Boeing's CST-100 Spacecraft One Step Closer to Space With Thruster Tests

One of Boeing's CST-100 thrusters glows red-hot during a recent test on its orbital maneuvering and attitude control system (OMAC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This test brings the spacecraft closer to fulfilling its commercial crew missions. Photo Credit: Boeing.

One of Boeing’s CST-100 thrusters glows red-hot during a recent test on its orbital maneuvering and attitude control system (OMAC) in Las Cruces, N.M. This test brings the spacecraft closer to fulfilling its commercial crew missions. Photo Credit: Boeing

Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft-steering jets, which are part of the ship’s orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) system, were successfully fired in a series of tests in collaboration with Aerojet Rocketdyne. This announcement of the tests’ success, made on Friday, means that the spacecraft is closer to fulfilling its part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative (CCiCap). These tests took place at White Sands Test Facility’s Propulsion Test Office in Las Cruces, N.M.

During the tests the thrusters were fired, generating 1,500 pounds of thrust each in a space-like environment (a vacuum chamber simulating 100,000 feet in altitude). They were put through similar burns and situations they would encounter in spaceflight. The system previously has been tested for its reactions to extreme heat, general durability, and performance of valves.

The CST-100, which can seat up to seven astronauts, is slated to make its first crewed mission in 2016. Image Credit: Boeing.

The CST-100, which can seat up to seven astronauts, is slated to make its first crewed mission in 2016. Image Credit: Boeing

The spacecraft’s OMAC system has 24 thrusters, which perform essential functions such as entering the ship into a stable orbit and breaking the craft to slow it down prior to reentry. They are arranged in four clusters of six thrusters on the spacecraft’s service module. Prior to reentry, the thrusters are jettisoned.

This test brings Boeing closer to completing 20 of its CCiCap milestones by 2014, as planned. According to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Terry Lorier, the CST-100’s Service Module Propulsion Program manager, the OMAC engines met all CCiCap objectives.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne and Boeing are both pleased with the results and look forward to continuing our partnership,” Lorier remarked.

John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and manager for commercial programs, echoed this sentiment.

“The CST-100 OMAC thrusters are an example of leveraging proven flight hardware solutions to ensure mission supportability. We are very pleased with the data collected during this second series of tests and with our overall team performance as we continue to progress through CCiCap milestones on time and on budget,” he related.

The CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) crew capsule is intended to be rocketed into orbit on a variety of United Launch Alliance (ULA) launch vehicles, such as the Atlas V, Falcon 9, and Delta IV. It will first be partnered with an Atlas V. Boeing was announced as a partner in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) initiative on Aug. 3, 2012, during a press conference at Kennedy Space Center. The company was awarded $460 million to continue developing the spacecraft, which is being designed in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace.

Ed Mango, CCP manager, emphasized that Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s efforts in testing prove the companies are forging ahead in the commercial crew quest.

“Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne continue to show a path forward for NASA’s low-Earth orbit crew transportation needs by implementing cutting-edge technologies and showcasing decades of human spaceflight experience,” he said.

At the present time, the CST-100 is slated to make its first piloted orbital flight—of course, propelled by ULA’s Atlas V—in 2016.

 

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