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Jan 8, 2016

Boeing's new NASA space pilots try out Starliner simulator

Aerospace isn't just Boeing versus Airbus, but versus SpaceX as the new order in privately owned manned orbital supply rockets moves closer to taking over the risks and rewards of s

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The Starliner has roomier quarters, and more advanced systems for its pilots
The Starliner has roomier quarters, and more advanced systems for its pilots

Aerospace isn’t just Boeing versus Airbus, but versus SpaceX as the new order in privately owned manned orbital supply rockets moves closer to taking over the risks and rewards of servicing space outposts like the International Space Station (ISS).

Another step along that way happened recently when one of the two NASA astronaut crews crews assigned to Boeing’s first-ever commercial spaceflights to the ISS  began their hands on familiarisation with its CST-100 Starliner training simulators.

The full story can be read here.

While a tender process has usually in the past picked a single winner from the US space sector in awarding contracts to develop, build and launch payloads into space, the new order is seeing established players, like Boeing, having to continually compete alongside independently funded enterprises for specific missions.

Space is starting to go the way of the great shipping lines of the early industrial age. There will be a range of rocket companies, offering carriage for payloads whether manned or robotic, to all manner of space based enterprises ranging from low orbit constellations of satellites offering global internet services to the capture and mining of asteroids.

Even the least commercial of research or explorative missions will be able to gouge a deal out of alternative space shippers, meaning funding should become less difficult to crack.

However it’s important not to crank up the hype too fast. The costs of launching various types of cargo to assorted orbits or Lagrange locations may be falling quite sharply, but they  have to keep doing that further, and with more reliability, than so far achieved to justify some of the starry-eyed claims being made.

But what used to considered improbable is now widely seen as inevitable, especially if one of the more lucrative money earners proves to be international contracts to clean up low orbit space debris.

Almost all larger satellites launched today can be removed under ground control from orbit and sent to the south Pacific space junk re-entry zone, meaning the problem has all but stopped growing.

However there is an awful lot of junk in higher and medium duration orbits that will eventually decay into lower orbits where they pose a much higher risk of colliding with space investments, including space people.

Space junk bounty hunters may thus have their day. Boeing’s biggest competitor in commercial manned flight is SpaceX, and its Dragon reusable orbital supply vehicle.

At the other end of ‘way out there’ NASA this week continued its series of releases of images from last July’s New Horizons flypast of Pluto.  The image below showing what looked like one of the least featured parts of its surface, Sputnik Planum, is now being interpreted as a vast depression filled with liquid and solid nitrogen, into which gigantic glacial chunks of ice comprising water and other substances are sliding in from fringing mountains, while a cryo-volcanic process wells up from below.

If that sounds complex, the NASA commentary on these initial observations will help.  The balance or cycle of volatiles flowing into and out of Sputnik Planum may prove crucial to understanding how the micro planet sustains such a deep and layered atmosphere as the probe discovered, to the astonishment of researchers.

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Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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2 comments

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2 thoughts on “Boeing’s new NASA space pilots try out Starliner simulator

  1. Burke Stephens

    By the looks of that funny object and the trail behind it, the headline should be “NASA finds GIANT SNAIL on Pluto!” 🙂

  2. Crocodile Chuck

    ‘Space Talking ™ ‘: “To infinity & beyond!” 😉

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