Saturday, May 14, 2016

First Crewed Starliner Flight Delayed to 2018

The upper and lower half of the Structural Test Article of the CST-100 Starliner is joined together in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: Boeing

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner looks to not fly its first crew until February 2018, according to Geekwire. Previously, the aerospace company was targeting a mid-2017 launch date for their first crewed flight. “We’re working toward our first unmanned flight in 2017, followed by manned astronaut flight in 2018,” Leanne Caret, Boeing's executive vice president, said at a briefing for investors on May 11 in Seattle.

Starliner is part of Boeing's obligation to the $6.8 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. SpaceX, the other company contracted to eventually send NASA crews to the International Space Station, is currently still targeting mid-2017 for their first crewed test flight.

Boeing was allotted $4.2 billion for Starliner; SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion for its Dragon 2 capsule. The goal is to end U.S. reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule to send NASA astronauts to the space station.

While the first launch was delayed, work continues in the design process for the Boeing capsule. Just last week, May 2, teams at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center began bolting together the upper and lower domes of the Structural Test Article (STA).

C3PF was originally Orbiter Processing Facility 3, which housed Space Shuttle Discovery in the final years of the storied shuttle program.

The reason for the STA being built in two halves was to make assembling the spacecraft easier. Normally, a pressure vessel is built whole and then outfitted with cables and plumbing, requiring technicians to move everything through a small hatch to assemble the pieces. With the new way, both halves can be outfitted before being joined, enabling greater ease of movement for assembly.

The STA, while not meant to ever fly into space, will help engineers prove manufacturing methods and the overall ability of the craft to handle the demands of spaceflight.

After going through final outfitting, the STA will be moved to Huntington Beach, California. There it will be subjected to loads and separation testing. After that, Boeing plans to apply the lessons learned to their first flight test models, parts of which are currently in early stages of construction in Florida.

“Our team is initiating qualification testing on dozens of components and preparing to assemble flight hardware,” John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeings Commercial Program, said in a news release. “These are the first steps in an incredibly exciting, important and challenging year.”

Written by: Derek Richardson
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