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Starliner Crew Capsule on the Move 

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Starliner Crew Capsule being moved to the vertical integration facility. Image by: Richard P Gallagher

As the aerospace community looks toward the future of crewed space travel, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is poised to become a pivotal player in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This morning’s rollout of the crew capsule ahead of the first crewed launch marks a significant milestone for Boeing.  The Starliner spacecraft was moved from the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center this morning at 4am to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in order to be attached to the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  

The Rollout of Starliner 

Astronaut Suni Williams takes her turn behind the wheel during the roll out of the Starliner Capsule she will soon be commanding. Image by: Richard P Gallagher.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner is scheduled for its first crewed flight test (CFT) later this May, an event that hopes to advance NASA’s vision for space exploration. The Starliner, developed in collaboration with NASA, is designed to provide the United States with redundant crew launch capabilities, critical for continued research and the utilization of the International Space Station (ISS).  Currently, the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule carried atop a Falcon9 rocket is the only U.S. space capsule capable of delivering astronauts to the ISS.

First Pilots and Launch 

Credit: NASA/Issic Watson,  

Commanding the first crewed test flight of the Starliner will be veteran NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams. Wilmore, a skilled pilot, and seasoned astronaut has previously commanded the ISS and brings a wealth of experience to the mission. Williams, known for her previous long-duration spaceflights, holds records for spacewalks by a woman. This mission will see them lifting off from Cape Canaveral, marking the historic first crewed launch of the Starliner and their first experience piloting this modern spacecraft. 

Launch Vehicle and Mission Objectives 

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Source: Boeing.

The Starliner will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, a reliable vehicle with a history of supporting both commercial and government space missions. This launch configuration, known as N22, signifies no payload fairing, two solid rocket boosters, and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage. 

The primary objectives for the Starliner program include safely transporting astronauts to and from the ISS, reducing U.S. reliance on foreign rockets, and fostering commercial access to space. This flight test aims to thoroughly validate all aspects of the spacecraft’s design and operational capabilities, from launch and docking to re-entry and landing. 

Major Goals and Future Aspirations 

Beyond the immediate goals of the CFT, the Starliner is expected to become an integral part of NASA’s strategies for increasing accessibility to space. The spacecraft is designed to be reusable up to ten times with a six-month turnaround time. This reusability is central to NASA’s long-term goals of sustainable space exploration and operation. 

Looking ahead, Boeing envisions the Starliner playing a crucial role in future missions beyond the ISS, including potential missions to the Moon and Mars as part of NASA’s broader deep-space exploration objectives. The success of the Starliner program is poised to enhance scientific research capabilities and pave the way for future commercial space endeavors. 

As the countdown to the launch proceeds, the global space community watches with bated breath, hopeful for a successful mission that will herald a new chapter in space exploration. The achievements of the Starliner could well determine the trajectory of the next generation of space travel, underlining Boeing’s commitment to advancing the frontiers of science and technology in aerospace.  

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