June 29, 2010

Boeing Pushing For Commercial Space Missions

Aerospace giant Boeing is hard at work developing a new spaceship that will fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station, as the NASA space shuttle program is soon to be retired.

The new Boeing space capsule is a project using a recent $18 million award from NASA to advance technology necessary for commercial construction of space transportation systems. It is one of many efforts by different companies in the US to develop and build new spacecraft to fill the void by the retiring shuttle fleet.

Boeing's Commercial Crew Development Program Manager, Keith Reiley, said so far things are "right on schedule."

"We've done 50 to 60 percent of our milestones, and all of them have been on time or ahead of time," he told SPACE.com.

Boeing's new design is the CST-100 capsule which will look similar to the cone-shaped Apollo and Orion space capsules.

"It's a little smaller than Orion, but a little bigger than Apollo," Reiley said of the CST-100. "It carries seven, but it's fairly small "“ it's not as large or as spacious as the Orion."

The capsule is being designed to make short missions to the ISS.

The CST-100 will most likely be launched from Florida, but Boeing has yet to determine which rocket will carry it into space. It is being designed for compatibility with a variety of rockets, in much the same way that commercial satellites are.

Although NASA has outlined a launch timeline for 2016, the capsule could be launched sooner than expected. "We haven't laid out our exact timeline yet, but we do have a schedule, and it beats the 2016 that was NASA's goal," Reiley noted.

Boeing isn't only working with NASA. The company has also teamed up with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that recently joined the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Bigelow Aerospace is developing private inflatable space habitats with the goal of launching a commercial space station in 2014. The company has already launched two prototype modules.

Bigelow Aerospace will work with Boeing assisting with demonstrations and design work in areas where they have had previous experience from the design and construction of their orbital facilities and commercial space complex, said Reiley. The partnership also represents an important stepping stone for the commercial spaceflight industry.

"The future is being created now," said Bigelow Aerospace founder and president Robert Bigelow in a statement. "Commercial crew transportation has the potential to revolutionize the space industry for public and private sector entities alike."

"Boeing's unparalleled heritage and experience, combined with Bigelow Aerospace's entrepreneurial spirit and desire to keep costs low, represents the best of both established and new space companies," Bigelow said. "The product of this relationship, the CST-100 capsule, will represent the safest, most reliable, and most cost-effective spacecraft ever to fly."


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