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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: Welfare for scientists
By mellomonk on 7/22/2010 4:28:40 PM , Rating: 2
Private spaceflight companies will never provide the bigger, bolder, more adventurous projects. They will be driven by the bottom line and hence risk adverse, which is relative in this case for spaceflight is risky by nature. The role of private spaceflight is to take over and profit from the more pedestrian and routine projects. Transporting the goods to and fro to low earth orbit, launching satellites, and building the spacecraft and technology needed. These are all areas where lean and mean bottom line approaches will work, and money can be made.

But the trailblazing, the 'this might not lead to profit for decades' type of development, the more visionary work is where NASA comes in. Here we can, as a nation, apply are group effort and funds to move forward. Yes, it is a sort of welfare for scientists and engineers, but that is what is needed. The word may scare right wing 'everything is a hoax' types, but hard science and space in particular is not always profitable, at least in the short term. Just like once apon a time kings and queens employed scientists and explorers for their own bragging rights, we as a nation will have to be willing to make some investment in science, and spend on things that have no direct profitability. That is where NASA comes in. There is no way a corporation is going to send a manned mission to Mars for example. But NASA could and should. Of course there is money for American companies in that as well for somebody is going to have to build the equipment necessary for the mission.

And you never know where the private opportunity might come in or what might be spun off. Once we needed a network technology that could survive a nuclear attack for defense purposes. A few decades later everyone has a computer in their home and the tech is released to the private sector, and the world is changed. No private company in the 60s could have predicted the internet. It simply would not have been built if there wasn't a government agency that had a need.

NASA hasn't really been broken, but rather off track. It lost it's way when it decided to be a trucking service to low earth orbit. NASA needs to do the pathfinding, and the the private industry needs to use that path to make profits.


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