Atlas 5 man-rated upgrades approved by NASA for Starliner launches

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Capitalism in space: ULA announced this week that its Atlas 5 rocket has passed a NASA review that now approves the design changes necessary to allow that rocket to launch Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule.

“Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations,” said Barb Egan, ULA Commercial Crew program manager. “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.”

Launch vehicle production is currently on track for an uncrewed August 2018 Orbital Flight Test (OFT).

The schedule to make that August flight happen still remains tight, but this approval brings it one step closer.



  • ken anthony

    It’s a bit unfair to all companies involved, now and future, that there will be a loss of life one day and the other companies will use it against them. Only possibly restrained by the fact they may get their turn. I hope I’m being overly cynical?

  • Localfluff

    Finally! This should’ve been done so long ago. Atlas V, I read, has 73 out of 74 launch successes, and the partially failed one had its upper stage firing four seconds too late or early, only marginally lowering the lifetime of its payload. Big space has one advantage and that is track record for launch reliability. I doubt that Boeing, Lockmart or Arianespace can compete head on with low cost launch technology anytime soon. I think they should keep their proven launchers flying for longer than now seems anticipated. And crew them in order to motivate the extra hundred million or so per trip. Ariane V launching JWST, that’s their market. Big budget projects where another hundred million doesn’t matter anymore, they just want a rocket that has never failed.

  • Doug

    Why does Boeing not have to do an inflight abort test?

  • Kirk

    +Doug: The best explanation I’ve found is:

    > … However, Boeing will not perform a flight-abort test, said former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, now Boeing’s director of crew and mission operations.

    > “We looked very early on at where we could get the most testing value,” Ferguson said, and “made the conscious decision” that the company could certify the vehicle in a wind tunnel and did not need to conduct a flight-abort test. He added that “we consider the pad-abort test more robust and challenging” and said the company is currently conducting many abort-system tests in a wind tunnel.

    > Kathy Lueders, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, confirmed that NASA’s safety thresholds did not specifically require an in-flight test of the abort system. The guidelines did require that the companies “show that they have the abort reliability that we needed to have. And so we provided them the ability to propose their own strategy for how they met that, and both currently are meeting the requirements.”

  • wodun

    Would SpaceX us an old F9 for the in flight abort test or will they use a new F9 Block V?

    The former wouldn’t represent too much of a cost and SpaceX is probably wondering how they will get rid of their old stock.

    It is nice to see that all of these companies are finishing up this program and will finally start flinging people.

  • Anthony Domanico


    It was my understanding that SpaceX won’t be doing an in-flight abort test. Has this changed or am I mistaken?

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