Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner is a partially reusable spacecraft developed inside NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is Boeing’s main customer for the Starliner, starting with missions to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying NASA crew members.
Starliner is designed to transport up to seven astronauts to the ISS and other Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) destinations. The crew capsule can be reused up to ten times, but the service module is expendable and must be replaced after each mission.
One last test
The final test before crewed flight rating is the Crewed Flight Test (CFT) which is scheduled to launch in Apr. 2023, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The test will see NASA astronauts and test pilots, Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams, travel to the ISS for a two-week mission. NASA may extend the duration of the mission up to six months if needed.
The objective of the test is to demonstrate Starliner’s ability to safely fly a crewed mission to and from the space station. Following a successful Crew Flight Test, Starliner will be certified for crewed missions in Earth’s orbit.
NASA has already ordered six Starliner crew rotation missions to the International Space Station starting with Starliner-1, the first long-duration mission that will be launched with this spacecraft.
The agency recently announced that astronauts Jeanette Epps, Scott Tingle, and Michael Fincke are training for an upcoming mission aboard Starliner-1. Regular commercial crew rotation missions enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Barry Wilmore is the CFT commander that was assigned to the prime crew in October 2020.
He is a U.S. Navy test pilot with more than 8,000 flight hours selected by NASA in July 2000. He served as a pilot for the STS-129 mission aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.
His second spaceflight was in 2014 as a crewmember of the Soyuz TMA-14M for a long-duration mission to the ISS. He also assumed command of the station upon the arrival of the Expedition 42 crew.
Sunita Williams will serve as the pilot. She was previously assigned as commander for NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, Starliner’s first post-certification mission. She recently replaced Nicole Mann, the original pilot that was reassigned to the SpaceX Crew-5.
She is a test pilot who has logged more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft types. She was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1998 and her first mission was the STS-116 launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2006.
Her second mission was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft in 2012, as part of Expedition 32/33 in which she served as commander, becoming the second woman to command the ISS. She also became the first person to complete a triathlon in space using the treadmill, the stationary bike, and other tools inside the International Space Station gym.
The unmanned tests
The first Orbital Flight Test (OFT-1) was planned to be an eight-day test flight, involving a rendezvous, docking with the International Space Station, and landing.
The mission was launched in December 2019 but an anomaly after only 30 minutes of flight caused the spacecraft to reach an incorrect orbit, preventing the docking with the International Space Station.
In May 2022 Boeing launched the second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) during which the spacecraft achieved all flight test objectives and demonstrations, including rendezvous and docking maneuvers. The company tested life support, landing, power, navigation, and control systems.
OFT-2 carried 500 pounds of cargo and spent six days in space docked with the International Space Station.
This mission’s secondary goal was to test the Boeing Blue suit using a mannequin called “Rosie the Rocketeer” covered with sensors.
This suit will be worn by all Starliner crew members during launch, ascent, and re-entry and will be customized for each crew member to maximize protection, capability, and comfort.
In 2021 Blue Origin and Sierra Space (Sierra Nevada Corporation’s subsidiary for commercial space activities and space tourism) announced their plan for a commercial space station called Orbital Reef.
The companies selected Starliner and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane as the two commercial spacecrafts to fly private crews and cargo to and from their station.