On June 9, 2014, Boeing held an event for the media to view its progress on the CST-100 crew capsule in the former Orbital Processing Facility No. 3 at Kennedy Space Center. The mockup on display, which can be split in two so the entire interior can be seen, is also a trainer. The mockup showed the latest designs for the crew seats, flat panel displays and a soothing blue back-lighting scheme adapted from Boeing’s latest commercial aircraft lighting systems. However, the mockup disguises the true complexity of the capsule.
On hand for the event was John Elbon, Boeing Vice President and General Manager of Space Exploration. Also present was John Mulholland, Boeing VP and General Manager of Commercial Programs, and Christopher J. Ferguson, Director-Crew and Mission Systems with the company’s Commercial Crew Program. Ferguson was shuttle pilot on STS-115 (Atlantis), Commander on STS-126 (Endeavour) and STS-135 (Atlantis)—the final shuttle mission.
John Elbon spoke first, and covered some Boeing history he felt was analogous to the company’s new efforts in commercial space transportation. He spoke not only on the company’s work on the CST-100 for NASA and the need to restore America’s human spaceflight program back to United States where it belongs, but also mentioned the exciting prospects Boeing sees with Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures.
John Mulholland also spoke, and mentioned how pivotal it was for the CST-100 program to have Christopher Ferguson as Director of Crew and Mission Systems, and bringing his flight experience on the space shuttle to the CST-100 program. Mulholland actively sought out Ferguson and recruited him to Boeing. Ferguson will be the pilot and commander of the first crewed CST-100 mission.
Nowhere is the technological change in human spaceflight more apparent than in the instrumentation and displays of the CST-100 in comparison to the space shuttle and even the Apollo capsule. The Boeing capsule will be fully autonomous from the moment of launch to the docking sequence and capture with the International Space Station, and later its return to Earth, much like commercial airliners operate today from takeoff to touchdown.
Boeing partners with Bigelow Aerospace
A quote from the company’s founder, William Boeing, during the early years of the plane manufacturer, is particularly apropos to the emerging commercial spaceflight participant market: “We are embarked as pioneers upon a new science and industry in which our problems are so new and unusual that it behooves no one to dismiss any novel idea with the statement, ‘It can’t be done.’”
Boeing has been in the commercial passenger jet business since its 707 first took flight in 1958. The company sees this heritage as key to its success in this niche market of taking passengers into space aboard the CST-100. Boeing’s Space Exploration engineers on the CST-100 program partnered with designers in Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division in the design of the capsule’s interior. This was a natural and synergistic blending of these two Boeing divisions. This collaboration included everything from the crew seats to the Sky Interior lighting being adapted from the new 737 Sky Interior program.
“We’re going from military-like interiors toward this inflection point of commercial space travel…the next step is to think about the human experience,” explained CST-100 systems engineer Tony Castilleja in Frontiers, the Boeing corporate magazine. It is emerging there will most likely be differences between the commercial crew interior and the commercial passenger interiors. This became apparent with the first unveiling of the CST-100 mockup in Las Vegas the end of April 2014. At the same event was Bigelow Aerospace with its full-scale mockup of its BA-330 commercial space habitat. Boeing displayed and made available images to the commercial passenger interior rendered in the unmistakable style of futurist illustrator Syd Mead.
Bigelow has been partnering with Boeing on the CST-100 program for several years in the creation of a destination in low-Earth orbit apart from the International Space Station. Bigelow’s efforts are focused initially on commercial business and institution applications of the BA-330 habitat, to be followed by opportunities for spaceflight participants.
“We are moving into a truly commercial space market and we have to consider our potential customers—beyond NASA—and what they need in a future commercial spacecraft interior,” Chris Ferguson stated during the event. In the Frontiers article, Ferguson said he desires “…an inviting and comfortable environment for that commercial customer, so they can look back and say that it was a wonderful experience…so they can say, ‘I had the ride of my life.’”
With the selection by NASA of Boeing and SpaceX to supply spacecraft for its Commercial Crew program, Boeing is now committed to refining the CST-100 capsule interior to be even more receptive to commercial passengers to orbital destinations like the Bigelow BA-330. Bigelow is targeting the end of 2017 to have two BA-330 modules ready for launch and testing in Earth orbit.
“We started to realize the potential to develop for commercial customers a premium spacecraft interior architecture,” Rachelle Ornan, regional director of sales and marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes told SpaceNews. “It’s leaps and bounds different from interiors of the past. It’s less government-issue looking; it’s a lot cleaner, simpler and more cheerful.”
The partnership between Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace is a synergistic one and mutually beneficial. The CST-100 capsules, recently given the name Starliner, will be configured quite differently from those designed to travel to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Boeing sees a very significant future in commercial spaceflight participants flying to orbiting Bigelow modules.
“We believe there’s a huge pent-up demand for this,” said Jay Ingham, Bigelow Aerospace vice president and program manager. “We’re betting that there’s a huge amount of growth in this area, and we’re positioning ourselves to take advantage of that.”