Sen—KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL—Boeing is moving full speed ahead with ambitious plans to build and fly America’s and indeed the world’s first private spaceships destined to transport humans to orbit, after being awarded the lion’s share of NASA’s commercial crew contract barely two month ago.
Boeing’s offering is the CST-100, a commercially developed ‘space taxi’ that can carry a mix of cargo and crew of up to seven passengers that will dock to the International Space Station (ISS) within a day or two of blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The overarching design philosophy was to create an astronaut transporter that’s as simple, reliable and cost effective as possible and to kick start US human spaceflight efforts as soon as possible—and do so within strictly constrained budgets that amount to barely a fraction of those available in the heyday of the space race in the 1960s.
“The CST-100 is a cheap, cost effective vehicle that doesn’t need to be luxurious because it only needs to hold people for 48 hours.It’s a simple ride up to and back from space,” said Chris Ferguson, NASA’s final shuttle commander and now director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations, in an interview with Sen
Boeing initiated work to develop the CST-100 crew capsule only four years ago and with a rather “small team numbering a few dozen,” said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and general manager of Exploration, in an interview.
Boeing’s CST-100 private 'Space Taxi' will carry crews of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS.Full scale capsule mockup shows astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
On Sept. 16, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that Boeing had won the high stakes competition to manufacture something the world has never seen before—a private ‘space taxi’ designed to ferry humans to low Earth orbit and the space station.
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Center, Administrator Bolden made the historic announcement that Boeing would be awarded a contract valued at $4.2 Billion to manufacture the CST-100 ‘astronaut spaceliner’ under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of NASA’s commercial crew program (CCP) effort. The CCP programs goal is to restore Americas capability to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets to the ISS and end the nations sole source reliance on Russia’s Soyuz manned capsules that has been in place since the forced retirement of NASA’s trio of space shuttle orbiters in 2011, following wheel stop on Ferguson’s STS-135 mission.
Bolden went on to say that competitor SpaceX would also be awarded a distinctly smaller space taxi contract worth $2.6 Billion to manufacture their Dragon V2 crew vehicle.
The space taxi awards are the culmination of the initial phase of NASA’s commercial crew program effort to stimulate the development of new American man-rated spaceships as a public-private partnership to get Americans back to space on an indigenous vehicle as rapidly as feasible.
The current schedule calls for the first orbital flight tests to launch in 2017. It will soar to space atop a newly man rated Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Ferguson outlined an exciting and ambitious strategy for those initial flight tests.
“Both the first unmanned and manned test flights will be in 2017. The first unmanned orbital flight test is currently set for January 2017,” he explained.
“The first manned test flight could happen by the end of summer 2017 with a two person crew,” Ferguson told me. “For the 1st manned test flight we want go to all the way to the space station.
“We want to dock at the space station. And maybe spend a couple of weeks there.”
The CST-100 is being designed at Boeing’s Houston Product Support Center in Texas and is comprised of a crew module (CM) and service module (SM). It will be manufactured at KSC.
I toured inside a full scale mockup of the CST-100 at KSC to gain firsthand experience with its capabilities and layout directly from Boeing’s management team.
The CST-100 crew vehicle sports five comfortable recliner seats, a hatch, several windows, a nifty pilots control console with an array of attached Samsung tablets for crew interfaces, wireless internet, a space station docking port at the top and ample storage space and lockers spread around to hold about 220 kilograms including an array of equipment and science experiment allotments varying on what’s need most at the station for that particular flight.
“The crew size will be five. We can go to seven if we have to,” said Ferguson.
I found the vehicle’s interior to be remarkably spacious compared to looking at it from outside. And it features Boeing’s signature LED Sky Lighting and adjustable blue hue from its 787 Dreamliner airplanes to enhance crew comfort.
The capsule measures 4.56 meters (175 inches) in diameter. Along with the service module it stands 5.03 meters (16.5 feet) high.
Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporter selected by NASA to launch crews to the ISS. Image credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s commercial crew transportation program was nearly derailed just days after the awards announcement when the third bidder in the sweepstakes, Sierra Nevada Corp, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) protesting the loss of their Dream Chaser space plane contender, forcing NASA to issue a stop work order to Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA reversed course on Oct. 9 and told Boeing and SpaceX to resume work immediately under the “statutory authority available to NASA.”
Overall, the gap in America’s ability to launch humans to orbit will stretch a very long six years. But with America’s next crew capsule designs selected at last, better days are finally ahead.
Interior look of Boeing CST-100. Image credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com