SpaceX Crewed Dragon vs. Starliner: 2 Spacecraft Reviving NASA Space Flight
On Friday NASA finally revealed the nine astronauts who will be blasting past the atmosphere aboard commercially provided rockets and capsules since the shuttering of the agency’s space shuttle in 2011. These flight-proven space travelers have been assigned to crew the initial test flight and subsequent missions of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner.
Both of these spacecraft improve upon previously successful capsules by in incorporating some of today’s state-of-the-art aerospace technology. Ever since the space shuttle’s retirement, only Russia and China have carried on human spaceflight with the Soyuz and Shenzhou programs. But now, both SpaceX and Boeing are aiming to usher in a new era of American space travel.
“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in a statement. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.”
The exact launch schedule for both of these spacecraft has yet to be cemented, but according to a NASA release both the Crew Dragon and Starliner will be conducting crewed test missions sometime in 2019.
SpaceX Crew Dragon
SpaceX’s initial Dragon capsule has been ferrying supplies to the ISS since 2012. The new Crewed Dragon — or Dragon 2 — will attempt to recreate its predecessor success with humans aboard. The craft has the capacity to house 7 people, but only astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard for its first crewed test mission, which will on a Falcon 9 rocket.
Like all of SpaceX’s launch systems, the Crew Dragon can be flown multiple times without the need for major refurbishing. The ship deploys four parachutes upon its descent to cushion its fall. SpaceX anticipates it could be flown up to ten times before maintenance is needed.
The capsule’s interior is like a cross between a sports car and a high-end amusement park ride. It has four windows and carbon fiber seats coated in a microfibre known as Alcantara, which is used in products ranging from car seats to consumer electronics.
In 2015, the Crew Dragon was retrofitted with an emergency escape system providing the astronauts aboard a safety net from launch to orbit. The system consists of eight SuperDraco rocket engines installed into the walls of the spacecraft. These are capable of producing 120,000 pounds of thrust to take the top of the capsule nearly 328 feet away from its trunk in two seconds.
The crew will also have access to real-team information about where they are in space, possible destinations, and the environment on board the Crew Dragon. The ship’s Environmental Control and Life Support System can set the craft’s interior temperature to between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the crew’s preference.
So it’s safe to say, Behnken and Hurley will be traveling in style.
Boeing CST-100 Starliner
In the other corner, Boeing’s Starliner will carry up to seven people, though its first test flight will consist of astronauts Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann. This mission will be launched by the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.
The Starliner is also capable of being reused without needing major fixing. It uses three parachutes and an airbag system to safely land whether it be ground or sea. Boeing’s description of the craft states it can be flown 10 times back-to-back without major refurbishing.
The ship’s built-in computer system is meant to simplify piloting. It is capable of autonomous spaceflight and can even self-dock itself onto the ISS, a capability that reduces the amount of training time before take off. In case of emergencies, the Starliner can be switched into manual mode giving the astronauts total control.
Of course, what would space travel be without the ability to Instagram it? The craft even comes with wireless internet and tablet tech. So expect some regular updates from Boe, Ferguson, and Mann.