Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boeing, Space Adventures Announce Commercial LEO Flights

A Boeing illustration of the CST-100.

Florida Today reports that Boeing and Space Adventures have announced "an agreement to market commercial rides to low Earth orbit aboard a Boeing capsule now in development."

If the initiative is successful, many customers flying on Boeing's seven-person Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft, or CST-100, would likely launch from Cape Canaveral.

The capsule is being designed to launch atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets and SpaceX's Falcon 9, which have pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Click here to read the Space Adventures press release.

UPDATE 2:15 PM on today's announcement:

Under the agreement, the Virginia-based Space Adventures will market passenger seats on commercial flights aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft, currently being designed to travel to the International Space Station as well as other future private space stations.

The capsule seats could go to space tourists, individual companies or other non-government groups, as well as U.S. federal agencies other than NASA. on the deal:

Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft is receiving $18 million under a Space Act Agreement with NASA, but that funding runs out later this year. The Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev, contract distributed funding to several companies in early 2010 to help advance commercial human spacecraft concepts and technologies ...

Boeing is relying on NASA money to continue work on the CST-100. The company will accomplish all of its milestones in the initial CCDev agreement by the end of this year ...

A gap in money would threaten Boeing's goal to have the CST-100 ready for test flights in 2014 and operational by 2015 ...

NASA funding is the crucial leg of Boeing's commercial space transportation concept, which is also designed to fly crews to private space stations for Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas.

UPDATE September 16, 2010 2:15 PM EDTSpace Politics reports on the criticism by some of partial government funding for the CST-100:

However, both [Boeing Vice-President John] Elbon and Space Adventures chairman Eric Anderson rejected the argument that, because Boeing's business plan required government funding, the program was thus somehow not commercial. "It becomes a very good deal for the US taxpayer" by having multiple customer bases that spread out the development and operational costs of such a system, Anderson said, later citing historical examples such as airmail supporting the early aviation industry. "I think the argument that if it's not purely funded and purely financed by private industry that there’s no market, I think that is, with all due respect, hogwash."

It should also be noted that another reason is that it's in the U.S. government's interest to jump-start commercial access to LEO. The Bush administration committed NASA to rely upon the Russian Soyuz for ISS access until a replacement vehicle is ready for Shuttle. Constellation's Ares I was supposed to be that vehicle, but the lack of a "sound business case" (to quote the government's audit agency) plus the lack of adequate funding from Congress doomed that project.

As we see with the current Congressional kerfuffle, legislators are more interested in directing pork to their home districts than accelerating development of a government vehicle. Partial funding of CST-100, the SpaceX Dragon and other options puts the United States back in space sooner than waiting for a Congressionally-designed vehicle.

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