From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Starliner
Mains level : Space Taxies
- Boeing announced that an unmanned safety test flight of its CST-100 Starliner crew capsule being developed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) had been successful.
- Boeing is developing the CST-100 Starliner jointly with NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme (CCP).
- It is one of two companies that CCP has agreements with to develop new private spaceships meant to ferry astronauts to space and back; the other is Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
- It carried no crew, but both NASA and Boeing said any astronauts that might have been on board would not have been put in danger due to the failure of one parachute.
- The crew transportation systems will be owned and operated by the companies, which, in addition to ferrying US astronauts, will be able to sell their services to other customers as well.
- Unlike the SSP vehicles that landed on a runway like an aircraft, the Boeing capsule uses its parachutes and an airbag system to descend to the ground.
- The landing mechanism is designed to absorb the shock of the impact, and allow the capsule to be reused 10 times.
- The capsule is not designed for a water-based return.
Need for space taxis
- NASA wants to reduce dependence on Russia’s fleet of Soyuz space shuttles.
- Soyuz have been used by US since the retirement of its Space Shuttle Program (SSP) in 2011, the only spacecraft that can ferry astronauts (and cosmonauts) to the ISS and back.
- All Soyuz spacecraft are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
- NASA expects the first mission to carry humans using these capsules to take off by 2020.
About NASA’s Space Shuttle Program
- In the 30 years beginning 1981, NASA’s space shuttle fleet under its SSP — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour — flew 135 missions.
- Many of these helped construct the ISS, the largest manmade structure in space.
- The shuttles were reusable spacecraft that could carry humans into orbit. The final space shuttle mission was carried out by Atlantis in 2011.