Boeing’s commercial replacement for NASA’s retired Space Shuttle, the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100, has passed two major programme milestones.
The first milestone was a successful test of a launch abort engine. The second was the completion of a programme design study.
The U.S. aerospace giant is one of several companies to have received funds from NASA to develop a commercially operated crew transport system to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The funding is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development programme that began in 2009 and which aims to outsource near Earth space travel to commercial companies enabling NASA to focus on deep space exploration.
A mock-up of the crew capsule, used to evaluate different interior seating, control panel and equipment layouts. Credit: Boeing
Along with other companies also developing crew vehicles – SpaceX (Dragon), the Sierra Nevada Corporation (Dream Chaser) and Blue Origin – Boeing will sell seats on the CST-100 to NASA and other space agencies as well as to space tourists.
Under its contract with NASA, Boeing has to demonstrate the successful completion of a series of milestones.
On March 9, the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully tested the CST-100’s launch abort engine, the Bantam.
The abort engine is used in the event of an emergency during launch to separate the crew capsule from the main rocket – like an aircraft ejector seat.
The engine has now completed a “full flight-duration test”, which is essential to prove its flight worthiness.
The abort engine during testing: Credit: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
"The engine achieved full thrust on the 40,000-pound thrust-class engine while validating key operating conditions during engine start-up and shut down," says Terry Lorier, the Rocketdyne programme manager.
"The tests provided key thermal and analytical data."
The second milestone was passed on March 12. Boeing completed a Preliminary Design Review of their integrated Commercial Space Transport System, which, as well as the CST-100 capsule, also includes the launch vehicle and ground-based systems.
Combined, the two milestones earn Boeing $12.5 million (£8 million) from NASA. The American space agency has already invested about $110 million (£70 million) into the CST-100.
The CST-100 bears a strong resemblance to the Apollo capsules used to carry astronauts to Moon. The conical spacecraft, which, at 4.5m, is slightly wider than the Apollo capsules, will carry seven crew. It will land by parachute and will be reusable for up to ten missions.
The CST-100 will carry up to seven crew. Computer model: Boeing
It will be launched from the Atlas V rocket, which has a 100 per cent success rate from 29 launches and is operated by a company that is 50% owned by Boeing, United Launch Alliance.
To widen its commercial appeal, the CST-100 will be compatible with other launch systems, including the Delta IV and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.
It is expected that the CST-100 will begin flight tests in 2015 and enter commercial service with a flight to the ISS in 2016.
As well as flying to the International Space Station, in the future the CST-100 will fly crew and tourists to commercial space stations, such as the Bigelow Space Complex – a space station/space hotel that will be constructed from inflatable modules.
Boeing has scheduled other tests to be performed in 2012.
In April, they will test the craft’s landing parachute in series of drop tests. In May, the heat shield, which protects the crew during re-entry though Earth’s atmosphere, will undergo testing and, in June, the attitude control engines, which are used to manoeuvre the craft in space, will be test-fired.