Since the first flight to the moon, we have seen many new designs of spaceships, both in real life and on screen. Traditional spaceships aren’t just one vehicle, but are made up of many different parts, designed to do different things. With rapid and frequent advancements in technology, what is the future of Aeronautics?
The latest in this long line is the Boeing CST-100 Starliner, designed for NASA’s Commercial Crew development (CCDev) program. The Starliner is a capsule design with a weldless structure for greater strength. This is designed for the final part of the astronauts’ journey to the international space station, after the main body of the propulsion system has dropped away.
The bold new design was brought about by years of intense study and experimentation with different forms. In the first phase of the program, NASA awarded Boeing $18 million for preliminary development of the spacecraft, and $93 million in the second phase to further develop the Aeronautics technology.
This agreement enables the potential for commercial seats for tourism aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. A growing field that the public have dreamt about for decades, commercial space flight and tourism will only become more commonplace in coming years. These space flights will have both NASA and Boeing personnel onboard, wearing the blue suits that Boeing have developed. Sleeker than other historical spacesuits, permeable layers allow water vapour to move through the suit, but not the air that the astronauts will need to breathe. Their gloves, whilst still being protective, can operate touch screen displays.
These new designs represent just part of the Aerospace industry’s desire to move forward, using the very best technology. But even space flight is a business, seen in the commercial design to partner with Reebok to design spacesuit footwear.
NASA currently uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its astronauts into space but are looking to use commercial craft for the job in the next decade. The cost-per-seat of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner will be around $58 million. The Starliner was designed to carry up to seven passengers or a mix of cargo and crew. It is reusable up to ten times, meaning that space travel is slowly becoming more sustainable. The spacecraft is also designed to be compatible with several different launch vehicles including the Atlas V, Delta IV, and the Falcon 9.
Completely autonomous, the capsule can dock automatically upon arrival. Once attached, it’s designed to stay there for 210 days. The Starliner is also designed for land-based landings, with automatic parachutes to slow its descent back to earth, meaning it will be easier to recover and repair for additional use. It uses a ‘pusher’ escape system made up of four launch abort engines mounted on the service module itself. The escape system helps push the spacecraft away from the Atlas V launch vehicle, generating 40,000 pounds-force of thrust each.
The Starliner suffered a setback during testing back in June 2018, likely delaying its use to transfer astronauts up into the international space station. It was due to be used in 2019, but now may not be ready until 2020. Before it can be used on missions, the spacecraft must pass an unmanned test which will have around 220 different objectives to meet to ensure the highest standards.
Once operational, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner will signal a new era in space flight and a step closer space travel for the masses.