Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boeing Joins the Party

An artist's conception of the Boeing CST-100 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Boeing web site also has concepts of the CST-100 atop a Delta IV and atop an Atlas V.

Joining SpaceX and Orbital in the commercial space race, Boeing issued a press release on Monday announcing their "plans to advance the design of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft and Commercial Crew Transportation System and continue to demonstrate key technologies."

Boeing is proposing an approach that will significantly mature the CST-100 design through demonstrations of critical subsystems. The CST-100 spacecraft is designed to support NASA's primary objective of affordable access to Low Earth Orbit. It will carry up to seven crew and passengers, is reusable up to 10 times, and is compatible with a variety of expendable launch vehicles. The spacecraft — which is comprised of a Crew Module and a Service Module — draws on Apollo-proven aerodynamic characteristics in a design that uses commercial, off-the-shelf, cost-effective technologies.

The reference to an "Apollo-proven" design suggests the vehicle might compete with the government's Orion capsule, for which Lockheed Martin holds the contract. Florida Today reported on November 25 that Lockheed plans an Orion test flight in 2013 from Cape Canaveral.

The Senate draft FY 2011 appropriations bill includes $1.2 billion for "the multipurpose crew vehicle" but doesn't specifically state it's Orion.

The bill also includes $300 million for commercial cargo, $250 million for commercial crew and $1.8 billion for a government-built heavy-lift vehicle with a minimum lift capability of 130 tons. (Just what it would be lifting isn't specified ...) In comparison, the Shuttle can carry a payload of up to about 27 tons. The Saturn V could lift 130 tons to Low Earth Orbit, or 50 tons to lunar orbit.

The press release mentions both the International Space Station and the private Bigelow Orbital Space Complex as potential destinations.

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