Boeing’s CST-100 Thruster Roars to Life

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne test fired one of the thrusters that will be used on Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft. Photo Credit: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne recently conducted a series of tests on a thruster that will one day be used on Boeing’s Commercial Space Transportation System-100 or CST-100 space taxi. The tests were successful and are one more step toward the addition of the CST-100 to NASA’s growing fleet of commercial spacecraft.

There are some 24 thrusters that will be used on Boeing’s spacecraft. They are used for orbital maneuvering and attitude control system (OMAC) – essentially these thrusters allow the spacecraft to move in space. More importantly for the crew these small engines would separate the spacecraft from the launch vehicle if an abort is required during launch or ascent. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne tested the Launch Abort System (LAS) for the CST-100 this past March. By all estimates, the spacecraft’s development is moving forward as scheduled.


Video courtesy of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

“Boeing and Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne know what it takes to develop safe systems and subsystems,” said NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango. “They’re building on the successes of their past, while pushing the envelope with next-generation ideas to create a spacecraft for low Earth orbit transportation.”

The tests were conducted at White Sands Space Harbor in Las Cruces, N.M. One of the OMAC thrusters was fired in a vacuum chamber. This allows engineers to see how the engine will perform in space. By all accounts the thrusters handled what ever was thrown at them. They were opened and closed and fired for an extended period of time. According to a NASA news release they handled high temperatures very well.

With this and other successful tests that have been conducted recently Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft joins a growing list of spacecraft that are being prepared to return U.S. astronauts to orbit aboard U.S. spacecraft. Photo Credit: Boeing

“We’re excited about the performance of the engine during the testing and confident the OMAC thrusters will affordably meet operational needs for safe, reliable human spaceflight,” said Terry Lorier, Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne’s Commercial Crew Development program manager.

The NASA-issued release states that all of NASA’s industry partners, including Boeing, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

While NASA concentrates its focus on both the Orion spacecraft (produced by Lockheed Martin) and the Space Launch System, or SLS as it is more commonly known, a group of commercial space firms works to provide access to low-Earth-orbit or LEO. These groups include Boeing, SpaceX, ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Both ULA's Atlas V and Delta IV as well as SpaceX's Falcon 9 and ATK's Liberty launcher have all been depicted as potential launch vehicles for Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft. Image Credit: ULA / Boeing / SpaceX / ATK

Although the Atlas V is one launch vehicle that might launch Boeing’s offering – it is not the only one. United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV, ATK’s Liberty Launcher and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 – all all been depicted with the CST-100 perched atop.

The Orion spacecraft, Boeing’s CST-100 and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser all have something in common – the use of United Launch Alliance rockets in some capacity. Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 ( EFT-1) will utilize a ULA Delta IV Heavy, both CST-100 and Dream Chaser are planned to be launched on ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle.

NASA has not had the capacity to launch astronauts on its own since the final mission of the space shuttle program, STS-135, which landed on July 21, 2011. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The various spacecraft these companies produce would be used to ferry astronauts and cargo to orbit while Orion and SLS would push out further to destinations such as the Moon, asteroids and one day – Mars.

“Boeing’s unique integrated service module propulsion system combines nominal on-orbit propulsion with ascent abort capability into a single system, allowing the OMAC engine and the majority of the propellant feed and pressurization hardware to perform dual roles,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs.  This dual-role feature reduces the number of parts and provides additional operational flexibility, increasing overall system reliability and improving crew safety.”

It is planned to have Boeing's CST-100 deliver crew and cargo to the International Space Station. The CST-100 can carry up to 7 crew or a mixture of crew and cargo. Photo Credit: NASA

For more info about Commercial Crew:


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