It’s been a while since I’ve had the joy of posting a spacecraft animation, and today I get to share one that’s very special to me — animation of a complete CST-100 mission. It’s not yet available anywhere I can just link it, but SpaceflightNow has posted it to their website. And alas, it doesn’t have sound yet. But it sure looks pretty. 😉
Tag Archives: CST-100
Cape Canaveral has a brand new zipline! But alas, it is not available to tourists. Not unless you’re a really, really, really rich tourist and have managed to book a ride on a CST-100 Starliner!
One of the requirements for a man-rated launch vehicle is some way to quickly escape the vehicle in case it’s about to go kablooie. Mercury and Gemini had no escape system, other than the vehicle’s own launch abort system (which in the case of Gemini, consisted of ejection seats that were believed to be nearly 100% certain to be fatal if used on the pad, due to the sidewise orientation of the vehicle before launch), other than riding the elevator back down and hoping really really hard. The first pad escape system that would save crews not yet in the vehicle or allow crews to safely egress during an abort was a super-fast elevator on the Saturn V launch umbilical tower that delivered the crews to a blockhouse under the pad, where they could survive for some time, long enough anyway for whatever was going on above to burn itself out and the fumes to dissipate. On Shuttle, things got a little spunkier, with the addition of the slidewire baskets that would let crews slide rapidly to safety — which would consist of several armored transports parked nearby, which they’d jump into and drive away as quickly as possible.
The slidewires were deemed more effective (and more reliable, being powered entirely by gravity) than the Apollo elevator, and so it is perhaps no surprise that ULA, in building a system to meet Boeing and NASA’s specifications, is opting for a wire again. Only instead of a set of baskets that can carry several crew apiece, this one is a zipline with a couple dozen single-person seats, enough to evacuate the crew and ground support personnel, and because they are individual, you just jump in it and go — you don’t have to wait.
But I gotta admit, part of me really likes the fact that this system isn’t being built by some stodgy old defense contractor, like most of the system. No, this one’s being built by a company that specializes in ziplines — Terra-Nova LLC. And it’s pretty much exactly the same system they build for tourist use at locations around the world. They’ve got extensive experience; from their perspective, this was actually a very small job….
Today, Boeing unveiled the new blue launch-and-entry suit to be worn by crew of the CST-100 Starliner. It’s quite an impressive step forward from the ACES suits worn on Shuttle, designed to be much more practical, which should improve compliance. (One problem identified on the Shuttle program was that crews almost never were fully suited up until half way through the reentry, because a) it took too long and b) the gloves made it difficult to operate equipment.) They’re also much lighter and apparently vastly more comfortable, not requiring the liquid-cooled undergarment to keep the crewman from sweating away too much of their body weight while waiting to fly. Here, it’s modeled by Boeing’s director of Starliner Crew and Mission Systems, Chris Ferguson, who is a former Shuttle astronaut himself:
Now, this suit isn’t intended for spacewalking. Like the ACES suits and the Russian Sokol suits, it’s only intended to protect the crewmembers from an accidental depressurization of the capsule. It also lacks a rigid helmet and a parachute pack, two features required on the Shuttle suits, but which should not be relevant in a capsule, where egress isn’t really feasible but the capsule itself is far more survivable than the Shuttle ever was in the event of a serious mishap.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get really excited about the prospect of American spacecraft flying into orbit once more. 😉 It’s been a long time coming.
At last, the CST-100 has a proper name! Following the tradition of names like Stratoliner (the first airliner with a pressurized cabin) and Dreamliner (the 787, Boeing’s latest airliner), the CST-100 has been dubbed the Starliner.
You can watch the full ceremony, officially opening Boeing’s Commercial Cargo and Crew Processing Facility (C3PF), the former Orbiter Processing Facility 3, at Kennedy Space Center, here:
Two big events just started toward the Commercial Crew effort. First, aboard the ISS, crewmembers completed the first of three spacewalks in preparation for the upcoming International Docking Adapters that will be attached to the two Pressurized Mating Adapters attached to the Harmony node of the ISS to allow docking by Dragon and CST-100. Like the PMAs, both adapters are furnished by Boeing, and they will be available at the forward and zenith ports, allowing for up to two commercial crew vehicles at a time while not obstructing the ports required for the commercial cargo vehicles.
Yesterday’s work was mostly rewiring, and took six hours and 41 minutes. This was the 29th US spacewalk from the ISS. Here’s a planning animation with detailed explanation followed by a time-lapse of the whole thing:
And Friday, back on Earth, ground was broken for the new crew access structure at LC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Station. LC-41 serves the Atlas V rocket, and this will support the CST-100 spacecraft.
SpaceX is also making preparations, although as a private company they are playing their cards a little more closely to their chests. We know, however, that they are getting very close to their flyback booster concept, and have made arrangements for a set of landing pads at Cape Canaveral.
Commercial Crew will not likely fly before 2017, but that’s getting closer every day. 😉
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) is an independent agency within the US government that acts as a sort of fiscal watchdog, both conducting its own audits and also ruling on protests issued by the loser in a competitive bid process. GAO protests used to be rare, on the basis that government contractors didn’t want to risk irritating the program office by delaying the work and forcing money be spent on the protest investigation, but they’ve become far more common in recent years — almost routine. Still, Sierra Nevada’s protest surprised me a little given that they were already behind schedule on CCiCap, and as NASA pointed out in the Request for Proposals (RFP), it was critical that the winning options have a strong chance of being ready when the current Soyuz contract expires in 2017. The alternative would be to spend large sums of money on more Soyuz seats (which Congress has effectively forbidden) or, worse, abandon the US segment of the ISS temporarily.
So when they lost CCtCap to the other two contenders (Boeing and SpaceX), Sierra Nevada filed a protest, alleging that NASA acted improperly in placing so much importance on schedule, and arguing that Boeing’s solution is too expensive. The GAO has now completed their investigation and issued their response: they’re rejecting the protest, on the basis that there was no impropriety on the schedule thing, since NASA was quite up-front about that being a requirement, and furthermore, they revealed that far from Boeing being the second choice after SpaceX, Boeing was actually NASA’s *first* choice, despite having the most expensive bid. NASA considered CST-100 to be the strongest solution, technologically, and also the strongest in terms of management and safety. The subtext is that NASA sees it as the least risky solution (risk meaning both risk to passengers and risk to the program actually completing). And that meant that the real competition for Sierra Nevada was never Boeing. It was SpaceX. And SpaceX’s solution is much cheaper than theirs. Boeing won on technical merits. SpaceX won on price. Sierra Nevada lost on both.
It’s unfortunate, because Dream Chaser really is a gorgeous vehicle, and it could be a very fine spacecraft. NASA was in the difficult position of choosing between three of the strongest spacecraft proposals since Shuttle, and ultimately someone had to be left out. All is not lost for Sierra Nevada, though, as they’ve already signed a deal to provide a sub-scale Dream Chaser for the StratoLaunch project, and rumor is it they’ve been in negotiations with the Japanese as well; their H-2 rocket would be more than adequate to boost the Dream Chaser, and it would give them their own access to space. An inexpensive and relatively low risk way of growing your own space program. So here’s hoping we get to see that swoopy spaceplane fly again, this time in outer space, for real. 😉
This is a bummer for Sierra Nevada and their lovely Dream Chaser spaceplane, but in all honesty it’s what the majority of observers were expecting. Boeing and SpaceX will now move towards man-rating and will begin flying crew from Florida to ISS and back by 2017. The two providers are expected to carry out this man-rating process; NASA is not doing it for them. NASA will support certification reviews, FRR and so forth, and contract awards will be paid based on meeting various milestones. Both teams are expected to conduct at least one crewed flight to the ISS with a NASA astronaut on board prior to being considered operational. This is very similar to how the cargo program was operated, and I’m excited to see where they both go from here. 😉