The CST-100 is a seven-man cone-shaped capsule and cylindrical service module designed to reach low Earth orbit aboard a variety of launchers, and deliver passengers to either the ISS or Bigelow’s inflatable space stations. Weighing 13.5 tonnes and 4.5m wide, it should be able to fly atop either the Delta 4, Atlas 5, Falcon 9, Ariane 5 and other rockets which can be man-rated - and has its own escape system to help achieve this goal.
In orbit, CST-100 should be able to reach a space station and dock within eight hours, and to land within six hours of undocking. However, it’s capable of operating on its own for up to 48 hours if needed as an ISS ‘lifeboat’, and can remain docked in space for up to 210 days before it needs to return to Earth.
CST-100 approaches the International Space Station
Soft landings on the ground will be achieved with a combined parachute-and-airbag system, but water landings are also possible. The capsule is designed to be refurbished and re-used with a new service module.
Progress to date includes abort engine hot firings and heat shield testing, airbag drop tests, water landing up-righting and drop tests, wind tunnel testing and life support demos. It will use the autonomous rendezvous and docking system already tested by the Orbital Express mission in 2007.
Boeing hopes to proceed to an unmanned orbital flight test in 2014, followed by a launch pad abort test and in late 2015 a two-man orbital mission to the ISS, targeting the first commercial crewed mission to the ISS in early 2016. The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 has been chosen for the three test flights.
As a private contractor, Boeing’s test pilots for the CST-100 won’t be NASA astronauts but Boeing employees - who may become the first privately-employed orbital space travellers.