Boeing Vice President John Elbon believes the CST-100 spacecraft is part of an intertwined forward path for NASA, centralized around the International Space Station. Boeing is currently working towards launching American astronauts to the orbital outpost on its CST-100 capsule, in tandem with developing the Space Launch System (SLS) that will allow for a return to crewed deep space exploration.
Boeing’s Role in the Transition:
Boeing, a space industry heavyweight, has been deeply involved in NASA’s human space flight program for decades.
While the company’s role with the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) came to an end during the transition and retirement of the fleet, its continued role with the ISS was soon complimented by becoming the main contractor for SLS.
With Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft joining SpaceX’s Dragon 2 (V2) as a winner of the multi-billion dollar Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) award, the company is technically NASA’s main commercial partner.
“It’s really cool that we have the ISS as a backdrop here,” noted Mr. Elbon during this week’s commercial crew update from the Johnson Space Center. “These programs are clearly intertwined.”
Although Boeing is in competition with SpaceX to become the crew transport provider of choice for NASA crews heading to the ISS, both companies will soon combine on a key element of hardware.
“The International Docking Adaptor (IDA) was turned over (to NASA) last week,” Mr. Elbon added. “It will fly on Gwynne’s spaceship (referring to SpaceX President Ms. Shotwell and the CRS Dragon) later this year.
“So the ISS and our companies are really intertwined to make this happen.”
In referencing the large role Boeing plays in NASA’s human space flight programs, Mr. Elbon claimed the major impasse in NASA’s current capability – one where a large chunk of the Agency’s budget is being used to pay the Russians to ferry its astronauts to the Station – is actually a historic period, due to the amount of space hardware development taking place.
“Even though we aren’t flying the Shuttle, I don’t think there is a time in history when there’s been more development of space flight hardware ongoing, or exciting things that are happening,” added the Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Space Exploration.
“ISS is operating and returning incredible science. In addition to that, SLS is in the middle of its development activity – very significant for the technology needed to take us to Mars. Never before in the history of human space flight has there been so much going on all at once. I think there’s more opportunities within our grasp to explore than ever before.”
In speaking about the Commercial Crew Program’s importance to the Space Station, Mr. Elbon cited the need to reduce the Agency’s budgetary impacts of Low Earth Orbit transportation, in order to liberate the finances required to allow NASA to explore deep space.
Reducing the cost of LEO transportation also gained the analogy of the commercial airline market’s evolution, mirroring comments made by other space industry leaders, such as SpaceX’s Elon Musk.
“I believe (the commercialization of LEO) is beginning a whole new industry,” Mr. Elbon continued.
“This year Boeing is celebrating its 100th year as a company. Bill (William) Boeing founded the company with a focus on flying air mail and establishing commercial air transportation through United Airlines.
“If you look at the company today, the commercial airline division of the company is a 70 billion dollar per year business.
“I believe firmly that when the company celebrates its second hundred years, there will be a division of Boeing building commercial space vehicles that will be of that magnitude.
The first new spacecraft of Boeing’s commercial space transportation era is the CST-100, a vehicle which is configurable to carry up to seven crew/passengers or an equivalent combination of passengers and pressurized cargo to LEO destinations, including the ISS and or even the BA-330 space complex.
“We’re making great progress on the CCtCAP program that we started in September,” added Mr. Elbon. “The first two milestones are completed – the certification baseline review and ground segment Critical Design Review (CDR).”
The latter heavily involves JSC, tapping into the former mission operations set-up, which already has Boeing involvement via ISS operations and was notably involved with Shuttle as part of the United Space Alliance (USA).
The CST-100 capsule is compatible with multiple launch vehicles, as much as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V is confirmed as the initial LV of choice, following their August, 2011 deal.
“We’ve started construction on the crew access tower on the Atlas V launch pad, Mr. Elbon noted. “That will be assembled in-between launches of the Atlas V.”
The extremely reliable Atlas V is continuing her role in launching flagship payloads into orbit, but now has a series of place holders on the schedule for the first launches with the CST-100, according to the Boeing head.
“The 52nd successful Atlas V flew a week or so ago, and our Orbital Flight Test – the uncrewed flight test to Station – will be the 74th Atlas V mission. The crewed flight test will be the 80th.
“So we’ve got those flights on the manifest, which is exciting.”
The CST-100’s Florida home will be the former Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF High Bay 3) – which is deep into its transition, following the October, 2011 deal for a 15 year lease, agreed between NASA and Space Florida – the State’s aerospace economic development agency.
The deal between NASA and Space Florida includes the use and modification of OPF-3, the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) Processing Facility and Processing Control Center (PCC).
The agreement between Space Florida and the Boeing Company will result in the creation of up to 550 much-needed jobs along the Space Coast, aided by Boeing announcing it would be locating its Commercial Crew Program headquarters at the world famous spaceport.
Transitioning the facility has resulted in the removal of the platforms and orbiter-dedicated hardware, creating what is known as a “clean floor” workspace.
“The remodelling and modernization of OPF-3 at the Kennedy Space Center – which will be the manufacturing facility – is continuing and making great progress,” Mr. Elbon noted. “The hardware is being delivered in February, which will form the structural test article of the vehicle.
“This will be followed later this year by the delivery of the hardware that will be part of the crew flight test vehicle.”
Although NASA’s internal schedules now show mid-2018 as the most likely date for the historic US Crew Vehicle -1 (USCV-1) mission, Boeing – and SpaceX – believe they should be capable of getting to that point by December, 2017.
“Teams are working hard to finish the design via a very rigorous process where we decompose the requirements, lay out the certification plan – following a process very similar to Shuttle, Space Station and other commercial programs at Boeing – such as commercial planes and satellites,” added Mr. Elbon.
“All that leads into a Critical Design Review (CDR) in March, which will plot the design to allow us to move into manufacturing.
“The Flight Software will be delivered later this summer. We’ll have a flight simulator running with this software, flight computers and 26 of the 34 flight displays will be part of that – so there will be a real opportunity for the crew to interact and understand how the vehicle is going to operate.”
This path has a schedule outlook involving a very busy 2017, with a pad abort test in February of that year, followed by the Orbital Flight Test – the uncrewed mission to the ISS – in April, 2017.
The crewed flight test – with one Boeing astronaut and one NASA astronaut – is scheduled for July, 2017 – followed by the provisional USCV-1 mission to wrap up the year in December.
“So lots of great progress,” Mr. Elbon concluded. “We’re on track and it’s just as exciting as it can be to be a part of it.”
(Images: via NASA, Boeing and L2’s CST-100 Section, including renderings created by L2 Artist Nathan Koga – these are not official Boeing images.)
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