“Test like you fly” is a mantra Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner team takes to heart, proven by the success of a recent environmental test campaign at Boeing’s Space Environment Test Facility in El Segundo, Calif. During testing, the first Starliner that will carry people to space was subjected to similar environmental conditions it will see on launch, ascent and orbit.
“Environmental testing is one of the most challenging campaigns of any spaceflight development program, and we succeeded in under 100 days," said John Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. "Thorough ground testing is a critical part of our strategy to ensure the shortest possible time between flight tests and long-duration missions for our NASA customer. "
In Boeing’s acoustic chamber, test teams subjected Starliner to intense sound waves that simulated liftoff and ascent. In the large thermal-vacuum chamber, the spacecraft experienced extreme temperature swings, from freezing cold to heat from solar radiation in a vacuum simulating the space environment. Finally, teams tested the spacecraft’s systems for potential electromagnetic interferences in a highly specialized, noise-free anechoic chamber.
The complex series of tests was needed to qualify Starliner for repeated missions to and from the International Space Station, with crew safety always the top priority.
In addition to environmental qualification testing, another version of Starliner specifically created for structural testing was put through hundreds of unique conditions, which yielded several billion points of data needed to validate Starliner’s structural design. Read more about that testing here.
“We put the spacecraft through a gauntlet of tests to prove it’s ready,” said Boeing Test & Evaluation’s Space Environmental Test Leader Brad Mejia. “Everything we needed to conduct the testing, including a team of experts who are used to testing for space, are right here in southern California.”
Having successfully completed environmental qualification testing, the spacecraft was carefully packaged and shipped via semi-truck back to Florida, where it will first leave the planet. There, teams will continue readying the spacecraft for that highly-anticipated first crewed launch into space.