Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trial Balloon

UPDATE May 2, 2014KLAS TV Channel 8 in Las Vegas has posted this video of the media event.

8 News NOW

Boeing notional imagery of a CST-100 commercial crew vehicle arriving at a Bigelow expandable habitat. Video source: theworacle YouTube channel.

Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace hosted a joint media event yesterday in North Las Vegas, promoting future flights of the CST-100 crew vehicle to the Bigelow expandable habitats.

Several articles are online about the event, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal which has photos inside a BA-330 mockup.

Boeing industrial designer Rick Fraker inside the BA-330 mockup. Image source: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Network World article takes us inside the CST-100 crew compartment.

The interior of the Boeing CST-100. Image source: Network World.

That article notes, “The CTS-100 should be able to launch on a variety of different rockets, including Atlas, Delta and Space X Falcon.”

Given this week's events, the ability to launch CST-100 on other boosters could come in very handy.

CST-100 and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser plan to launch atop Lockheed Martin Atlas V boosters. The Atlas V uses Russian RD-180 engines, and as reported earlier today a federal judge has issued an injunction prohibiting the purchase of more RD-180s while the White House executive order restricting business with certain Russian officials remains in effect.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are partners in United Launch Alliance, which since 2006 has enjoyed a legal launch monopoly for Defense Department payloads.

If Atlas V can't fly due to the unavailability of RD-180 engines, or is shelved pending new engines, then Boeing and Sierra Nevada will have to look elsewhere for boosters. Boeing has no plans to crew-rate Delta IV, although it's theoretically possible.

That would leave the SpaceX Falcon 9, or perhaps some future launch vehicle derived out of this week's Orbital Sciences / ATK merger.

In recent months, there have been rumors that Bigelow has a deal to launch its habitats on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, although nothing has been announced or acknowledged as official.

We may be witnessing the death throes of United Launch Alliance. Boeing certainly intends to fly to the Bigelow habitats regardless of the International Space Station commercial crew competition, so if the RD-180 injunction holds then we may see Boeing seek a relationship with SpaceX for a launch vehicle. SpaceX and Bigelow have their own marketing relationship for commercial crew vehicles, so it may make sense for Boeing and Sierra Nevada to give up on the Atlas V and fly with SpaceX.

What an interesting week this is.


  1. Boeing wouldn't "crew rate" the Delta (whatever that means). ULA would. Also, you're assuming that SpaceX will sell them rides. As for SNC, the Atlas can structurally handle the asymmetric aerodynamic loads of the lifting body. I don't know if Falcon can, or if SpaceX has done the analysis.

  2. Yes, Rand, I understand re Falcon 9. It's just a bit of whimsy playing on the notion that Boeing apparently claims CST-100 is compatible with other launch vehicles. The events of the last few weeks make that possible, if not plausible.