The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will launch to the International Space Station on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has taken a significant step toward launch. Starliner rolled out of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, making the trek on a transport vehicle to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“This is critical to our future as a nation,” said Kennedy’s center director Bob Cabana. “We’ve got to get astronauts flying on U.S rockets from U.S. soil, and this is just a huge step forward.”
Cabana was joined by CCP and Boeing leaders in a gathering of employees and families to watch Starliner roll out of the factory.
“For the team that has built the first American spacecraft designed to land on land, and to get it rolling out, is absolutely incredible,” said John Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager of Boeing Commercial Crew Programs. “Something this complex takes a huge team.”
“Look at that amazing sight and what your success looks like,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager. “We’re not done yet. We’ve got to step into the mission carefully, fly this vehicle up to the space station, and bring it home safely.”
At the pad, Starliner was hoisted up at the Vertical Integration Facility and secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the flight test to the space station. The Atlas V rocket that will carry Starliner comprises a booster stage and dual-engine Centaur upper stage, as well as a pair of solid rocket boosters.
“This is the dawn of a new era,” said Ferguson. “For all of you youngsters out there who came out here early to watch, I’m glad you were a part of this. This is really important because this is your future, too.”
“We’re looking forward to the day when we’re launching people on a regular basis,” said Fincke. “As graduates of military test pilot schools, we are really excited to see how Starliner’s going to behave; we know it’s going to be awesome, and we’re going to get all kinds of really great test data from it.”
The uncrewed flight test, targeted to launch Dec. 17, will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations. The data will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
“It comes down to trust,” said Mann. “I’m talking about trust in the individuals—our fellow Americans—who are building this spacecraft and making this possible. You walk around the factory and there is this amazing attention to detail, and it gives you this great level of confidence,” said Mann.
NASA is working in partnership with Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. Safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the space station will allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration.