NASA, Boeing May Expand Scope of 1st Starliner Commercial Crew Test Flight to 3 Astronauts and 6 Months at ISS

Artist image of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft docking to the
International Space Station. Image credit: Boeing

Ken Kremer 
  
SpaceUpClose.com     2 May 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL –
NASA and Boeing are studying a significant expansion to the scope of the first crewed
orbital test flight of the Starliner commercial crew spacecraft that would
essentially change its nature from a short duration test flight into a long
duration operational mission while carrying a trio of astronauts to the
International Space Station (ISS).

The modifications to
the test flight were proposed by NASA as “updates to
its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap)
contract with Boeing, which provides flexibility in its commercial flight
tests,” NASA said in a statement last month.

With a launch planned
for as soon as the end of this year, 2018, Boeing has proposed to NASA that the
inaugural flight of their CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle on the
Crew Flight Test (CFT) carry
an additional crew member to up the crew complement from two astronauts to
three.

Boeing
is also proposing that the mission length be vastly expanded from just two
weeks to up to six months. 

The half year mission length basically matches the current crew mission length for
Soyuz expedition increments to the ISS.






Hull of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Structural Test Article
(STA)- the first Starliner to be built in the company’s modernized Commercial
Crew and Cargo Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in
Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com



The
original plans called for a two person crew comprised of one Boeing test pilot
and one NASA astronaut.



It is widely believed that former NASA astronaut Chris
Ferguson will be tapped as the Boeing test pilot. Veteran astronaut Ferguson served was Commander
of NASA’s last space shuttle mission STS-135 in July 2011.


“Exact details of how to best take advantage of
the contract modification are under evaluation, but the changes could allow for
additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while
Starliner is docked to station,” said NASA.

“Adding a third crew member on Boeing’s flight
test could offer NASA an additional opportunity to ensure continued U.S. access
to the orbital laboratory.”




Loading Starliner to carry additional cargo is also being considered. 


Starliner is one of two commercial crew capsules, along
with the SpaceX Crew Dragon,  being developed
under the
Commercial
Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA
to
ferry NASA astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the space station.

Boeing was awarded a $4.2 Billion contract in
September 2014 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to complete development and
manufacture of the CST-100 Starliner space taxi under the agency’s Commercial
Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America
initiative.


The Starliner will launch on a two stage United Launch Alliance (ULA)
Atlas V rocket augmented with two solid rocket boosters from Space Launch
Complex-41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.



A new crew access tower and arm has also
already been built and installed at pad 41 to support human launches with the
human rated Atlas V. 






A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Air Force
Space Command AFSPC-11 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on April
14, 2018 at 7:13 p.m. EDT
on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  A similar Atlas rocket will be used to launch the Boeing
Starliner from pad 41. 
Credit:
Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com










Starliner and Crew Dragon are being developed with NASA
funding to restore America’s ability to launch American astronauts to space
from American soil on American rockets and thereby end NASA’s 100 percent
reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule for seats to the ISS.



Since the forced shutdown of the shuttle in 2011, the only
seats to space have been via the Soyuz currently costing NASA over $82 million
per seat.





But the inaugural crew flights of Starliner and Crew Dragon
under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) have suffered repeated delays due to
a combination of funding shortfalls from Congress and technical difficulties in
development and manufacture.


So with NASA’s contract to buy Russian Soyuz seats expiring
later in 2019, the agency needs alternatives to fly astronauts to space and
ensure access to the ISS.


“This contract modification provides NASA with
additional schedule margin if needed,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate
administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA
Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.



“We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve
its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts.
Commercial space transportation to low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil is critical
for the agency and the nation.”



Under the most recent NASA schedule, the Starliner uncrewed
Orbital Test Flight (OFT) is scheduled for launch in late August and the
Crew Flight Test (CFT)
launch is scheduled for November 2018. However those dates could well slip
again since much work remains.





SpaceX plans similar uncrewed and crewed missions with Crew
Dragon in August and December 2018 respectively launching on a Falcon 9 from
Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.





The
Boeing Starliner commercial crew transportation spacecraft is being
manufactured at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility
(C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.



Boeing ‘Starliner’ commercial crew space taxi manufacturing
facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Exterior view depicts mural for the
Boeing Company’s CST-100 ‘Starliner’ commercial crew transportation spacecraft at
the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s
Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com




After their test flights both Starliner and Dragon must still
be certified to have completed the daunting and rigorous contracted milestones
before being approved for regular crew rotation missions by NASA.
“The current commercial crew flight schedules
provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew
rotation missions to the International Space Station before NASA’s contracted
flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019,” said NASA.



“Turning a test flight into more of an
operational mission needs careful review by the technical community,” said
Gerstenmaier. “For example, the spacecraft capability to support the additional
time still needs to be reviewed. Modifying the contract now allows NASA and
Boeing an opportunity to tailor the duration to balance the mission needs with
vehicle and crew capabilities.” 






Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, Boeing,
SpaceX, ULA, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
space and mission
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida.



Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com –
twitter @ken_kremer –
ken
at kenkremer.com




A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Air Force
Space Command AFSPC-11 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on April
14, 2018 at 7:13 p.m. EDT
on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  A similar Atlas rocket will be used to launch the Boeing
Starliner from pad 41. 
Credit:
Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com



Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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