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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Explained: Boeing’s Starliner and NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme

The Starliner, which is supposed to carry more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies, will take roughly 24 hours to reach the ISS, after which it will dock there.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 4, 2021 7:28:31 am
NASA, StarlinerA United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard stands on the launch pad ahead of the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission (AP)

The launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), which was supposed to lift off from the Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Tuesday, has been postponed once again.

The spacecraft, which is called the Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) , is part of an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Announcing that the launch has been postponed, Boeing Space posted on Twitter, “We’re confirming today’s #Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 launch is scrubbed. More details soon.”

What is the CST-100 Starliner and what is its purpose?

The Starliner, which is supposed to carry more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies, will take roughly 24 hours to reach the ISS, after which it will dock there.

The spacecraft has been designed to accommodate seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo for missions to low-Earth orbit. The Boeing website says that for NASA service missions to the ISS, it will carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research.

“The Starliner has an innovative, weldless structure and is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It also features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces,” the website mentions.

When this test flight takes off, it will check the capabilities of the spacecraft from launch, docking, atmospheric re-entry and a landing at a desert in the US. The spaceflight will also help NASA to ascertain and certify the transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station in the future.

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What is NASA’s Commercial Crew Program?

The main objective of NASA’s Commerical Crew Program is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.

Through this program, NASA plans to lower its costs by sharing them with commercial partners such as Boeing and SpaceX, and also give the companies incentive to design and build the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS).

Secondly, by encouraging private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to provide crew transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA can focus on building spacecraft and rockets meant for deep space exploration missions.

What this means is that in order to transport astronauts to space, NASA has been looking at partnering with companies such as SpaceX who are focused on providing this service. To avail their services, NASA pays these companies, similar to how a passenger pays for a flight ticket to go from point A to B.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in September 2014 to develop transportation systems meant to transfer crew from the US to the ISS. “These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory,” the NASA website says.

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