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.
The same teammates who packed Starliner for its Orbital Flight Test began moving cargo to access recordings of four onboard camera views, which are anticipated to be released next week. They reported the interior of the crew module looks like it did before lifting off atop an Atlas V rocket last week. Even the tethered gravity indicator – Snoopy – was in the pilot’s seat at landing. That means the layout of the interior is well-suited to support crew members in the future. Additionally, initial indications are that Starliner’s fully operational life support system functioned as intended. The spacecraft also used a fraction of its onboard fuel during the flight through Earth’s atmosphere and landing in White Sands, N.M., confirming aerodynamic models developed for the spacecraft.
Ground teams also began downloading substantial data from myriad sensors aboard Starliner. The information will be used to determine the exact conditions of various stages of flight, including what astronauts will experience when they fly aboard Starliner for the first time.
Stored aboard data recorders inside the spacecraft, the readouts are more precise in some cases than what was transmitted to Mission Control in Houston during the flight test. Taken together, the information provides a more complete picture of what took place during the mission, from guidance and navigation system readings to physical conditions inside the crew module.
Rosie the Rocketeer, who is still in place inside the Starliner spacecraft, has already conveyed the data picked up by her accelerometers and force measurement sensors to begin analysis by engineers over the holidays. Telemetry transmitted directly from the spacecraft during the landing showed a soft impact onto the sands of New Mexico. Rosie’s sensors are expected to confirm those first readings.
The spacecraft, which shows little scorching from the heat of atmospheric entry, was moved into a protective facility at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range the day after landing. Preparations are now underway to make the spacecraft safe for transport back to Florida where it will undergo even more detailed inspections prior to refurbishment. The move is expected to start after the first of the year and will take about 10 days.
This same Starliner, now named Calypso, is slated to fly a long-duration mission to the International Space Station, carrying NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Josh Cassada, along with two international partner astronauts. In parallel, work continues on another Starliner spacecraft that will carry Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke to the space station for the program’s first crewed flight test. The Boeing team is committed to incorporating lessons learned from the Orbital Flight Test into every aspect of the program, from the build of the vehicle to operational aspects, to ensure safe and successful future flights.