Thursday, August 4, 2011
Boeing to Select Atlas V for CST-100
A United Launch Alliance animation showing a Boeing CST-100 launching atop an Atlas V rocket to a Bigelow space station.
Florida Today reports that Boeing will name the Atlas V as the launch vehicle for its CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft.
Boeing is one of four companies receiving seed money from NASA to develop commercial space taxis to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Two of the others intend to launch commercial spacecraft on Atlas V rockets. Sierra Nevada plans to launch its Dream Chaser spaceplanes on Atlas V. Blue Origin's New Shepherd spacecraft will fly on Atlas V rockets until the company can field its own reusable launch system.
The Atlas V was once operated by Boeing rival Lockheed-Martin, however now it's flown by the United Launch Alliance which is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.
UPDATE 3:45 PM EDT — Florida Today reports Boeing has confirmed today's earlier article.
The three test flights are planned in 2015, depending on the amount of funding Congress approves under a NASA program aiming to develop commercial crew taxis to transport astronauts to the International Space Station by late 2016.
The first two test flights would not carry people. For the third, Boeing pilots would fly the spacecraft to orbit and rendezvous with the space station.
The planned Atlas V configuration for the flights would be known as "412," utilizing a single strap-on solid rocket motor and a two-engine Centaur upper stage.
Particularly interesting in the above animation is that it shows the CST-100 docking with a Bigelow Aerospace space station, not the International Space Station.
UPDATE August 5, 2011 — Here's the link to the print report in today's version of Florida Today.
[Boeing CST-100 manager John] Elbon said Boeing's proposed flight schedule was based on funding levels proposed by the Obama administration, starting with $850 million in 2012 and similar amounts in subsequent years.
But so far, House appropriators have recommended only $312 million for next year.
"I'm hopeful that the debate that goes on in D.C. leads ultimately to increased funding beyond what's been proposed at the moment," he said. "This is the quickest way to close the gap and get U.S. crews flying again (on U.S. vehicles)."
UPDATE August 7, 2011 — Florida Today columnist John Kelly writes that "America may have its next human spaceflight launch vehicle, and it's one we know well on Florida's Space Coast."
The Atlas launch complex at the air force station is being modified to accommodate astronauts boarding and escaping any of a variety of vehicles under consideration.
All this is good news for the Cape, yet another sign that the spaceport in the northern part of Brevard County has not seen its last manned missions off the planet.
Commenting on this and other nascent commercial flight plans, Kelly writes, "The activity shows the possibilities of a post-shuttle world at Kennedy and the Cape."