Boeing ships Starliner test article to California, simulator to Texas
Boeing‘s CST-100 Starliner program continues to make progress with two major advancements. In California, the Structural Test Article (STA) arrived at the Huntington Beach facilities. Meanwhile, in Houston, the Starliner flight simulator was delivered for installation.
Spacecraft are exposed to extreme forces from both the inside of the spacecraft and from external sources such as aerodynamic pressure during launch and landing. The STA will be tested to see how the design reacts to real world elements. Any anomalies can be researched and corrected while the vehicle is in development.
The STA was assembled at Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From there, it was shipped to the Southern California facility where it joins a test version of the service module and other hardware. This combination of gear makes up the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket.
The are a number of test chambers at the Huntington Beach facilities designed specifically for evaluating spacecraft in a variety of flight environments. One of the first tests exposed the STA to 1.5 times the maximum pressure it is expected to experience during nominal flight.
This simulator, built in St. Louis, is a full-scale mock-up of the actual Starliner craft. With it, astronauts can work through detailed mission scenarios helping them to be ready for any contingency. NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Eric Boe had the opportunity to work with the simulator before it traveled to Houston.
This simulator joins several part-task trainers already in the Jake Garn Mission Simulator and Training Facility in Houston. Part-task trainers allow astronauts to rehearse specific elements of a mission, while the simulator provides astronauts a complete mission profile from beginning to end. The part-task trainers were installed in 2016.
Boeing also took the wraps off a new training facility in Houston called STAR, which is short for the Space Training, Analysis and Review facility. This new complex will host two additional training devices slated for installation at later dates. Combined, the entire center will give astronauts and mission controllers the training they need for crewed missions.
Starliner is expected to launch on its first test missions in 2018. It, along with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, is expected to start sending astronauts to the International Space Station as early as late-2018 as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This public-private partnership has NASA working with Boeing and SpaceX to provide the next generation of crewed space transportation to the ISS.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.