Boeing Starliner
Boeing
Starliner SC-2 approaching the ISS in May 2022, during OFT2
ManufacturerBoeing
Country of originUnited States
OperatorBoeing
ApplicationsISS crew and cargo transport
Specifications
Spacecraft typeCrewed capsule
Launch mass13000 kg
Crew capacityUp to 7
Dimensions
  • Diameter (CM): 4.56 m (15.0 ft)[3]
  • Length (CM and SM): 5.03 m (16.5 ft)[3]
Volume11 m3 (390 cu ft)[4]
RegimeLow Earth orbit
Design life
  • 60 hours (free flight)[1]
  • 210 days (docked)[1][2]
Production
StatusIn development and testing
Built3
Launched2
Retired1
Maiden launchDecember 20, 2019, 11:36:43 UTC (uncrewed)

The Boeing CST-100[a] Starliner[5] is a class of two partially reusable spacecraft designed to transport crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and other low-Earth-orbit destinations.[6][7] It is manufactured by Boeing for its participation in NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The spacecraft consists of a reusable crew capsule and an expendable service module.

The capsule has a diameter of 4.56 m (15.0 ft),[3] which is slightly larger than the Apollo command module and SpaceX Dragon 2, and smaller than the Orion capsule.[8] The Boeing Starliner holds a crew of up to seven people and is designed to be able to remain docked to ISS for up to seven months with reusability of up to ten missions.[9] It is designed to be compatible with the Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9, and Vulcan Centaur launch vehicles.[10]

After several rounds of competitive development contracts within the Commercial Crew Program starting in 2010, NASA selected the Boeing Starliner, along with SpaceX Crew Dragon, for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract round.[11][12][13][14] The first crewed test flight test was initially planned to occur in 2017.[14]

In late 2019, the uncrewed Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test (Boe-OFT) launched on a Atlas V N22 and reached orbit, but the flight was not successful, failing to meet test objectives and returning to earth early.[15][16] NASA allowed Boeing a repeat test flight, Boe-OFT 2, which was to launch in August 2021, but was scrubbed before launch due to inoperable valves in the propulsion system. After replacing the spacecraft's service module, Boeing targeted OFT-2 to occur in May 2022 at the earliest.[17][18] OFT-2 ended up launching on May 19, 2022. The craft suffered several anomalies during its flight but controllers were able to work around them[19] and Boeing and NASA are confident in the spacecraft.[20] The first crewed launch is scheduled for February 2023.[21]

Spacecraft characteristics

Starliner mockup, capsule without service module
Starliner mockup, capsule without service module

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low Earth orbit. For the NASA service missions to the ISS, it will carry four passengers and small cargo. Starliner uses a weldless structure and is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. Boeing plans to alternate between two reusable crew modules for all planned Starliner missions. Each flight uses a new service module, which provides propulsion and power-generation capacity for the spacecraft. It features wireless Internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.[22]

Starliner uses the NASA Docking System for docking.[23][24][25] Boeing modified the design of the Starliner docking system prior to OFT-2, adding a hinged re-entry cover below the expendable nosecone for additional protection during the capsule's fiery descent through the atmosphere, similar to the one used in the SpaceX Dragon 2 nosecone. This was tested on the OFT-2 mission. This re-entry cover is hinged, like the SpaceX design.[26][27][28] The capsule uses the Boeing Lightweight Ablator for its heat shield.[29]

Solar cells, provided by Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab, are installed onto the aft face of the spacecraft's service module, and provide 2.9 kW of electricity.[30] Also on the service module are four Rocketdyne RS-88 engines burning hypergolic propellants, which will be used for launch escape capability in the event of an abort.[31] Starliner is designed to be compatible with multiple launch vehicles, including the Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9, as well as the in-development Vulcan Centaur.[10][32]

Unlike earlier US space capsules, the Starliner capsule makes airbag-cushioned landings on the ground rather than into water. Five landing areas are planned in the Western United States, which will give the Starliner about 450 landing opportunities every year.[33] The Boeing contract with NASA calls for up to four crew per mission and allows Boeing to price and sell passage for one additional space tourist crew member.[34]

In addition to the capsule and service module, a 1.78 m-long (5 ft 10 in) structure is integrated into the launch vehicle adapter of Atlas V, called aeroskirt, to provide aerodynamic stability and dampen the shock waves that come from the front of the rocket.

Launch profile

The Atlas V N22 (no fairing, two SRBs, and 2 Centaur engines) launches the Starliner. After passing through the stages of max q, SRB jettison, booster separation, Centaur ignition, nosecone and aeroskirt jettison, it finally releases the Starliner spacecraft at stage separation, nearly 15 minutes after lift-off on a 181 km (112 mi) high suborbital trajectory, just shy of the orbital velocity needed to enter a stable orbit around Earth. After separating from the Dual Engine Centaur, the Starliner's own thrusters, mounted on its service module, boost the spacecraft into orbit to begin its journey to the International Space Station.

The suborbital trajectory is unusual for a satellite launch, but it is similar to the technique used by the Space Shuttle and Space Launch System. The Starliner's orbit insertion burn begins about 31 minutes into the mission and lasts 45 seconds.[35]

Development

Starliner pressure vessel at the former Orbiter Processing Facility in October 2011, showing its isogrid construction
Starliner pressure vessel at the former Orbiter Processing Facility in October 2011, showing its isogrid construction
Wind-tunnel testing of Starliner's outer mold line in December 2011
Wind-tunnel testing of Starliner's outer mold line in December 2011

The CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation-100) name was first used when the capsule was revealed to the public by Bigelow Aerospace CEO Robert Bigelow in June 2010.[36] The letters CST stand for Crew Space Transportation.[37] It was often reported that the number 100 in the name stands for 100 km (62 mi), the height of the Kármán line, which is one of several definitions of the boundary of space.[38][39] The design draws upon Boeing's experience with NASA's Apollo, Space Shuttle and ISS programs, as well as the Orbital Express project sponsored by the Department of Defense.[8] (Starliner has no Orion heritage, but it is sometimes confused with the earlier and similar Orion-derived Orion Lite proposal that Bigelow Aerospace was reportedly working on with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin.[40])

Receiving the full fixed-price payments for the Commercial Crew Program Phase 1 Space Act Agreement required a set of specific milestones to be met during 2010:[41]

In July 2010, Boeing stated that the capsule could be operational in 2015 with sufficient near-term approvals and funding, but also indicated that they would proceed with the development of the Starliner only if NASA implemented the commercial crew transport initiative that was announced by the Obama administration in its FY2011 budget request. Boeing executive Roger Krone stated that NASA investment would allow Boeing to close the business case, while this would be very difficult without NASA. In addition, a second destination besides the ISS would be needed to close the business case, and Krone said that cooperation with Bigelow was crucial for this.[8]

Boeing was awarded a US$92.3 million contract by NASA in April 2011 to continue to develop the CST-100 under CCDev phase 2.[42] On August 3, 2012, NASA announced the award of US$460 million to Boeing to continue work on the CST-100 under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program.[13]

On October 31, 2011, NASA announced that through a partnership with Space Florida, the Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at Kennedy Space Center would be leased to Boeing for manufacture and test of Starliner.[43]

On September 16, 2014, NASA chose Boeing (Starliner) and SpaceX (Crew Dragon) as the two companies to be funded to develop systems to transport U.S. government crews to and from the International Space Station. Boeing won a US$4.2 billion contract to complete and certify the Starliner by 2017, while SpaceX won a US$2.6 billion contract to complete and certify their crewed Dragon spacecraft. The contracts include at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. Once the Starliner achieves NASA certification, the contract requires Boeing to conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.[44] NASA's William H. Gerstenmaier had considered the Starliner proposal as stronger than the Crew Dragon and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft.[45]

Part of the agreement with NASA allows Boeing to sell seats for space tourists on CCP flights to the ISS. Boeing proposed including one seat per flight for a space-flight participant at a price that would be competitive with what Roscosmos charges tourists.[46] Under the contract the Starliners are owned and operated by Boeing, not NASA, and Boeing is free to offer non-CCP commercial flights if they do not interfere with the contracted CCP flights.

On September 4, 2015, Boeing announced that the spacecraft would officially be called the CST-100 Starliner, following the naming conventions of the 787 Dreamliner produced by Boeing Commercial Airplanes.[47] In November 2015, NASA announced that it had dropped Boeing from consideration in the multibillion-dollar Commercial Resupply Services second-phase competition to fly cargo to the International Space Station.[48]

In May 2016, Boeing delayed its first scheduled Starliner launch from 2017 to early 2018.[49][50] Then in October 2016, Boeing delayed its program by six months, from early 2018 to late 2018, following supplier holdups and a production problem on the Spacecraft 2. By 2016, they were hoping to fly NASA astronauts to the ISS by December 2018.[49][51]

In April 2018, NASA suggested that the first planned two-person flight of the Starliner, slated for November 2018, was now likely to occur in 2019 or 2020. If there are no further delays, it would be expected to carry one additional crew member and extra supplies. Instead of staying for two weeks, as originally planned, NASA said that the expanded crew could stay at the station for as long as six months as a normal rotational flight.[52]

In November 2019, NASA's Office of Inspector General released a report revealing that a change to Boeing's contract had occurred,[53] stating: "For Boeing’s third through sixth crewed missions, we found that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing’s fixed prices to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019 and to ensure the contractor continued as a second commercial crew provider".[54]

After the failure of its first uncrewed orbital test flight in late 2019, NASA agreed that Boeing would fund another uncrewed orbital test in August 2021. That launch was stopped late in the countdown due to valve problems. By late September 2021, Boeing had not determined the root cause of the problem, and the flight was delayed indefinitely.[55] The first crewed test will be deferred until after this uncrewed test.[56] Boeing took a $185 million charge in its Q3 2021 earnings report for recent Starliner delays and rework, totaling $595 million since 2019.[57] The second uncrewed orbital test flight launched May 19, 2022.

Testing

Test of Starliner's airbags in April 2012
Starliner ignites its RS-88 abort engines during a pad abort test in November 2019.

A variety of validation tests began on test articles in 2011 and continued on actual spacecraft starting in 2019.

In September 2011, Boeing announced the completion of a set of ground drop tests to validate the design of the airbag cushioning system. The airbags are located underneath the heat shield of the Starliner, which is designed to be separated from the capsule while under parachute descent at about 1,500 m (4,900 ft) altitude. The airbags, manufactured by ILC Dover, are deployed by filling with a mixture of compressed nitrogen and oxygen gas, not with the pyro-explosive mixture sometimes used in automotive airbags. The tests were carried out in the Mojave Desert of southeast California, at ground speeds between 16 and 48 km/h (10 and 30 mph) in order to simulate crosswind conditions at the time of landing. Bigelow Aerospace built the mobile test rig and conducted the tests.[37]

In April 2012, Boeing dropped a mock-up of its Starliner over the Nevada desert at the Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada, successfully testing the craft's three main landing parachutes from 3,400 m (11,200 ft).[58]

In August 2013, Boeing announced that two NASA astronauts evaluated communications, ergonomics, and crew-interface aspects of the Starliner, showing how future astronauts will operate in the spacecraft as it transports them to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations.[59]

Boeing reported in May 2016 that its test schedule would slip by eight months in order to reduce the mass of the spacecraft, address aerodynamics issues anticipated during launch and ascent on the Atlas V rocket, and meet new NASA-imposed software requirements.[60] The Orbital Flight Test was scheduled for spring 2019. The booster for this Orbital Flight Test, an Atlas V N22 rocket, was assembled at United Launch Alliance's (ULA) facility at Decatur, Alabama by the end of 2017.[61] The first crewed flight (Boe-CFT) was scheduled for summer 2019, pending test results from Boe-OFT. It was planned to last 14 days and carry one NASA astronaut and one Boeing test pilot to the ISS.[62] On April 5, 2018, NASA announced that the first planned two-person flight, originally slated for November 2018, was likely to occur in 2019 or 2020.[63] In July 2018, Boeing announced the assignment of former NASA astronaut Christopher Ferguson to the Boe-CFT mission. On August 3, 2018, NASA named its first Commercial Crew astronaut cadre of four veteran astronauts to work with SpaceX and Boeing: Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Sunita Williams, and Douglas Hurley.[64]

In July 2018, a test anomaly was reported in which there was a hypergolic propellant leak due to several faulty abort-system valves. Consequentially, the first unpiloted orbital mission was delayed to April 2019, and the first crew launch rescheduled to August 2019.[65][66] In March 2019, Reuters reported that these test flights had been delayed by at least three months,[67] and in April 2019 Boeing announced that the unpiloted orbital mission was scheduled for August 2019.[68]

In May 2019, all major hot-fire testing, including simulations of low-altitude abort-thruster testing, was completed using a full up to service module test article that was "flight-like", meaning that the service module test rig used in the hot-fire testing included fuel and helium tanks, reaction control system, orbital maneuvering, and attitude-control thrusters, launch abort engines and all necessary fuel lines and avionics that will be used for crewed missions. This cleared the way for the pad abort test and the subsequent uncrewed and crewed flights.[69]

A pad abort test took place on November 4, 2019.[70] The capsule accelerated away from its pad, but then one of the three parachutes failed to deploy, and the capsule landed with only two parachutes.[71][72] Landing was, however, deemed safe, and the test a success. Boeing did not expect the malfunction of one parachute to affect the Starliner development schedule.[73]

First orbital flight test

Main article: Boeing Orbital Flight Test

Starliner landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico following OFT in December 2019.
Starliner landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico following OFT in December 2019.

The orbital flight test launched on December 20, 2019, but after deployment, an 11-hour offset in the mission clock of Starliner caused the spacecraft to compute that "it was in an orbital insertion burn", when it was not. This caused the attitude control thrusters to consume more fuel than planned, precluding a docking with the International Space Station.[74][75] The spacecraft landed at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, two days after launch.[76] After the successful landing, the spacecraft was named Calypso (after the research vessel RV Calypso for the oceanographic researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau) by the commander of the Boeing Starliner-1 mission, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.[77] The flight carried an Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD) wearing Boeing's blue IVA spacesuit, named "Rosie the Rocketeer".[78]

Two software errors detected during the test, one of which prevented a planned docking with the International Space Station, could each have led to the destruction of the spacecraft, had they not been caught and corrected in time, NASA said on February 7, 2020. A joint NASA–Boeing investigation team found that "the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards", according to an agency statement. "Ground intervention prevented the loss of the vehicle in both cases". Before re-entry, engineers discovered the second critical software error that affected the thruster firings needed to safely jettison the Starliner's service module. The service module software error "incorrectly translated" the jettison thruster firing sequence.[79]

With the completion of the NASA/Boeing investigation into the Starliner OFT-1 flight of December 2019, the review team identified 80 recommendations that Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, was addressing in 2020, when action plans for each were already well under way. Since the full list of these recommendations are company-sensitive and proprietary, only those changes publicly disclosed are known.[80]

Second orbital flight test

Main article: Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2

After software problems and other issues plagued the first test flight, preventing the spacecraft from reaching the International Space Station, Boeing officials said on April 6, 2020 that the Starliner crew capsule would fly a second uncrewed demonstration mission, Orbital flight test 2, before flying astronauts. NASA said that it had accepted a recommendation from Boeing to fly a second unpiloted mission. The Washington Post reported that the second orbital flight test, with much the same objectives as the first, was expected to launch from Cape Canaveral "sometime in October or November 2020". Boeing said that it would fund the unplanned crew capsule test flight "at no cost to the taxpayer". Boeing told investors earlier in 2020 that it was taking a US$410 million charge against its earnings to cover the expected costs of a second unpiloted test flight.[81] Boeing officials said on August 25, 2020 that they set the stage for the first Starliner demonstration mission with astronauts in mid-2021.[26] Boeing modified the design of the Starliner docking system prior to OFT-2 to add a re-entry cover for additional protection during the capsule's fiery descent through the atmosphere. This re-entry cover is hinged, like the SpaceX design. Teams also installed the OFT-2 spacecraft's propellant heater, thermal-protection tiles, and the airbags used to cushion the capsule's landing. The crew module for the OFT-2 mission began acceptance testing in August 2020, which is designed to validate the spacecraft's systems before it is mated with its service module, according to NASA.[26][27][28] On November 10, 2020, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich said that the second orbital flight test would be delayed until first quarter 2021 due to software issues.[82] The uncrewed test continued to slip, with the OFT-2 uncrewed test flight being scheduled for March 2021 and the crewed flight targeted for a launch the following summer.[83] The launch date of OFT-2 moved again with the earliest estimated launch date set for August 2021.[84]

During the August 2021 launch window some issues were detected with 13 propulsion-system valves in the spacecraft prior to launch. The spacecraft had already been mated to its launch rocket, United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V, and taken to the launchpad. Attempts to fix the problem while on the launchpad failed, and the rocket was returned to the ULA's VIF (Vertical Integration Facility). Attempts to fix the problem at the VIF also failed, and Boeing decided to return the spacecraft to the factory, thus cancelling the launch at that launch window.[85][86] There was a commercial dispute between Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne over responsibility for fixing the problem.[87] The valves had been corroded by intrusion of moisture, which interacted with the propellant, but the source of the moisture was not apparent. By late September 2021, Boeing had not determined the root cause of the problem, and the flight was delayed indefinitely.[55] As of October 2021 NASA and Boeing continued to make progress and are "working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022",[88] though Boeing has taken another US$185 million charge against earnings, bringing the total cost to Boeing for OFT-2 to US$595 million.[89] In December 2021, Boeing decided to replace the entire service module and anticipated OFT-2 to occur in May 2022.[17][18]

The OFT-2 mission launched on May 19, 2022.[90] It again carried Rosie the Rocketeer test dummy suited in the blue Boeing inflight spacesuit.[91][92] Two Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control System (OMACS) thrusters failed during the orbital insertion burn, but the spacecraft was able to compensate using the remaining OMACS thrusters with the addition of the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters. A couple of RCS thrusters used to maneuver Starliner also failed during docking due to low chamber pressure. Some thermal systems used to cool the spacecraft showed extra cold temperatures, requiring engineers to manage it during the docking.[19][20]

On May 22, the capsule docked with the International Space Station.[93] On May 25, the capsule returned from space and landed successfully.[94] During reentry one of the navigation systems dropped communication with the GPS satellites, but Steve Stich, program manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said this is not unexpected during reentry.[95]

Commercial use

On October 25, 2021, Blue Origin, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corporation's Sierra Space subsidiary for commercial space activities and space tourism released their plan for a commercial space station.[96] The station, called Orbital Reef, is intended as a "mixed-use business park".[97] Boeing was announced as a partner and Starliner, along with the Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser, was chosen as one of the commercial spacecraft to transport commercial crew to and from the space station.[98]

Launch vehicle availability

Starliner is compatible with Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9, and Vulcan Centaur. Delta IV is retired and no longer available.[99] ULA has announced that Atlas V is retiring and all remaining Atlas V launchers have been allocated to customers.[100] As of 2 July 2022, seven of these have been allocated to Starliner flights; enough for the crewed flight test and six operational missions. ULA plans to have Vulcan Centaur available in time for any additional flights.

List of spacecraft

As of January 2020, Boeing planned to have three Boeing Starliner spacecraft in service to fulfill the needs of the Commercial Crew Program with each spacecraft expected to be capable of being reused up to ten times with a six-month refurbishment time.[101][102] On August 25, 2020, Boeing announced its plan to alternate between just two capsules for all planned Starliner missions instead of three.[26]

Since Boeing does not intend to build Spacecraft 4, no spare vehicle contingency exists for spacecraft issues (or loss) during NASA Commercial Crew contract.[27]

Image Designation Name Status Flights Time in flight Notes Cat.
Spacecraft 1 None Retired 1 1 minute 35 seconds Test article used in the Boeing Pad Abort Test and then retired.[103][104][105] Commons-logo.svg
Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 Prelaunch (NHQ202205180033) (cropped).jpg
Spacecraft 2 TBA Active 1 5 days 23 hours 55 minutes First Starliner planned to carry crew, successfully completed the OFT-2 flight and landed safely after a nearly 6-day mission.[105] Commons-logo.svg Wikidata-logo.svg
CST-100 Starliner integration with Atlas V for Orbital Flight Test (KSC-20191121-PH-CSH02 0080) (cropped).jpg
Spacecraft 3 Calypso Active 1 2 days 1 hour 22 minutes 10 seconds Named after Jacques Cousteau's research vessel Calypso.[104] First Starliner to fly in space.[104][105] Commons-logo.svg Wikidata-logo.svg

List of flights

List includes only completed or currently manifested missions. Launch dates are listed in UTC.

Mission Patch Vehicle Launch date, UTC Crew Remarks Duration Outcome
Boe-PAT S1 November 4, 2019, 14:15:00 Pad abort test, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. One of three parachutes failed to fully open due to being rigged incorrectly before launch, but parachute system functioned adequately.[73] 95 seconds Success
Boe-OFT S3.1
Calypso
December 19, 2019, 11:36:43 First uncrewed orbital test flight of Starliner. The mission's main objective of ISS rendezvous was aborted due to software incorrectly keeping mission time, leading to a late orbital insertion burn with excessive fuel expenditure. Starliner landed in New Mexico two days after launch.[106][107][108][76] 2 days Partial failure
Boe-OFT 2 S2.1 May 19, 2022, 22:54:47[109] Second uncrewed orbital test flight of Starliner added due to partial failure of previous test flight. Docked with the ISS.[110] Valve problems stopped a August 3, 2021, launch attempt.[55][17][18][111] 6 days Success
Boe-CFT S3.2 ♺
Calypso
February 2023[21] First crewed test flight of Boeing Starliner. 7 days Planned
Starliner-1[5] S2.2 ♺ NET September 2023[21]
First operational flight of Boeing Starliner. Before the partial failure of OFT and the addition of OFT-2 to the schedule this was to be a reflight of the OFT vehicle which was christened Calypso by mission commander Williams upon its return to Earth.[113] 6 months Planned
Starliner-2 to Starliner-6 Alternating S2 and S3 ♺ 2024–2028
  • United States TBA
  • United States TBA
  • TBA
  • TBA
Following Starliner-1, NASA has contracted Boeing for at least five more operational flights to the ISS.[114][115] 6 months Planned

Technology partners

See also

Notes

  1. ^ CST is an acronym for Crew Space Transportation.

References

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