The CST-100 Starliner is Boeing’s latest advancement in human spaceflight, a next generation spacecraft that will offer transportation services for crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations. This capsule will not only be able to fly itself, but it will also be the first American-made orbital crew capsule to ever land on land. The Starliner fleet is based and launched from Florida’s Space Coast and it is the newest human-related spacecraft to be manufactured in Florida in almost forty years.
The Boeing company has had a large presence on the Space Coast for many years and has been a leader in space since the beginning. Nearly every human spacecraft in United States history has been designed and built in part by Boeing or one of its heritage companies. The company has around 1,400 employees across Florida, the majority being at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The CST-100 Starliner came about when NASA’s Space Shuttle Program came to a close. NASA decided to give the business of low-Earth orbit transportation to commercial companies so that they may focus on longer exploration missions, such as going to Mars. NASA needed a new way to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and Boeing’s Starliner was chosen to complete this task.
The new Starliner fleet consists of three spacecraft, all of which are designed to make passengers’ in-flight experience as comfortable and user-friendly as possible. For example, all the seats are custom made for each passenger and can accommodate 95% of the world’s population in terms of height. The capsules are configured to fly a mix of cargo and up to five passengers, four of which will be NASA astronauts. The final seat will be open to an astronaut from another country, space tourists, a private company or even another nation looking to expand their own space program and conduct research on the International Space Station. All of the Starliner capsules can fly themselves and they include touchscreen displays, as well as traditional switches.
Many of these design features came from Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who has had the rare opportunity to be so heavily involved with the design of the actual vehicle they fly. Ferguson is a retired Navy Captain and former NASA shuttle pilot.
Made in Florida
At the moment, all three capsules are in various stages of assembly at KSC inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF). Boeing decided to base the production of the Starliners in Florida because of the proximity of their customer and the dynamic aerospace workforce that would be available on the Space Coast.
The facility that houses the Starliners is a former orbiter processing facility for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and housed a number of shuttles, including Discovery. In order to house these capsules in this facility, Boeing, Space Florida and NASA had to refurbish it. They partnered with local businesses such as Hensel Phelps Construction and the architecture and design firm, BRPH, to complete the renovations of the facility.
“Boeing places an increased emphasis on the utilization of small and diverse suppliers who can offer us the best value and strongest solutions to our customers’ needs,” said Megan Quinn, Small Businees Liaison Officer at Boeing. Part of Boeing’s supplier diversity efforts engage in small business outreach and industry events across the county to ensure that the most innovative companies have the opportunity to be a part of Boeing’s larger mission.
Part of these efforts focus on NASA’s Mentor Protégé Program that encourages NASA contractors to work with eligible smaller companies. This program allows Boeing, and other larger NASA contractors, to have a mentoring role with qualified small businesses with the possibility of fostering long-term business relationships.
Into Space in 2019
In the near future, the Starliner program is planning to hold its first launch aboard an Atlas V rocket rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This launch will be an un-crewed test flight, known as the Orbital Test Flight, and is planned to take place in August. For this launch, it will fly and dock autonomously to the International Space Station (ISS) for roughly two weeks and then come back to Earth.
Later this year, the program plans to launch the first Starliner with humans on board for the Crew Flight Test. This crew will consist of Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke. The mission for these astronauts could potentially last up to 210 days. After these test flights are completed, Starliner will begin flying regular missions for NASA to the ISS starting in 2020 with the launch of NASA astronauts.
“30 years from now, my daughter could be working as a biologist, and instead of being stationed in some remote jungle location, she could be asked by a private orbiting research lab to climb aboard a next-generation Starliner spacecraft for a three-month detail in space,” said Jessica Landa, Starliner Communicator at Kennedy Space Center.
When talking to Landa about the potential future of the program she stated, “Now that Starliner is paving a way to low-Earth orbit, we expect countless public and private destinations to follow; research labs, manufacturing facilities, space hotels…and more.” It is expected that the next 50 years of human spaceflight will be just as prolific and innovative as the early days of commercial aviation. Starliner is just the beginning of this next generation of space flight and manufacturing here in Florida.