Boeing’s astronaut taxi is a go, will launch a test flight next month

Starliner
Boeing

Space taxis are almost ready for lift-off — and America’s astronauts may soon soar from Cape Canaveral once again.

Boeing’s answer to NASA’s need is called the CST-100 Starliner, and despite problems in development (a propellant leak occurred during testing last year), the craft is ready for its first test flight in March, according to the company.

Boeing was one of two private companies (along with SpaceX and it’s Crew Dragon capsule) contracted by NASA to ferry astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS). The company developed its CST-100 Starliner for the eventual task of shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS, but before any person can climb aboard the spacecraft, it needs to perform an unmanned test flight to check whether it can fly safely and dock with the orbiting ISS.

The ISS is ready to receive the Starliner; astronauts there have already installed high definition cameras on the docking equipment so that visiting spacecraft can be accurately docked. Spacecraft must carefully align as they approach the ISS to make sure that they dock correctly without damaging any sensitive equipment nearby.

The Starliner hasn’t been tested in space yet, but engineers are confident that it will carry out its test flight safely: It has already passed parachute drop tests performed within the Earth’s atmosphere. The tests showed that the craft maintained its structure and successfully jettisoned its heat shield, which protects the craft from the high temperatures experienced when the craft passes through the atmosphere.

If the test flight looks good and no problems arise, then the first crew of astronauts can board the Starliner to be taken to the ISS in August this year, Boeing spokesperson Maribeth Davis told Space.com. The mission will be called Orbital Flight Test (clever naming, right?) and will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, site of famous historical launches like the Gemini missions and the Apollo program.

This will be among the first spacecraft carrying precious human cargo to launch from American soil in eight years, since the space shuttle program was brought to a close in 2011. SpaceX is likely to earn the first-place medal — but it’s science that really wins in this race. The combined Boeing and SpaceX flights will also mark the first time that private companies have launched people to the space station.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘Refabricator’ lets astronauts recycle 3D-printed tools to make new ones

The International Space Station just received a fancy new gadget in the form of a Refabricator, a machine capable of 3D printing using recycled plastic materials. Here's how it works.
Computing

Metro Exodus isn’t the ray tracing showcase Nvidia needs

The arrival of Nvidia's long-awaited DLSS feature has finally come, and it's for the post-apocalyptic action game, Metro Exodus. We took the implementation of both ray tracing and DLSS to the test to see how it performs.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how Facebook taught its Portal A.I. to think like a Hollywood filmmaker

When Facebook introduced its Portal screen-enhanced smart speakers, it wanted to find a way to make video chat as intimate as sitting down for a conversation with a friend. Here's how it did it.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.