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Update from ULA’s first human launch of NASA astronauts Wilmore and Williams to the ISS – SatNews

Launch vehicle on stand: Atlas V Starliner Crew Flight Test
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster arrives at the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) adjacent to Space Launch Complex-41 on the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket will launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft during the Crew Flight Test (CFT) with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station. Photo by United Launch Alliance

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launches on May 6, 2024 at 10:34 PM EDT Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft carrying two NASA astronauts, Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita (Suni ) Williams on the Crew Flight Test (CFT).


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After separation from Atlas V, the Starliner engines will burn and complete the remainder of the journey to orbit to the International Space Station. CFT is ULA’s first human launch. The launch will take place from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Go Atlas! Go Centaur! Go for Starliner!

Mission Overview

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket will launch Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft carrying two NASA astronauts on the Crew Flight Test (CFT). After separation from Atlas V, the Starliner engines will burn and complete the remainder of the journey to orbit to the International Space Station. CFT is ULA’s first human launch. The launch will take place from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

CFT is the final test to demonstrate the full end-of-end capabilities of the Starliner system to deliver crews to and from the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The unique Atlas configuration for Starliner includes a Centaur upper stage with two engines to deliver the performance needed to shape the trajectory for crew safety; a launch vehicle adapter that structurally attaches the Starliner to the Atlas V rocket for liftoff; a 1.8 meter long aero skirt to improve the Atlas V’s aerodynamic properties, stability and load-bearing; and an emergency detection system that provides an extra layer of safety for astronauts riding the reliable Atlas V. The Atlas V Starliner launch countdown has a scheduled, built-in four-hour pause at the T-minus 4 minutes. This allows the rocket to be fueled and placed in a rest state before the astronauts board the spacecraft.

CFT bridges the history of Atlas with today’s rocket. The first orbital spaceflights of American astronauts in the 1960s were launched by Atlas rockets from Cape Canaveral in Project Mercury. That legacy continues with the launch of Atlas V crews from U.S. soil.

Launch vehicle

Spacecraft

The Atlas V Starliner configuration is specifically adapted for the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and does not include a payload fairing. Instead, the Starliner’s insulated surfaces take the place of the fairing to protect the unmanned spacecraft during ascent. The height of the vehicle with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner is approximately 172 ft (52.4 meters).

The CST-100 Starliner attaches to the Atlas V using a launch vehicle adapter (LVA), which also includes an aeroskirt to reduce aerodynamic loads on the vehicle. The aeroskirt is jettisoned for better performance after separation from the booster stages.

Centaur

The Centaur’s second stage has a diameter of 3 meters and a length of 12.6 meters. The propellant tanks are pressure stabilized and made of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. Centaur is a cryogenic vehicle, powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The Atlas V configuration for this mission is powered by twin RL10A-4-2 engines, each producing 22,600 lbs (100.5 kilo-Newtons) of thrust. The cryogenic tanks are insulated with a combination of helium flushed blankets, radiation shields and spray-on foam insulation (SOFI). The Centaur forward adapter (CFA) provides structural mountings for the fault-tolerant avionics system and electrical interfaces to the spacecraft. The Centaur also features an Emergency Detection System (EDS) that checks for critical hazards to detect an impending or occurring failure. The EDS also provides critical in-flight data that supports jettisoning takeoff coverage and initiating separation of CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

Booster

The booster has a diameter of 3.81 meters (12.5 ft) and a length of 32.4 meters (106.5 ft). The booster tanks are structurally rigid and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun-formed aluminum domes and intermediate tank skirts. Booster propulsion is provided by the RD-180 engine system (a single engine with two thrust chambers). The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lbs (3.83 mega-Newtons) of thrust at sea level. Two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) generate the additional power needed for takeoff, with each SRB providing 348,500 lbs (1.55 mega-Newtons) of thrust. The Centaur avionics system provides guidance, flight control and vehicle tracking functions during the booster and Centaur phases of flight.

Flight profile

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Space Launch Complex-41 // Processing

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Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41), the east coast home of the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, uses a clean path concept of operations to prepare launch vehicles and payloads prepare for ascent to space. The rocket elements are mounted on top of a mobile launch platform in the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF), located next to the launch pad. The platform and the fully stacked Atlas V then travel by rail approximately 550 meters north from the VIF to the platform for the final countdown, fueling and takeoff. Complex 41 was built by the US Air Force in the 1960s for the Titan missile program. From the late 1990s the site was rejuvenated to support the Atlas V.

1. Advanced Space Operations Center (ASOC)
Launch Control Center
Center of the Mission Director,
Mission Support Teams,
Launch of vehicle horizontal processing and
Ordnance installation
2. Delta Operations Center (DOC)
Vertical integration of ISA, Centaur, Boattail and Aeroskirt
3. Vertical integration facility
Launch of vehicle integration and
Testing, Spacecraft Mate &
Integrated operations

production

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1. Sacramento, CA
Solid Rocket Booster manufacturing
at Aerojet Rocketdyne
2. Denver, CO
ULA Headquarters and
Design Center Technology
3. Harlingen, Texas
Booster adapter &
Manufacture of Centaur adapters
4. Decatur, AL
Booster fabrication and final assembly,
Fabrication and final assembly of Centaur tanks
5. West Palm Beach, FL
RL10A-4-2 Motor Manufacture at
Aerojet Rocketdyne
6. Khimki, Russia

RD-180 Motor Manufacturing at
NPO Energomash