Boeing’s New CST-100 ‘Starliner’ Processing Facility Taking Shape at KSC

Boeing's CST-100 "Starliner" spacecraft is depicted here climbing to orbit. The company will begin flying astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA as soon as 2017. Image Credit: Boeing
Boeing’s CST-100 “Starliner” spacecraft is depicted here climbing to orbit. The company will begin flying astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA as soon as 2017. Image Credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing unveiled the company’s new spacecraft processing facility at a grand opening event at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this afternoon, revealing the new name of their CST-100 crew capsule: Starliner. The old space shuttle orbiter processing hangar has been transformed to support the next generation of low-Earth orbit human spaceflight, and work is well underway building a Starliner pathfinder test article to certify the vehicle’s design before putting astronauts onboard for flights to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in the next couple years.

“One hundred years ago we were on the dawn of the commercial aviation era and today, with the help of NASA, we’re on the dawn of a new commercial space era,” said Boeing’s John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Space Exploration. “It’s been such a pleasure to work hand-in-hand with NASA on this commercial crew development, and when we look back 100 years from this point, I’m really excited about what we will have discovered.”

A mural depicting on The Boeing Company’s newly named CST-100 Starliner commercial crew transportation spacecraft is installed on the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
A mural depicting on The Boeing Company’s newly named CST-100 Starliner commercial crew transportation spacecraft is installed on the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Starliner, which Boeing is developing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, will be capable of ferrying a crew of up to seven astronauts to and from the ISS and other low-Earth orbit destinations. NASA only requires seating for four, but in a previous interview with AmericaSpace, Chris Ferguson, a veteran astronaut and Director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing, said he expects crews of five to fly.

The vehicle will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket, just a few miles from Boeing’s Starliner Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), and will cruise autonomously on a six to eight hour trip to the $100-billion orbiting ISS. The astronauts will not need to fly the vehicle themselves at all, and will literally be along for the ride in all aspects of the flight. They will, however, be able to take manual control of the CST-100 at any time, just in case.

“We [Boeing] have a basic level of training we provide that will give the operator, a pilot, the knowledge that they need to operate the spaceship, which is mostly autonomous,” said Ferguson. “They will have the ability to get to the ISS and back, as well as the ability to deal with failures and the ability to take manual control if necessary. NASA wants a single piloted vehicle, so we will train the pilot to whatever level of proficiency they need, and if NASA wants us to train someone else to a pilot level of proficiency then we will be happy to do that. That being said we have factored into our design the ability for a copilot, and train them perhaps to the same level of proficiency as the pilot. They would sit beside the pilot and do all of those types of crew resource management (CRM) types of things that NASA instilled in us shuttle astronauts over the years.”

Boeing, in partnership with Space Florida, has had a lease on the former OPF-3 shuttle hangar for some time now, modernizing the facility to provide an environment for efficient production, testing, and operations for the Starliner similar to Boeing’s satellite, space launch vehicle, and commercial airplane production programs.

“We’re transitioning this facility into a world class manufacturing facility,” said Boeing’s CST-100 Program Manager John Mulholland. “With a 50,000 square foot processing facility it’s going to allow us to process up to six CST-100’s at a time.”

The hangar facility has more than enough room to support processing of multiple CST-100s simultaneously, and the adjoining sections of the building are well-suited to process other systems such as engines and thrusters before they are integrated into the main spacecraft.

VIDEO: Boeing Unveils Starliner Processing Facility

Boeing’s Starliner work is expected to bring 300-500 full time jobs to Florida’s “Space Coast,” which suffered a big economic blow from the retirement of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program in 2011.

“This facility will become point and center, we’ll be developing the test articles here and then starting the manufacturing for full services in 2017,” said Boeing engineer Tony Castilleja in a previous AmericaSpace interview. “This is where all the pieces and parts will come in, and we’ll then build everything right here. One side of the building is for processing the service modules, and the other side of the facility is for processing the crew modules. We’ll then ship out to the Atlas launch pad integration facility and off we go.”

At ULA’s nearby Atlas Launch Complex-41 work is visibly underway with the crew access tower astronauts will need to board Starliner for their flights to space. Rising like an erector set, it’s the first of its kind intended for a vehicle that will carry humans into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the one built at Launch Complex 34 for the Apollo missions in the 1960s.

The tower will be comprised of seven major tier segments, or levels, and each will measure about 20 foot square and 28 feet tall. When finished, the tower will stand over 200 feet tall.

Boeing intends to utilize other facilities at KSC to supper their Commercial Crew Program as well, in addition to the C3PF, including a Launch Control Center.

SpaceX and Boeing both received NASA contracts to fly astronauts to and from the ISS with their Dragon and Starliner crew capsules. Boeing, however, received a much larger piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie, with $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX. Boeing also received the first of up to six orders from NASA to execute a crew-rotation mission of Starliner to the ISS earlier this year, although NASA emphasized that the order does not necessarily imply that Starliner will fly ahead of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, and that “determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.”


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  1. It is wise to teach the long view. Where to? Ad astra! = To the stars! “Starliner”! I love it!

  2. If anyone doubts the future of a LEO destination for the Starliner, it is worth noting the Nikkei Asian Review article of September 3, 2015 titled ‘Japan’s next cargo spacecraft could allow return of material from ISS’,and its comment, “Japan is developing a successor to the Kounotori automated cargo spacecraft, an unmanned resupply vehicle used to carry food and other supplies to the International Space Station.”

    Boeing’s New CST-100 Starliner and the replacement for “the Kounotori automated cargo spacecraft” are important parts of the diverse set of tools, and skills, needed to ensure that the International Space Station doesn’t necessarily have a limited future, despite whatever some folks may want to claim.

    Before we can start sending folks to regularly fly off to the Moon, and eventually Mars and Ceres, it is worth carefully learning the real risk lessons of even LEO spaceflights. A few of these real risks of spaceflight have been recently harshly spotlighted by the failures of the Cygnus, Progress, and Dragon supply missions to the International Space Station.

    The strong capabilities and real opportunities offered by the SLS, other launchers, the new Starliner, Orion, and various robotic and human spacecraft indicate that the International Space Station could be extensively modified and older modules can be replaced. Larger ISS crew sizes could eventually be sustained, with some folks doing very long duration missions.

    Yep, CST-100 Starliner flights to the ISS research facility in LEO could occur for many decades into the future.

    And if we are wise, lots of new missions and uses for the International Space Station will be developed.

  3. And don’t forget, CST-100’s development came from a partnership between Bigelow Aerospace and Boeing. Once the transportation is available, Bigelow’s looking to loft at least one station and lease time on board for experiments to NASA and other customers that are using the ISS now.


      “Dissimilar redundancy in transportation has been critical to the preservation of the ISS.

      Application to Exploration:
      Future exploration programs must be structured with alternative transport vehicles, so there is no particular system that becomes a single-point-of-failure.”

      Redundancy of various kinds on as many levels as is practical is critical for safe and productive, and thus flourishing, LEO space stations and beyond LEO human missions.

      I hope Bigelow and all the other space station builders are successful. However, what if some, many, or most national and international ISS science and engineering research customers and most American politicians continue to view the International Space Station as an extremely valuable research institution with significant geopolitical usefulness that should continue to exist for many decades?

      Bigelow’s ultimate success as a space station and Moon habitat builder is intertwined with the ongoing long-term success of the International Space Station and the experience, knowledge, dissimilar redundancy, and in-depth political and economic support for humans in space that the ISS provides to the world.

      If any individual’s private space station business plan is dependent on the de-orbiting of The International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory and all the costly tools and facilities that enable our American government lab to be a large and efficient LEO research incubator, then that business plan is wrong and contrary to the best interests of both our businesses and taxpayers.

      Nonetheless, I think most folks agree that the CST-100 Starliner has an excellent future!

  4. Concerning the longevity of the ISS as a destination for the Starliner, in the recent article ‘One-on-one with NASA’s chief space station builder’ September 5, 2015 by Stephen Clark, there is the insight offered by Mike Suffredini, who is the space station program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, “We’ve done the work to tell us 2028 is OK structurally. I would tell you based on how we got to 2028, and the margins I saw in the system, that you could probably go at least another four years on top of 2028.”

    If a space station was placed in the International Space Station’s orbit dozens of kilometers ahead of it and another space station placed dozens of kilometers behind the ISS and each station maintained its formation flying in such a ‘neighborly’ position, this arrangement could allow for flexible and redundant crew member transportation and evacuation options and relatively easy LEO access to various dispersed resources in emergency and non-emergency situations.

    Dissimilar redundancy is often considered a safety enhancing virtue.

    Or, as was noted by Keith Cowing on August 25, 2015, in the article ‘Understanding The Value of Dissimilar Redundancy’, “If nothing else having more than one approach to things offers dissimilar redundancy – something that has saved the ISS program’s butt more times than many people know.”

    America’s first space station, Skylab, had an orbital inclination of 50°. The Mir space station had an orbital inclination of 51.6 degrees. And the International Space Station has an orbital inclination of 51.6 degrees. This ISS orbit is economically accessible to almost all the launch site complexes on Earth.

    Maintaining such a ‘neighborly’ positioning of several space stations in the same 51.6 degree inclination orbit as the ISS might be part of an international human LEO mission risk reduction strategy to mitigate the dangers of micrometeoroids, space debris, and other known and unknown variables.

    Small commercial space stations would perhaps enjoy lower costs, significantly enhanced safety benefits, improved crew rotation options, and frequent supply and downmass opportunities by using such formation flying with the ISS.

    Propellant for the formation flying requirements of the space stations could be minimized by using ion thrusters, solar sails, or perhaps Mach effect thrusters.

    Eventually, the Starliner, and various human and robotic mission capable spaceships, might be used as taxis, small trucks, and ambulances between ‘nearby’ space stations and yet retain the critical safety option of quick access to the Earth’s surface.

    Yep, Starliners could be used to fly folks to the ISS and other space stations for many decades into the future.

  5. Also, propellant used for changing the orbit of the Starliner or the formation flying of the International Space Station’s neighboring space stations might someday be minimized by using electrodynamic tethers.

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