Boeing Puts The Finishing Touches On Its New Starliner

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Aerospace giant Boeing released images showing the assembly of a nearly complete CST-100 Starliner prototype.

The images show engineers joining the two halves of the Starliner together. The spacecraft is being constructed in NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Engineers are about to start mimicking the harsh conditions of spaceflight to prove that design and its manufacturing techniques will work. Boeing’s Starliner is supposed to start carrying  NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by early 2018.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg pledged earlier this month that his company will beat billionaire Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX to Mars. Musk plans to send the first unmanned missions to Mars in 2018 or 2020.

“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said at a conference.“That business model isn’t closed yet. At some point it will. The future of innovation has to include not only the technology, but economic viability.”

Boeing was deeply involved in NASA’s Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the moon, and is currently developing the space agency’s Space Launch System, which will eventually send U.S. astronauts to Mars. The aerospace giant is also working to build out the commercial space sector near earth as spaceflight becomes more routine.

Muilenburg sees “dozens” of hotels in Earth’s orbit alongside numerous companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research. He is even considering getting Boeing into the space tourism business.

The first leg of the race to Mars between SpaceX and Boeing is attempting to be the first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has a human test flight planned for October 2017, while Boeing has a flight scheduled for May 2018. NASA is working with both Boeing and Space X to allow private companies to resupply and recrew the ISS.

In just over a year, “we may see our first test-crewed flight,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, told reporters. “This is new, and not a lot of people have had a lot of experience on this.”

NASA’s plans to return astronauts to Earth’s orbit without Russian help are dependent on SpaceX, Boeing and other private companies.

SpaceX and Boeing, along with other companies, have made huge advancements in reusable rocketry. Reusable space technology is considered a major advance because it has the potential to lower the costs of getting into orbit, which are high due to expensive rocket components.

SpaceX seems to suspect that dirty tricks may have already been used to get a leg up in the race. SpaceX employees, investigating the explosion of one of its rockets, attempted to access the roof of a nearby building owned by SpaceX’s business rival, United Launch Alliance (ULA), anonymous industry sources told The Washington Post. ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Private companies aren’t the only ones racing to Mars. India’s scientists have already flown tests for the country’s own reusable Space Shuttle, and estimate that the final version could make launching satellites 10 times cheaper than it is today. China is becoming increasingly assertive in space and is planning a mission to Mars.

Only a small group of private companies such as Scaled Composites, Blue Origin and SpaceX have successfully operated a reusable spacecraft.

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