ocean-going vessel that ULA uses to transport rocket stages from the manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama to the launch sites.
Wrapped in a protective covering for the transit, the Centaur was offloaded at the Port Canaveral wharf and driven on a specialized trailer to ULA's Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center for initial arrival checks.
Later, it will move to the Delta Operations Center to be raised vertically, mounted onto the interstage structure and fitted with the adapter that will support Starliner atop the rocket. That combined stack will then be ready for mating to the Atlas V first stage at the Vertical Integration Facility next year.
Mariner left Decatur on Oct. 10 for the journey of nearly 2,000 miles.
The venerable Centaur will resume flights in a dual-engine configuration -- which was once commonplace -- for this inaugural launch of Starliner. The last Centaur stage to utilize two engines was an Atlas IIAS rocket launch in 2004.
The Atlas V has needed only single-engine Centaurs to perform all of its launches to date to deliver payloads to their intended destinations, but the Starliner mass along with the need to shape the trajectory to limit astronaut accelerations and optimize ascent abort performance in case of a vehicle failure necessitates the thrust of two engines.
For the OFT launch, the Centaur will be powered by a pair of Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4-2 cryogenic engines, burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to generate nearly 45,000 pounds of thrust.
Centaur flew for the 250th time on Oct. 17 in launching the Air Force's AEHF-4 protected communications satellite. Two-thirds of those previous launches were dual-engine configurations.
The high-energy stage has launched spacecraft to every planet in our solar system, plus the moon, Pluto and solar observatories, and critical national security, communications and weather satellites.