Boeing Space Exploration and NASA marked another milestone in the development of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft Wednesday with the installation of training and simulator systems at Johnson Space Center.
“That is the exciting part of today,” JSC Director Ellen Ochoa said. “Seeing all of the operational things coming together.
“It is handy for astronauts to have their offices right across the hall from the simulation. It’s easy to do their training here.”
The Galveston County Daily News reported that Boeing is one of two companies — SpaceX is the other — contracted by NASA in the final part of its commercial crew program, which will allow the United States to again launch people and material into space.
NASA in 2014 awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract to develop the Starliner.
Once completed, it will allow the United States to return to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011, when the space shuttle was retired. NASA has had to rely on Russian rockets and private contractors to deliver crews and cargo to the space station since then.
“This is a big project for Boeing,” commercial crew program Deputy Manager Chris Ferguson said. “We don’t just handle the product, but we are also in charge of training the astronauts as well.”
In addition to the contract to develop the Starliner, Boeing also received a $1.18 billion contract last year to fund its Space Training, Analysis and Review (STAR) facility, which opened June 21 at Boeing’s facility about 4 miles from the JSC.
Boeing Space Exploration is based in the Clear Lake area and employs about 3,800 people across the state.
The training installations at the JSC — which include “part-task” crew trainers, an instructor operation station suite and a cloud-based simulation server — are the most current milestone reached by Boeing on the way to developing the Starliner spacecraft.
“It’s a big milestone,” Ferguson said. “But we are also working on software developments and some of the final drops are taking place. Little things need cleaning up, but the big bones are in place.”
Included with several other training devices still under development by Boeing, these installations will be used to train Starliner crews and mission controllers for flights to low-Earth orbit, according to a news release.
The part-task trainers are meant to replicate various phases of the mission and flight to help prepare the astronauts, according to Boeing.
“(They) are convenient for us in being able to start and stop the simulation at different parts,” astronaut Bob Behnken said during a simulation. “It lets us repeat things and try out different scenarios until the data is locked in our brains.
“It’s nice not to have to have such a large support team each time. We will be able to run more simulations with a limited staff.”
“The base of the cloud-based server allows us to do four simulations at once,” Pete Meisinger, program manager for the Boeing space vehicle training program, said.
Still in development, the Boeing Mission Simulator will be the “full-scale, high-fidelity simulator allowing astronauts to practice all aspects of the mission,” according to Boeing.
“The structure will look like the CST-100 Starliner,” Meisinger said. “The interior is full-fidelity and has the actual controls and control displays in the spacecraft. If the part-task trainers are the batting cages, then this is getting on the practice field.”
Boeing hopes to have the Boeing Mission Simulator ready in the early months of 2017, Meisinger said.
After the installation of the mission simulator in 2017, Boeing looks to install a mock-up trainer in Building 9 at JSC with a delivery target of February to March of 2017.
“That will give us the most high-fidelity environment possible,” Meisinger said.
Alongside the installation of the training devices, Boeing is working to accomplish other milestones for a scheduled crew test flight in 2018.
“I think it’s doable in 2018, but we also recognize this is month-to-month,” Ochoa said. “This is one more milestone in a long list to accomplish on the way to the launch.”
Ultimately, the goal of the Starliner goes beyond the NASA partnership into what Boeing hopes will be further commercial development in low-Earth orbit.
“NASA is the flightship customer,” Ferguson said. “After that, it will be largely market-driven, but there are three big possibilities. One is space tourism; two is manufacturing in low-Earth orbit, and the third is finding a country interested in having a program for low-Earth orbit, but doesn’t want to develop the infrastructure.”
The Starliner will be able to carry up to seven crew members or a mixture of personnel and cargo. It will be reusable up to 10 times.