Boeing tests new rocket - Is a 'Space Taxi' in the horizon?

By James Maynard , Jun 02, 2013 11:39 AM EDT

The CST-100 spacecraft is one step closer to reality after Boeing completed wind tunnel testing of the new capsule and the Atlas V rocket that will lift the craft into space. This spacecraft will bring up to seven astronauts at a time into low-Earth orbit. The CST-100 program is Boeing's effort to develop a "space taxi" that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Wind tunnel tests were performed from March to May of 2013 at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. The experiments were run on a seven-percent (1/14th scale) model of the spacecraft and complete launch system in a transonic wind tunnel measuring 11 feet in diameter. Thrust tests of the system bringing liquid oxygen to the pair of RL-10 engines completed in Murrietta, CA were also successful.

This new launch vehicle includes the Centaur upper stage, which is a veteran piece of equipment, even if it has never before helped lift a human to space. In use since 2002, a Centaur upper stage helped to launch the Mars Curiosity rover was on its way to the Red Planet.

"The Centaur has a long and storied past of launching the agency's most successful spacecraft to other worlds. Because it has never been used for human spaceflight before, these tests are critical to ensuring a smooth and safe performance for the crew members who will be riding atop the human-rated Atlas V," Ed Mango of Kennedy Space Center in Florida said.

NASA created the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) as part of the space agency's effort to once again send astronauts to space using American technology. In addition to Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp are also working on developing their own form of space taxis using seed money provided by the space agency. SpaceX's craft is called Dragon, and Sierra Nevada's entry is the Dream Chaser, which will also be launched on top of an Atlas V rocket.

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

Boeing plans to make the first orbital human test of the CST-100 spacecraft with its Atlas V launch vehicle in 2016. This first mission will last three days. NASA has its own new capsule design to help replace the retired Shuttle fleet. The Orion spacecraft is due for its maiden flight in September 2014.

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