Tag Archives: Boeing

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing delays test flight for Starliner crew capsule

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Aerospace company Boeing announced earlier this week that it has re-scheduled the first orbital test flight of its commercial crew capsule, called the CST-100 Starliner. The test flight, which was supposed to occur in April, has been pushed back again to August.

Boeing said the decision to delay the test was made to avoid conflicts with the U.S. Air Force, which is scheduled to use the same launch pad around the same time for its Advanced Extremely High Frequency 5 military communications satellite. The Starliner spacecraft, which was designed and built under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, was delayed last year when a June test of its emergency abort system revealed a propellant leak. A re-test of the capsule’s abort engines at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico is planned in the coming months. That will be followed by a pad abort test sometime this summer.

“In order to avoid unnecessary schedule pressure, not interfere with a critical national security payload, and allow appropriate schedule margin to ensure the Boeing, United Launch Alliance and NASA teams are able to perform a successful first launch of Starliner, we made the most responsible decision available to us and will be ready for the next launch pad availability in August,” the company said.

Along with SpaceX, Boeing is under contract from NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. The Chicago-based company will fly their Starliner aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, the same one needed for the Air Force’s mission.

Originally slated for trips lasting no more than a couple of weeks to the ISS, NASA has announced that Boeing’s initial manned flight – creatively coined the Crew Flight Test — could be a long-duration one, lasting months. The manned test, which is expected to carry two NASA astronauts and Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, is expected in late 2019. The extended duration test flight offers NASA the opportunity to complete additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while the company’s Starliner is docked to the station. The mission duration will be determined at a later date.

“NASA’s assessment of extending the mission was found to be technically achievable without compromising the safety of the crew,” said Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA. “Commercial crew flight tests, along with the additional Soyuz opportunities, help us transition with greater flexibility to our next-generation commercial systems.”

Boeing wants to beat SpaceX to Mars. Elon Musk: “Do it”

It’s just a statement, but it’s a pretty clear statement.

The journey to Mars just got a bit hotter. Image via NASA.

Since the early 2000s, several entrepreneurs have started to develop competitive spaceflight alternatives, breaking what was, until then, a state monopoly. A few companies have managed to bring on significant innovations and reduce costs for some operations, encouraging NASA and other similar organizations to rely on private services more and more.

Boeing and SpaceX are two such companies, both of which have earned the rights to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. The two companies are in a healthy but heated competition, with Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg declaring at the Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016 that he wants to be the first one to send people to Mars.

“I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket.”

Recently, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC, adding that he has a concrete plan for a test flight in 2019.

“We’re going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon.”

Unlike last year, when SpaceX CEO and mastermind Elon Musk remained silent, this new statement drew a reaction. “Do it,” Musk dryly wrote on Twitter.

The truth is, both Boeing and SpaceX are quite far from being able to send people to Mars. NASA has already granted Boeing more than $10 billion for development of the Space Launch System rocket, part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans including a manned mission to Mars. Muilenburg might say that’s bound to happen in 2019, but NASA basically admitted that it won’t, saying that a 2019 launch is a “best case” scenario, and a slip into 2020 is much more likely.

Boeing also needs much more funding from NASA, and the newly imposed leadership of Mike Pence adds even more uncertainty. So there are a lot of question marks around the project, but Boeing is making a clear statement. They want to dance, and SpaceX is ready to rumble — which is thrilling to see, really.

The two companies are in a feverish competition, vying to take humanity where no man has gone before. It’s the kind of competition which leads to progress, and it’s the kind of progress we can’t have enough of.

To both Musk and Muilenburg, I can only say one thing: “Do it.”

Wearing NASA’s new Starliner space suit is reason enough to become an astronaut

Yesterday, NASA unveiled the new space suits astronauts will wear in the Boeing Starliner on their way to the ISS — and they’re icy cool.

Incidentally, they’re also icy-blue.

Image credits Boeing.

The suits were designed to be lighter, more comfortable, and less cumbersome than their earlier counterparts. The agency reports that the whole shebang weighs in at about 20 pounds (9 kg) with all accessories. That’s a full 33% lighter than the orange launch-and-entry suits you see astronauts wear on TV. Another feature bound to make crewmembers really happy is that the Starliner suits allow water vapor to pass through, away from the astronauts, while remaining airtight. No more stuffy suits!

A new architecture and material composition for the knee and elbow sections as well as re-vamped joint patterns throughout the suit makes them much more flexible too. The helmet and visor are now part of the suit so you don’t have to worry about misplacing them. Several zippers can be pulled up or down to make the suit more form-fitting during sitting or walking. Finally, touchscreen-sensitive fingertips tie it all together.

Image credits Boeing.

But there’s only one thing you really need your space suit to do, and these blue babies definitely deliver:

“The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive,” astronaut Eric Boe said.

“It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it’s simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this.”

Astronauts have already had the chance to get a feel for their new threads inside a Starliner mock-up, to learn how best to use both. They repeatedly climbed in and out of the mock-up, interacted with all the buttons, screens, or knobs around, and of course tested the suits at that all important space-going activity — sitting.

Houston, we have a-comfortable.
Image credits Boeing.

“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems,” said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit. It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”

These suits will keep the crew safe and comfy inside the spaceship, and on the ISS in case of emergency. The heavy duty outer-space suits (called extravehicular mobility units, or EMUs) are already on board the station. So between the cool new wearables, the awesome postables, and the ridiculously cool Mars recruitment campaign NASA has been spoiling us with lately, you’re probably dreaming of becoming an astronaut yourself.

Well dream no longer, because we’ve got you covered. Go get’em tiger!

crazy boeing engine

A crazy Boeing patent describes a jet engine powered by lasers and mini nuclear explosions

A while ago, aerospace giant Boeing applied a patent for a most peculiar propulsion system that uses high power lasers to kick off a fusion reaction, akin to a small thermonuclear explosion. The energy released would be enough power spacecraft, rockets and even jetliners with tremendous thrust.

crazy boeing engine

Credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office

In the patent, here’s how at least one version of the system looks like, as described by the authors:

“In one embodiment, a propulsion apparatus includes a propellant, at least one laser, and a thrust member. The propellant comprises a solid surface comprising a hollow core disposed within the solid surface and a thrust-producing medium disposed within the hollow core. The at least one laser is positioned to vaporize the propellant with at least one laser-beam into a thrust-producing flow. The thrust member is for flowing within the thrust member a thrust-producing flow created by vaporization of the propellant.”

Doesn’t make much sense, but that’s patents for you. Boring, ambiguous and with nothing to show. How did Einstein manage to stay a patent clerk for seven years? Luckily, I came across an excellent video produced by Deepak Gupta, aka the Patent Yogi, which summarizes what the invention is all about.

Inside the reaction chamber, pellets containing a mix of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) are placed on the focal point and zapped by a high power laser. The pellets instantly become vaporized, and a huge pressure triggers a fusion reaction between the hydrogen atoms. The hot gases expelled by the reaction are pushed down the nozzle of the engine, and create thrust. Additionally, the engine’s walls are coated with Uranium-238, whose atoms fission with the neutrons from the fusion reaction, akin to what happens inside a nuclear power plant. The fission reaction creates a lot of heat which is exchanged with a coolant. This heat-energized coolant is sent through a turbine and generator that produces electricity to power the engine’s lasers. So, apart from the pellet, everything inside the aircraft, rocket or jet is energy independent.

This all sounds very, very cool. We damn well need ideas like this if we’re to push the envelope of space exploration and even hyper-sonic flight here on Earth. At the same time, there are a couple of unrealistic features. Apart from all the weight (this looks several times bigger than any jet engine), there are numerous technical and safety challenges. How do you control the fusion and fission reactions? The concept doesn’t sound too bad, though. Maybe someone can find a way to turn it into a much more simple (forget about the turbines, comes on…), but feasible design.

This isn’t the first crazy patent from Boeing. A while ago ZME Science reported how the company secured a patent that describes a Star Trek-like force shield, meant to protect vehicles operating in war zones.

NASA returns to manned space flight, gives contracts to SpaceX and Boeing

NASA astronauts will once again travel from the Earth to the International Space Station – under groundbreaking contracts announced today. The space agency announced that Boeing and SpaceX were selected to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft in 2017, finally ending their dependence on Russia.

“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars.”

Indeed, sending astronauts in and out of the ISS is just the first step, and while a clear date hasn’t been announced for a trip to Mars, the discussed decade seems to be the 2030s.

As part of these contracts, The Boeing Company will receive $4.2 billion while SpaceX will get $2.6 billion. The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected.

Furthermore, these new partnerships will not only allow more independence in terms of transport to the ISS, but also it will allow the crew of the ISS (currently six members) to grow, improving and developing the experiments that can be carried out onboard.

“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope.”

Personally, I’m really excited about this perspective – it’s about time NASA did something, not only to improve and advance the experiments carried out on the ISS, but also to develop future projects, like a trip to Mars or (why not) even a colony to Mars.

Boeing will build spacecraft for shuttle hangar

In a landmark decision that will mark the future of commercial space flight, Boeing announced an agreement with Space Florida on Monday to lease the hangar that housed the space shuttles to bring similar spacecrafts and take people into outer space.

In an area that has lost numerous specialized jobs, this move will create 140 jobs in the next 18 months and 550 jobs by 2015, but the matter itself is far more complex, as it could be the signal for space commerical flight to truly take off.

“Florida has five decades of leadership in the space industry, which makes our state the logical place for the next phase of space travel and exploration,” Scott said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “Boeing’s choice of Florida for its Commercial Crew program headquarters is evidence Florida has the world-class facilities and workforce expertise needed for aerospace companies to succeed.”

President Barack Obama, who received quite a lot of criticism regarding his measures on the space program, also seemed thrilled to see this happen.

“The next era of space exploration won’t wait, and so we can’t wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs. That’s why my administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery,” Obama said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.

The Obama administration is pointing the finger at Congress, for not approving his request for $40 million in economic assistance for the region and $850 million for the Commercial Crew project.

“Neither NASA nor the Space Coast can afford to stand still. We must be aggressive in pursuing this next generation of space exploration — and the jobs and innovation that will accompany it,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in prepared remarks.

However, as Neil deGrasse Tyson explains, commercial space flight will never take us one step further, because a step outside what we know so far is simply not profitable – there are too many risks. However, NASA continues to rely on commercial suppliers for sub orbital flights, especially since now they have no orbiters.

Via AP

NASA

NASA funds commercial space taxi development worth $269 million

NASAAs the last two shuttle flights will mark the end of a thirty year long program, NASA is looking for alternatives to transport astronauts, cargo and equipment to and from outer space. The best alternative seems to come from the private sectore, and with this in mind NASA has awarded a total $269 million dived among several top aeronautical companies to help speed development of commercial spaceships.

The largest grant went to Boeing worth $92.3 million, which is currently under contract with NASA to develop the  CST-100, a spaceship slated to carry a crew of seven in a low orbit over the earth Boeing officials said they would apply what they’ve learned from building commercial airplanes, satellites and launch systems to build and fly the CST-100 in 2015.

Sierra Nevada Corp got $80 million, while  Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX), the privately held company founded by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, was awarded $75 million. The money will be put to good use by SpaceX by all odds, considering only a few weeks ago the company announced that their currently developing the world’s most powerful rocket. Blue Origin, another company founded by an internet entrepreneur Amazon’s  Jeff Bezos, received a contract worth $22 million.

For NASA it’s imperative to develop a space taxi solution as soon as possible, not only because of obvious logistics consideration but also financially-wise. Currently, NASA has already a lot of flights outsourced to Russia who charge $51 million per person, price expected to rise to $63 per person by 2014.

“We’re committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

“These agreements are significant milestones in NASA’s plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration.”

The agreement covers work for about 14 months. NASA hopes to follow the program with another competition to develop an actual flight system. The goal is for NASA to be able to buy commercial orbital space transportation services by about 2015.

Falcon Heavy SpaceX rocket

SpaceX unveil the world’s most powerful private rocket

Falcon Heavy SpaceX rocket

Artist rendition of the SpaceX's Falcon Heavy plummeting towards the stratosphere - the most capable rocket operating today, according to the company. (c) SpaceX

The dawn of a new space era has begun – the commercial space era! As governments constantly cut space exploration budgets, the world is forced to turn its gaze upon the private sector which is more than willing to lend a commercial hand to space agencies. Space tourism, satellite orbit delivery, ISS cargo taxi, you name it and rest assure that top aeronautical companies can handle it.

In an extremely remarkable feat, though, I’m given to find out that SpaceX, one of the major private space flight players in the world, just unveiled a new very powerful un-manned rocket called the Falcon Heavy. When completed, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful commercial rocket ever built and haul much heavier loads than the company’s previous boosters. To be more exact the Falcon Heavy will be able to carry about 117,000 pounds (53,000 kilograms) of cargo to orbit, twice as roomy as NASA’s Space Shuttle, and second in size only to the Apollo program’s mammoth Saturn V.

In the spirit of efficient entrepreneurship and cost-effect business solutions, SpaceX officials announced that they’ll be able to launch at a cost of just $1,000 per pound, about one-tenth the cost per pound on NASA shuttle launches. The price for a launch aboard the new Falcon Heavy is set for $100 million.

“Falcon Heavy sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said. “That’s a pretty huge leap in capability.”

While it’ll initially be unmanned, SpaceX says it meets human flight standards and could even be employed for missions to the Moon or even Mars.

“It can launch people if need be and do so safely,” Musk said of the Falcon Heavy. “It has so much more capability than any other vehicle I think we can start to realistically contemplate missions like a Mars sample return.”

US Space Plane is in orbit

Whenever Boeing and NASA team up, you can bet your sweet lasers something wicked is going to happen; actually, the first logical thing that would come to mind is a space plane – and this is what they did. The US X-37B is now in orbit, after a successful launch that took place without any incidents whatsoever.

The orbital test vehicle took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. this Sunday, after the Friday launch was called off due to bad weather. The mission and purpose of the space plane was mostly classified and information has been pretty scarce around it, but it is certain that it is designed to operate as an unmanned test platform for space research that can land itself at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Boeing Vice President Craig Cooning shed some light on the matter in a written statement in which he explained that the space plane was being monitored by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office; which in layman terms means that the military is involved and that its purpose is at least partially military.

“We took another important step with the successful launch of the second (orbital test vehicle), enabling the RCO to further experiment with the vehicle and its ability to operate in low-Earth orbit,” Cooning said.

Boeing enters the space tourism market

Commercial space flight is starting to promise to become a very lucrative market since an ever growing interested is harnessed by the big corporations of the world. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in cooperation with Scaled Composites (Mojave, CA), announced their sincere intentions of entering the commercial space travel market, after recently the giant Boeing also announced its plans to carry civilians in space.

Apparently, the aerospace manufacturer has reached an agreement with Space Adventures for the marketing and manufacturing of low-orbit space travel, which could see wealthy, yet ordinary civilians travel into space, as well as guarantee regular transportation for the International Space Station or other sub orbital projects, aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100).

The CST-100 could carry seven people and fly in low-Earth orbit as soon as 2015, Boeing said. The potential customers for excess seating capacity include private individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. federal agencies other than NASA.

“By combining our talents, we can better offer safe, affordable transportation to commercial spaceflight customers,” explained Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division. “To date, all commercial flights for private spaceflight participants to the ISS have been contracted by Space Adventures. If NASA and the international partners continue to accommodate commercial spaceflight participants on ISS, this agreement will be in concert with the NASA administrator’s stated intent to promote space commerce in low Earth orbit.”

This could prove to be the first real step in providing the possibility for commercial space travel, even though in the beginning (first 10-20 years) this will solely be a player’s market, with fare tickets ranging in the the tens of millions. The first space tourist was Dennis A. Tito, a California multimillionaire, who shelved $20 million for a ride and spent eight days in the International Space Station with two cosmonauts in 2001. Guy Laliberte, founder of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, paid more than $35 million to travel into space last year on a Russian spaceship from Kazakhstan.

“We are excited about the potential to offer flights on Boeing’s spacecraft,” emphasized Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. “With our customer experience and Boeing’s heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space, but also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth.”

What’s interesting is that Boeing’s new jump into the commercial space flight market comes a few months after President Obama‘s decision to retire the Space Shuttle program and shelve lunar missions for the next couple of years, until N.A.S.A. will get completely restructured. Until then N.A.S.A. will be completely dependent on commercial space taxis for ISS cargo transpiration and on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut missions. The Russian space agency charges the US $51 million per seat for a ride on a Soyuz, a price tag that is said to reach $56 million by 2013.

UPDATE: Three years since this post was published, a lot has changed in the private space sector. For one, SpaceX, currently the most successful private aerospace enterprise has successfully deployed its own spacecraft to the International Space Station, and the aforementioned Dennis Tito is actually planning one of the most dashing plans yet – a manned mission to mars by 2018.  The space shuttle is long dead and gone, alas.