Heaven on earth: Starliner environmental testing underway

Creating space conditions to prove Starliner is ready for flight

December 03, 2018 in Space, Technology

Boeing continues to bring CST-100 Starliner closer to space with environmental qualification. The series of carefully-planned, highly-orchestrated tests is designed to prove the spacecraft will survive the harsh conditions of space travel, including extreme heat and cold, electromagnetic radiation, vibration and vacuum.

To do this, Boeing’s environmental test team in El Segundo, California, is replicating all of those same conditions using highly specialized, state-of-the-art laboratories normally used to test and validate satellites for their journeys to space.

“When it came to deciding where to conduct this critical testing, El Segundo was the perfect solution,” said Alicia Evans, Starliner Environmental Qualification Test Lead.” “The capabilities and expertise needed to support this testing were already here, with test chambers large enough to handle the assembled spacecraft.”

Those test capabilities include a 68,000-cubic foot (1,925-cubic meter) acoustic chamber that will expose the spacecraft to intense vibration; a 60,000-cubic foot (1,700-cubic meter) thermal-vacuum chamber that will replicate extreme temperatures as well as vacuum for thermal and life support system testing; and the nearly 7,000-cubic foot (198-cubic meter) anechoic chamber, which will provide the perfect insulated environment to ensure electromagnetic waves don’t interfere with the spacecraft’s electronics systems.

Because this is not a test model but the actual spacecraft that will carry the first Starliner crew into orbit in 2019, proving its design is safe and spaceworthy is more than mission critical; it’s priority one.

“Our El Segundo team has shown us over and over again what they can achieve with our satellite programs. This time, however, their payload has family and friends to come home to when the mission is over,” said Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson. “We know this team is focused on making sure our ride is safe and successful,” he added.”

Boeing in Southern California has a proud, decades-long history of testing for space that goes back to the days of Apollo. In nearby Huntington Beach, BT&E teams are wrapping up structural testing on a full-scale Starliner spacecraft.

“The environmental test profile for Starliner is very complex,” said Environmental Lab Sr. Manager Brad Mejia. “But this facility is typically used to test satellites for space; this is what we do.”