Chasing Dragons – The Boeing Starliner Space Capsule

The corporate space race is heating up in the United States, as NASA’s proposed deadlines for a series of extraordinary space exploration projects draw near.
Boeing CTS-100 Starliner 11 photos
Photo: Boeing
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Although there are some companies fighting for world glory and NASA cash, two of them stand out through sheer power of will and advancements made in their efforts: Boeing and SpaceX. Both are on track to develop both rockets for launch and capsules for transports.

autoevoluton already presented SpaceX’s rocket-capsule combo made of the Falcon and Dragon. This time we’ll take a closer look at Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation CTS-100 Starliner, “a 21st-century space capsule” meant to be fitted on top of the Space Launch System rocket (SLS).

The Starliner capsule is meant, just like the Dragon, to facilitate astronauts’ access to the International Space Station and beyond. It will also be capable of transporting supplies and other materials into space.

The Starliner is similar in size to the Orion capsule being built for NASA by another competitor in the field, Lockheed Martin. It has a diameter of 4.56 meters (15.0 ft), bigger than the Apollo used in the early days of space exploration.

Boeing Starliner
Photo: Boeing
Thinking ahead, Boeing has designed the capsule to be compatible with a wider range of launch rockets, including SpaceX’s Falcon, the Atlas V, Delta IV and the future Vulcan. For the maiden flight, expected to take place later in the summer of 2018, the capsule will be launched on top of an Atlas V rocket.

The capsule has been designed in such a way that it accommodates a crew of up to seven astronauts. When carrying cargo as well, the number of crew is reduced to five.

Boeing even plans to make some money with these crew launches. Of the five open seats on a cargo mission, four are for NASA astronauts, while the fifth is meant for a paying passenger.

Once is space, the Starliner will be capable of staying there for periods of up to seven months. Time well spent, considering the fact that astronauts will have access to on-board wireless internet and tablet technology.

Because it will be built with no welds, the capsule would be good for at most ten missions before replacing, a first for any U.S. built space capsule.

The reentry of the capsule will be done just as all other previous pods, with speeds reaching as much as 17 times the speed of sound. After the Starliner is back in the Earth sky, parachutes would deploy and slow it down to a speed similar to that of a skyscraper elevator.

From the time it takes off to the time it lands, the Starliner can fly itself including during rendezvous and docking operations.

In what will be a premiere for the American space program, the Starliner will be capable of landing on solid soil rather than on water. This would cut the cost of retrieving the capsule and its occupants.

Boeing Starliner
Photo: Boeing
Landing on the ground is possible thanks to the use of an airbag landing system in addition to the parachutes, which will be used to soften the impact with the ground. Although the impact does seem a bit violent in the videos released by Boeing, the company says the tests it conducted at various speeds and angles have shown the passengers are well protected.

The first launch of the Starliner is planned for the end of this summer, but such an event has been delayed several times until now so take that with a grain of salt. A crewed flight is unofficially scheduled to take place this November, marking the first time in nearly eight years when humans will take off for the ISS from American soil.

Should the first launch missions succeed, Starliner would become one of the capsules used by NASA for its low-orbit missions. As the number of habitable objects put by man in space will increase, Boeing plans to make the capsule available to “a variety of passengers, including international and corporate astronauts, scientists, researchers, educators and even tourists.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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