Launcher that will return US independence for human spaceflight passes key testing milestone

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Engineers at the Lockheed Martin and Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance have completed the Design Certification Review of the Atlas V Launch Segment, which will carry astronauts aboard the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The testing milestone has been widely heralded because when the Atlas V and Starliner combination is operational, which is planned to be before May 2019, it will mark the return of the USA’s capability to transport humans into space from its own soil. The USA has been reliant on using Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport crews to the International Space Station since the Atlantis space shuttle landed in July 2011.

Barb Egan, the manager of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Commercial Crew program, said, “Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations.

“Hardware and software final qualification tests are underway, as well as a major integrated test series, including structural loads. Future tests will involve launch vehicle hardware, such as jettison tests, acoustic tests, and, finally, a pad abort test in White Sands, New Mexico.”

Production of the launch vehicle is currently on track and an uncrewed orbital flight test (OFT) is planned for August. The OFT booster for this uncrewed flight is in final assembly at the factory in Decatur, Alabama, and the OFT’s upper stage has completed pressure testing.

Other hardware such as the launch vehicle adapter and aeroskirt production are on schedule to support the test program and flight, said ULA.

Gary Wentz, ULA’s human and commercial systems vice president, said, “We are progressing into the operational phase to launch the orbital flight test and crew Flight Test in 2018, and we are pleased with the progress we’re making toward a successful launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Atlas V.

“We cannot overstate the importance of all the steps that go into this process as there is more than just a mission or hardware at stake, but the lives of our brave astronauts.”

The Boeing Company selected ULA’s Atlas V rocket for human-rated spaceflight to the ISS in August 2011. ULA’s Atlas V has launched more than 70 times with a 100% mission success rate.

January 10, 2018

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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