Boeing - CST-100 Starliner
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is a 21st century human space transportation platform optimized for missions to low Earth orbit. In its design, Boeing leveraged decades of heritage in human spaceflight as well as incorporated new technologies to make a safe and reliable vehicle. Starliner’s two main pieces are the crew module and service module, and the crew module is intended to be reused on 10 missions.
The Starliner is a reusable spacecraft that combines a proven capsule architecture, materials and subsystem technologies with 21st century innovations. The Starliner’s economic impact can be seen across the United States, with more than 425 suppliers in 37 states.
The pusher abort system provides safe crew escape throughout the launch and ascent phase of the mission. Wireless internet will assist with crew communication, entertainment and docking with the International Space Station. An innovative weldless design eliminates the structural risks of traditional welds, and it also reduces mass and production time. Boeing-developed training devices provide Starliner crews extensive training on the most technologically advanced, proven and integrated systems, ensuring astronauts learn how to handle any situation that could arise in the harsh environment of space, even with a spacecraft that is designed to be autonomous.
In addition to both an uncrewed and a crewed flight test, NASA has ordered six Boeing crew rotation missions to the International Space Station aboard the Starliner, which will be Boeing's first commercial human spaceflight missions. Every American spacecraft that has carried astronauts into space was designed and built by Boeing or Boeing’s heritage companies. Starliner’s crew access tower is the first new access tower to be built along Florida’s Space Coast since the Apollo era. The crew access arm and white room, which are about 169 feet (51.5 meters) above the launch pad surface of Space Launch Complex 41, are where crews will begin boarding the Starliner before launch.
Space Launch Complex 41 has been used only for non-crew spacecraft to this point, hosting Titan rockets beginning in 1965 and then the Atlas V since 2002. Notable NASA missions launched from the Starliner launch pad include the Viking robots that landed on Mars, the Voyager spacecraft that toured the outer planets, the New Horizons probe that flew past Pluto, and the Curiosity rover currently traversing Mars.
Boeing contracted with United Launch Alliance (ULA) for use of their Atlas V rocket for Starliner launches. All ULA Atlas V launches occur from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which directly adjoins NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. ULA and Boeing made several modifications to SLC-41 to accommodate the unique equipment and procedures needed for a human launch. The most noticeable is the crew access tower, crew access arm and emergency egress system, which is to only be used to evacuate crews on the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency. This will be the first time humans have flown into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the 1960s.
ULA’s Atlas V is an industry workhorse. Boeing chose the Atlas V for its unparalleled record of mission success. Capable of various configurations, the Atlas V will be in a N22 setup for all Starliner launches. The “N” stands for “no fairing” as the rocket will not have a fairing typically used for uncrewed satellite payloads. The first “2” represents the two solid rocket boosters added to the first stage and the second “2” represents the two engines on the Centaur upper stage.
Pre-flight processing, launch, on-orbit, landing and recovery operations are all vital to conduct a successful mission. Boeing’s approach of contracting with ULA for the ride to orbit means the two companies are working closely as they prepare for launch. This requires extensive collaboration and coordination to ensure the rocket and spacecraft will not only be technically and physically compatible, but also that the teams work flawlessly together on launch day. For example, ULA is incorporating crew operations into their pre-launch activities for the first time.
The Crew Flight Test, part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA, is Boeing’s final test flight, which will validate all aspects of its crew transportation system, including the CST-100 Starliner, the Atlas V launch vehicle and all associated launch and landing recovery hardware and operational procedures. On this mission, two NASA astronauts, Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, will be joined by Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson. All three will don the new Boeing-blue spacesuit, head to the launch pad in the company’s crew transportation vehicle and strap into their next-generation spacecraft. Once the hatch is closed, the launch abort system will actively monitor the rocket in the unlikely event of anomaly.
Once on-orbit, the crew will verify the spacecraft flies as intended by testing, among other things, the environmental control system, the displays and the manual control systems. After about a day, they will begin their rendezvous and docking procedures with the space station. Starliner is designed to do this autonomously, but the crews, both on Starliner and station, and Boeing’s mission operations team in Houston, will be diligently monitoring the entire process.
After a successful docking, the crew will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station, where they will stay for between two weeks and six months, depending on crew rotation needs. They will perform tests on the docked Starliner to ensure it can stay on-orbit for the intended period of 210 days. At the conclusion of their mission, they will autonomously undock, position itself for reentry, conduct a deorbit burn and jettison the service module before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere and touching down on dry land, providing the final validation of Boeing’s Starliner to meet NASA’s needs. After landing in the Western United States, they will be retrieved by Boeing’s recovery team within one hour of touchdown and then flown back to Houston, finalizing the end-to-end validation of their crew transportation system.
Starliner-1 will be Boeing's first operational mission to the space station. Regular crewed flights to station are the realization of the final goal of the Commercial Crew Program: safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation of astronauts to low-Earth orbit on commercial spacecraft.
Boeing and SpaceX each faced significant safety and technical challenges with parachutes, propulsion, and launch abort systems that need to be resolved prior to receiving NASA authorization to transport crew to the ISS. The complexity of these issues has already caused at least a 2-year delay in both contractors’ development, testing, and qualification schedules and may further delay certification of the launch vehicles by an additional year. Consequently, given the amount, magnitude, and unknown nature of the technical challenges remaining with each contractor’s certification activities, CCP will continue to be challenged to establish realistic launch dates. Furthermore, final vehicle certification for both contractors will likely be delayed at least until summer 2020 based on the number of ISS and CCP certification requirements that remain to be verified and validated.
In June 2018, Boeing suffered an anomaly during a Starliner launch abort engine hot fire test due to malfunctioning valves that caused engine pressure fluctuations, fuel leaks, and a fire that subsequently damaged part of the test article. The purpose of this test was to demonstrate the vehicle’s integrated propulsion system performance and system dynamics. Boeing successfully conducted follow-up tests to requalify the system in May 2019. As a result of the anomaly and required corrective actions to the propulsion system, the planned follow-on pad abort test was delayed a year until November 2019. During this test, a parachute deployment anomaly occurred resulting in deployment of only two of the three main parachutes. Boeing stated it identified a preliminary cause of the anomaly and is taking steps to address the issue. However, Boeing also emphasized that having two of three parachutes deploy successfully is acceptable for crew safety.
Years behind schedule and over budget, Boeing Co. launched its Starliner astronaut capsule on 20 December 2019, but in a blow to the aerospace giant and NASA, the uncrewed capsule failed to reach the orbit necessary to rendezvous successfully with the International Space Station (ISS). NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that an onboard automated clock malfunctioned causing the Starliner to burn more fuel than anticipated. That extra burn put the spacecraft off-track and unable to safely rendezvous and dock with the ISS - the test flight's main objective.
To date, NASA had paid Boeing just less than $4.5bn for developing the Starliner. Boeing's direct competitor in the Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX already launched an uncrewed Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS last March, putting Elon Musk's upstart company ahead of the aerospace behemoth. What's more, SpaceX has come this far for roughly $2.6bn.
Boeing plans to send its new Starliner manned spacecraft to the ISS on 31 August 2020. Boeing was in a race with SpaceX and its Crew Dragon to develop the next capsule to take Western astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX plans to make the first manned flight of the Crew Dragon in the second quarter of 2020 and has its own $2.6 billion crew capsule contract with NASA.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|