NASA and Boeing's Orbital
Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) successfully launched on May 19, and now White Sands
Missile Range is preparing for the landing of the CST-100 Starliner
spacecraft. The spacecraft launched from Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape
Canaveral, Florida, and the anticipated landing is on May 25 at White Sands
Starliner's mission under NASA's Commercial Crew Program will be an uncrewed
test flight to the International Space Station, although it is a
transportation system for astronauts. It is the next step in NASA and
Boeing's process as they prepare for a future crewed flight test followed by
regular long-duration missions to the station.
This is the second landing of the Starliner spacecraft on the Army
installation, the first landing was in December 2019. In November of 2019,
the Boeing Pad Abort Test also landed successfully at White Sands Missile
Karla V. James works for the Materiel Test Directorate as the Air and Space
Branch Test Officer at White Sands Missile Range. This is James' third year
in the position, she works on the Starliner and other space-related projects
at the installation. She coordinates with NASA, Spaceport, Virgin Galactic,
and other space entities, especially when they need to utilize WSMR
The Starliner landing mission is one project that James and her team work on
throughout the year, working closely with the contractor, NASA, other
external organizations involved, and all the WSMR personnel who support the
"We ensure that there is a private industry contract with Boeing in place to
guarantee that they have the range elements that they need for their flight
tests and missions," said James. "We deal with funding, scheduling, and all
their required documentation. For example, we provide them a Ground Safety
Standard Operating Procedure to review and agree upon. That specific SOP has
different procedures to ensure we operate under safe measures."
Throughout the WSMR installation, several vital players provide their
expertise and skills in making the Landing and Recovery Mission successful
and safe for the surrounding communities.
"We work with several offices and people here at WSMR. The Flight Safety
Office obtains the trajectory profiles of where the capsule is coming in
from and sends out an evacuation notice which is our standard protocol for
safety purposes," said James.
James noted that they determine the capsule's trajectory on the day of the
anticipated landing and that weather is a significant factor. The WSMR
Meteorology Branch is heavily involved in providing weather data utilizing
weather balloon releases. If the weather or any other factor causes the
module to shift from the agreed-upon landing sites between WSMR and Boeing,
the crew module will need to land at an alternate site or delay the
"We also help Boeing move all their equipment from LC-32 to where they are
landing, which could be White Sands Space Harbor or Range Road 26," said
Since there are two potential landing sites on the installation, the entire
WSMR team, Boeing, NASA, and all other personnel need to be prepared for the
landing and recovery to happen at either location. They also have alternate
landing plans that are executable within a few hours if the flight tests or
missions need to return earlier than originally planned.
Additional offices like the White Sands Test Center Environmental Office are
also involved in designating the landing area. Initially, seven spots were
in the running to be the landing site. However, it was narrowed down to two
landing sites for this mission. The Environmental Assessment ensures that
both the landing spots and vicinities are free of certain cultural and
"If there is anything sensitive in a location, we must mitigate the activity
so that way we do not create damage of any kind to the land," said James
Thomas, Environmental Engineer for the White Sands Test Center. "We must
also demonstrate that there will be no significant lasting impact on the
land, while ensuring the final proposed action from our client fits within
the grand scheme."
James also has a team of Test Conductors who are vital to the mission's
planning and provide manpower on the day of landing. Since White Sands
Missile Range has strict security guidelines, Test Conductors escort
external personnel around the installation and are also eyes and ears for
the Test Officers. The Test Conductors and key players have Mission Dress
Rehearsals ahead of the landing. The Test Conductors take notes during the
rehearsals and make sure all the moving elements work. If something does not
go as planned, the Test Officers and Test Conductors come together to adjust
the plan before the actual mission.
Socorro Martinez is an Electronic Engineer for the White Sands Test Center
and is one of the Test Officers for this mission. One of her tasks is to
assist the Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery (SCIFLI) team that
supports the live streaming and coverage for NASA TV. Martinez works with
them to ensure the SCIFLI team has the correct angles for the landing, so
everything they capture is suitable.
"I lead the team who works the Counter Drones here at WSMR," said Martinez.
"For this mission, we are using one of our Counter Drones to video capture
an aerial view and all the work that goes into the recovery. One example is
that this footage will show all the different vehicles driving towards the
capsule after it lands, allowing people to see the large effort that goes
into the recovery of the capsule."
When Martinez does Counter Drone work, she collaborates closely with Evan
Gonzalez, Counter Unmanned Aircraft System Lead Pilot and SME for the Test
Technology Directorate. Since this mission added an unmanned aircraft
vehicle (UAV) element into the mix, she also works closely with him on this
"I make sure that everything we are planning for the UAV portion of filming
is feasible. Leading up to the mission, my job is to let people know what is
possible, and if it is not possible, I come up with an alternate plan that
will have a similar result," said Gonzalez. "The day of the mission, I will
be piloting the drone. I am the lead pilot of the Counter UAS Team, so most
of the time, the drones I fly are targets that are shot down."
Gonzalez said it is nice to pilot something that is not going down, and this
mission has more of a creative aspect than other White Sands Missile Range
missions. However, the planning and piloting skills that he uses daily are
very similar to his work on the Starliner capsule.
One aspect of the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range Garrison Fire
Department's involvement is providing and operating the decontamination
station. The Fire Department and others have received training on their part
in the landing and recovery process. In the future, they will also receive
training on what to do when the astronauts are present within the capsule.
"When the capsule lands, Boeing has a requirement to ensure it is safe to
approach the capsule and open the hatch," said James. "They send out Boeing
personnel in protective suits with hydrazine monitors and, depending on the
wind, determine where to set up the staging area. Up-wind or down-wind plays
a key part in the location."
Once the Boeing team determines that there are no hazardous chemicals like
hydrazine, the Fire Department helps them decontaminate in a makeshift
decontamination room. Then the Boeing staff is allowed to remove their
suits, and all the other team members supporting may approach the capsule
and execute their roles as the capsule recovery begins.
The projected Boeing CST-100 Starliner Landing and Recovery Mission at White
Sands Missile Range will live-stream on NASA TV at https://www.nasa.gov/.
White Sands Missile Range will also be sharing the live-stream on Facebook