Artist's rendition of the Boeing CST-100 space capsule

NASA two steps closer to carry humans to space again

Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST) 100 capsule has reached two milestones during May.

Engineers mounted a scale model of the integrated Atlas 5 rocket and the CST-100 capsule into a 3.5m in diameter transonic wind tunnel in the NASA Ames Research Centre and evaluated the airflow over the launch vehicle.

The tests conducted by Boeing and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) were designed to gather data on how the Atlas 5 and CST-100 respond to aerodynamic forces.

"The CST-100 and Atlas 5, connected with the launch vehicle adaptor, performed exactly as expected and confirmed our expectations of how they will perform together in flight," said John Mulholland, Boeing's vice president and manager of commercial programmes, in a statement.

After terminating the Space Shuttle programme two years ago, NASA has been dependent on Russia to bring astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The contract with Boeing, worth $460m, is one of three ventures financially supported by NASA that are competing to serve as a regular transportation capability provider for the ISS. In August 2012, Boeing and its competitors, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation, won Space Act Agreements from NASA awarding them altogether over $1.1 bn to advance concepts each company had already been developing.

The Boeing CST-100 capsule should be able to carry a crew of up to seven people in orbit. It will be launched by the Atlas 5 rocket with a twin-engine Centaur upper stage from Cape Canaveral. So far, all of the expendable rocket's 38 flights to date have flown with single-engine Centaur stages.

Boeing has already completed other milestones outlined by NASA. One of them was reached in March when a liquid oxygen feed of the Atlas 5 rocket was tested.

In a statement released on Friday 31 May, NASA said Boeing is on track to complete all of its 19 milestones by mid-2014. In the next few months, Boeing plans to test the capsule's orbital manoeuvring engine, an interface with mission control in Houston, software and the Atlas 5 rocket's emergency detection system.

According to Boeing officials, the first piloted orbital flight of a CST-100 capsule should take place during 2016.

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