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Starliner spacecraft engines successfully hot-fire tested

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is one step closer to carrying astronauts into space from American soil as its engines have recently undergone a series of hot-fire development tests. The tests were conducted by Aerojet Rocketdyne at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

The three Reaction Control System (RCS) engines successfully hot-fired are part of the spacecraft’s service module propulsion system, being currently developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The Sacramento, California-based rocket propulsion manufacturer announced on Monday, July 25, each RCS engine was tested up to 4,000 pulses and 1,600 seconds. According to the company, it was the longest accumulated time ever conducted on a lightweight thruster with a composite chamber.

Artist's depiction of CST-100 Starliner in orbit above Earth Boeing image posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

Artist’s depiction of CST-100 Starliner in orbit above Earth. Image Credit: Boeing

“The successful RCS engine tests demonstrated durability and long operational life capabilities meeting the Starliner requirements for composite thrust chambers, which are crucial to mission success and astronaut safety,” Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake said in a press release. “We look forward to qualifying the engines and continuing our nation’s legacy of delivering humans into space.”

The RCS engines are designed to provide on-orbit maneuvering functions, as well as re-boost capabilities for the space station. Under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) subcontract to Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne is responsible for the design, development, qualification, certification, and initial production of the Starliner’s service module propulsion system, including the development and testing of 28 100-pound (445 N) thrust class RCS engines.

The spacecraft’s service module propulsion system will be necessary for Starliner’s activities during a nominal flight to the International Space Station (ISS). It will provide all propulsion needs required for launch vehicle separation, docking and undocking from the ISS, as well as separation of the crew and service modules during the re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The system will also provide integrated launch abort capability on the pad and during ascent.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne is leveraging adaptations of proven hardware and technologies to deliver an affordable reliable propulsion system that can be counted on to perform throughout the spacecraft’s mission and ensure the safety of the astronauts and success of the mission,” Terry Lorier, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s CST-100 service module propulsion system program manager said in November 2015.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is 16.5 feet (5.03 meters) long and 15 feet (4.56 meters) in diameter. It can carry up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo to the ISS. The spacecraft is designed to remain on-orbit for up to seven months with reusability of up to ten missions.

The first uncrewed orbital test flight of the Starliner spacecraft is currently scheduled for December 2017. The capsule will carry its first two astronauts to the ISS in February 2018.


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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