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An artist rendering of the upcoming Crew Space Transportation CST-100 spacecraft  (Source: Boeing)

Cutaway view of the CST-100 capsule  (Source: Boeing)

  (Source: Boeing)
Craft is expected to offer commercial service in the place of the retired Space Shuttle

Boeing recently received a lot of press for the X-37B, a spacecraft it designed for NASA that has been passed off to the U.S. Air Force and further refined into a fully operational vehicle.  It turns out that was certainly not the only spacecraft the company is cooking up.

Under a $18M USD contract with NASA Boeing is building a capsule craft called the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100.  The craft can hold up to seven crew members.  It simplifies matters by reusing existing components and architecture from past capsule designs -- meaning that NASA will likely save on repair costs.

Size wise, the craft is bigger than an Apollo program capsule, but smaller than the planned Orion spacecraft which is NASA's official shuttle replacement.  It can launch aboard a variety of rockets, including the Atlas, Falcon, and Delta designs.

The plan will be to use the craft to ferry passengers and supplies to and from the International Space Station.  The craft will also likely service future upcoming commercial space stations, including those of Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex.  Bigelow is designing high-strength inflatable space stations which it plans to use in a commercial space hotel venture.

Competition in the field is tight, so Boeing has its work cut out for it.  In February, NASA gave $50M USD to Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance to develop craft that could ferry passengers or freight to the ISS.  And while they have not officially tossed their hats in the ring, Virgin Galactic, makers of the space tourism craft SpaceShip One, and SpaceX, makers of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle both could design passenger craft to service the station at some point.

Ultimately, Boeing seems to be going for the right approach -- mixing affordability with an adequate design and flexibility.  How the design works out, though, remains to be seen.  Ultimately the results will prove a part of the critical test of whether President Obama's plans to denationalize the U.S space industry are feasible.

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RE: There was a time...
By MozeeToby on 7/22/2010 12:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
No one thinks long term, that's just a fact of our society. Politicians only think far enough ahead to get reelected. Business leaders only to the next quarterly statement. Average Joes only to their next pay check.

NASA is a long term investment, even if they dumped 5% of the GDP into NASA it would still take us a decade to get anywhere new. By then the politicians (and the missions they set) are replaced, the businesses involved are trying to extend the contracts (that they underbid in the first place), and the public has forgotten about it (if they don't actively oppose it as a 'waste of money').

Actually, I think that what is being done is a step in the right direction. It certainly isn't what I'd like to see, but it sets small goals that can be accomplished in a politically acceptable time frame and budget that can support whatever mission the next politician wants to set. Orbital refueling has the potential to revolutionize the way we explore space. Privatizing LEO is the only budget friendly way to encourage constant improvements to launch technologies. Landing on a near earth object holds the potential to drastically reduce the number of launches needed.

It's not a trip to the moon, or Mars, or Phobos. It isn't a mining facility on a near earth asteroid (which is the goal that I personally would like to see). It certainly isn't a launch loop, space elevator or nuclear rocket. But it is a step towards a reliable, extensible exploration system, which is probably the only thing that is politically possible these days.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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