October 30, 2011

Boeing to Build Space Taxis At Kennedy Space Center

An unused Kennedy Space Center hanger that was once used for processing space shuttles has been leased to Boeing, who will use it to build so-called space taxis, officials with the aerospace company told Reuters on Friday.

According to Irene Klotz, the company reached a deal "with Space Florida, a state-backed agency working to expand space-related businesses in Florida, to lease the Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3 at the center, Boeing spokeswoman Susan Wells said on Friday."

"Wells said details of the lease agreement would be announced on Monday," Klotz added. "Sources familiar with the plan said it would center on the space taxi manufacturing venture."

Reuters notes that Boeing is one of four private-sector spacecraft developers currently being funded by NASA, in the hopes that they will find an American-developed replacement for the retired space shuttle program.

The U.S. space agency currently pays the Russian national space agency approximately $350 million annually for transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS), but is hoping that investment in domestic companies will provide an alternative to this arrangement by the end of 2016.

"Boeing's proposed space taxi is a seven-seat capsule called the CST-100, which would launch on an Atlas 5 rocket," Klotz reported on October 28. "The company also has an agreement to provide rides for clients of Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing privately-owned inflatable space habitats for commercial and government lease."

NASA has spent a reported $388 million to date on the project. Boeing received $18 million worth of funding in the first round of the program and $92.3 million during the current, on-going phase. The company could earn up to $20.6 million more in options if they are able to successfully complete specific development milestones in the CST-100's construction, Reuters added.

Recent spacecraft failures in Russia have raised questions about the future effectiveness of their transport vehicles, George Sowers, the vice president of business development for United Launch Alliance (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing) said during a Congressional hearing discussing NASA's Commercial Crew Program Wednesday, Klotz said in a separate report.

"The recent Soyuz failure reminds us that the very existence of the space station is now in jeopardy," Sowers told the Congressional Committee, according to Reuters. "We're reliant on a single, fragile lifeline that we have little insight into or control over."


Image Caption: An orbiter is shown exiting Hanger Processing Facility Bay 3 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (Credit: NASA)


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