First flight test for Boeing's new astronaut crew capsule

Boeing and Space X plan to begin taking US crews to the Internaitonal Space Station next year

The International Space Station is due to receive another delivery on December 9, 2019 from a Russian rocket. Courtesy Nasa
Powered by automated translation

Boeing launched a crew capsule on its debut test flight to the International Space Station, a milestone for Nasa’s private-public efforts to resume US trips to the orbiting laboratory.

The CST-100 Starliner capsule took off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:37 am local time on Friday near Cape Canaveral, Florida. The capsule separated and began flight on its own at 6:52 am Starliner, with no crew on board, was scheduled to rendezvous with the ISS about 25 hours later.

CST-100 Starliner Space Suit_Ingress Egress Test with Capsule_Chris Ferguson_Additional Astronauts_NASA Kennedy Space Center_MCF16-0049 Series_RMS#294422_8/2/2016

The Starliner test flight is the second mission to the space station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s commercial crew program, which aims to have Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp ferry astronauts to and from the lab.

The trips will end US reliance on purchasing seats aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which have been the sole crew transport since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX conducted a demonstration flight of its Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS in March, also with no one aboard. Mr Musk’s company and Boeing expect to fly astronauts for the first time next year.

“We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a news conference Thursday with five future Starliner astronauts.

In this February 2019 photo made available by NASA and Boeing, Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson helps NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, left, and Mike Fincke, right, train for a spacewalk inside the International Space Station Airlock Mockup at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The three are assigned to Boeing's Crew Flight Test, Starliner's first flight with crew as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The Starliner capsule, supposed to make its debut in April 2019, was pushed back until August. (NASA/Boeing via AP)

“NASA wants to be one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight in the future.”

The Starliner is carrying 270 kilograms of cargo for the ISS crew: food, clothing, radiation-detection equipment and a few holiday gifts.

The capsule also has Rosie, a test mannequin sporting a red polka dot bandanna in a nod to Rosie the Riveter, an icon for women who built B-17 bombers during World War II. The device will record data on the forces and conditions astronauts can expect aboard the Starliner.

NASA in 2014 awarded SpaceX and Boeing combined contracts valued at as much as $6.8 billion to fly US astronauts to the ISS.

The agency chose two companies to assure safe, reliable and cost-effective access to space while avoiding the risks giving one provider a monopoly.

The Starliner is expected to return to Earth early on December 28 with a predawn landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The capsule can carry as many as seven passengers – in seats Boeing is eager to sell to other nations and wealthy individuals.

NASA has declined to set dates on manned missions, pending the outcome of the Boeing test flight. The agency and SpaceX plan to perform an in-flight abort test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on January 11 from Florida.

View from DC

The inside scoop from The National’s Washington bureau

View from DC