Boeing has completed an important milestone on its way to start ferrying astronauts to space for Nasa, well ahead of its competitors.
Concluding the Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review and the Critical Design Review (CDR) of its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability project, Boeing stated the venture is not only on schedule but also within budget - positive news for the space industry notorious for its cost overruns.
“The challenge of a CDR is to ensure all the pieces and sub-systems are working together,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Commercial Crew program manager. “Integration of these systems is key. Now we look forward to bringing the CST-100 to life.”
The reviews verified all major components of the space capsule, foreseen to start carrying astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of this decade, including propulsion, software, avionics, landing, and power and docking systems. The teams also evaluated risk scenarios and possible life-threatening situations with the goal to mitigate any safety risks.
According to Mulholland, the design of the cargo module was now 96 per cent complete, while the design of the crew module – designed to carry 7 astronauts - was 85 per cent complete.
Boeing believes the weld less capsule, featuring wireless internet and Boeing LED Sky Lighting technology, could begin test flights in 2017.
The defence giant is one of four companies competing for contracts with Nasa to provide commercial transportation of astronauts to the space station. Also fighting for the strategic job, which will once again allow Nasa to launch astronauts to space on-board US-made vehicles from US soil, are Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin founded by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.
With the increasingly strained Russian-US relationships in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine and ensuing economic sanctions, the space transportation self-reliance is becoming ever more important for the American space agency and its western partners.
Nasa spokeswoman Stephanie Martin said the agency planned to choose one or more of the competitors to continue working on the program in late August or early September.
Martin confirmed that Boeing had completed a critical design review of its offering in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program and said Nasa was reviewing the data to determine if Boeing met its required "success criteria" for the review.
Despite the deadline set for this summer, all of the three other competitors have asked for extensions, promising to conclude the work by May 2015.
Boeing’s capsule is desiged to be launched aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, built by the United Launch Alliance, which is jointly run by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine, which has also triggered some concerns given tensions with Russia.
According to Mulholland, the capsule was designed from the beginning to be compatible with other launch vehicles, if necessary, although that would still entail some modification of the interface between the spacecraft and the launcher.