Boeing has officially revealed the name for its CST-100 capsule that will ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The capsule, Starliner, will be built inside a former Space Shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center — which was officially unveiled Friday morning.
OPF-3: From Shuttle to CST-100 Starliner
Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) served out the final years of the Shuttle Program as the sole home to veteran Orbiter Discovery following the resumption of Shuttle flights in 2005 from the Columbia accident.
From 2005 through 2010, OPF-3 served as Discovery’s only OPF home, a rarity in the Shuttle Program which, for a majority of its tenure in the world’s spaceflight arena, had more Orbiters than OPFs.
However, when Discovery returned from space after completing her final mission, STS-133, on 9 March 2011, she was towed into OPF-2 (which had been the sole home of Endeavour from 2005-2011).
Later that month, on 24 March 2011, NASA revealed its initial study into the early release of OPF-3 from the Shuttle Program for potential use by commercial companies since all three OPFs were no longer needed to support Shuttle flight operations.
Early release of OPF-3 would have meant conducting all three Shuttle Orbiters’ Down Mission Processing from their final flights and Transition and Retirement work in just OPFs-1 and -2.
Ultimately, it was decided to release OPF-3 early, with NASA entering into a land-use agreement act with Space Florida, a Florida state economic development agency, to lease the OPFs and other KSC Shuttle facilities to commercial users.
On 31 October 2011, NASA announced that Boeing had signed a 15-year lease for OPF-3 as part of the development of their still-unchosen CST-100 capsule for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
At the ceremony announcing the lease — which took place in front of an open doored OPF-3, whose Space Shuttle support platforms were still clearly visible — KSC Center Director Robert Cabana noted that, “Partnering with Space Florida to enable commercial space operations at Kennedy will help NASA maintain facilities and assets while supporting our nation’s space objectives and expanding opportunities for the U.S. economy.”
On 10 September 2012 (nearly one year after the lease announcement was made), Boeing began work to remove all of the Space Shuttle processing equipment and support structures from OPF-3.
Boeing’s efforts to reconfigure OPF-3 lasted from September 2012 through the summer of 2013.
Meanwhile, while Boeing teams at Kennedy focused on the conversion of OPF-3 into the newly redesigned and renamed Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), other sectors of Boeing continued full steam ahead on the design, testing, and qualification of the CST-100 capsule.
Shortly before OPF-3 conversion work began, NASA chose CST-100 for an additional funding award of $460 million on 3 August 2012 before officially selecting CST-100 as one of only two designs for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) program — which came with an award of $4.2 billion — on 16 September 2014.
Since its selection for CCtCAP, Boeing has completed its Certification Baseline Review for CST-100 as well as seven other milestones toward CST-100 Starliner’s commencement of flight operations.
Specifically, in the new C3PF, the Starliner’s Structural Test Article entered build operations in July 2015. This followed the complete removal of all Space Shuttle equipment and the introduction of more than 150 pieces of new hardware.
In all, the STA will help validate the effectiveness of the CST-100 capsule’s design and its intended performance targets during abort mode scenarios — validations that will take place when the STA is used for the upcoming pad abort tests.
Additionally, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has begun construction work on the new launch service tower that will be required at the Atlas V pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to allow crews and ground workers access to Starliner atop the Atlas V.
The tower, designed to work in concert with Atlas V’s service tower on its mobile launch base, will be a fixed structure that will not interfere with non-Starliner launches of the Atlas V.
To facilitate this non-interference directive, the launch tower was built in segments at a location away from the launch pad now will now, beginning in a couple weeks, be brought to and stacked at the Atlas V pad.
What’s in a name:
The official name for the CST-100 capsule was revealed at KSC Friday morning in a ceremony that also unveiled the new C3PF.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden participated in the event along with KSC Center Director Cabana.
Joining Bolden and Cabana were Chris Ferguson, Deputy Manager of the Commercial Crew Program, Operations, Boeing; John Elbon, vice president and general Manager of Space Exploration, Boeing; John Mulholland, vice president of Commercial Programs, Boeing; U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida; Florida Governor Rick Scott; and Dennis Muilenburg, President and CEO, Boeing.
Boeing, in their announcement, stated that they wanted a name that would both honor the company’s past 100 years while looking ahead to the next 100 years of aerospace activities.
The name, Starliner, keeps with recent Boeing naming operations — as seen with the company’s Boeing 787 aircraft, named Dreamliner.
During Friday’s event at the Kennedy Space Center, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson stated that he would ensure enough funding from Congress to meet that now close 2017 inaugural flight of Starliner on one of, if not the first, commercial crew mission to the Space Station.
If current funding and schedules hold, Starliner will launch on its maiden crew voyage between August and December 2017.
(Images: via NASA, Boeing and L2’s CST-100 Section, including renderings created by L2 Artist Nathan Koga – the latter are not official Boeing images.)
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